Gas Well Blowout in the North Sea

On March 26, Total reported a gas leak that forced them to evacuate more than 200 workers from a production platform in the Elgin field of the central North Sea, about 150 miles east of Aberdeen, Scotland.  It soon became clear they had an uncontrolled blowout of natural gas and liquid gas condensate, a potentially explosive situation that has caused other companies to evacuate and shut down operations at neighboring facilities miles away from Totals’ Elgin platform.  The Oil Drum has compiled excellent information about this serious ongoing incident.  Hopefully the failed well will collapse on itself (“bridge over”) and shut off the high-temperature, high-pressure flow of gas from this deep reservoir.  Otherwise, it may continue to flow and pose an extreme fire and explosion hazard until a relief well can be drilled, which could take a couple of months.

Map showing location of Elgin platform in North Sea, site of ongoing gas well blowout.

This leak is mostly natural gas escaping into the atmosphere at sea level — something we can’t see on satellite imagery — but a small slick of liquid gas condensate has also been reported at the site.  This Envisat ASAR radar satellite image, taken yesterday at about 9:23 pm local time, shows a patchy slick covering about 89 square kilometers (34 square miles).  The platform itself appears as a very bright spot on the radar image but it’s covered up by our yellow rig icon marking the location:

Detail from satellite radar image taken March 27, 2012, showing small slick (probably natural gas condensate) apparently originating from gas well blowout at Total’s Elgin platform.  Envisat ASAR image courtesy European Space Agency.

Investigation of Chronic Mystery Slick off Nigeria’s Coast

Ever since Shell’s oil spill from their FPSO in the Bonga field, we’ve been monitoring offshore Nigeria for oil pollution.  Radar images of this area are often riddled with narrow ribbons and small blobs where something oily may be floating on the surface of the water.  Teri noticed a suspicious slick on an image taken March 20, just a few miles off the coast near the town of Molume. This particular blob had caught her eye before, on multiple images she had analyzed prior to this one.

It seems to be a chronic slick from a continuous leak, which originates from or near a permanent structure.  Several images obtained from this area all show this slick, suggesting that a platform has been leaking some oily substance from at least January 12 to March 20, 2012 as seen in this time-series slideshow:

Ships and platforms (or other metal structures) display as white specks on radar images.  They’re not always easy to tell apart, and we haven’t found a nice government database of oil platform locations in Nigeria like we have here in the US. So we set about building our own platform database: after gathering multiple images from this location, a little utilization of GIS software allowed us to identify stationary platforms as opposed to moving ships. One of the platforms sits at the end of the chronic oil slick near Molume.

On January 12, 2012 and a couple of other dates the slick appears to have reached the beach, likely depositing oil ashore. It’s possible that oil coming from this source was attributed to Shell’s Bonga spill.  We don’t know who is responsible for this platform, noted with a green arrow in the time-series slide show above (larger images can be seen in this gallery).  It’s located at 5.972°N, 4.844°E, so if anyone does know the operator please contact us.

Slicks in Campos Basin, Offshore Brazil – March 20, 2012

Brazil is coming down hard on Chevron for the relatively modest oil spill that occurred last November when they lost control of a deepwater exploration well in the Frade field of the Campos Basin, about 75 miles offshore.  A federal prosecutor just filed a lawsuit and criminal charges against Chevron and their drilling contractor Transocean.  Seventeen executives of those companies have also been charged.

Brazil’s President has made it clear that the country will treat all oil companies, domestic and international, the same when it comes to safety.  Petrobras, the Brazilian national oil company, is the main operator in Brazilian waters, and they’ve had their own share of problems lately.  We’ve observed small slicks from Petrobras facilities since we started our daily monitoring of this area a few months ago.  And this Envisat ASAR radar satellite image of the Campos Basin, taken at 9:18 pm local time on March 20, shows what appear to be long, narrow slicks emanating from several Petrobras production platforms and FPSOs:

Detail from Envisat ASAR radar satellite image of Campos Basin off Brazil, taken March 20, 2012.  Oil production platforms and FPOs indicated by colored dots. Possible oil slicks (dark streamers) appear to emanate from several facilities, shown in orange.  Image courtesy European Space Agency.
This is a complex image.  Platforms, FPSOs, drill rigs and vessels appear as bright spots on radar. The large, indistinct dark areas in the upper part of the image are also slicks, but not caused by oil (a “slick” is any patch of smooth water, appearing dark on a radar image). Instead, these patches are probably caused by areas of very low wind speed, and/or by heavy rainfall.  Sea-surface wind data, taken almost the same time as the radar image above, indicate there was unsettled stormy weather in the area:
Surface wind speed and direction derived from satellite radar scatterometer data, offshore Brazil, at about 8 pm local time on March 20. Black flags indicate possible rainfall.
More images and maps after the jump….

