The ongoing Montara / West Atlas oil spill in the Timor Sea off Western Australia is now in its 62nd day. So far, three attempts to intercept and plug the leaking well have failed. Another attempt should happen today. A MODIS / Terra satellite image taken on October 21 – exactly two months after the blowout and spill began – shows slicks and sheen covering 2,600 square miles and approaching within 35 miles of the Kimberley coast. Satellite images show that oil has been moving to the south-southeast from the Montara platform, toward Australia, for the past few days:
The Australian Senate held a hearing this week on this relentless spill and the oil company, PTTEP, could offer no justification for their oft-repeated estimate that 400 barrels of oil per day were spewing from the damaged well. This estimate may be an order of magnitude too low. As reported today in The Australian:
A Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism official told Greens senator Rachel Siewert on Wednesday: “The maximum leakage rate from that well could be as much as 2000 barrels of oil a day, with condensate as well.”
Senator Siewert acknowledged that did not mean 2000 barrels were actually coming out, rather that it was the maximum amount possible if the well were operating at full capacity.
At the 2,000 barrel per day rate, over 5 million gallons would have been spilled so far. That’s getting into Exxon Valdez territory.
Could this happen in the US? We can’t say until we get more details about what caused this blowout. But it’s worth noting than in the US Gulf of Mexico, blowouts are not rare occurrences: the US Minerals Management Service has investigated 18 blowouts and 13 “loss of well control” incidents since 1983, several involving fires and fatalities. In 1992, the Greenhill Petroleum blowout and fire sent 70,000-120,000 gallons of oil into Timbalier Bay, Louisiana. Blowouts happened twice in 2007, and the most recent loss of well control was in 2008. And many more, less-serious, incidents can be found here.