First – yesterday afternoon’s MODIS/Terra image was clear over the site of the reported fire in the Gulf of Mexico, and we don’t see any sign of a smoke plume like we did last summer when the Deepwater Horizon rig was burning. Possibilities: the report to the NRC was erroneous; the location in the report is not accurate; the fire was a short-lived event; the fire didn’t generate much smoke. A drill rig flaring off large volumes of natural gas could create a brightly visible light at night, and wouldn’t make much smoke, so we think this is a strong possibility. Flaring economic quantities of gas in the Gulf is illegal – Shell paid a $49 million fine in 2003 for violating that law.
Second – the MODIS/Aqua image above, a couple of hours later, doesn’t show anything around the location of the fire either. Scattered clouds obscure the view there. But it does show a slick that appears to emanate from our old nemesis, the former platform 23051 site that has been leaking since 2004. The apparent slick is about 20 miles long and covers about 115 square kilometers. Assuming an average thickness of 1 micron (1/1000th of a millimeter), that’s 30,705 gallons of oil. If this slick is at the lower limit of visible detection, 0.1 microns, it’s still 3,000 gallons – which is 3,000 times bigger than Taylor reported yesterday to the National Response Center just 30 minutes after this image was taken.