Chevron’s Frade field is covered by the same March 20 radar image.  No slicks are apparent in the vicinity of the spill that occurred last November, where Transocean’s SEDCO 706 semisubmersible rig was drilling a deepwater exploration well for Chevron:

Detail from March 20, 2012 Envisat ASAR radar satellite image showing vicinity of Chevron’s November 2011 oil spill in the Frade field of the Campos Basin.  No slicks are apparent in this area.  Locations of production platforms and FPSOs are shown as colored dots.  Image courtesy European Space Agency.

However, sea-surface wind speed data indicate that strong winds moved through the Frade field (located at about 22 degrees South latitude / 39 degrees West longitude) in the day before the radar image was acquired.  These winds, and the rain that probably accompanied them, were strong enough to disperse the thin oil slick that was reported recently at Frade:

Surface wind speed and direction at about 7:30 am local time on March 20, offshore Brazil. Black flags indicate possible rainfall.


Mystery Slicks in Central Gulf – East Cameron South, Block 321

Every now and then we see something in SkyTruth Alerts that catches our eye. For the past few days we’ve noticed repeated reports of an unknown oil slick sighted near some platforms near Block 321 in the East Cameron (South Addition) area of the central Gulf of Mexico, about 92 miles off the Louisiana coast. We also see two slicks in the vicinity on an Envisat ASAR satellite radar image taken about noon local time on March 14.  The slicks aren’t particularly big, on the image or in the reports, but their persistence in the area under strong winds blowing steadily from the southeast suggests that there is a continuous source of oil leaking at this site.  This is close to a major international shipping lane for the port of Houston, and there are also quite a few platforms and pipelines in the neighborhood:

Radar satellite image taken March 14, 2012 showing a pair of small slicks near the vicinity of oil slick sightings reported to the National Response Center on March 14, 15 and 16 (red markers). Orange lines and dots are pipelines and platforms. Image courtesy European Space Agency.

The water depth here is about 200-300 feet (note that a pipeline in this area was damaged during drilling operations back in 1978). Oil slick sightings were reported to the National Response Center, probably by personnel on the nearby platforms, on March 14, 15 and 16.  No source or cause is indicated in the reports.  We don’t know if there is any active drilling occurring in the area.

If anybody wants to swing on by and take a look, the center of the slick at right is located at 28.197404° North latitude / 92.783588° West longitude.


Chevron Reports Minor Slick From Leak in Campos Basin, Offshore Brazil

Chevron and Brazilian regulators reported that a small, fresh oil slick has appeared near the site of Chevron’s blowout last November in the deepwater Frade oil field in Brazil’s prolific Campos Basin. This is not entirely unexpected given the nature of the problem that Chevron had with the well being drilled by the SEDCO 706 rig: an unknown amount of oil escaped laterally from the well into surrounding bedrock, and worked its way up to the seafloor along a pre-existing natural fault.  It will take some time for all of that oil to emerge, so we’ve been anticipating chronic small oil slicks at this location.

But optical satellite imagery of this area (MODIS and MERIS) have had problems with clouds and haze for the past few days, so we haven’t seen any sign of the latest slick. Radar images don’t have that problem, but the most recent radar image we have was taken at about 9pm local time on March 9, and it looks clean around the SEDCO 706 site:

Detail from radar satellite image taken March 9, 2012, showing area of reported Chevron leak. No slick is apparent. White dots are large metal objects on the water:  drill rigs, FPSOs, oil platforms or vessels.  Orange dots are the locations of FPSOs and platforms from Brazilian government data.  Red marker indicates the location of the SEDCO 706 rig when it was drilling the well that caused the initial leak in November 2011.  Envisat ASAR image courtesy European Space Agency.

We do see a small slick on this image, though, about 80 km south-southwest of the Chevron leak site.  It is quite small, covering about 2 square kilometers, and appears to be associated with Petrobras P38, an FPSO in the Marlim Sul field that recently began handling new production from platform P56:

Small slick apparently associated with Petrobras FPSO P38 in the Marlim Sul Field off Brazil.  Detail from radar satellite image taken March 9, 2012.  Orange dots mark the locations of FPSOs and platforms from Brazilian government data. Envisat ASAR image courtesy European Space Agency.

This appears to be a very small spill — at 1 micron thick it would only amount to 528 gallons — but recent spills off Nigeria and affecting the beach at Tramandai in Brazil, should put FPSOs on everyone’s radar here in the US.