Coast Guard Responding to Leaking Gas Well 44 miles from Louisiana Coast

July 10, 2013: Leaking Ship Shoals Block 225 – Platform B photographed by Billy Dugger via an On Wings of Care flight with Pilot Bonny Schumaker. 
See more photos at – OnWingsOfCare.org
 
UPDATED: July 11, 2013 at 9:58 am with photo from On Wings of Care
 
July 10, 2013 – 3:40 pm: The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced Tuesday they are responding to a loss of well control at Platform B in Ship Shoal Block 225. On July 9, USCG reported a 4-mile by 3/4 mile rainbow sheen in the Gulf (covering an area of 1,920 acres based on reported dimensions) around an oil and natural gas platform 79 miles southwest of Port Fourchon, Louisiana and 44 miles from the nearest land. According to a statement by the well owners, the incident occurred at an older well that was being plugged and abandoned, and the other two producing wells on the platform have been shut-in. CNN reports the wellhead is located on the Gulf floor at a depth of 130 feet, and quoted Jonathan Henderson of Gulf Restoration Network (one of our partners in the Gulf Monitoring Consortium) on the potential environmental impact of this leak.
“Toxic gases will damage the bodies of fish that come into contact by damaging their gills and causing internal damage … Marine species in the Gulf are more vulnerable when water temperatures are high and when oxygen concentrations are low like they are now.”
Energy Resource Technology (ERT) Gulf of Mexico LCC, the platform’s operators, first reported trouble with the well to the USCG’s National Response Center (NRC) on July 7th, disclosing that at 4:45 pm local time ”CRUDE OIL WAS RELEASED THROUGH HOLES IN THE HOSE” as they were cleaning out a well with “coil tubing.” The caller estimated the resulting a sheen was 750 feet wide by 1 mile long (90.9 acres). That same day the NRC received a call from the same area reporting a 1 mile by 4 mile ( 2,560 acres) oil slick from “AN UNSECURED WELL HEAD THAT HAS RELEASED THREE BARRELS OF OIL INTO THE WATER.”
The following day, on July 8th, ERT again reported that at 7:00 am they had spilled 4.2 gallons of crude oil “DUE TO EQUIPMENT FAILURE WHILE PLUGGING THE WELL.” The caller reporting the spill estimated the sheen was 450 feet wide by 0.3 miles long (16.36 acres).
At 6:45 am on July 9th, a passing aircraft reported a much larger sheen to the NRC – 200 feet wide by 5 miles long (121.2 acres).
As of July 9, the most recent reports from USCG state that platform personnel had been evacuated and federal agencies are monitoring well-control and pollution response activities. Gulf Monitoring Consortium member SkyTruth reports that cloud cover in the Gulf has impeded observation by satellite, but will continue to monitor reports and available satellite imagery.
To follow future reports to the NRC for this and other incidents anywhere in the United States, check out SkyTruth Alerts and subscribe to the places you care about:
http://alerts.skytruth.org/subscribe
This report will be updated as needed with new information and images.

Responsible Modern Offshore Drilling. Except When It Isn’t.

Ah. So this must be the Responsible Modern Offshore Drilling we’ve all been hearing so much about.  In magazines. In the newspapers. On the radio. On TV. On social media. Pretty much everywhere you look.

Except in real life.

MODIS satellite imagery taken Tuesday (June 18, 2013) shows a slick 32 miles long emanating from the Taylor Energy site, which has been reliably oozing oil into the Gulf for more than 8 years now. Strangely, there appears to be no action from the responsible party, industry, state or federal authorities to bring this ongoing travesty to a close. It’s likely this chronic leak has been generating tarballs that have been coming ashore on the Louisiana coast for years, well before the catastrophic 2010 BP  / Deepwater Horizon spill.

Maybe the powers that be in Louisiana and in Congress have decided to look the other way and keep their mouths shut, while the oil and gas industry spends hundreds of million of dollars per year on advertising and lobbying to convince the American people that oil and gas production is squeaky-clean and risk-free. Maybe it’s time to spend those millions to clean up the real-life problems, instead of trying to convince us that they don’t exist, because the Gulf Monitoring Consortium and others are working hard to ensure this stuff can no longer be hidden from public view.

