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.