Black Ice Is Never A Good Thing…

The recent oil spill by Shell off Nigeria’s coast briefly brought to light the some of the most insidious consequences of the world’s addiction to fossil fuels.

As our thirst for oil grows, companies are stretching the limits of depth and technology to drill wherever and however. Shell has recently received conditional approval to begin exploratory drilling in one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive and valuable ecosystems – the Arctic Ocean. Drilling will begin this summer in northern Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, leading many to wonder if this is such a good idea.

What would happen if Shell caused a spill, like last month’s event in Nigeria, in the waters of Alaska hundreds of miles away from any Coast Guard station or port? We superimposed the resulting 350-square-mile Nigeria oil slick on the Chukchi Sea in the area where Shell will be drilling:

Hypothetical 350 square-mile slick originating from a Shell lease block in the Chukchi Sea

How soon would a spill of this size reach the nearby coastline only 30 miles away? What about the effect on local fisheries and native infrastructure? How effectively could a spill like this be contained and cleaned up in icy, treacherous conditions? Shell touts emergency preparedness as key to mitigating any possible spillage, but the notoriously harsh Arctic environment raises many concerns about our ability to safely produce and transport oil in this region.

Drilling Alerts: SkyTruth Kicks It Up a Notch for 2012!

A new year brings new possibilities here at SkyTruth! For us, that means an amazing new portal of drilling data and maps for easy access and download.

SkyTruth Drilling Alerts is a compendium of datasets, links and news to give any concerned citizen the tools necessary to become informed about the issues that matter most to them.

We have created a live system of alerts for the public to subscribe to, providing up-to-date notification of drilling events in Pennsylvania and/or West Virginia (other states are on our radar). As soon as we know, you know!

Click to visit the SkyTruth Drilling Alerts site!

The site also showcases our mapping work showing drilling throughout the Marcellus shale region. Maps that highlight levels of drilling activity by county and watershed are provided in printable format as well as in interactive form for more dynamic, searchable viewing. These maps are designed to help concerned citizens get organized to perform regular tests of water quality in streams, creeks and rivers where drilling activity is highest and impacts to water quality are most likely to be occurring. As new shale-gas drilling spreads throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and on to Ohio and New York, such proactive knowledge is crucial to understanding if and how resource extraction will affect our nation’s valuable waterways.

This site also provides visitors with recent SkyTruth news and updates as well as links to and explanations of our most useful data sources.

We want this to be an informative and user-driven resource, so please do not hesitate to share your comments and suggestions for improvement as you explore! We are also calling for any and all assistance with identifying and maintaining datasets you think would be useful to include on the Alerts maps. Contact us! 

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter where we will be announcing additions and improvements to this site as we strive to keep our Earth and global community as clean and healthy as possible!

Oil Slicks off Brazil – December 30, 2011

SkyTruth staff and volunteers have been looking pretty hard at the offshore oil producing areas along the coast of Brazil since Chevron’s spill from the Frade field in the Campos Basin, caused when they lost control of a new well being drilled in deepwater back in November.  That well had to be plugged and abandoned.  But there is a lot going on in Brazil’s waters, and there are other sources of oil pollution apparent on radar satellite images taken on November 25 and December 6.

Teri  noticed that this NASA/MODIS image from December 30, 2011, shows a moderate-sized apparent oil slick (with a much smaller companion nearby) in deepwater about 225 kilometers offshore.  It doesn’t have the shape we usually associate with bilge-dumping from a passing vessel; this looks more like the slicks formed by leaks at depth, or from a stationary point source. The slicks cover about 260 square kilometers.  We calculate they hold at least 68,000 gallons:

Detail from MODIS satellite image taken December 30, 2011, showing apparent oil slicks off Brazil.
(maps after the jump)

This is far out on the edge of deepwater activity in Brazil, so we’re not sure what could be the source. The maps below give the context for these slicks.  Actively producing offshore fields are outlined in green; colored dots show exploration and production wells; and yellow rig icons show the locations where rigs were drilling in 2011, based on data we downloaded from ANP yesterday.  These data show no rigs in the vicinity, and the nearest well is an exploration well (purple dots) about 17 km from what we infer to be the source end of the larger slick:

Map showing December 30 oil slicks, active offshore oil /gas fields, drill rigs that were working in 2011, and existing wells.
Overview showing December 30 oil slicks and regional offshore oil/gas infrastructure of the Campos and Santos basin areas off Brazil.


Pebble Mine Plan Superimposed on Washington, DC


The concerns of many fishing and sportsmen’s groups, environmentalists and local Alaskans have risen over the proposed Pebble open-pit copper/gold mine in southwest Alaska. Here I have superimposed an image of the mine footprint over Washington DC, using Google Earth Pro, to demonstrate the size of the proposed open-pit mine and the tailings and wasterock storage impoundments that we’ve calculated would be necessary to accommodate this mining operation.



Superimposed image of proposed Pebble mine over DC
In the image above, you can compare the size of the mining pit to The Mall in DC, nothing compared to the huge impoundments required to store all the rock and tailings that would be excavated from the pit. The image below shows three very large impoundments, each bounded by a series of earth-and-rock-filled dams. The largest tailings impoundment will be held by what would be the longest dam in the world.
Tailings impoundments necessary to hold Pebble mine waste

We estimate this huge mine will produce 13.5 billion cubic yards of liquid slurry and wasterock. All of the waste must be eternally confined in a seismically activearea that will likely experience major earthquakes. Spills, leakage or any other damage to the dams could negatively affect Alaska’s $5 billion BristolBay fishing industry as well as tourism. For more information check out all of our blog posts about the Pebble mine and check out our map and image gallery.