Brazil’s Latest Oil Spill – Another FPSO-Related Failure

According to a SkyTruth volunteer based in Brazil, the vessel involved in this week’s spill is the tanker Elka Aristotle.

And according to a handy vessel traffic site she recently stopped off at “Campos Basin P38” which appears to be an FPSO in the Marlim Sul field of the Campos Basin. Check out this excellent, well illustrated and very detailed summary of the Marlim Sul field discovery and development, including the role of the P38 FPSO.

So this spill was most likely related to routine FPSO operations.  Something to look forward to soon in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gorgeous Gulf of Mexico – Today’s MODIS Image

Thought we’d share this stunning satellite image of the Gulf, shot today by NASA’s MODIS satellite.  Enjoy!

MODIS/Terra satellite image, Gulf of Mexico –  January 27, 2012.  Image courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team.


Brazil Suffers Another Oil Spill – Another Warning Shot For FPSOs?

Brazil just experienced another oil spill, this time close enough to shore that it has fouled a stretch of beach in Rio Grande do Sul.  The spill apparently happened while a tanker was offloading a cargo of oil at the Osorio terminal operated by Petrobras, near the city of Tramandai.

The spill was reported to be about 315 gallons.  Video and photos from the affected beaches show one hell of a mess.  I guess a little really goes a long way when it comes to an oil spill:

This spill is reminiscent of Shell’s recent spill off Nigeria caused when oil leaked from a cracked transfer line between an FPSO and a shuttle tanker. It’s possible this Petrobras spill happened at the other end of an FPSO operation, where the shuttle tanker was offloading its cargo to a coastal facility. This is a concern, since FPSOs are now being used in US waters in the Gulf of Mexico for deepwater oil development — and Petrobras, the world leader in FPSOs, has already had a serious failure at the first FPSO installation under construction in the Gulf.

Oil slick from spill that occurred at an offshore terminal near Tramandai, Brazil on January 26, 2012.  Photo courtesy World Maritime News.
[More images and analysis after the jump…]

We thought we’d give you a closer look at the Osorio terminal, an offshore loading facility. The latest Google Earth imagery (March 2010) is cloudy in this spot, but if you use the “view historical imagery” feature you can toggle back in time to cloud-free high-resolution images from October 2009 and April 2005 that clearly show the facility in use, with tankers moored at the loading buoy about 2.2 miles off the beach.

First, we homed in on the facility by locating the big round oil storage tanks onshore near Tramandai (the tanks are just off the upper left corner of this image):

Then we identified a long jetty sticking out into the ocean along that part of the coastline.  The jetty itself is about 1,150′ long. It points straight at a tanker stationed offshore. This is the 2005 imagery:

Zooming in on the tanker we can see details of the operation.  The tanker itself is about 610′ long.  It’s attached to the mooring/loading buoy with a mooring line coming off the bow of the vessel, and a floating oil transfer line that’s moving oil between the vessel and the terminal:

Check out the image from October 26, 2009 and you can see another tanker at the loading buoy.  It might be the same tanker seen in 2005.  Very similar, anyway.  It also seems to be generating a brown plume in the water.  This looks to us like sediment, not oil, but we’re not sure why this would happen:

Zoom way in and you can actually read a name on the side indicating this is a tanker operated by d’Amico Tankers Ltd.

Drilling to Begin Soon in Deep Water Off Cuba

Say hello to my little friendScarabeo-9 arrives to begin deepwater drilling off Cuba.  Photo courtesy

The Scarabeo-9, a big semisubmersible drill rig owned by Italian company ENI, just built in China, and currently under contract to the Spanish oil company Repsol, has arrived in the Florida Straits off the north coast of Cuba to begin exploratory oil drilling.  The rig will begin its work in exploration block N27 (see map after the jump) just 90 miles from Key West, in water about 6,500′ deep.  That’s 1,500′ deeper than the site of the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf in 2010.

[More after the jump…]

Map of offshore oil and gas exploration blocks in Cuban waters.  Scarabeo-9 rig will be drilling soon for Repsol in Block N27 in Florida Straits, about 90 miles from Key West.  Map courtesy Cuba Standard.

