Oil & Gas

As demand persists for crude oil and natural gas, exploration for new reserves of these resources extends to ever more risky and technically challenging environments. At one extreme, exploration for offshore oil and gas is reaching out to deeper waters and into the pristine, unforgiving Arctic, while on land, advances in unconventional drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has brought oil and gas wells into farms and backyards across North America.

Our drilling-related work focuses on these two areas:

Offshore Oil & Gas Drilling

Remote sensing is a powerful tool to monitor oil pollution on the open ocean and obtain up-to-date information about pollution incidents at production platforms, drill rigs and seafloor pipelines miles away from the nearest land. SkyTruth is a founding member of the Gulf Monitoring Consortium, a rapid response alliance that collects, analyzes and publishes images and other information obtained from space, the sky, and the surface, to investigate and expose oil and petrochemical pollution incidents in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf coast. We provide guidance for our partners who have local resources such as boats and small aircraft, and we monitor thousands of industry-generated pollution reports every year for signs of serious trouble or chronic problems.

Since the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, Americans have worried about oil polluting our ocean waters.  Yet even the hard lessons learned then — and 20 years later from the grounding of Exxon Valdez in Alaska’s pristine Prince William Sound – didn’t prepare us for the massive scale of damage from the 2010 blowout of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  While tracking the BP disaster, we also detected an unrelated leak from a platform damaged six years earlier during Hurricane Ivan. The damaged wellheads at that site continue leaking even today, and plans for stopping the leak are uncertain. SkyTruth maintains a chronology of all pollution reports from this site, including those submitted by the operator (as required by the Coast Guard) and other entities such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and our own observations on satellite and aerial imagery.

SkyTruth monitors oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, using oil spill reports from the federal National Response Center and satellite images from around the world. Our SkyTruth Alerts system lets subscribers and others know whenever a spill is reported. We publish what we’re seeing on the SkyTruth blog, via social media, and on the Gulf Monitoring Consortium website.

The potential for cost effective monitoring over vast ocean areas is always improving with advances in remote sensing technology. SkyTruth is always looking for new opportunities to apply existing and anticipated tools. 

Hydraulic Fracturing & Unconventional Drilling

In the years leading up to the national debate about the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), SkyTruth cut its teeth producing dramatic imagery of the growth and impacts of natural gas drilling on public lands throughout the Rocky Mountain region.  We helped raise this issue to national prominence by documented the rapid and dramatic transformation of iconic Western landscapes caused by this new wave of drilling in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana and Utah.  With the expansion of this so-called “unconventional” drilling and fracking into the suburbs, fields and forests of the populous mid-Atlantic, our work has evolved.  Through our FrackFinder programs, we invite the public to help us analyze imagery and map the locations of drilling sites and other pieces of critical oil and gas infrastructure, generating unique data that enables scientific research on the ecological and public-health impacts of unconventional oil and gas development.