Persistent Oil Leak in Australian Waters Now Disclosed One Year After It Occured

Last week the Guardian reported on an oil spill on Australia’s North West Shelf that was detected in April 2016 but had not been made public until a performance report was recently issued by Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA). Despite the spill being estimated to have gone on for two months and released 10,500 liters of oil the Guardian reports that NOPSEMA declined to reveal exactly where the spill had occurred or which company was responsible.

Woodside’s FPSO OKHA

We had a look at operations currently in the area and identified a vessel which fits the description in the article. This is the FPSO OKHA operated by Woodside Energy. Our identification has now been confirmed as Woodside has admitted responsibility and the OKHA has been named as operating at the site.

Though this is being reported as the largest offshore leak in Australian waters last year Woodside states that the spill had no lasting impact on the environment.

On April 15, 2016 two likely response vessels appeared at the leak site. To the west is the dive support vessel Seven Eagle. About 900 meters to the east is the Nor Australis, an offshore supply vessel equipped with a ROV for underwater surveying.

We have examined imagery of the site from April 15th of last year, that is shortly before the OKHA returned to this location and around the time the leak was apparently first detected. Two response vessels appear at the leak site. The Nor Australis is an offshore supply ship equipped with a ROV which probably detected the leak. The dive support vessel Seven Eagle is a short distance to the west. We don’t see any signs of a slick in this image or in several others we checked. However it is still of concern that the report of an incident like this would be kept from the public for more than a year.

 

 

More Oil Spotted at the Taylor Energy Site

We posted about a slick emanating from the Taylor Energy site on April 28th. And surprise, surprise a mere 12 days later, what should we see but yet another slick.

In 2008 Taylor Energy set aside over $600 million to pay for work related to the chronic leak that we have covered extensively since it came to our attention in 2010. As you can see in this image collected by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 satellite, as well as in numerous other images we have collected, their work to date doesn’t seem to have stemmed the leak.

Sentinel 2 image collected of the Taylor Energy Site on May 8, 2017.

Which begs the question: why is Taylor suing the government to return the $432 million remaining in trust? That money was set aside for work that is yet to be finished. Why would they think they have earned it back?

Oil Spill Tracker Goes into Retirement

The Gulf Oil Spill Tracker is now enjoying a well-deserved retirement.

SkyTruth created the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker in 2010, with support from Surfrider Foundation and Ocean Conservancy. It was launched to help Gulf-area residents fill the information vacuum — and correct some of the misinformation — spawned by the  BP-controlled spill response process during the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Interested citizens and organizations tracking the impact of the spill on the Gulf coastline could submit oil pollution reports with text and images, and include links to news articles and video. Our Oil Spill Tracker tool (built on a crowd-sharing platform called Ushahidi) displayed the reports on an interactive map where anyone could view them, and sent out alerts to people who had signed up to be notified about them. Over 400 citizen reports were uploaded during and in the aftermath of the spill.  Users included concerned citizens around the world, government officials and staff from the local to national level, and members of the media.

One of our diligent users, Susan Forsyth, told us the citizen-submitted reports of continued oil spill impacts on the beaches of Florida played an important role in keeping BP and the US Coast Guard from prematurely declaring victory and suspending their cleanup operations there. Florida state officials were thankful for that.

A reporting mechanism specifically for the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill is no longer needed so we finally decided to retire Gulf Oil Spill Tracker as of April 24, 2017. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade  tracks pollution in the Gulf region with their iWitness Pollution Map, a similar tool that SkyTruth helped them launch, so head over to their site if you want to continue submitting or receiving reports.  And of course we continue to operate SkyTruth Alerts, which publishes official reports of oil and hazardous materials spills nationwide that are collected by the National Response Center.

West Virginia FrackFinder Phase 1 Results

During Phase 1 of our FrackFinder WV project, we focused on identifying and delineating wellpads (drilling sites) and drilling-related fluid impoundments across West Virginia that have been built to accommodate the recent boom in drilling and fracking to produce natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica Shales.  This data has been provided to our partners, researchers at Downstream Strategies and the University of California – Berkeley, who are studying the human health impacts of living near modern drilling and fracking operations.

This slider shows an area near Wilsontown, WV before and after drilling took place (the wellpad is highlighted in red, and an impoundment is shown in blue):

We thought we’d assess the direct environmental impact by measuring the change in the landscape resulting from all this construction activity.  Here’s the breakdown of how much land was converted to industrial use between 2007 and 2014 as a result of fracking, categorized by the type of land cover that existed in the area before the wellpads and impoundments were built. The land cover data is from the National Land Cover Database, which is derived from Landsat imagery.

