Tanker Full Of Kurdish Crude Departs US Gulf

Remember the supertanker loaded with crude oil from Kurdistan that had nowhere to go to unload its cargo, and ended up hanging around in the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston, Texas?  That was months ago, but now the United Kalavrvta is on the move again, and appears to be heading out of the Gulf and off to Gibraltar.  And then?

Here is today’s AIS tracking data for this vessel:

Path of the United Kalavrvta, January 27, 2015. AIS data © exactEarth


Taylor Energy Site – Leaking Oil Continuously Since 2004

It’s been a while since we posted on the chronic oil leak from the Taylor Energy site just off the tip of the Mississippi Delta in the Gulf of Mexico.  Sad to say, nothing has changed: oil is continuing to flow unabated, as shown by the 13-mile-long slick in this Landsat-7 satellite image that was taken Wednesday morning:

Detail from Landsat-7 satellite image acquired January 7, 2015, showing 13-mile-long slick apparently emanating from Taylor Energy site. (Black lines at left and right sides of the image are data gaps caused by 2003 failure of the scan-line corrector on the Enhanced Thematic Mapper sensor.) 
Same image as above, without annotation. Slick is visible as faint dark streak on this unenhanced true-color image.


In case the slick is too hard to see, here is a 3-2-1 contrast-enhanced image. The colors are bit odd because of high-cirrus clouds, scan-lines, and the enhancement process. 

As far as we can determine, there is no plan by the responsible party, the oil and gas industry, the US Coast Guard or the EPA to permanently fix this leak and stop this ongoing pollution of public waters.

This is not a big leak: it seems to be somewhat larger than the most productive natural oil seeps that are scattered in deep water throughout the central and western Gulf. So maybe “no action” is a practical decision to make.  But shouldn’t the public get to participate in making that decision?

PIPA: Protected At Last?

We’ve been using AIS tracking data to monitor fishing activity in and around the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), within the territorial waters of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. The management of this marine protected area has attracted criticism by allowing sustained commercial fishing, despite the “protected” label.  This video clip from Global Fishing Watch illustrates the controversy: it shows what we interpret to be pervasive fishing throughout the protected area in 2012-2013.  In fact, the level of fishing activity by large commercial vessels within PIPA appeared to be about the same as in adjacent, unprotected waters during that time period:

But big changes are afoot: as of January 1, commercial fishing within PIPA is no longer allowed.

Will this fishing ban have teeth? On December 31 (January 1 in PIPA), just 30 minutes after the closure took effect, we observed nine fishing vessels still in the area that were broadcasting an AIS signal.  Four appeared to be engaged in fishing activity, and five were in transit.

But by the next day, all of these vessels had moved out of PIPA. A few remained to fish nearby in Kiribati waters, like the Mataika, a South Korean purse seiner probably fishing for tuna, shown on the map below.

We’re encouraged by what we’ve seen so far. We’ll keep watching in coming weeks using Global Fishing Watch to systematically monitor the effectiveness of the PIPA closure over time.  Look for a report from the GFW team in a few weeks — hopefully confirming that this protected area is, indeed, protected at last.

Map showing locations of vessels using AIS in and around Phoenix Islands Protected Area (black line) on January 2, 2015. Vessel track is shown for Mataika, a purse seiner likely fishing for tuna.  Exclusive Economic Zone boundaries shown in blue. AIS data ©exactEarth via SkyTruth.