Persistent Oil Leak in Australian Waters Now Disclosed One Year After It Occured

Last week the Guardian reported on an oil spill on Australia’s North West Shelf that was detected in April 2016 but had not been made public until a performance report was recently issued by Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA). Despite the spill being estimated to have gone on for two months and released 10,500 liters of oil the Guardian reports that NOPSEMA declined to reveal exactly where the spill had occurred or which company was responsible.

Woodside’s FPSO OKHA

We had a look at operations currently in the area and identified a vessel which fits the description in the article. This is the FPSO OKHA operated by Woodside Energy. Our identification has now been confirmed as Woodside has admitted responsibility and the OKHA has been named as operating at the site.

Though this is being reported as the largest offshore leak in Australian waters last year Woodside states that the spill had no lasting impact on the environment.

On April 15, 2016 two likely response vessels appeared at the leak site. To the west is the dive support vessel Seven Eagle. About 900 meters to the east is the Nor Australis, an offshore supply vessel equipped with a ROV for underwater surveying.

We have examined imagery of the site from April 15th of last year, that is shortly before the OKHA returned to this location and around the time the leak was apparently first detected. Two response vessels appear at the leak site. The Nor Australis is an offshore supply ship equipped with a ROV which probably detected the leak. The dive support vessel Seven Eagle is a short distance to the west. We don’t see any signs of a slick in this image or in several others we checked. However it is still of concern that the report of an incident like this would be kept from the public for more than a year.

 

 

More Oil Spotted at the Taylor Energy Site

We posted about a slick emanating from the Taylor Energy site on April 28th. And surprise, surprise a mere 12 days later, what should we see but yet another slick.

In 2008 Taylor Energy set aside over $600 million to pay for work related to the chronic leak that we have covered extensively since it came to our attention in 2010. As you can see in this image collected by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 satellite, as well as in numerous other images we have collected, their work to date doesn’t seem to have stemmed the leak.

Sentinel 2 image collected of the Taylor Energy Site on May 8, 2017.

Which begs the question: why is Taylor suing the government to return the $432 million remaining in trust? That money was set aside for work that is yet to be finished. Why would they think they have earned it back?

Oil Spill Tracker Goes into Retirement

The Gulf Oil Spill Tracker is now enjoying a well-deserved retirement.

SkyTruth created the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker in 2010, with support from Surfrider Foundation and Ocean Conservancy. It was launched to help Gulf-area residents fill the information vacuum — and correct some of the misinformation — spawned by the  BP-controlled spill response process during the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Interested citizens and organizations tracking the impact of the spill on the Gulf coastline could submit oil pollution reports with text and images, and include links to news articles and video. Our Oil Spill Tracker tool (built on a crowd-sharing platform called Ushahidi) displayed the reports on an interactive map where anyone could view them, and sent out alerts to people who had signed up to be notified about them. Over 400 citizen reports were uploaded during and in the aftermath of the spill.  Users included concerned citizens around the world, government officials and staff from the local to national level, and members of the media.

One of our diligent users, Susan Forsyth, told us the citizen-submitted reports of continued oil spill impacts on the beaches of Florida played an important role in keeping BP and the US Coast Guard from prematurely declaring victory and suspending their cleanup operations there. Florida state officials were thankful for that.

A reporting mechanism specifically for the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill is no longer needed so we finally decided to retire Gulf Oil Spill Tracker as of April 24, 2017. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade  tracks pollution in the Gulf region with their iWitness Pollution Map, a similar tool that SkyTruth helped them launch, so head over to their site if you want to continue submitting or receiving reports.  And of course we continue to operate SkyTruth Alerts, which publishes official reports of oil and hazardous materials spills nationwide that are collected by the National Response Center.

West Virginia FrackFinder Phase 1 Results

During Phase 1 of our FrackFinder WV project, we focused on identifying and delineating wellpads (drilling sites) and drilling-related fluid impoundments across West Virginia that have been built to accommodate the recent boom in drilling and fracking to produce natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica Shales.  This data has been provided to our partners, researchers at Downstream Strategies and the University of California – Berkeley, who are studying the human health impacts of living near modern drilling and fracking operations.

This slider shows an area near Wilsontown, WV before and after drilling took place (the wellpad is highlighted in red, and an impoundment is shown in blue):

We thought we’d assess the direct environmental impact by measuring the change in the landscape resulting from all this construction activity.  Here’s the breakdown of how much land was converted to industrial use between 2007 and 2014 as a result of fracking, categorized by the type of land cover that existed in the area before the wellpads and impoundments were built. The land cover data is from the National Land Cover Database, which is derived from Landsat imagery.

Land Area Converted to Wellpads and Impoundments, 2007-2014

Detected barren land is likely drilling predating 2006. Lightly developed is a mixture of development, roadways, and residential green space.

It appears that the NLCD is registering this land conversion, as seen in the three images below which show the same area displayed in the slider. A wellpad first appeared on this site in 2011, which was when the NLCD was last updated using moderate-resolution satellite imagery, and it is identifying the drilling site as “barren” land. It is worth noting that of the 1,081 acres of forest cleared for drilling infrastructure, 27.8 were cleared in the Monongahela National Forest.

2006 National Land Cover Data, near Wilsontown, WV.

The 2011 update of the National Land Cover Dataset, detected a fracking wellpad in the center of this image and registered it as Barren Land. See the next image when the outline of the wellpad is displayed.

