Gulf of Mexico Overflight Yesterday – Old Slicks, New Slicks

Jon Henderson of Gulf Restoration Network did an overflight over the Gulf yesterday, thanks to our Gulf Monitoring Consortium partner SouthWings. They documented two small slicks in Breton Sound, and a larger slicks from the Taylor Energy site where a cluster of hurricane-damaged wells have been leaking since 2004.  Read all about it and check out the excellent pics.

Jon filed three reports with the National Response Center, as all citizens who witness a suspected oil or hazardous materials spill are encouraged to do.  His reports should appear soon in the SkyTruth Alerts system, which you can subscribe to if you’d like to get automatic notifications any time a spill is reported. But in the meantime you can see Jon’s two Breton Sound reports here and here, and the Taylor report here.

Oil slick at Taylor Energy / 23051 chronic leak site in Gulf of Mexico, December 8, 2011. Photo courtesy Jon Henderson / Gulf Restoration Network.

Judging from the pics, it looks like both Breton Sound slicks are being caused by a slow point source of leakage underwater, probably on the seafloor.  The first is similar to what you’d see at a natural oil seep location; the second contains heavier brown material that suggests a larger/faster leak.  Given the maze of pipelines and abandoned wells on the seafloor in the Sound, both might be from leaking infrastructure.  We’ll check the NRC to see if any potential responsible party has come forward.

The slick at the Taylor Energy / 23051 site is similar to what we’ve been seeing since we first “discovered” this chronic leak in early 2010. A work boat of some kind is on the scene, but the Ocean Saratoga rig that was working to plug the leaking wells is obviously not. Apparently fixing these wells and stopping this leak isn’t a high priority. Check out a chronology of information and observations related to this leak. You can monitor this location on the SkyTruth Alerts, or subscribe to get automatic notifications.

Fire Reported in Gulf of Mexico – Part Deux?

Location of fires in the Gulf recently reported to the National Response Center in the general vicinity of the Na Kika deepwater development project operated by BP and Shell. Platforms are orange dots; seafloor pipelines are orange lines. Location of Deepwater Horizon wreckage shown for reference.

Once again an airline pilot (or observant passenger) has reported seeing a fire in the Gulf of Mexico.  This was reported to the National Response Center at about 8:19 pm on November 6, at a location in the deepwater Gulf about 12 miles southeast of the site of last year’s BP oil spill.  It’s also about 11 miles north of a fire reported on September 26 that we covered in this blog.

Both reports are in the general vicinity of the Na Kika offshore development project operated by BP and Shell.

We think these observers may be seeing flaring of natural gas during drilling operations.  We’re not sure what, if any, drilling activity is occurring here right now (if you know, please let us know!). If they are flaring “commercial quantities” of natural gas, that could be illegal – Shell got busted for doing this a few years back in the Gulf at their deepwater Auger platform about 140 miles offshore, and got fined to the tune of $49 million by the US government.

We don’t know if that’s what is happening here.  But we wonder if anyone at BOEMRE is paying attention to this.

Unreported Leak / Discharge from Oil Platform Off Louisiana Coast – May 7, 2011

Thought you all would like to (finally) see photos taken during the very first official action of the Gulf Monitoring Consortium back in May of this year. SouthWings pilot Dan Luke flew along the Gulf coast to investigate possible leaks from oil and gas infrastructure in western Louisiana, from Vermilion Bay to Sabine Pass.  About 37 miles east of Grand Chenier, passenger Jamie Ward took a series of photos showing an apparent discharge of oily material from a platform about a mile offshore:

Gulf Monitoring Consortium photo taken May 7, 2011 showing apparent discharge from an oil platform in state waters along the Louisiana coast.


We haven’t been able to find any report for this incident at the National Response Center.  It’s our understanding that any discharges or leaks that create a visible oily sheen on the water must be reported to the NRC by the responsible party.

This isn’t the only spill we’ve stumbled across where there was no report by the responsible party; later that summer, in another Gulf Monitoring Consortium investigation, Jon Henderson documented (photos and video) a long oil slick emanating from a wellhead in Breton Sound.

Why is this interesting? Well, it makes us wonder:  how many other leaks and spills are simply going unreported in the Gulf?  If 2 out of 5 Gulf Monitoring Consortium actions discovered unreported spills, it raises the possibility that this could be a very large problem.  Maybe the spills weren’t reported simply because no personnel from the responsible company were on site to notice a problem.  But that’s troubling because the vast majority of the 3,600 or so actively producing oil and gas platforms and other structures in the Gulf aren’t occupied.  What you can’t see, you can’t report.  Which means that we really don’t have any idea how much pollution is caused by day-to-day offshore oil and gas operations.

And that’s a real problem – not just for the Gulf and for restoring the natural resources that support the fishing, seafood and tourism industries – but for folks in other parts of the country, like Alaska and Virginia and North Carolina who are being asked to support the expansion of offshore drilling to their coasts.

Friday Night Appearances!

If you’re in the Shepherdstown, WV area this Friday evening November 4, come on out to the Shepherdstown Opera House for a screening of the film The Big Fix, ‘a comprehensive investigation into the massive BP Deepwater/Horizon spill in the Gulf which digs deeper to reveal a darker more unsettling truth about the world we live in today. By exposing the root causes of the spill, filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell uncover a vast network of corruption that not only caused one of the greatest environmental catastrophes of all time but may also lead to something that could be even more damaging to life as we know it; an inevitable global currency collapse.’

The film will be followed by a panel discussion with none other than our own SkyTruth president, John Amos, as well as Doug Inkley of the National Wildlife Federation and Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post.  Joel is also author of a riveting book about the spill, A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, if you DO come out to the Opera House, don’t forget to set your DVR’s and Tivo’s for the SkyTruth interview with West Virginia’s PBS. Our segment will be shown on Friday night’s episode of This Week In West Virginia, which will be airing at 8:00 p.m. If you miss that airing, don’t fret! Another airing will be shown on Sunday, November 6 at 6:00 p.m.

Waterkeeper Alliance Takes Legal Action on Chronic Leak at 23051 Site in Gulf

One of our partners in the Gulf Monitoring Consortium, Waterkeeper Alliance, has filed a notice of intent to sue over the ongoing, chronic oil leak from the site of former platform 23051 in the Gulf of Mexico.  We discovered this leak last May while analyzing imagery of the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  According to the operator, Taylor Energy, and the Coast Guard, the wells at that location were damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and, we presume, have been leaking 24/7 ever since. Repeated observations of the site on satellite images and via aerial overflights confirm that the leak is ongoing.

Occasionally we’ve observed a deepwater drill rig, the Ocean Saratoga, at the site, working to plug these leaking wells.  But it’s not there continuously which makes us wonder: is the rig being pulled away from time to time for more lucrative drilling and workover jobs that pay a higher day rate?  We don’t know.

We’ve compiled a chronology of what we know about this chronic leak site.  We’ll continue to add to it as we see more evidence of ongoing leakage, part of our daily monitoring of the Gulf. If you’d like to bird-dog this site yourself – or anyplace else in the US for that matter – check out our SkyTruth Alerts. Or just click one of the following: