June 14 Satellite Image Shows Bohai Bay (China) Oil Spill

A MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken June 14 captured a serious oil spill in China’s Bohai Bay.  Apparently the spill began from an offshore field called Penglai 19-3 operated by Conoco-Phillips on June 4, but the public was only recently informed. Chinese authorities have launched an investigation.  In their official statement the State Oceanic Authority noted that the oil slick polluted an area of 840 square kilometers (336 square miles), and that the spill has been controlled although some oil continues to enter the sea from “small leaking points.”

We’re not sure what that means, although from this description it sounds like there were separate problems at platform B and platform C, and that platform C may have suffered a loss of well control (a blowout) at the seafloor on June 17 – after the image below was taken:

MODIS/Aqua satellite image of Bohai Bay taken June 14, 2011. Apparent oil slick in vicinity of Penglai field outlined in yellow.
Detail from MODIS/Aqua image taken June 14, 2011. Apparent oil slick outlined in yellow.  Islands in Bohai Bay are labeled for reference.

Most of this area in eastern China is obscured by clouds, heavy haze, fog and dust storms on the NASA/MODIS satellite images taken over the past month.  On June 14, though, this MODIS/Aqua image captured the oil slick under relatively clear skies.  On that day the slick appears to cover about 314 square kilometers.  Assuming 1 micron thickness, that would amount to 83,000 gallons of oil, but that should be considered a bare-minimum estimate for this spill.

We’ll keep analyzing the imagery in coming days to see if there are ongoing problems in the Penglai field.

SkyTruthing –> AirTruthing –> GroundTruthing the Marcellus Shale

Paul getting ready to fly our Marcellus target area today.

Today our intrepid water-quality team went up in the air on a reconnaissance flight of new Marcellus Shale gas-drilling sites in northern Pennsylvania, thanks to our flying friends at LightHawk.  Paul, intern Ben, and videographer Ed got a great aerial tour of the three watersheds within the Susquehanna drainage that we targeted using satellite and aerial imagery and GIS data to identify current drilling activity.  Intern Michelle is taking a short break from her Gulf of Mexico oil-pollution duties and is joining them to help take water-quality measurements in streams throughout these watersheds, to see if we can identify any impacts from drilling and fracking.  Paul told me this afternoon they saw plenty of signs of fracking: well sites crowded with rectangular tanks that look similar to the cargo containers that get stacked up on oceangoing freighters. He also said the drilling sites they saw appeared shipshape, with erosion-control measures in place; but the access roads were another story.

Fracking tanks lined up at Marcellus Shale drilling site near Dimock, Pennsylvania in 2010. Photo copyright J Henry Fair.

So what will they find this weekend?  We really don’t know.  Hopefully, nothing unusual.  But in some places folks have noticed degraded water quality associated with the onset of drilling activity.  This may happen for a variety of reasons.  Our team will measure temperature, pH, conductivity and turbidity, and compare these measurements with pre-drilling baseline water quality data available from the state.  We’ll let you know what we learn.