Shell Oil Spill – Moving Toward Nigerian Coast

Yesterday’s MODIS satellite images were a bust, but today’s were slightly less cloudy/hazy.  Both the Terra and Aqua images show a pale patch of ocean water about 18 kilometers offshore, covering a total area of about 678 square kilometers.  But this is a tough call – the image quality really isn’t very good.  The closest sizable populated area near this part of the coast, according to Google Earth, is the town of Burutu located at top center on this graphic:

MODIS/Terra satellite image taken December 23, 2011 at 10:10am local time. Possible location of oil slick noted. Image data courtesy NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team.

This fuzzy patch that may or may not be the remnants of the oil slick is located about where we would expect to see it, given the wind speed and direction over the past couple of days (blowing from the south-southwest at 5-10 knots). Radar imagery would give us a better look but we haven’t seen any new radar images since December 21.

So far we haven’t heard that any oil has come ashore.  Shell reports they have mounted a vigorous response, including the use of chemical dispersants to break up the oil slick.

Yesterday Shell also released this photograph showing what purportedly caused the leak – a small crack in a transfer line at their FPSO.  Engineers, tell us – how long would it take to spill >1 million gallons of oil from a relatively small break like this?  I don’t know the diameter of this line; possibly 20″ or so?

Photograph reportedly taken by ROV showing crack in transfer line. Photo courtesy Shell.

Let us know if you have any expertise on flow rates through pipelines, and are willing to provide some expert opinion on this.