Meanwhile, Fires Rage in Texas

Texas is being hit hard by a one-two punch of severe drought and wildfire (here’s an interactive map of the  fires).  The same MODIS image that showed the beauty of the Mississippi Delta yesterday also starkly reveals the plumes of smoke from those Texas fires, drifting across nuch of the eastern and southern parts of the state. They sure could have used some of that rain from Tropical Storm Lee.

MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken September 6, 2011, showing pale gray plumes from wildfires in Texas and smoggy pall of drifting smoke across the southern part of the state.

Gorgeous Mississippi Delta

Let’s start the day with something pretty: yesterday’s MODIS/Aqua satellite image of the Gulf is one of the most beautiful views of the Mississippi Delta that I’ve ever seen. Tropical Storm Lee has just moved inland after drenching the coast, and the patterns of turbidity and sediment fringing the vibrant green vegetation are stunning. Wish I was down there fishing today!

Click for a larger version, and enjoy:

Where the water mingles with the land: MODIS/Aqua image showing Mississippi Delta and Louisiana coast on September 6, 2011.

ConocoPhillips Oil Spill in Bohai Bay – They Have Company

The Chinese government and fishermen are really hammering ConocoPhillips over their recent and apparently still unresolved pair of oil spills from two platforms at the Penglai 19-3 offshore field in Bohai Bay.  We observed small oil slicks there on a radar image taken on June 11. Reports of continued leakage from one of the platforms, where they were injecting drilling fluids beneath the seafloor for disposal, suggest they may have cranked up the pressure too high and ruptured the well casing.  Good thing that’s not a high-pressure production well or we could be looking at a major multi-month spill.

Here’s a new version of the June 11 image, with a scale bar and some helpful annotation pointing out what we infer to be the Penglai 19-3 oil field based on maps and descriptions of the location that we’ve read (does anyone have actual lat/lon coordinates? call us!).  We’ve also marked slicks and a couple of vessels with distinctive wakes (there are more – pick ’em out!):

Detail from Envisat ASAR satellite radar image of Bohai Bay, China, showing oil slicks and offshore oil platforms at what we infer to be the location of the Penglai 19-3 offshore oil field.  Image taken on June 11, 2011, courtesy of the European Space Agency.

We’re not making any excuses for the problems caused by ConocoPhillips, but we’ve been looking at radar satellite images of the Bay and it seems pretty clear that there is routine oil pollution throughout the Bay that is not attributable to the Penglai field operation.  Penglai 19-3 lies just south of a major east-west shipping lane where we see slicks, probably from vessels, on a couple of images.  Here’s an example, showing an obvious slick from a vessel that stretches for nearly 40 miles:

Detail from Envisat ASAR image taken on August 21, 2011, showing an area in Bohai Bay about 60 miles north-northeast of the June 11 detail above. Slick from vessel is about 40 miles long.

So ConocoPhillips may be fouling the Bay, but it appears they’re not the only ones.

August 30 Oil Slicks In Gulf – Closest Facilities

Tropical Storm Lee is drenching the Gulf and has put the kibosh on any Gulf Monitoring Consortium investigations for the next few days (even radar satellite images will be screwed up by the heavy rain and gusty winds), so we’ll have to wait and see what next week brings.  In the meantime, one of our Facebook friends (thanks Judson!) prompted us to give a little more info about the oil and gas facilities closest to the August 30 oil slicks (shown as orange dots on this image):

BP’s Horn Mountain platform – located in Mississippi Canyon Block 127 about 8 miles east-southeast of the August 30 slicks, this manned “spar” structure was installed in 2002.  It is connected to the Destin natural gas pipeline system that was shut down on August 30 because it was producing too much liquid.

Exxon’s Mica subsea manifold – located in Mississippi Canyon Block 211 about 8 miles south-southwest of the August 30 slicks.  This structure on the seafloor produces oil and gas that is transported by pipeline to the Pompano platform about 27 miles away.  This “subsalt” discovery marked a milestone in Gulf production.

We don’t have any information that either of these facilities is experiencing any problems, but they are both closer to the August 30 oil slicks than the BP / Deepwater Horizon site, which is about 15 miles away.

Radar Satellite Image Shows Oil Slicks Seen August 30

An Envisat ASAR satellite radar image of the Gulf taken at about 10:50 pm local time on August 30 shows distinctive slicks corresponding with video and photos taken during an overflight earlier that day by Bonny Schumaker / On Wings of Care.  This image is complicated – NOAA/NODC data buoys in the area recorded very low wind speed (2-3 meters/sec) when the satellite passed overhead, near the lower limit for oil slick detection.  The thin spaghetti-like strands of dark slick throughout this area are most likely tendrils of natural surfactants that commonly appear on low-wind radar images of the ocean surface.  But the size, shape and appearance of a 14-mile-long slick that seems to originate at the 23051 Site matches many observations we’ve made on satellite imagery since we discovered a chronic leak at that location. And the large dark patch at the location of the August 30 overflight apparently confirms Bonny’s observations with an area of slick covering about 122 square kilometers. Given a minimum observable thickness on radar of 0.1 microns under these low-wind conditions, that would represent a minimum of 3200 gallons of oil.

First, here’s what the August 30 radar looks like.  The Mississppi Delta is the bright birds-foot pattern on the left edge of the image.  Water is medium-gray; slicks are black:

Envisat ASAR image taken August 30, 2011 about 10:50 pm local time. Image courtesy European Space Agency.

Here’s the same chunk of image with markers showing the chronically leaking 23051 site, the Deepwater Horizon wreckage site, and the location of Bonny’s August 30 oil slick photos and video. Seafloor pipelines in yellow; recently troubled Destin pipeline shown in brown; active oil and gas platforms and other structures, including seafloor manifolds, are orange dots; natural seep locations are green dots:

Same area with features of interest marked. Image courtesy European Space Agency.

Zooming in, here’s the August 30 radar image again showing a distinct patch of slick about 16 miles northeast of the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill site.  Orange dots are active oil and gas production facilities (platforms, manifolds):

Detail from Envisat ASAR image taken August 30, 2011 about 10:50 pm local time. Image courtesy European Space Agency.

Same area with other features marked for reference (pipelines in yellow, natural seeps are green dots). The brown highlighted pipeline is part of the Destin gas pipeline network, operated by BP, that was coincidentally (?) shut down on August 30:

Detail from Envisat ASAR image taken August 30, 2011 about 10:50 pm local time. Image courtesy European Space Agency.

Here’s what the same patch of Gulf looked like on a radar image taken four days earlier, on August 26.  A small, 4-mile-long slick is visible just above the word “wreckage” – it’s about equidistant from a subsea manifold in the area and a couple of natural seeps, so either of these could be the source.  But this slick doesn’t seem related to the large patch observed on August 30:

Detail from Envisat ASAR image taken August 26, 2011. Image courtesy European Space Agency.

As usual, we’ll keep looking at this area as we get new imagery and information, and will let you know what we learn.