Oil Slick at Platform 23051 Site, Gulf of Mexico

We’ve been watching the site of former platform #23051 in the Gulf since the BP spill last summer, when we discovered an unrelated chronic leak at this location. The most recent air photo from the site shows it still leaking in March.

And now this: today’s MODIS/Terra satellite image shows what appears to be an 18-mile-long oil slick emanating from this location. We’ve been told the site leaks an average of only 14 gallons per day. Once again we see evidence suggesting a much larger leak. See for yourself:

Detail from NASA MODIS/Terra satellite image taken May 11, 2011. Tip of Mississippi River delta at upper left.
Same image with annotation marking the location of the known leaking wells at the site of former platform 23051. Yellow measurement line marks apparent oil slick.

The total area of this slick is about 40 square kilometers. Assuming a minimum thickness of 1 micron (1/1000th of a millimeter) this indicates a total volume of 10,560 gallons of oil. At 14 gallons per day it would take 2 years to leak that much oil. But a micron-thick slick can survive at sea for no more than a couple of days at most before it dissipates.

Something isn’t adding up…

4 replies
  1. Shark Diver says:

    Another lie in a string of lies, seems the magic number is under 20 gal a day for these reports. Is there a Federal law that triggers a mandatory clean up after a certain number of gal a day?

  2. John says:

    Shark Diver – that is a great question. Certainly if only a small amount is reported it seems unlikely any officials would personally investigate; they just don't have the resources to be able to do that.

    We don't even know if the responsible company is being fined for this ongoing spill.

    We've got a sharp intern this summer helping us look into questions like this – I'll add it to her list!

  3. John says:

    Thanks Mac. According to the latest Diamond Offshore rig status report (dated June 14 – download from http://www.diamondoffshore.com/ourFleet/documents/June14web2011.xls) the rig that's been working to plug the leaking wells at this site – the Ocean Saratoga – is scheduled to be pulled off the site by mid-July and sent to a 5-year job elsewhere in the Gulf. If you don't see any vessel activity at the site, maybe they've already pulled out – without completing the job, based on the 10-mile-long slick we observed on yesterday's satellite image (http://rapidfire.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/imagery/subsets/?subset=USA7.2011179.terra.250m).

    According to their rig status report, no other Diamond Offshore rig is assigned to the site. Maybe another drilling company is under contract to bring in a rig to continue the plugging operation.

    This plugging operation is obviously a low-priority job. Possibly because as far as we can tell at this point, no fines are being levied against the operator for the oil being continuously spilled into the Gulf at this site, so they have no financial incentive to pay higher rates to get the plugging job done quickly. Our summer intern Michelle is working to determine who to blame for setting up this moral hazard: the Coast Guard? BOEMRE? EPA? Department of Justice?

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