Another Gigantic Frozen Mudsicle in Colorado?!

Colorado environmentalists who flew up to the head of Garden Gulch in western Colorado on March 19 were hoping to take some aerial pictures of a frozen “waterfall” of spilled drilling fluid that had been investigated by state Department of Natural Resources staff in late February (see our previous posting on the spills that have plagued this area of intensive drilling for natural gas).

Photo by Pete Kolbenschlag / Mountain West Strategies and EcoFlight

Instead, they found something truly astonishing that hadn’t been reported: a 100′ tall tower of frozen mud, apparently caused by severe erosion of soil from dirt roads and pipelines that were being built near the rim on the Roan Plateau. Two backhoes and several trucks are plainly visible in these pictures, taken by Pete Kolbenschlag of Mountain West Strategies during a low-altitude flyover by our friend Bruce Gordon of EcoFlight.

What else is lurking out there? Let us know if anything strange pops up…

Drilling Fluid “Waterfall” in Colorado – Natural Gas Not So Clean

Been hearing a lot lately about how “clean” natural gas is as an energy source. Well… the Colorado Department of Natural Resources just learned about four spills of waste drilling fluids into Garden Gulch, a tributary of West Parachute Creek in western Colorado. There is intensive drilling for natural gas occurring throughout the area around the Roan Plateau. Critics of the Bureau of Land Management’s recently announced plan to allow drilling on top of the as-yet untouched Plateau — including Governor Ritter and Senator Salazar — are worried that this is exactly the kind of thing that will happen, polluting surface water and ground water.

One of these spills, totaling 1.2 million gallons, created a most unnatural wonder: a frozen “waterfall” composed mostly of spilled drilling fluids, according to the DNR. Check out the photos in our image gallery. When this thing thaws out it will run directly into the creek. Bad news for the trout, bad news for fishermen.

SkyTruth’s 2008 Board

Our fabulous SkyTruth Board lineup continues for 2008, with the election of Directors and Officers at our first Board meeting of the new year. This gives us the perfect opportunity to introduce a key part of the SkyTruth team to those of you who don’t know us yet.


David Festa continues as Chairman, bringing his world-class managerial, public policy and fundraising skills to SkyTruth. David currently is Associate Vice-President, West Coast and Program Director for the Oceans Program at Environmental Defense Fund. Under his leadership, his program has restructured its strategic plan, streamlined management, and increased its funding and impact. Prior to joining EDF, David served as a senior appointee in the Clinton Administration, working closely with the Secretary of Commerce on policy and strategic planning. His past experiences include work on a wide range of issues, including energy, clean air, fisheries, protected areas, and more. In addition to his SkyTruth and EDF hats, David is a visiting scholar at Oregon State University.


Dr. Elliott Norse, President of Marine Conservation Biology Institute, combines scientific expertise as a marine and forest ecologist with his extensive experience in policy and organizational development. Elliott’s many accomplishments over his 35 year career include pioneering the concept of biological diversity while at President Carter’s Council on Environmental Quality, and penning several books, including Conserving Biological Diversity in our National Forests for The Wilderness Society. In 1996 he founded MCBI to promote the science of marine conservation biology and encourage scientists to become engaged in the conservation of marine ecosystems. MCBI now has offices in four locations across the country and has played a central role in bringing the impacts of bottom trawling to the fore, as well as in establishing the largest marine protected area in U.S. waters.


Dr. David Shearer, is Chief Scientist with California Environmental Associates and specializes in next-generation transportation, energy and information technologies. He is an expert in policy instruments that catalyze market development for emerging technologies, exposure assessment of indoor/outdoor air pollutants, and climate change. David has worked with a broad range of private and public sector clients to manage environmental risk, quantify the life cycle impacts of human activities, develop revenue generation models for short- and long-term environmental strategies, and engage stakeholder groups in constructive dialogue. He also serves on the technical advisory boards of the Lindbergh Foundation and the Bay School of San Francisco.


Vikki Spruill currently is President and CEO of Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit conservation organization that promotes healthy ocean ecosystems through research, education and science-based advocacy. Previously, she was founder and President of SeaWeb, a non-profit organization that uses strategic communications techniques to advance ocean conservation. Priort to SeaWeb, she was Senior Vice President responsible for client management and new business development in the Washington DC office of Ruder Finn, one of the largest independently held public relations firms in the world.


John Amos, who many of you know through this blog, continues as President. Trained as a geologist, John has almost 20 years experience working with satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing, and has led most of SkyTruth’s project work since its founding in 2002. Prior to founding SkyTruth he worked as a geologic image analyst and exploration consultant for Earth Satellite Corporation and Advanced Resources International. John has created a substantial network of conservation NGO partners over the years, who now benefit from the technical expertise and stunning images we produce to promote understanding of environmental issues.


