The News is Hopeful off the New Zealand Coast

Containers on the stern deck of the 47,230 tonne Liberian-flagged Rena hang precariously, about 12 nautical miles (22 km) from Tauranga, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Photo courtesy of

Good news from the salvors who have been working to pump all of the remaining oil off of the Rena, the 47,000-ton vessel that ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef off the Bay of Plenty coast on October 5, spilling about 110,000 gallons (350 tonnes) of fuel oil and a bunch of its containers into the sea. According to TVNZ’s website, almost 2/3 of the remaining oil has been pumped out of the last tank on the ship. Officials report that less than 63,000 gallons (200 tonnes) of oil are still in that last tank and the best news for those working to pump out the oil is that the weather is expected to remain clear for the remainder of this process.

Even MORE good news, they plan to begin the process of getting all of the containers moved off the ship as early as next week (again, weather permitting). Currently there are 466 containers on the ship’s deck and another 814 secured below deck. Some of these containers hold toxic materials, so we hope they get them offloaded safely.

Rena‘s running aground on the Astrolabe Reef is considered to be New Zealand’s worst environmental maritime disaster. According to, up to 20,000 birds were killed in the disaster.

Oil Spill (Natural Seep??) off Brazil – 56 Miles Long Today

Today’s MERIS satellite image (courtesy of the European Space Agency) shows an apparent slick that’s now about 56 miles long off the coast of Brazil in the Campos Basin:

MERIS satellite image showing slick in Campos Basin off Brazil, November 11, 2011. Image courtesy European Space Agency.

As in the MODIS images shot two days ago, this slick appears to be continuously emanating from a point source at the north end. Today Chevron claimed it was being caused by a natural oil seep, not any leak or problem associated with the offshore field that they operate.

It is possible, but call us skeptical.  From my previous years working as an exploration geologist I know there are natural seeps off Brazil (that was a study I did for BP back in the day…). But I’ve never seen a natural seep create a slick this large on a satellite image.

One way to verify if it’s a natural seep: go back and look at historical satellite images for this area, and if it doesn’t show up then either it’s a brand-new natural seep or it’s a human-caused slick.  We’re doing that right now.  We’ll let you know what we find.

“Fracking Pit” Spill Reported near Salem, West Virginia

Yesterday we received this report from our SkyTruth Alerts System about a spill of “fracking fluid” from a pit located about a mile and a half to the north east of Salem, WV in Harrison county.  Note that we placed the original report in the town of Salem because we had to approximate the location since no specific latitude and longitude were given in the report.  The actual location according to gas drilling permit data from the West Virginia DEP appears to be about a mile up Cherry Camp Run heading north from Rt. 50:

Approximate location of recent report of “fracking fluid” spill near Salem, WV

Here’s what we know:

The operator of the site is Antero Resources Bluestone, LLC which sits on property reportedly owned by Mary Post and Robert Haught. Several drilling permits on this property were issued over the past few years, and several permits were issued and then canceled. The most recent permit we see in the WV Permit Data site is API number 033-05540 which was approved on 4/19/2011. The prior permits for this farm were signed by Hall Drilling. So far, we haven’t found any actual ‘permit commenced’ filing for any permit issued on this property (we believe that a “permit commenced” filing indicates the start of drilling activity). In the most recent permit, the current operator is listed as Antero Resources Bluestone LLC.   A little online research reveals that Bluestone LLC was acquired by Antero Resources last December. According to that press release: “Sam Ross, Mike Hall and the Bluestone team have created quite a valuable asset in the play and we congratulate them on their success.” In the WV Permit Data search, we found that Michael Hall was the contact person for Hall Drilling, LLC. So we conclude that Hall became Bluestone LLC, and was then taken over by Antero Resources.

We did a little more digging and found this Youtube video which was uploaded on March 6, 2011 and appears to show the same site:

Then we found another Youtube clip, uploaded just two months later on May 21, 2011 showing what appears to be the same drilling site and including the API number of the most recent permit for that site, which is probably posted on a sign near the road:

We’ll let the videos speak for themselves, and only point out that the surface of the water is awfully close to the top of the berm and there is not much clearance there to prevent the contents of the pond from overflowing into the creek.  We have no idea what’s in the pond though, and no way to verify that these videos do indeed show the same location as the NRC report.

Oil Spill off Brazil Seen On Satellite Images

We don’t have much information on this yet but Chevron is reporting an oil spill in their Frade field in the Campos Basin off Brazil.  Two MODIS satellite images from NASA, taken yesterday, show an apparent oil slick about 35 miles long and covering about 180 square kilometers, 80 miles offshore due east of the city of Campos. Assuming this slick is only one micron (1/1000th of a millimeter) thick, then it represents about 47,000 gallons.

This Terra image, shot at about 1 pm local time on November 9, has a sunglint pattern over the area that reveals the slick as a bright streak. At first we just thought it was a bank of clouds until we noticed it didn’t cast any shadow, like the other clouds in the area:

November 9, 2011 MODIS/Terra image of oil slick off Campos, Brazil. Image courtesy NASA/Rapid Response Team.

And this Aqua image taken a couple of hours later clinched it as a slick: the sun angle has changed enough so the sunglint pattern has moved, and the slick now appears mostly dark.  It’s in the same place, but the clouds have all changed dramatically compared with the Aqua image:

November 9, 2011 MODIS/Aqua image of oil slick off Campos, Brazil. Image courtesy NASA/Rapid Response Team.

The slick seems to be originating from a continuous point source of leakage at its north end.  It also looks thicker at the north end, as you’d expect – it’s brighter there on the MODIS/Aqua image suggesting the slick is thick enough to have its own distinct spectral response, not just a sunglint signature.  We hope they get the source of this under control soon.

Fire Reported in Gulf of Mexico – Part Deux?

Location of fires in the Gulf recently reported to the National Response Center in the general vicinity of the Na Kika deepwater development project operated by BP and Shell. Platforms are orange dots; seafloor pipelines are orange lines. Location of Deepwater Horizon wreckage shown for reference.

Once again an airline pilot (or observant passenger) has reported seeing a fire in the Gulf of Mexico.  This was reported to the National Response Center at about 8:19 pm on November 6, at a location in the deepwater Gulf about 12 miles southeast of the site of last year’s BP oil spill.  It’s also about 11 miles north of a fire reported on September 26 that we covered in this blog.

Both reports are in the general vicinity of the Na Kika offshore development project operated by BP and Shell.

We think these observers may be seeing flaring of natural gas during drilling operations.  We’re not sure what, if any, drilling activity is occurring here right now (if you know, please let us know!). If they are flaring “commercial quantities” of natural gas, that could be illegal – Shell got busted for doing this a few years back in the Gulf at their deepwater Auger platform about 140 miles offshore, and got fined to the tune of $49 million by the US government.

We don’t know if that’s what is happening here.  But we wonder if anyone at BOEMRE is paying attention to this.