Leaking Well at Platform 23051 Location – New Images

Radar satellite images taken on June 10 and June 18, 2010, show continuing slow leakage from a well at the location of Platform 23051 in the Gulf of Mexico, about 40 miles from the leaking Macondo well that is the source of the ongoing BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Oil from that massive BP spill is visible in the lower right of both images (oil slicks are dark on these images):

CSK radar satellite images of Platform 23051 location taken June 10 (left) and June 18 (right). Images courtesy CSTARS.

Air photos and video shot at the site on June 5 showed a long plume of oil in the water next to a semisubmersible drill rig, the Ocean Saratoga, and no sign of a fixed platform. News accounts and news releases indicate the Ocean Saratoga is working to plug a well that was damaged by a seafloor mudslide during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and has been leaking at a slow rate ever since. Containment devices are supposed to be capturing much of that oil.

We infer that Platform 23051, installed in the mid-1980s, was destroyed by – or removed shortly after – Hurricane Ivan in 2004; and that the Ocean Saratoga is working at the site formerly occupied by Platform 23051.

The slick apparent on the June 18 image covers 11.95 km2. Assuming an average thickness of 1 micron (1/1000th of a millimeter), that represents a total volume of 3,157 gallons of oil. Certainly this pales in comparison with the BP spill: that well is now estimated to be gushing oil at a rate of 1.47 – 2.52 million gallons (35,000 – 60,000 barrels) per day; the Coast Guard reports that 1.05 million gallons (25,000 barrels) were captured yesterday. But we think it’s important to know how common chronic leaks like this are.

5 replies
  1. phosemann says:


    Is it not possible to take the several photographic estimates of the areal extent through time and come up with a range of estimates of total volume of oil on the surface? This may also give a probable answer to the question of whether the flow has increased through time.

    I am also amazed that those estimating flow from the water-bottom videos appear to make no allowance for the natural gas component.

    The public still seem to lacking a credible scientific estimate due to the rush to compensation.

  2. Dragonfly says:

    there's been a leak since Ivan and no one ever talked about it? thank you John.

    when will everyone learn that there should be no drilling in the Gulf. Not that it will matter now as my home is being ruined by the minute.

  3. John says:

    phosemann – I assume you're talking about the main BP spill, not the leak from this Ivan-damaged well.

    The problem with making continued estimates of the spill rate from satellite imagery is this: as time goes by since the spill began on April 20, an ever-increasing amount of the oil that has leaked from the Macondo well has been removed by skimmers, burned, collected by booms, and driven back under water by dispersants. At the same time, natural processes have been steadily destroying the oil – photolysis, evaporation, biodegradation, mechanical wind/wave breakdown. So any estimate based on how much oil can be measured at the surface will increasingly yield a spill rate that is far too low.

    It's my understanding that the scientists who are estimating flow from the video, and through other techniques, are accounting for the natural gas.

  4. james hagen says:

    Banning Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production may not yield the desired result. It would eliminate Gulf environmental damage but where is the lost production going to come from and what is the economic cost on consumers? All modes of energy production involve environmental damage and safety concerns including the materials and installations used for solar energy. Nothing is without risk. For example, the result may be higher taxes/cost for alternate sources or environmental damage from coal, nuclear, water power, bio materials etc.

  5. John Amos says:

    Thanks James. You're right, there is no free lunch when it comes to energy production. But we're not advocating a ban. We're in favor of efficiency, conservation, and the diligent development of alternatives that carry a smaller risk profile, economically and environmentally. And, if we're going to continue drilling offshore, we need to get much better at cleaning up oil spills once they hit the water.

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