Gas Plume from Mt. Oyama, Japan

The MODIS sensor on NASA’s Terra satellite captured another spectacular clear image of Japan yesterday (April 6). The small version (2 kilometer detail) gives a nice overview; for a closer look try the full-resolution version (250 meter detail).

There’s still a good bit of snow up in the mountains. No obvious signs of the earthquake and tsunami damage on this low-resolution imagery, and the turbidity that we observed along the northeastern coast in the first few days following the quake seems to have dissipated or settled out.

Sharp-eyed viewers will note a pale blue plume blowing to the southeast from the island of Miyakejima. This is apparently a plume of sulfuric gases that have been emanating from Mount Oyama, an active volcano on the island, since the last series of eruptions began back in 2000:

Strong aftershocks continue to shake this traumatized region, including a 7.4-magnitude quake yesterday that prompted a brief tsunami warning.

Balloon Camera Launch Take 2: Success (almost).

Yesterday, on the campus of Shepherd University, SkyTruth had it’s first (almost) successful launch of our balloon camera. You may recall we attempted to launch our balloon last month but were unsuccessful due to nasty weather conditions. However, with blue skies and a beautiful breeze, we were able to get our balloon off the ground yesterday. The good news? The balloon launch went off without a hitch and it’s strong enough to lift the camera that is attached. The bad news? The camera swings like a drunken sailor. So while we have pictures, we may not be able to figure out exactly what’s IN them. We’ve got some tweaking to do, so stay tuned.

Transocean Donates Bonuses to Victim’s Families

We’re happy to report today that executives at Transocean announced they will donate their 2010 safety bonuses “to the families of the 11 workers killed in the April 2010 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.” This will add $250,000 to the Deepwater Horizon Memorial Fund fund that Transocean had already established to support the victims’ families.

The safety bonuses only amount to 25% of the total bonuses paid to Transocean executives this year, so they’ll still have plenty of walkin’ around money. But this is a positive outcome, close to what we called for a couple of days ago.

Gulf of Mexico – Deepwater Development

All active oil and gas production platforms (pink dots) and pipelines (yellow) in the Gulf of Mexico

We just ran across an interesting pair of tables on the BOEMRE website listing all of the deepwater oil & gas wells (276) and production platforms (46) in the Gulf of Mexico. Thought we’d put them on a map to see the distribution. In this instance, “deepwater” means a water depth greater than 1,000 feet:

Deepwater oil and gas wells (yellow dots)


Deepwater oil and gas production platforms (pink dots)

Sharp-eyed viewers might note that there are several pink dots in deepwater on the “all platforms” map at the top of this post that don’t appear in the “deepwater only” map above. Those extra dots mark the locations of subsea manifolds – structures on the seafloor that are connected by gathering pipelines to the nearest platform. This is a common development approach for deepwater fields, where massive (and very costly) platforms are designed to function as regional collection and processing “hubs.”

By the way, the rumpled appearance of the Gulf seafloor where most of this deepwater drilling is taking place is a consequence of the salt-dome geology. Learn more about the Gulf of Mexico here.

BP Hoping to Resume Drilling in Gulf of Mexico This Summer

BP is in discussions with federal officials at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) to get permits to resume deepwater drilling in its existing oil fields in the Gulf, perhaps as soon as this summer. The timing might be unpredictable but federal approval seems inevitable since BP holds many leases in the Gulf and is one of the top global players in offshore oil production. Besides, we want them to survive so they can pay all the bills they owe from the world’s worst accidental oil spill.

I hope BP takes this opportunity to become the safest player in the Gulf, and to lead the oil industry – in cooperation with state and federal regulators – to go well beyond what is or will be required by the letter of the law. BOEMRE’s response has been downright disappointing, issuing new deepwater drilling permits that rely on old pre-2010 oil spill response plans that failed us miserably last summer, and continuing to place faith in a last line of defense – the blowout preventer – that is now recognized to be fundamentally unreliable.

BP could choose to voluntarily set a much higher bar for this industry by demonstrating to their shareholders and to regulators that they are determined to be the gold standard in safety — even if that means sacrificing some short-term profitability to invest in continuous long-term improvements in energy efficiency, drilling procedures, spill response, and spill remediation.