Grand Isle Oil Spill – More Than 4 Gallons?

IF our analysis of the March 22, 2011 MODIS satellite image is correct, and we assume the apparent oil slick on that image is on average only 1 micron — one millionth of a meter — thick, then that roughly 2,427 km2 oil slick held at least 640,728 gallons.

That would make it a major spill (more than 100,000 gallons), and a heckuva lot more than the 4 gallons in total that was reported to the National Response Center. But not unexpected if the Anglo-Suisse well the Coast Guard has pegged as the source was actually leaking for three days (rather than 4-6 hours), as this news report suggested:

Wildlife and Fisheries officials found the source of the oil Monday evening and encountered workers in a boat trying to restore a cap on the well using a remotely operated submarine.

“Well-capping went out of control,” the state official said.

The spill was first reported to the NRC at about 8pm on Friday, March 18, three full days before the Louisiana officials came across the continuing effort to plug this well.

Coast Guard Tests “Conclusively” Point to Anglo-Suisse Well for Latest Gulf Spill

Tests of crude oil collected by the Coast Guard off Louisiana beaches last weekend, conducted by a scientist at Louisiana State University who deemed the results “conclusive,” appear to match the chemical “fingerprint” of crude oil taken from the hurricane-damaged well that Anglo-Suisse was trying to permanently plug. Anglo-Suisse is disputing this and is hiring their own lab to investigate.

If the Coast Guard’s conclusion is correct, then Anglo-Suisse grossly underreported the amount of oil that spilled from their well. They reported to the National Response Center (NRC) that only about 4 gallons were released.

This calls into question the reliability of the NRC system. The NRC is the place polluters call whenever they spill oil. Government agencies determine if a cleanup response is warranted based on the size of the spill in the report. And it’s probably the main source of data industry uses to make the claim that not much oil is spilled from offshore oil development. We see some obvious problems with this setup, including gross mismatch between the reported amounts spilled and the size of observable oil slicks.

If fines are very low (or nonexistent) for reporting a spill – and nobody from the state or federal agencies is going to come out to check up on you if you’ve reported a small spill – then you can see how companies might be tempted to systematically underreport their pollution incidents. Who wouldn’t?

With the heightened sensitivity and scrutiny in the Gulf now, maybe it’s time to reevaluate this fundamentally flawed system. Poor, or patently inaccurate, information can lead to hysteria now whenever oil appears. And that doesn’t do the oil, fishing or tourism industries any good.

Check Out Our Natural Gas & Oil Drilling Collection

Now that we’ve got our image gallery all organized and pretty, we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to share our images with you and ask what you think. So without further ado, here is our biggest collection, Natural Gas and Oil Drilling. The images in this collection show the impacts of exploration, drilling, production, storage and transport of natural gas and oil. This gallery contains images of some beautiful Western landscapes too, like Valle Vidal, Raton Basin in New Mexico, shown here:

Valle Vidal

Or how about pictures from the the San Juan Basin of Colorado and New Mexico, where coalbed methane development has forever changed the landscape:

San Juan Basin coalbed methane (CBM) development

Take a look at our Upper Green River Valley, Wyoming set, then read more it in our blog posts.

Also in this collection are the Roan Plateau, Colorado set, with stunning visuals like this:

Roan Plateau, Colorado

But don’t stop there. There are 21 sets in this collection including the Pronghorn Roadkill Accident in the Jonah Gas Field of Wyoming; the Otero Mesa, in the Permian Basin of New Mexico; the Oil Sands/Oil Shale set; a simulation of proposed drilling in Grand Mesa, Colorado; and the Wyoming Range, Bridger-Teton National Forest.

There are images from the Montara Oil Spill off the coast of Australia in August of 2009, a blowout that provided us an unhappy preview of what can go wrong with offshore drilling:

Montara Oil Spill - August 25, 2009

Dirty Snow on the North Slope of Alaska:

North Slope - Winter 2006, Detail 3

And the tragic BP/Deepwater Horizon blowout in our own Gulf of Mexico almost a year ago:

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill - FSU Sampling Cruise - June 22, 2010

Go check out these and many other images now at our SkyTruth Gallery. And we’ll be back with our next collection soon.

Gulf Spill – Source?

Coast Guard has tentatively identified a well damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as the source of the oil spill last weekend that came ashore in Louisiana. Located in West Delta Block 117, and operated by Anglo-Suisse, the spill reportedly occurred for a few hours last Saturday afternoon during operations to permanently plug and abandon the well.

Polluters are required to report any oil spills to the National Response Center, including the amount spilled. So what do the official pollution reports say? We checked the NRC database this morning and found only three reports that list Anglo-Suisse as the responsible party since last Wednesday (March 16). These reports show amounts spilled of 1.89 gallons, 1.33 gallons, and 0.5 gallons – a whopping total of 3.72 gallons spilled.

Can a 4-gallon spill of oil travel across 20 miles of the Gulf, come ashore across a 30-mile stretch of coast, and oil 1300 to 2700 feet of beach? Call us skeptical, but we don’t think so. If the Anglo-Suisse well in West Delta 117 really is the source of this pollution then they have significantly underreported the amount spilled. (And why shouldn’t they lowball it, if nobody is going to check up on their reports?) We’ve seen this before, at the continuing spill from the Taylor Energy site where a platform was taken out by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. This calls into question repeated claims of industry and politicians that oil pollution related to offshore production is minimal, because they’re using these same highly questionable reports to make this claim.

Or, Anglo-Suisse has reported their spill accurately. Then there must be another source of the oil that came ashore, and some say is still coming ashore.

We’ll keep looking.

Gulf Spill – Not So Fast – Problem at LOOP?

[UPDATE 11:15am ET – according to an email sent to us, a pilot flying over LOOP yesterday observed an oil slick there. UPDATE 11:50am ET – a 2 mile long slick was reported to the NRC Saturday morning at the LOOP facility]

Whoa, hold the horses. Maybe Anglo-Suisse did happen to have a small spill over the weekend. But we just looked at this NASA/MODIS satellite image taken yesterday afternoon, from the Terra satellite. It shows what appears to be an extensive oil slick emanating from very near the location of the Lousiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). We have no confirmation of any problem at or near LOOP at this time (10:30am ET):

MODIS/Terra satellite image, March 22, 2011 showing possible oil slick originating near LOOP facility and carried off to the northwest. Light brown areas are sediment-laden water entering the Gulf from the Mississippi River.

 

SkyTruth analysis of March 22 MODIS image showing extent of possible oil slick

 

SkyTruth analysis overlain with platform locations (orange dots) and pipelines (yellow); data from BOEMRE

 

Detail of March 22 satellite image, with platform locations and pipelines