Routine Gulf Monitoring – Here’s Why We Need It

UPDATE 6/8/10 9am – check out video from an aerial overflight of the apparent oil leak next to the Ocean Saratoga semisubmersible drill rig, working ten miles offshore in Mississippi Canyon Block 20. We’re still trying to determine if this is the potential leak that we identified on satellite imagery as possibly coming from Platform 23051, or if this is yet another apparent oil leak in the same vicinity.

NOAA actually mentions the oil leak near the Saratoga in this map published back on April 30. The Mobile Register wrote about this yesterday.

UPDATE 6/8/10 3:30pm – This blogger uses some interesting language, but reports that the Ocean Saratoga is working to plug a well that had been damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. No explanation why there would be oil in the water as a result of this plugging operation. This also doesn’t explain the possible leak we see on multiple satellite images of Platform 23051.

UPDATE 6/9/10 7:15pm – Some media reports are misrepresenting SkyTruth’s work: we never claimed the Ocean Saratoga was leaking oil; our satellite image analysis indicates a possible persistent leak at or near Platform 23051, which is in the same general vicinity in the Gulf. These are two separate structures – one is a mobile drilling unit (MODU), the other is a fixed platform.

Three days ago we blogged about a possible small, but persistent, leak from offshore oil platform #23051 in the Gulf of Mexico, not far from the ongoing Deepwater Horizon spill. We asked for confirmation from anyone who might happen to be in the vicinity. Ask, and ye shall receive:

Photograph taken 6/5/10 of apparent oil leak in the vicinity of Platform 23051, courtesy J Henry Fair. Semisubmersible drill rig in foreground; workboat at left where the plume originates at the surface. Note a second plume apparently originating from platform in the background at upper right; this may be Platform 23051 (not yet confirmed).

Professional photographer J Henry Fair flew over the site yesterday using the MMS platform location in our blog post, and took photos of what he found. Here are the two he sent us today. There is an obvious plume of oil in the water next to a semisubmersible drill rig. J Henry identified it as the Ocean Saratoga rig (nice picture here), owned by Diamond Offshore.

The May 17 rig status report available on Diamond Offshore’s website (which prominently features a photograph of Senator Mary Landrieu, with the caption “Credit where credit is due”) shows the Ocean Saratoga is currently under contract to drill for the same company that owns and operates Platform 23051. The platform may be the one visible in the background of the photo above, apparently trailing another oily-looking plume. So it’s possible that we’ve actually discovered two separate leaks or spills in the same vicinity.

A closer look at the semisubmersible rig, work boat, and apparent plume of oil near the location of Platform 23051 in the Gulf of Mexico, taken June 5, 2010. Photo courtesy J Henry Fair.

J Henry described the workboat at the end of the oil plume as “churning the oil” as if to disperse it more quickly. It’s unclear from these pictures if the workboat is itself the source of this oil plume, or if indeed it’s motoring around where an oil plume is emerging at the ocean surface in an attempt to break it up. In any event, this spill is certainly large enough to require reporting to the Coast Guard.

Other than us – is anybody watching what’s going on out there?

This is why we think America needs publicly transparent, routine satellite monitoring wherever we allow offshore oil and gas drilling.

15 replies
  1. Hurricane Creekkeeper says:

    I have more photos of this rig. I was with Henry and pilot Tom Hutchings. I have close-up showing dispersant being used to break up the oil. I am also posting video of the rig.

    I need your contacts to sent more photos.

  2. Skruffy says:

    Good work, John, and J Henry Flair! Wonder how long it will take for the CG to come down hard (I say that with tongue firmly in cheek) on the operators.

  3. Lu says:

    Well, it's Day 49 with no end in sight! I wonder when we will be told the actual number of barrels/gallons being released each day into our beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Today, BP announced they are capturing 11,000 bpd from the ill-fitting cap over the gushing well. They went on to say they approximated that to 1/4 the amount spewing. So, is it 44,000 bpd x 49 days? Or is it 39,000,000 barrels spilled so far? Either way, we are over 75,000,000 gallons of crude in the Gulf of Mexico. A third plume has been found that dwarfs the other two by comparison. There is not enough boom to cover 4 states. Those are today's wonderful highlights.

    How far off would I be to ask President Obama to allow each state to handle their cleanup with our National Guard troops, trained local citizen cleanup crews, and every available technology we can come up with?

    Every person employed as cleanup personnel must be represented by OSHA and a binding contract with BP to cover ALL medical costs, economic costs, and long-term care resulting from oil exposure.