Why not start here?  Eventually the people of Virginia and North and South Carolina who are being wooed by the promises of offshore drilling jobs and cash might begin to pay attention to industry’s inaction and politician’s lack of concern here in the Gulf.  They just might have second thoughts about drilling when they imagine a Taylor-like scenario unfolding in their waters, and a steady stream of tarballs washing ashore for years in Virginia Beach, or Nag’s Head, or Myrtle Beach.

Or a slick like this right off their coast, day after day after day after…..

Detail from MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken June 18, 2013 showing 32-mile-long slick apparently emanating from site of chronic Taylor Energy oil leak. Clouds and their matching shadows are distinctly different in appearance from the shadow-free slick on the water.

 

Detail from image above, showing our measurement of the slick (80 square kilometers / 29 square miles).  Assuming an average thickness of 1 micron (1/1,000th of a millimeter) this slick holds 21,120 gallons of oil.

 

Chronic Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico Since 2004 – Still Spillin’

The 2013 hurricane season is now upon us, and it’s predicted to be a doozy this year.  Which got us to thinking…

Remember that strange, persistent little oil slick about 12 miles offshore that SkyTruth discovered on satellite imagery during the BP oil spill in 2010, that was NOT related to the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster?

Remember how SouthWings  flew photographer J. Henry Fair out there and came across a deepwater drill rig with a miles-long oil slick next to it?

Oil slick at the Taylor Energy chronic leak site in Gulf of Mexico, June 5, 2010.

When we published this, an interesting story emerged:  we had found a chronic, continuous oil spill in the Gulf emanating from oil wells that were serviced by a platform at this location.  “Platform 23051” as we called it (because that’s how it was identified by government data), no longer existed: it had been hit by a seafloor mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan waaaay back in September 2004.  That’s right, six years earlier.  And the damaged wells, now buried under the mud, were being slowly found, re-entered and plugged with cement by their owner — an LLC named Taylor Energy Company — using a leased drill rig called the Ocean Saratoga.

The rig disappeared for a while, then re-appeared in November 2010.  It was still on the scene in March 2011, when Greenpeace flew over the site and took some photos. But we had indications from AIS vessel-tracking data that the rig had departed by June 2011.  Periodic aerial overflights conducted by Gulf Monitoring Consortium and On Wings of Care, and radar satellite images acquired since June 2011, have shown no rig working to plug the wells since Ocean Saratoga’s departure. The May 2013 status report from Diamond Offshore shows  the rig is contracted to work elsewhere.  

One thing, however, has remained constant at the site: it’s still leaking oil and forming a persistent, miles-long slick that is routinely visible on satellite images. Occasionally it reaches out more than 20 miles from the source.

Taylor is required to report the size and location of their oil slick to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center on a daily basis.  We’ve compiled all of their reports, as well as our own observations from overflights and satellite imagery.  What we see on satellite images consistently contradicts Taylor’s own reports, suggesting they are systematically and significantly underreporting the size of the slick.  And our analysis shows that the total spill from the Taylor site may have exceeded 1 million gallons by February 2012. 

In 2013 the satellite experts at NOAA began to report their analyses of the Taylor slick to the NRC as well (the first report we noticed from NOAA came on April 7).  They, too, are reporting slicks significantly bigger than what Taylor is reporting.  The latest example:  on June 1 at 9:00am, Taylor reported a slick 200 feet wide and 6.5 miles long.  But NOAA reported a slick 1 mile wide and 20.2 miles long on a satellite image taken at 11:45am, less than three hours later.  NOAA’s slick is more than 80 times bigger than what Taylor reported.  And if we assume the slick is, on average, only 1/1000th of a millimeter (1 micron) thick, that amounts to at least 13,800 gallons of oil on the water.  Yet the federal government has publicly stated that the leaking wells cumulatively spill only about 14 gallons per day.

We assume NOAA analysts were looking at this MODIS/Terra satellite image taken at 11:45am local time on June 1.  We measure the observable slick to be 21.4 miles long, reaching a maximum width of just over 5,100 feet but tapering to less than 1,500 feet at each end. Still, significantly bigger than Taylor reported:

Detail from MODIS/Terra satellite image taken at 11:45am on June 1, 2013, showing slick (bright line) apparently emanating from site of chronic leak since 2004.

 

Measurement shows slick extends more than 21 miles from the source.