Land Area Converted to Wellpads and Impoundments, 2007-2014

Detected barren land is likely drilling predating 2006. Lightly developed is a mixture of development, roadways, and residential green space.

It appears that the NLCD is registering this land conversion, as seen in the three images below which show the same area displayed in the slider. A wellpad first appeared on this site in 2011, which was when the NLCD was last updated using moderate-resolution satellite imagery, and it is identifying the drilling site as “barren” land. It is worth noting that of the 1,081 acres of forest cleared for drilling infrastructure, 27.8 were cleared in the Monongahela National Forest.

2006 National Land Cover Data, near Wilsontown, WV.

The 2011 update of the National Land Cover Dataset, detected a fracking wellpad in the center of this image and registered it as Barren Land. See the next image when the outline of the wellpad is displayed.

The 2011 National Land Cover Data, with results from our West Virginia FrackFinder project displayed.

We find that 1,756 acres of land in West Virginia was converted to wellpads (averaging 2.3 acres in size) and impoundments (averaging 0.8 acres in size) from 2007 to 2014. That is an area 1/4 the size of  Morgantown, WV and is 7 times larger than the town of Shepherdstown (where SkyTruth is based). This is a very conservative starting point for measuring the true drilling “footprint” because it doesn’t capture the total land area disturbed to construct the pads and facilitate drilling:  tree clearing, site excavation and grading to accommodate heavy equipment and provide drainage control, access roads and utility / pipeline corridors, and associated facilities like compressor stations and storage facilities.  Later this year we may ask you to help us delineate this larger halo of direct land disturbance related to drilling, which we speculate could be 2-3 times larger than the footprint of the wellpads and impoundments alone.

In the meantime we are gearing up for the launch of Phase 2 of FrackFinder WV. During this stage of the project, citizen volunteers (that’s you!) will assist SkyTruth in creating a dataset of homes which lie within 1/2 mile of the wellpads we identified in Phase 1, data that our partners think will be very useful for public health research.

So be sure to keep an eye out for project updates and calls for volunteers!  If you sign up on our Volunteer page, you’ll get an email from us when the next FrackFinder project is up and running.

Big Data Brings Big Transparency to Indonesia’s Fisheries

Indonesia is leading the way towards a new era of transparency in fisheries management by making its Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data available to Global Fishing Watch (GFW). This is an unprecedented move.

Traditionally, VMS data is kept secret and used only by government agencies like Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs (KKP) and affiliated enforcement agencies. The head of the KKP, Susi Pudjiastuti, referred to as “Minister Susi” by nearly everyone, is a champion of sustainable fishing in Indonesian waters, and has taken major steps to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Her policy of publicly blowing up and sinking (empty) vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters has been wildly popular. Now that Minister Susi has partnered with GFW, anyone with a browser and internet access will be able to see Indonesia’s VMS data on the GFW map, beginning in June.

People photographing an illegal fishing vessel being intentionally sunk by Minister Susi at Morela village on Ambon Island, April 1, 2017. Antara Foto/Izaac Mulyawan/via REUTERS

Data Scientist Aaron Roan is taking the lead at SkyTruth to integrate Indonesia’s VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. A former Googler, Aaron joined the SkyTruth team officially in January, but he has been involved in the GFW project for a while, on loan from Google as a volunteer. Like many SkyTruthers, Aaron works remotely, usually from San Francisco. However, this project means that lately he’s traveling regularly to Indonesia.

SkyTruthers Aaron Roan (left) and Paul Woods sightseeing in Jakarta during The Economist World Ocean Summit 2017.

Aaron is in charge of integrating VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. Naturally, there have been some interesting challenges and adventures along the way, starting with some pretty big differences between AIS data, which GFW is currently using, and VMS data.

AIS is a well-established and standardized open system developed to keep ships from running into each other, while VMS systems are custom-created specifically to allow government fishing agencies to privately monitor and communicate with vessels. Ships using AIS are essentially just chirping their locations to the world (“I’m here, I’m here!”) using public radio airwaves. VMS systems are more like text-messaging systems on phones, sending and receiving encrypted, privacy-protected information.

Vessel congestion is often an issue for AIS: the satellites that collect AIS broadcasts from vessels have a circular “footprint” 3,000 miles wide (more than the width of the United States) and the system can only receive an AIS ping once every 27 milliseconds, or 2,250 per minute. If there is a lot of vessel traffic in one location, smaller vessels using the weaker class B AIS systems get throttled in preference to larger class A vessels. This means that it’s possible for a vessel to be chirping its location frequently, but when there are a lot of ships in the area, pings may only be infrequently received.

