Arctic Drilling: Not Ready for Prime Time

The USCG said Friday that it is coordinating a response with Royal Dutch Shell representatives after the company’s brand new $200 million tugboat experienced multiple engine failures while towing Shell’s arctic semisubmersible drilling rig, the Kulluk, approximately 50 miles south of Kodiak Island Friday, in 20-foot seas. Rough but not unusual conditions for the Arctic.  

The tugboat M/V Aiviq towing Shell’s Kulluk drill rig in better times. Photo courtesy gCaptain.

This is right on the heels of the Coast Guard discovering “several major safety and pollution prevention equipment” deficiencies on Shell’s other Arctic rig, the Noble Discoverer drillship.

And remember when the Discoverer went rogue and ran aground in Dutch Harbor back in July?

And Shell crushed their supposed oil spill containment device “like a beer can” during a field test this summer in water just 120 feet deep?

After having multiple delays getting their oil spill response vessel to meet Coast Guard standards?

This is a surprising – alarming? – series of missteps, mistakes and outright failures for a company of Shell’s size, talent, market cap and ambitions.  Especially considering how much time and money, and political capital, they’ve invested in this program.  But it’s not too late to take a prudent time out to allow a thorough, critical evaluation of whether we are really ready to drill safely in the Arctic, and respond effectively to oil spills in that tough environment.

Because if Shell isn’t ready after all this time and effort and investment, then who on earth is?

Fracking With Diesel Fuel

We here at SkyTruth are happy to see the our data being put to good use by our colleagues over at FracTracker. Using our fracking chemical database that we released last month, they have created an interactive map that visualizes where diesel fuel is being used in hydraulic fracturing. In October we posted that industry self-reported using diesel fuels at least 448 times, in spite of the fact these substances are the one family of chemicals not included in the abundantly generous “Halliburton Loophole.”

Check out FracTracker’s interactive map embedded below to see where this practice is used most. (Kerosene in Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, and N. Pennsylvania, and diesel fuel [sometimes called petroleum distillate] in Texas esp.)

To find out more about the practice, why it is dangerous, and how diesel fuels are defined, check out our original post on this issue:

What on Earth is a Waterdog?

This past summer SkyTruth and the Downstream Project went up to Northern Pennsylvania to document Marcellus Shale gas development in and around the Pine Creek Watershed, a watershed known to Pennsylvanians as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Our trip was facilitated by LightHawk, a volunteer conservation pilot association who took us up in a single-engine aircraft to get an aerial perspective on unconventional shale gas wells popping up across the Northern Tier (Read more about our part of the story here). However, one of the most unique features we found was the waterdogs.

Eastern Hellbender: Image from Davidson College.

“Waterdog” is a nickname for a type of Hellbender, North America’s largest salamander. But because of local citizens’ concern for the habitat and health of these elusive creatures, and the amount of time volunteers spend in the streams they care about, these citizen-scientists have taken to calling themselves the “Pine Creek Waterdogs.” To learn more, check out:


Waterdogs from The Downstream Project on Vimeo.

Special thanks to The Downstream Project, Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group, Trout Unlimited: God’s Country Chapter, Dickinson College’s Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM), and LightHawk.

And the flaring continues off Nigeria…

Looks like flaring on offshore oil and gas platforms in Africa didn’t take a holiday this year. As you can see by this MODIS Aqua 7-2-1 image from  12/23/2012, there was lots and lots of flaring activity going on off the coast of Nigeria.

MODIS Aqua 7-2-1 taken on 12/23/2012 showing multiple flaring incidents off the Nigerian coast.

And not to be outdone, this area where we’ve seen flaring before is at it again:

MODIS Aqua 7-2-1 taken on 12/23/2012 shows an area of flaring that we’ve been following for awhile now.

You can read about that spot off the Niger Delta on our blog post of December 3.We still don’t know who is operating out there, so if anyone knows, fill us in!

SkyTruth Joins Petition Regarding Pacific NW Coal Exports

SkyTruth has joined WaterKeeper Alliance members from around the Pacific Rim and other NGO’s in petitioning the Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) to  widen the scope of their environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, WA. We endorse this petition because it supports our vision of “a world where all people can see and understand the environmental consequences of human activity everywhere on the earth.” 
Smog (grey clouds) over China as seen by NASA’s MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) in October 2010.  Increased exports through the Pacific Northwest are expected to find a major market in China and Southeast Asia.
Photo: NASA/MODIS
From our perspective of the earth through the lenses of satellites, aerial images, and spatial data, we have a unique perspective on the footprint of human activity and the far-reaching impacts of our development. In order for the ACoE to make a accurate judgement on the positive and negative elements of this project, all of the impacts have to be accounted for. This petition calls for a thorough environmental impact statement that:
  • Analyzes impacts to every community impacted by the mining, transport and burning of coal, including impacts in Montana, Idaho, Washington, India, China and Bangladesh.
  • Quantifies the air, land and water pollution from coal dust that will blow off rail cars, barges, transfer stations and loading areas contaminating communities, people, wildlife and waterways with heavy metals and particulates.
  • Thoroughly assesses the impacts of habitat alteration and pollutant impacts to natural resources, parks and wildlife including the rare, threatened and endangered species in the Columbia River Basin, the Puget Sound Basin and in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve where the terminal might be built, including impacts to threatened Puget Sound Chinook Salmon, steelhead trout and bull trout as well as endangered Southern Resident Orca Whales.
  • Calculates and reports the amount of mercury, fine particulates and other air pollutants that will blow back across the Pacific Ocean and pollute Pacific Northwest after the coal has been burned in power plants in India and China.
  • Analyzes the impacts to cultural and archaeological resources in tribal communities that are located in the path of the coal trains, barges and ships that will supply the Gateway Pacific Terminal.
  • Assesses the likely drop in property values due to air emissions, coal dust and traffic disruption along railroad path.
  • Fully assesses the increased risk of a marine accident that could result in a major oil spill in the already-crowded waters of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, due to 900 or more container ship transits per year. This should include a major spill’s likely impact on the economy and on threatened and endangered species, including the endangered Southern Resident orca whale.
  • Quantifies the carbon emissions generated by the burning and transport of the coal, as well as its impact on global climate change and ocean acidification.
  • Includes a no-action alternative.
The comment period will remain open through January 21, 2013: to sign, visit: