Landslide at Bingham Canyon Mine – Satellite Image

The spectacular landslide that shook the earth at the Bingham Canyon copper-gold mine in Utah on April 10 has been captured in an equally spectacular high-resolution satellite image taken on April 18.  The image below is a humble reduced-resolution version; to see the real thing in all it’s lovely detail, check out this week’s WorldView Report from DigitalGlobe:

High-resolution satellite image taken April 18, 2013, showing landslide in Bingham Canyon mine near Salt Lake City, Utah. Source: WorldView Report from DigitalGlobe.

This issue of WorldView also has an image of the fertilizer facility — and surrounding neighborhood — near Waco, Texas that was leveled in a deadly explosion, caught here on a cell-phone video.  Watch this in full-screen mode to get a feel for how catastrophic this was — and maybe a new appreciation for the lifesaving value of good zoning laws.

GMC Monitoring Flight – Mobile, Al to Gulfport, MS: Part I – Coal Export and Terminals

On March 24 staff from Gulf Monitoring Consortium members SkyTruth, SouthWings, and Gulf Restoration Network flew over the Alabama and Mississippi coastline investigating pollution and degradation related to energy development. Our flight originated from Mobile, arranged by SouthWings with local volunteer pilot Dr. David Mauritson generously donating his time, talents, and fuel to our monitoring efforts. 

First, we flew over the Port of Mobile which dominated the landscape immediately after takeoff from the Brookley Aeroplex. The port boasts the McDuffie Coal Terminal, one of the nation’s largest coal import-export terminals. In addition to several smaller facilities nearby, McDuffie can handle a staggering 30 million tons of coal in a year, but in the past year  they processed *just* 13.9 million tons – only 46% of capacity. These numbers are of interest because of the intensifying debate over coal export.  With cheap natural gas flooding the market from fracking plays like the Marcellus Shale, there is growing pressure to sell American coal overseas to foreign markets – particularly Asia and Europe

McDuffie Coal Terminal on the south end of the Port of Mobile, supplied by coal from from as far away as Wyoming – most of which is transported by rail. Photo: D. Manthos – SkyTruth, via SouthWings

Only  one vessel was loading coal at the time of our flight, the Panama-flagged Grand Diva. This operation was depositing a black plume of coal dust in the water.

Plume of coal dust in the water (NRC Report #1042025off the starboard bow of the Germany-bound Grand Diva. Photo: D. Manthos – SkyTruth,  via SouthWings

As an individual case, this may not result in a significant impact on the environment.  But a brief review of Google Earth’s historical imagery yields two previous events clearly showing coal in the water, and several other less-clear images that appear to show pollution, suggesting this is a common event that may result in significant cumulative impact.

Air pollution is another consideration. Chronic coaldust blowing off the stockpiles at a coal terminal are the basis of a Clean Water Act lawsuit in Seward, Alaska, and one of the main arguments throughout the Pacific Northwest against expanding coal export terminals to move more Powder River Basin coal from Wyoming to Asian markets.  This is only one step along the way from mine to market – coal trains derail far more often than you might think (in North Dakota, Michigan, and Nebraska, just this past month), loaded barges crash into bridges (just this week)terminals flood when severe storms come through, and ships even crash into the loading docks. Not counting carbon emissions from burning the coal, scientists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens along coal transport routes are worried that these cumulative impacts will harm public health, disrupt their daily lives, and negatively impact the ecological health of waterways along the path from mine to port. 

Bulk transport by barge is cheaper and more fuel efficient than even freight rail, but extreme weather events exaggerated by climate change threaten its reliability. Last year’s drought crippled transport on the Mississippi River at the end of 2012, and without significant rain  river operators could face another low water crisis in 2013.

More to come including a leaky settling pond, an oil slick off Gulfport, and severe erosion resulting from ill-conceived oil spill response practices on Dauphin Island. Be sure to check out the photos of the whole flight on Flickr.

 
 

Major Earthquake This Weekend Hits Sichuan, China

An earthquake of magnitude 6.6 struck near the city of Longmenxiang, in the western portion of China’s Sichuan province. It did considerable damage, killing nearly 200 people and injuring more than 11,000.  This area is very active seismically.  In 2008, a much more powerful quake struck about 90 miles to the northeast, killing nearly 70,000 people, including many children who were crushed when poorly built schools collapsed.

SkyTruth Alerts screen-capture showing the locations of foreshocks and aftershocks of greater than 5.0 magnitude around the magnitude 6.6 quake that struck in western Sichuan Province, China, on April 20, 2013.

You may know that through our SkyTruth Alerts system we publish regularly refreshed data on oil and gas drilling activity, fracking chemical disclosures, and oil and hazardous materials spills and other pollution incidents reported here in the US.  But we also publish notifications from the US Geological Survey for any earthquake in the world large than magnitude 5.0.  Here’s what our Alerts map looks like for the area around the April 20 temblor.  Six separate quakes over 5.0 magnitude occurred in the immediate vicinity of the main 6.6 quake. Two occurred slightly before the main shock; the other four are aftershocks. Look for the small green squares on the image above, or go to SkyTruth Alerts, type “Longmenxiang, China” into the search bar, and see for yourself.

Landslide at Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah

If you haven’t seen photos of the massive landslide that struck Utah’s Bingham Canyon copper-gold mine on April 10, check out the story and accompanying photo gallery at the Deseret News, and these spectacular photos at the Kennecott Utah Copper page on Facebook.

Aerial shot of landslide in Bingham Canyon copper-gold mine near Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo courtesy Kennecott Utah Copper via Facebook.

Happily, nobody was hurt in this astonishing incident; mine operators had plenty of warning this section of the pit was failing. But some of the massive mining equipment was damaged, and mining activity was halted for a few days.  Check out these giant mining trucks, looking like scattered Matchbox toys under the pile of debris:

Mining trucks partly buried by landslide. Photo courtesy Deseret News.

Here’s an aerial overview of the mine and landslide.  The mining pit is about2-1/2 miles across at it’s widest, and more than half a mile deep:

Aerial view of landslide. Photo courtesy Deseret News.

I’ve attempted to re-create the view above using the pre-landslide imagery in Google Earth:

Pre-landslide view from Google Earth.

Stepping back a bit, it’s interesting to see how close this mining operation is to residential neighborhoods on the western outskirts of Salt Lake City; especially the 9,000 acre (14 square mile) tailings impoundment located on the banks of Great Salt Lake about 15 miles north of the mining pit.  Earthworks details some of the environmental problems and public health risks in this brief report [PDF].

You can explore this area with high-resolution imagery from 2010 in Google Earth and Google Maps.  And here is a super-detailed view of the area that failed from Bing Maps — maybe you mining engineers out there can identify the fault or other structural weakness that lead to the failure.  Let us know if you see anything interesting!

North is to the right in the pre-landslide Google Earth images below:

Panoramic overview of the Bingham Canyon mining operation, looking west. Salt Lake City suburbs fill the lower third of the view. Great Salt Lake at upper right.
Vertical view from 2010 imagery showing the active mining pit.
Vertical view from 2010 imagery showing the 9,000-acre tailings impoundment.  Note residential area at lower left, between SkyTruth logo and the impoundment.

95-Mile-Long Slick in the Gulf of Mexico?

This report on SkyTruth’s handy pollution Alerts system caught my eye yesterday afternoon:

SUSPECTED SLICK IS SEEN AS LONG NARROW PLUME APPROXIMATELY 95 MILES LONG AND 1 MILE OR LESS WIDE.

That sounds like bilge-dumping from a passing vessel — an activity that is illegal in US waters (and much of the rest of the world).   Intrepid SkyTruth intern Patrick busted somebody for bilge-dumping off Angola last year using satellite radar imagery and AIS data.  The report was submitted to the Coast Guard-operated National Response Center by image analysts at NOAA.  We’re thrilled that they’ve started reporting their analyses of possible pollution incidents to the NRC, so we can easily incorporate them into our Alerts system.  (We like to think our Gulf Monitoring Consortium activity helped spur NOAA to get their experts into the game in a more public way.)

NOAA’s analysts now think it’s probably not oil; more likely it’s natural surfactant caught in the convergence zone between two water masses.  I agree; this is close to the edge of a loop current now in the northeastern part of the Gulf.  And bilge-dump slicks usually look a lot sharper than this (see a slideshow of our examples from radar imagery).

Here’s detail from a MODIS/Terra satellite image taken at 16:50 UTC on April 14, 2013, showing the apparent slick.

Location map showing detail from MODIS/Terra satellite image taken on April 14, 2013.
Detail from MODIS/Terra satellite image of slick (dark, east-west trending streak) probably caused by natural surfactants accumulating along the convergence zone between ocean currents.

Panama Canal Getting Bigger. Much Bigger.

A man, a plan, a canal. Panama!

It’s not just a quaint anagram. In this age of relentlessly expanding global commerce, Panama has been planning ahead, and is investing billions of dollars in supersizing the canal (photo gallery here) to allow the passage of the new breed of supersized cargo ships.  Even more coal mined from Appalachian mountains and Montana/Wyoming prairies — and possibly natural gas extracted from shale by hydraulic fracturing — will likely be shipped to Asia and other markets once this expansion work is completed.

The global warming-driven decline in Arctic sea ice might divert some of the cargo traffic Panama is counting on to pay for this expansion, if the Northwest Passage becomes a viable trade route. So in a bit of irony, by feeding the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, Panama may be undercutting its business plan.  Just sayin.

Here are a couple of images from Google Earth showing the area around the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal near the Gatun Locks, as it appeared in 2005 and with the expansion project well underway in 2012.

Panama Canal near Gatun, in 2005.

 

Panama Canal near Gatun, in 2012. Expansion of canal in progress to accommodate much larger ‘New Panamax’ cargo vessels.

 

Coal Export Terminal – Norfolk, Virginia

Every couple of weeks or so, the folks at DigitalGlobe/Geoeye publish a newsletter featuring various examples of recent high-resolution satellite imagery from around the world.  This is always an interesting, and often jaw-dropping, little publication to look through.  Among other things the latest edition features stunning imagery of Egyptian temples and offshore oil platforms, the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, and this massive coal-export terminal near Norfolk,Virginia:

High-resolution satellite image of coal-export terminal in Virginia. Download the WorldView Report from DigitalGlobe to see a much bigger version of this image.

As the market for coal-fired electricity generation here in North America shrinks due to the rise of cheap natural gas-fired power (thanks to fracking for shale-gas), exports of coal from the US to overseas markets in Europe and Asia are sharply increasing.  This booming export market is propping up the continued destruction of Appalachian mountains by mountaintop removal mining. It’s also fueling a rash of coal-train derailments impacting health and safety in communities across the nation, some far removed from the coal-mining areas and the export terminals.

As if we needed more reasons to reduce our crippling dependence on fossil fuels.