VMS systems can handle a lot more signals than AIS, and better manage problems like colliding messages from multiple ships. However, the cost per message is relatively expensive, so government agencies often dial the systems back to receive fewer messages from ships in a given time period. According to Aaron, if Aesop were still around, he would call VMS the tortoise, and AIS the hare.

Despite these differences, initial integration test results have been positive, with the VMS data adding a tremendous amount of new data to GFW. Below, you can see the difference between Global Fishing Watch with and without the VMS data. AIS data is shown in green and the new Indonesian VMS data in white:

You can see it here in full-screen mode:

We are lucky to have Imam Prakoso, our “on-the-ground” guy in Indonesia, working on this project. With his engineering background, he provides support to the analysis and helps out with language translation. He’s been pivotal in terms of being able to meet regularly with KKP staff and in navigating the ministry’s organizational structure.

Brian Sullivan, Paul Woods, Imam Prakoso and Aaron in Jakarta

Chris Wilcox‘s team at CSIRO, currently consulting with the KKP, has been hugely helpful as well. With our data and algorithms, and his analytical acumen, we believe we’re in a strong position to help out multiple teams within the KKP.

None of this would have been possible without Minister Susi’s innovative approach to fighting IUU fishing, and the generous financial support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.

Transparency in commercial fishing benefits everyone (with the possible exception of those engaging in illegal activities). More accurate data in commercial fishing will allow for better regulation, management, and sustainability of an important food and job source in the future. We hope that other governments will follow Minister Susi’s bold initiative and make their own fishing data transparent. With Aaron on the team now, we’re ready to help!

Radar Imagery Shows Possible Slick From Oil Platform Off Peru’s Coast

Traditional sail powered fishing craft below Oil Platform 10 on the Peruvian north coast.

Last month we learned of an oil slick that had been sighted off the north coast of Peru in proximity to a number of offshore platforms. The slick was first observed by local fishermen in January and was reported in the pressAt the time SAVIA Perú, which operates platforms in the area, stated that they had inspected their facilities and were not responsible for the leak.

We’ve now had a look at Sentinel-1 satellite radar imagery of the area over the past few months. This imagery, provided by the European Space Agency, does show a possible oil slick extending about 14 miles from one offshore platform on February 3rd. Imagery from the weeks before and after the reported slick may also show some evidence of chronic leaks in the area. 

While initial reports in the press named Platform 10 in the area as the likely source, the imagery shows a possible slick extending from a different platform, Peña Negra TT (PNGR TT), also operated by SAVIA as part of lot Z-2B. A dive support vessel Urubamba is also seen alongside another platform further south (PNGR BB) indicating there may be ongoing maintenance on oil infrastructure in the region.

Sentinel-1 imagery from Feb 3, 2017 showing a possible oil slick extending from a platform on the Cabo Blanco area of Peru’s north coast. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

Two additional Sentinel-1 images are below, from March 11, 2017 and April 16, 2017.  On March 11th we again see a possible oil slick extending south 1.8 miles from platform PNGR TT. However other larger dark patches also appear on this image making it difficult to interpret. These patches are areas of relatively flat water which could result from a sheen of oil on the water’s surface but could also be from other causes such as blooms of phytoplankton or even an area of heavy rainfall. Recent imagery from April 16th shows no indication of any oil slicks in the area.

Sentinel-1 imagery from March 11, 2017 again showing a possible slick extending south from well PNGR TT. Large dark patches to the west indicate areas of still water. Image of courtesy European Space Agency.

Sentinel-1 imagery from April 16, 2017 shows no indication of possible oil slicks in the area. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

Along with extensive oil infrastructure, this area has the highest marine biodiversity on Peru’s coast and for that reason has been proposed as part of a new marine protected area. Under proposed legislation oil companies operating in the area could continue provided they complied with environmental regulations. We can’t be certain who was responsible for the oil washing ashore a few months ago but as this imagery shows there is reason for concern regarding this particular platform (PNGR TT) and continued monitoring of oil platforms in this area will be essential if this unique environment is going to be protected.

 

 

 

Imágenes de radar muestran posible derrame de petróleo proveniente de una plataforma de la costa norte del Perú

29 de abril 2017 / por Bjorn Bergman

Tradicionales embarcaciones pesqueras con velas pasan por debajo de la plataforma petrolera 10 en la costa norte de Perú.

El mes pasado nos enteramos de un derrame de petróleo que fue visto en la área de Cabo Blanco en la costa norte de Perú en proximidad a unas plataformas petroleras. El derrame fue observado por primera vez por unos pescadores locales en enero y se informó a la prensa. A el momento SAVIA Perú, que opera plataformas en el área, declaró que habían inspeccionado sus instalaciones y no eran responsables por la fuga.