    Also, be intelligent citizens! Do not swim in oil contaminated waters! We do not know the effect of dispersant and oil exposure when we immerse ourselves within it. Think toxic!

    Well, on to Day 50!

  4. QuizMasterChris says:

    I wonder how much of the Natl Guard personnel normally available here is, once again (following Katrina), occupying other countries in the world's leading oil production region? We never learn.

    If you follow the discussion at you'll see they don't want to put a tight fit on that "cap" as if the pressure makes the wellhead pop the problem will be many times worse and basically far less containable than now.

    Astoundingly this simple information as to why the riser is still spewing hasn't made it's way into any mainstream coverage I've seen.

    Where would we be w/o the 'net and great sites like this?!

  5. me says:

    Would be nice to get a new estimate of the size of the slick in the gulf. Have the satellite images been poor?

  6. John says:

    Hey me – we haven't seen very good imagery since June 3. Yesterday's MODIS was OK but doesn't give a complete look at the slicks.

  7. Dennis says:

    "Other than us – is anybody watching what's going on out there?"

    Well unfortunately not. It's lights on and nobody home. aka "who's minding the store." Thank goodness SouthWings picked it up.

    I am surprised this was not restricted airspace they flew over. Hey, they have not been properly hazmat trained.

    June 07, 2010 — Going on a tip from Sky Truth, world renowned photographer Henry Fair, SouthWings pilot Tom Hutchings and Hurricane Creekkeeper, John L. Wathen flew a photo mission over the BP Slick and beyond. At about 12 miles off the mouth of the Mississippi River we encountered another leaking oil rig!

    Go Sky Truth and SouthWings. You are both great orgs.


  8. RG says:

    The Tragedy Is NOT Primarily The Bathing Beauties On The Beaches!!!

    With data now released showing 0.5ppm oil in sub-surface plumes if the size of the plumes is only as large as the oil on the surface then the amount of oil in the plumes is ~200,000 bbls…

    It's reasonable to imagine the plumes are not smaller than the surface in area… one might easily suggest double the surface oil area or ~400,000 bbls… This starts to look like a flow of ~8,000 bbls per day is accounted for in the subsurface plumes maybe much more.

    Given the government's clearly demonstrated bias in reporting the smallest numbers possible the 0.5ppm number is surely low…

    Keep in mind the acute LD50 toxicity of crude oil in water with regard to fish is 1-10 ppm … meaning that 50% of the fish exposed to 1pp crude oil in water are killed inside of 24 hours. Long term exposure lethality is seen with far lower concentrations. This is for larger fin fish… very small zooplankton is far more sensitive.

    Thus the 0.5ppm concentration of crude being reported by the government is far from trivial… it is in fact highly lethal and we might well expect massive die offs of all marine life over vast areas of the Gulf.

    What's needed is independent testing of the toxicity of this crude and crude plus dispersant. The reality is that the deadly toll of this spill is not on the bathing beauties along the beaches, as beautiful as those pelicans, turtles, and seabirds are. The real deadly toll is on the critical small but abundant sea life living in the vastly larger volume of poisoned Gulf Waters…

  9. RG says:

    Eric, Just Googled a report on crude toxicity on brine shrimp, a fair equivalent to baby Gulf shrimp. The LD50 is 24ppm in 24 hours! My earlier post was directed to the plume condition… of course the concentration of crude oil in the near surface around all of the moving slicks is measured in percents and parts per thousand not ppm. Those drifting slicks are highly lethal to subsurface life.

  10. RG says:

    Eric, There is indeed a very big spread on the reported lethal dose for crude oil on fish, two orders of magnitude. Since BP, the government, and the dutiful advertising salesmen for the media insist on publishing ONLY the minimized case there needs to be some balance.

    You must keep in mind that the LD50 and LC 50 numbers speak to 24 hour lethality. In the present case we are now at day 51 and counting. It's very well established that long term lethal effects are dramatically lower than 24 hour effects.

    If someone has the time and patience to run a comprehensive Google search on the literature and might tabulate the many reported toxicities for crude oil IN SEAWATER.. this would be great… Maybe someone can set up a common report form on a web page and then the work can be distributed many people who have an hour or two to contribute some brain power. If we can Search for Extra Terrestrial Inteligence using distributed processing power why can't we save our own planet doing the same!

    Of course all this is easily doen by direct measurement. In a week of work and a few thousand bucks one would have the real LD50 for many of the Gulf species for the present conditions.

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