SkyTruth Presentation at American University in Washington, DC Tuesday, Feb. 15

If you’re in the Washington, DC area on Tuesday, Feb. 15 why not stop by the campus of American University to hear John Amos give an illustrated talk about using satellite images to protect our environment?

John will be speaking at 7:00 p.m. at the Wechsler Theater on the 3rd floor of the Mary Graydon Center, located at 4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016-8017

He’ll look at the impacts of mountaintop removal of coal in Appalachia, natural gas drilling in Wyoming, and oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico from last year’s tragic BP spill. And we’ll enjoy a few images that remind us what a beautiful and fascinating planet we live on.

The event is free and open to the public.



SkyTruth Presentation at Shepherd University This Week

File this under quick updates: SkyTruth will be participating in a Meet and Greet with staff, students and faculty at the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University at noon this Wednesday, February 16.

Pipeline Problems – A Homeland Security Issue

Geez, this has been a bad week for natural gas pipelines and the folks who live near them. On Wednesday night a gas explosion and massive fire in Allentown, PA killed 5 people in their homes and injured at least a dozen others (VIDEO). 47 homes were damaged and 8 were destroyed. The cause is not yet determined but failure of an 83-year-old, cast-iron, 12″ diameter gas main is suspected.

And last night a powerful explosion and fireball erupted from a 36″ natural gas transmission line in eastern Ohio (wild amateur VIDEO above). No injuries have been reported in this incident, the latest in a string of pipeline failures since last year’s tragedy in San Bruno, California.

We’ve got a vast network of gas pipelines across the nation. Much of this infrastructure is getting pretty old, and is being encroached on by residential development, putting more people in harm’s way when things go south. Meanwhile we’ve got a boom in natural-gas drilling taking place, which means more pipeline construction and higher gas volumes and pressures being pushed through the existing system. It seems obvious that we can expect the pace of these incidents to increase, unless we change the way we manage, inspect, and maintain pipelines.

Want to know where the nearest pipelines are to your home, school or business? Check out this kinda clunky, but useful, interactive map of pipelines around the nation, published by the federal government’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. [Deb Goldberg at Earthjustice points out that this map only shows transmission lines, and does not include the networks of smaller gathering lines that collect gas from natural-gas wells and the distribution lines that take it directly into homes and businesses.]

Learn more from our friends at the Pipeline Safety Trust.

Fire at Natural Gas Facility in Texas – Visible From Space

Fire at Enterprise Products facility in Mont Belvieu, Texas, February 8, 2011. Photo credit: Reuters / Richard Carson.

There’s been an explosion and fire at a natural gas storage and processing facility in Mont Belvieu, Texas, about 35 miles east of Houston. No injuries have been reported [UPDATE 2/10/11 9:30ET – one worker confirmed dead] but a massive fire and series of blasts have rocked the area. The cause is apparently a failure of “one or more” pipelines that deliver natural gas liquids to the processing plant.

This MODIS / Aqua satellite image taken shortly after yesterday afternoon’s explosion shows the fire as a bright orange spot, with a plume of brown smoke apparently trailing away to the north:

Fire visible as orange spot on this low-resolution NASA/MODIS satellite image taken shortly after the explosion.

SkyTruth Comments on Deepwater Drilling Plan

The public was invited to submit comments regarding the first Exploration Plan (EP) for deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico completed in accordance with new safety and environmental standards mandated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE, formerly known as the Minerals Management Service). The Supplemental EP, submitted by Shell Offshore, includes three proposed exploration wells in approximately 2,950 feet water depth approximately 130 miles off the coast of Louisiana. (BP’s failed Macondo well that blew out and caused the world’s worst accidental oil spill in the Gulf last summer was also an exploration well.)

In the comments submitted by SkyTruth, we argue that BOEMRE shouldn’t allow drilling without first implementing routine satellite monitoring for pollution. We also point out what we think are critical weaknesses in Shell’s plan to respond to, contain, and clean up a worst-case scenario oil spill, one of the major new requirements that BOEMRE has put in place. Shell contends that using essentially the same techniques (and much of the same equipment) that failed during the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill – skimmer vessels, controlled burns, chemical dispersants and absorbent booms – they will be able to handle almost ten times the amount of oil that BP and the Coast Guard, in an all-out effort, were able to capture or destroy on a daily basis.

In a related development, the Marine Well Containment Company just announced a promised deepwater blowout containment device has passed their tests and is now deemed ready for action. They also note that it will take up to 3 weeks to get the thing assembled and deployed when it’s needed. If Shell’s worst-case scenario oil spill of 3.1 million gallons (73,500 barrels) per day should occur, as much as 65 million gallons of oil could be in the water before the containment device even arrives on scene. That’s six Exxon Valdez spills. That’s why it is so important that we have a truly effective, functional cleanup plan and capability in place and ready to go before we start drilling again in deep water.

We’re definitely not convinced by Shell’s plan. And we remember the wildly over-optimistic claims that BP made about their ability to clean up oil from the gushing Macondo well, claims that were proven disastrously false in relatively benign weather conditions. BOEMRE needs to take a careful, hard look at these purported containment and cleanup capabilities, and should require convincing explanation, documentation, and testing before new deepwater drilling permits are issued. Because the first plan BOEMRE approves will become the template, the de facto standard, that all other aspiring drillers will copy. Get it wrong, and we’ll be caught flatfooted again by the next spill. Get it right, and offshore drilling will proceed along an environmentally and economically safer path.

Isn’t that the path we all want to take?