Ahora hemos examinado imágenes del radar satelital Sentinel-1 durante los últimos meses. La imágen del 3 de febrero, proporcionada por la Agencia Espacial Europea, muestra un posible derrame de petróleo que se extiende a unos 22 kilómetros de una plataforma petrolera. Las imágenes de las semanas anteriores y posteriores a esta fecha también pueden mostrar alguna evidencia de fugas crónicas en el área.

Mientras que los reportes iniciales en la prensa nombraron una Plataforma 10 como la fuente probable, estas imágenes muestran un posible derrame que se extiende desde una plataforma diferente, Peña Negra TT (PNGR TT) también operada por SAVIA como parte del lote Z-2B. También se observó un buque de apoyo de buceo, DSV Urubamba,  junto a otra plataforma más al sur (PNGR BB) lo que podría indicar que se realiza  mantenimiento en la infraestructura petrolera de la región.

Imagen del Sentinel-1 de 3 de febrero 2017 mostrando un posible derrame que se extiende de una plataforma en la área de Cabo Blanco en la costa norte del Perú. Imagen cortesía de la Agencia Espacial Europea.

Dos adicionales imagenes Sentinel-1 están por debajo, del 11 de marzo y del 16 de abril de 2017. En el 11 de marzo volvemos a ver un posible derrame que se extiende 3 kilómetros de la plataforma PNGR TT pero debido a la presencia de unas manchas oscuras más grandes al oeste se torna difícil interpretar lo que aparece en la imagen. Estas manchas oscuras son áreas de agua relativamente plana que podría ser el resultado de la presencia de petróleo en la superficie del agua, pero tambien podria ser de otras causas, como las floraciones de fitoplancton o incluso lluvias fuertes. Un imagen reciente del 16 de abril no indica ningún posible derrame de petróleo en la zona.

Imagen del Sentinel-1 del 11 de marzo de 2017 que otra vez muestra un posible derrame de petróleo que se extiende al sur de la plataforma PNGR TT. Las grandes manchas oscuras al oeste indican áreas de agua mas calmada. Imagen cortesía de la Agencia Espacial Europea.

Imagen de Sentinel-1 de 16 de abril de 2017 que no muestra indicaciones de petróleo en la agua. Imagen cortesía de la Agencia Espacial Europea.

Junto con una extensa infraestructura petrolera, esta área tiene la mayor biodiversidad marina en la costa peruana y por eso se ha propuesto como parte de una nueva área marina protegida. Según la legislación propuesta, las compañías petroleras que operan en la zona podrían continuar siempre que cumplieran con las regulaciones ambientales. No podemos estar seguros de quién fue responsable por el petróleo que llegó a la playa de Cabo Blanco hace unos meses, pero con estas imágenes se puede mostrar que hay motivo de preocupación por una plataforma en particular (PNGR TT) y que el monitoreo continuo de plataformas de petróleo en esta área sería esencial si este ambiente único va a estar protegido.

More Offshore Drilling to Come?

Once again, the federal government is proposing that we expand offshore drilling to new areas in US waters.  Today, President Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of the Interior, which manages our public lands and waters, to review the Obama administration rule that deferred oil and gas leasing along the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska.  People who could be affected by new drilling in those areas should consider that it’s not just the risk of the occasional major disaster they would be facing; it’s the chronic, day-to-day pollution accompanying offshore oil development that is systematically under-reported by industry and the government, the “death by 1,000 cuts” that is so easy to ignore.

Case in point: check out last night’s slick at the site of the chronic Taylor Energy oil spill in the Gulf:

Sentinel-1 radar satellite image showing oil slick caused by a chronic leak of oil from the seafloor at the Taylor Energy site, where an oil platform was destroyed by a hurricane in 2004.  Image acquired 4/27/2017 at about 7pm local time.

This Sentinel-1 image taken on April 27, 2017 shows an oil slick covering an area of 45.5 square kilometers (km2). Our calculations assume that oil slicks observable on satellite imagery have an average thickness of at least 1 micron (one millionth of a meter), so each km2 contains at least 264 gallons of oil. Multiply that by the area of 45.5 km2 and the Taylor slick shown in this image contains at least 12,012 gallons of oil.

This site has been leaking oil continuously into the Gulf since Hurricane Ivan came through and knocked over the Taylor Energy oil platform in September.  That’s September, 2004.  You can review the history of this site and see the hundreds of spill reports received and tracked on our Taylor Chronology page here. Until something is done to stop this leak, we’ll continue to monitor the site and keep you informed.