Finally, last but not least (I hope!) is me, Amy Mathews Amos, elected as SkyTruth’s Secretary – Treasurer. In addition to being able to bend the ear of the President on a daily basis (wife’s prerogative), I bring 20 years experience working in environmental policy and science with the federal government, conservation organizations, and scientific societies. My current work as a consultant to NGOs and foundations includes policy analysis, program evaluation, and project coordination and management on a range of conservation issues. Beyond my consulting work and SkyTruth contributions, I also serve as President of the Board of Directors of the American Conservation Film Festival.


SkyTruth also benefits from several great Associates who help do the high-quality work SkyTruth is known for. We’ll introduce them in the near future. Check out our website (now undergoing a much-needed overhaul) for more info on people and projects.

Bottom Trawling: Sediment Plumes Visible From Space

I’m here in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). SkyTruth is part of a session looking at the impacts of commercial fishing on the oceans, specifically a technique called bottom-trawling. The trawlers drag heavy nets back and forth on the seafloor, flattening what’s in their path and, where the ocean floor is muddy, sending big billowing clouds of sediment into the water. The amazing thing is this phenomenon is actually visible from space: a trawler, with its nets deployed, leaves a long and persistent trail of sediment in it’s wake, not unlike a jet contrail:

We’ve built a public image gallery showing the sediment plumes generated by trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico, using both Google Earth and Landsat satellite images. We’ve also put together a virtual tour of this issue for Earth users. Today we took part in a press conference on this work; tomorrow we’ll give a talk at the symposium. You can download our presentation here (mostly pictures, not a lot of words — just the way we like it at SkyTruth).

But don’t stop there: send us your Google placemarks and other image examples showing the impacts of trawling, other fishing techniques, and other forms of human impact to our oceans. Email us ( or submit a comment on this blog posting. We’ll compile the submissions, credit the contributors, and post the results.

True Spin Conference

I just gave a presentation, “The Use of Advanced Technology for Environmental Outreach Campaigns,” at the second True Spin Conference in Denver. This is a meeting of communications professionals from a broad range of public-benefit organizations, addressing issues like public health, affordable housing, social justice, and the environment.

I talked about SkyTruth’s mission to understand and illustrate environmental issues using satellite images and other remote-sensing and digital mapping technologies. Of course, free tools such as Google Earth and Maps figured prominently, but we also discussed the potential to recruit people to actively provide us with “ground truth” — photos, video and other information they collect for a specific facility, mine, gas well, or other place of interest. There were a lot of good questions from the audience of about 30-40, who were very engaged and politely tolerated my bad jokes.

I was able to catch a couple of great presentations. Karen Showalter of Netcentric Campaigns covered the latest online communications tools being used for public outreach (“twitter” was new to me). John Kelly of Morningside Analytics provided an intriguing look at interconnectedness in the blogosphere that used statistical techniques and graphical cluster mapping to show how the most-cited bloggers are not necessarily the most influential (so I take heart in that…!) Click here for the two-day program, and here to check out all of the presenters.

San Francisco Bay’s Sneaky Bridges Strike Again!

Another of those treacherous San Francisco Bay bridges – this time the nefarious Richmond-San Rafael bridge – apparently jumped out in the path of a barge carrying nearly 65,000 barrels (2.7 MILLION gallons) of heavy oil last night. The Coast Guard reports that none of the oil has been spilled, although the barge was damaged on the starboard bow and the hull may have been breached. Check out the story by KRON Channel 4 and their video news conference with the Coast Guard.

(Generic tug-and-barge pic purely for illustration – courtesy of this excellent image gallery)

Coming so soon after the Cosco Busan fuel-oil spill in the Bay, this is a vivid reminder that accidents will happen. In this case (so far at least) the folks in San Francisco have gotten lucky and the Coast Guard response was timely. I hope the folks living around Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and other busy port areas in confined estuaries are paying close attention and keeping on their toes – it’s only a matter of time before spills occur, and as the Cosco Busan incident illustrated, immediate effective response is necessary to prevent costly damage to both local economies and natural resources.

Atlantic Rim CBM – Big Drilling in Wyoming

Plans to drill for natural gas in Wyoming continue to proliferate. We’ve attempted to simulate one of the more controversial proposals to allow drilling for coalbed methane across a rugged scenic area in south-central Wyoming, noted for wildlife and hunting / recreation opportunities, called the Atlantic Rim.

Simulated coalbed methane (CBM) drilling in the central Atlantic Rim area; oblique view looking east.

In March 2007, the Bureau of Land Management issued a final environmental impact statement and record of decision for managing this area that allows up to 2,000 wells drilled from individual well sites (wellpads) about 2-1/4 acres in size, with the closest spacing being one well per 80 acres. Our online gallery includes both topographic maps and Landsat satellite imagery showing the area as it is now, and how it could appear if drilling conforms to this plan.