Waterkeeper Alliance Takes Legal Action on Chronic Leak at 23051 Site in Gulf

One of our partners in the Gulf Monitoring Consortium, Waterkeeper Alliance, has filed a notice of intent to sue over the ongoing, chronic oil leak from the site of former platform 23051 in the Gulf of Mexico.  We discovered this leak last May while analyzing imagery of the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  According to the operator, Taylor Energy, and the Coast Guard, the wells at that location were damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and, we presume, have been leaking 24/7 ever since. Repeated observations of the site on satellite images and via aerial overflights confirm that the leak is ongoing.

Occasionally we’ve observed a deepwater drill rig, the Ocean Saratoga, at the site, working to plug these leaking wells.  But it’s not there continuously which makes us wonder: is the rig being pulled away from time to time for more lucrative drilling and workover jobs that pay a higher day rate?  We don’t know.

We’ve compiled a chronology of what we know about this chronic leak site.  We’ll continue to add to it as we see more evidence of ongoing leakage, part of our daily monitoring of the Gulf. If you’d like to bird-dog this site yourself – or anyplace else in the US for that matter – check out our SkyTruth Alerts. Or just click one of the following:

Predicted Top Threatened Watersheds in Pennsylvania

As part of SkyTruth’s Marcellus drilling monitoring program, we are publishing a new tool called the Fracking Hotspot Map.

The current Pennsylvania Fracking HotSpot Map, which highlights the top five most threatened watersheds in the next six months (October 2011 – March 2012) was derived from data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas Management.

The PADEP disseminates all permit and well records for drilling events in the state, which SkyTruth consults regularly to keep findings as up to date as possible. In order to create the HotSpot analysis, permits for only new (not renewed) Marcellus wells approved between April 1 – September 30, 2011 were downloaded and joined with records of actual wells drilled between that time. Any permits with wells already drilled were removed, thus leaving all permits yet to be drilled as of September 30, 2011. Analyzing past year’s permit and well reports revealed that, as a whole, the majority of permits are drilled within six months of issue.

SkyTruth used this model as a basis to locate the most heavily permitted, and thus the most future drilled, watersheds in the PA Marcellus shale region.

Affected Pennsylvania Watersheds – There are 90 in total. The dark red polygons will experience the highest drilling activity within the next six months.
Legend showing watershed color distributions and densities.

View Full Data Set

The impact of this type of analysis is obvious. Concerned homeowners, industry players and policy makers can pinpoint which counties, townships and watersheds will be most greatly affected by future drilling. Further data inclusions can highlight impacts to state land, protected forest, and fish and wildlife concentrations.

It is SkyTruth’s hope that with such accurate geographical knowledge, Pennsylvanians can take steps to foresee and mitigate future possible environmental harm caused by increased hydraulic fracturing.
Townships located in high permit dense watersheds, such as Little Connoquenessing Creek or Sugar Creek, can take extra precautions such as pre-drill and post-drill well water testing.

Visualizing Local Impacts of Coal Exports to China

Hello, my name is Yolandita. I am an Environmental Sustainability major at Shepherd University and a volunteer at SkyTruth. I have been asked to produce a 3D model of a coal train, that will be published to Google Earth. Coal companies are planning to export coal from Powder River Coal Fields in Wyoming to Bellingham, Washington, where it will ultimately be exported to markets in Asia. There will be 60 trains, each nearly a mile and a half long, making the trip daily. The 3D model will demonstrate what the train will look like passing through small towns along the way such as Billings, Montana and help visualize the local impacts.


Close up of the locomotive in Google Earth, with downtown Billings skyline in the background.

I used Google Sketchup and Google Sketchup Gallery to make the train model. I found and downloaded a perfect model of a BNSF locomotive and a few vehicles that would work. I then downloaded a coal car model and, using Google Sketchup, broke it to pieces and rebuilt it to match one of the BNSF coal car models.

Shot of the coal car, as I edit it, in sketchup.
The coal train shown below is a scale model of a 7,500 foot long BNSF train that will make the trip from Wyoming to Washington. The average carrying capacity for BNSF coal cars are just over 113 tons of coal. We’ve estimated that a typical train will consist of about 137 coal cars, which would mean an average of about 15,500 tons of coal for each train. That’s over 930,000 tons of coal being transported every day.


Here you can see the full length of the train running parallel to Montana Ave.,
from 30th street to 10th street, in Billings, Montana

For more background on SkyTruth’s research on coal transportation and its impacts, check out some of our other blogs, such as Coal Dust Threat in Seward, Alaska.

Beautiful MODIS/Terra Image of Gulf Today

Thought I’d share this pretty satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico, taken at about 10:30 am local time this morning. No sign of the smoke plume we reported on from October 2, which was also visible on yesterday’s Terra and Aqua images.

So enjoy.  Click to get the larger version, formatted to be 16:9 so it makes a sweet background for most computer monitors…!

Smoke Plume on Gulf Coast Near Vermilion Bay, LA

A small plume of smoke appears on yesterday morning’s MODIS/Terra satellite image of the Gulf coast, not far from Vermilion Bay in Louisiana. It’s not a big plume, only about 16 miles long, and normally we wouldn’t note this except that a tiny diesel-oil spill (2 ounces!) was reported from a vessel at this same location back on September 27.

MODIS/Terra image taken October 2, 2011 showing small smoke plume coinciding with a recent report of a small diesel leak from a vessel. Unknown if these events are related.

The Terra image was taken at about 10:45 am local time.  The MODIS/Aqua image taken a few hours later at about 2pm shows the plume is much fainter but stretches about 80 miles out into the Gulf.  The fire seems to be cooler – the smoke plume isn’t as dense, and doesn’t throw an obvious shadow like it does on the Terra image.  We don’t know if this fire and the earlier report of a diesel leak from a vessel are related, but the spatial coincidence was too interesting to pass up.

If anyone knows more about this fire please write in a comment to this post, or contact us.