Something’s fishy here.  But no matter whose numbers you believe, one nagging question is begging to be answered:  When are these wells going to be permanently plugged?  As time goes by, it looks like the answer is “never — we’re going to let them leak until the reservoir effectively bleeds out.” How can this be acceptable to federal government regulators and the politicians of Louisiana

Those rushing to embrace drilling in the waters off Virginia, Alaska and elsewhere in the US might want to slow down and take a good hard look at this ongoing travesty in the Gulf.  

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 coal-dust 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.

 
 

Gulf Monitoring Consortium: Mobile, Al - Gulfport, MS

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.

Possible Contamination from Stolthaven Chemical Facility, Braithwaite, LA

The NOAA aerial survey imagery shot in the wake of Hurricane Isaac really is helpful for assessing storm impacts.  Here’s another example, showing the flooded Stolthaven chemical facility along the Mississippi River near Braithwaite, Louisiana.  Someone – we think it must be the company, based on the wording –  filed a pollution incident report with the National Response Center on September 11. This report popped up in our handy SkyTruth Alerts system; it claims nearly 200,000 gallons of chemicals were released, mostly ethylene glycol but including several other nasty things like styrene, xylene and cancer-causing benzene.

Nearby residents have been evacuated, and some have filed suit against the company.

Here’s what the facility looked like when NOAA flew over on August 31:

 

NOAA aerial survey photography showing flooded Stolthaven chemical facility near Braithwaite, LA on August 31.

Focusing on the northwest end of the site, we can see what appear to be slicks and/or sheen, possibly oil or other chemicals, originating from the round storage tanks and flowing downstream toward homes along English Turn Road:

 

Slicks and sheen apparently migrating downstream from the Stolthaven facility (lower right) toward flooded homes (upper left).

The flooding derailed tanker cars, damaged storage tanks, and caused other problems on the site.  On a Gulf Monitoring Consortium overflight on September 10, photographer Jeffrey Dubinsky captured a series of low-altitude pics illustrating some of this damage, like this storage tank apparently pushed off its supporting foundation:

 

Air photo of Stolthaven chemical facility taken during Gulf Monitoring Consortium overflight on September 10, 2012, courtesy of Jeffrey Dubinsky.  See more of Jeffrey’s pics from this flight here.

Jonathan Henderson from Gulf Restoration Network was also on the flight, and caught some great pics too, including this closeup of the dislodged tank:

 

Another view of the dislodged tank, courtesy of Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network (see more of his pics from the September 10 overflight).

Isaac was certainly a big storm, but clocked in as a relatively mild Category 1 hurricane.  You would think that by now, major industrial facilities planted in the middle of Hurricane Alley would be better able to withstand such predictable storm exposure. But I guess you’d be wrong….

Mismatched reports about Site 23051 chronic oil spill in Gulf

So, who can you believe?

According to the July 12 NRC report about the oil leaking from Site 23051, there was a spill of 7.43 gallons of oil with a visible sheen reported to be 9.3 miles in length and 200 feet wide.  This report was based on observations during an overflight that occurred at 8am that day. Taylor Energy is required to fly over the site every day and report any oil in the water. We assume this is the report filed by Taylor or their contractor. Our SkyTruth Alert calculations suggest that a slick of that size should hold about 241 gallons of oil (we assume a minimum average oil slick thickness of 1 micron).

But there’s more.  A “Good Samaritan” passerby (another helicopter pilot) sighted a slick 15 miles long at 2:10pm, at a location about 15 miles northeast of the Taylor leak site. This report prompted the Coast Guard to request an investigation and oil slick trajectory forecast from NOAA.  We think the passerby sighted the far end of the Taylor slick.

If you look carefully at the MODIS satellite image below, taken at about 1:45pm, you can see a faint, dark streak apparently emanating from Site 23051 that appears to connect to the location of the Good Samaritan’s report. We think this is the slick reported both by Taylor and by the Good Samaritan, and we think It’s unlikely that the slick grew 6 miles in length in the 6 hours that elapsed between the Taylor report and the Good Samaritan’s report (and corresponding MODIS satellite image).

Yet another reason we’ve become increasingly skeptical about the accuracy of the reports submitted by Taylor, and critical of our nation’s reliance on polluter-submitted reports overall.

MODIS Aqua True Color image from 7/12

 

MODIS Aqua True Color image from 7/12 with slick size shown