The 2011 National Land Cover Data, with results from our West Virginia FrackFinder project displayed.

We find that 1,756 acres of land in West Virginia was converted to wellpads (averaging 2.3 acres in size) and impoundments (averaging 0.8 acres in size) from 2007 to 2014. That is an area 1/4 the size of  Morgantown, WV and is 7 times larger than the town of Shepherdstown (where SkyTruth is based). This is a very conservative starting point for measuring the true drilling “footprint” because it doesn’t capture the total land area disturbed to construct the pads and facilitate drilling:  tree clearing, site excavation and grading to accommodate heavy equipment and provide drainage control, access roads and utility / pipeline corridors, and associated facilities like compressor stations and storage facilities.  Later this year we may ask you to help us delineate this larger halo of direct land disturbance related to drilling, which we speculate could be 2-3 times larger than the footprint of the wellpads and impoundments alone.

In the meantime we are gearing up for the launch of Phase 2 of FrackFinder WV. During this stage of the project, citizen volunteers (that’s you!) will assist SkyTruth in creating a dataset of homes which lie within 1/2 mile of the wellpads we identified in Phase 1, data that our partners think will be very useful for public health research.

So be sure to keep an eye out for project updates and calls for volunteers!  If you sign up on our Volunteer page, you’ll get an email from us when the next FrackFinder project is up and running.

Big Data Brings Big Transparency to Indonesia’s Fisheries

Indonesia is leading the way towards a new era of transparency in fisheries management by making its Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data available to Global Fishing Watch (GFW). This is an unprecedented move.

Traditionally, VMS data is kept secret and used only by government agencies like Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs (KKP) and affiliated enforcement agencies. The head of the KKP, Susi Pudjiastuti, referred to as “Minister Susi” by nearly everyone, is a champion of sustainable fishing in Indonesian waters, and has taken major steps to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Her policy of publicly blowing up and sinking (empty) vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters has been wildly popular. Now that Minister Susi has partnered with GFW, anyone with a browser and internet access will be able to see Indonesia’s VMS data on the GFW map, beginning in June.

People photographing an illegal fishing vessel being intentionally sunk by Minister Susi at Morela village on Ambon Island, April 1, 2017. Antara Foto/Izaac Mulyawan/via REUTERS

Data Scientist Aaron Roan is taking the lead at SkyTruth to integrate Indonesia’s VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. A former Googler, Aaron joined the SkyTruth team officially in January, but he has been involved in the GFW project for a while, on loan from Google as a volunteer. Like many SkyTruthers, Aaron works remotely, usually from San Francisco. However, this project means that lately he’s traveling regularly to Indonesia.

SkyTruthers Aaron Roan (left) and Paul Woods sightseeing in Jakarta during The Economist World Ocean Summit 2017.

Aaron is in charge of integrating VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. Naturally, there have been some interesting challenges and adventures along the way, starting with some pretty big differences between AIS data, which GFW is currently using, and VMS data.

AIS is a well-established and standardized open system developed to keep ships from running into each other, while VMS systems are custom-created specifically to allow government fishing agencies to privately monitor and communicate with vessels. Ships using AIS are essentially just chirping their locations to the world (“I’m here, I’m here!”) using public radio airwaves. VMS systems are more like text-messaging systems on phones, sending and receiving encrypted, privacy-protected information.

Vessel congestion is often an issue for AIS: the satellites that collect AIS broadcasts from vessels have a circular “footprint” 3,000 miles wide (more than the width of the United States) and the system can only receive an AIS ping once every 27 milliseconds, or 2,250 per minute. If there is a lot of vessel traffic in one location, smaller vessels using the weaker class B AIS systems get throttled in preference to larger class A vessels. This means that it’s possible for a vessel to be chirping its location frequently, but when there are a lot of ships in the area, pings may only be infrequently received.

VMS systems can handle a lot more signals than AIS, and better manage problems like colliding messages from multiple ships. However, the cost per message is relatively expensive, so government agencies often dial the systems back to receive fewer messages from ships in a given time period. According to Aaron, if Aesop were still around, he would call VMS the tortoise, and AIS the hare.

Despite these differences, initial integration test results have been positive, with the VMS data adding a tremendous amount of new data to GFW. Below, you can see the difference between Global Fishing Watch with and without the VMS data. AIS data is shown in green and the new Indonesian VMS data in white:

You can see it here in full-screen mode:

We are lucky to have Imam Prakoso, our “on-the-ground” guy in Indonesia, working on this project. With his engineering background, he provides support to the analysis and helps out with language translation. He’s been pivotal in terms of being able to meet regularly with KKP staff and in navigating the ministry’s organizational structure.

Brian Sullivan, Paul Woods, Imam Prakoso and Aaron in Jakarta

Chris Wilcox‘s team at CSIRO, currently consulting with the KKP, has been hugely helpful as well. With our data and algorithms, and his analytical acumen, we believe we’re in a strong position to help out multiple teams within the KKP.

None of this would have been possible without Minister Susi’s innovative approach to fighting IUU fishing, and the generous financial support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.

Transparency in commercial fishing benefits everyone (with the possible exception of those engaging in illegal activities). More accurate data in commercial fishing will allow for better regulation, management, and sustainability of an important food and job source in the future. We hope that other governments will follow Minister Susi’s bold initiative and make their own fishing data transparent. With Aaron on the team now, we’re ready to help!