The rig passed an informal US inspection while it stopped over in Trinidad on its trip here from China, and Repsol has voluntarily agreed to comply with to US “environmental requirements” related to offshore drilling (whatever that means).  But Floridians are concerned that should a major spill occur, wind and current could push oil into US waters and potentially on to southern Florida islands and beaches that dodged a bullet during the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill.

Making matters worse, the US trade embargo against Cuba prohibits US spill-response companies and oil companies from providing assistance unless they’ve received a special license from the State Department.  Only a few firms have been licensed at this point — representing only about 5% of the spill-response capacity that was thrown, with minimal effect, at the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill — but that’s not going to stop the Scarabeo-9 from making hole.

On the hook for a rig-rental fee of more than $500,000 per day, Repsol is unlikely to keep the Scarabeo idle while we get our act together.  Time is big money in this capital-intensive business.

We’ll be monitoring this area, too, using satellite images.  We’ll publish here when we get our first image showing the rig on location.

Chevron Blowout and Rig Fire off Nigeria – Small Slick Visible on Radar Today

The K.S. Endeavor jackup drill rig operated for Chevron in shallow water about 5 miles off the coast of the Niger Delta is continuing to burn.  This blowout probably won’t be under control until a relief well can be drilled. Chevron confirms the rig had been drilling a gas exploration well they call the Funiwa Deep-A, with a planned depth of 16,500 feet.  But the well had only reached a depth of 12,945′ when the blowout occurred early Monday morning.  That’s comparable to the depth of BP’s Macondo well that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, launching what would become the world’s worst accidental oil spill.

The Funiwa field has both oil and gas reservoirs.  A big question on everyone’s mind:  Could this lead to a major oil spill?  Is there a lot of oil already coming out of the well right now, fueling this blowtorch of a fire?  Some have reported sighting slicks and sheen in the vicinity.

Satellite imagery gives us some reason for optimism so far.  This Envisat ASAR radar satellite image taken today shows only a very small slick around what we infer to be the location of the burning Endeavor, based on multiple observations of the fire itself on MODIS 7-2-1 satellite images and the bright spots on the radar image that indicate big hunks of metal out in the water (rigs, vessels, platforms):

Detail from Envisat ASAR image taken January 20, 2012 showing small slicks in vicinity of burning K.S. Endeavor drill rig.  Inferred location of rig shown. Large dark patches along the coast are probably caused by turbid river water entering the ocean.  Image courtesy European Space Agency.


[More images and analysis after the jump…]

But if most of the oil is being burned up, won’t extinguishing the fire lead to a major oil spill like it did in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010?  Again, satellite images give us some hope that there is not much crude oil involved in this blowout.  MODIS satellite images show is what’s happening at visible to infrared wavelengths.  A MODIS/Aqua image taken yesterday shows the burning rig and the plume of smoke it’s generating. Here’s the 7-2-1 infrared composite, clearly showing the burning rig as a large red spot emitting strongly at mid-infrared wavelengths:

MODIS/Aqua satellite image (7-2-1 infrared composite), showing location of burning rig (red spot) and plume of smoke on January 19, 2012.

Here’s the same image shown in true color. The visible wavelengths are best for seeing the smoke plume, which is about 50 miles long, blowing to the west away from land. The smoke is very white, suggesting fairly clean combustion that you might expect from gas and gas condensate with little crude oil.

MODIS/Aqua satellite image (true-color composite), showing plume of smoke on January 19, 2012 from burning K.S. Endeavor drill rig.

Compare this with the MODIS true color images from Aqua and Terra showing the smoke plume from the burning Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf on April 21, 2010; it’s longer and more persistent, and is obviously brownish in color — possibly because of cooler, less complete combustion due to the high crude-oil content of the BP blowout.  If this does indeed mean there is little crude oil coming from the failed Funiwa Deep-A well then we may not see a major oil spill.  But until the well is under control, there is always the risk that the situation could change; this deep well probably penetrated several shallower gas- and oil-bearing zones that might come into play if the well’s casing string becomes compromised by the violent expulsion of gas and condensate under high pressure.

By the way, the Funiwa field has some sad history: back in 1980 the Funiwa-5 well blew out, spewing some 8.4 million gallons of oil into the Atlantic Ocean here and entering the hall of infamy as one of the largest accidental oil spills ever. Human intervention didn’t stop that spill; eventually the well collapsed on itself (“bridged over”), shutting off the flow.