Hurricane Ike – NOAA Photo Mosaic

We’ve made a mosaic with a few of the NOAA air photos that show some probable oil slicks in the Galveston area in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Here’s a larger view. And if you want to download a 30″ x 12″ version (at 200dpi), click here. These images show an area that is still under a few feet of water — you can see roads and other features through the greenish murk of the floodwaters.

And now you can explore the NOAA air photos with Google Earth. GE users, here is the KMZ file. This is very useful – you can toggle the NOAA photos on and off, and see from the underlying hi-res Google imagery exactly what facilities seem to be the source of the slicks. Mosaic 8 in the KMZ includes the area shown in the SkyTruth mosaic at the top of this post.

Hurricane Ike – Initial Reports

Hurricane Ike New Iberia

By Coast Guard Jayhawk 6031 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ike came ashore in Galveston, Texas, early Saturday morning as a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph. Storm surge was about 10 feet, much less than the predicted range of 20 – 25 feet. Even so the storm caused extensive flooding throughout the Galveston – Houston area, and hurricane-force winds were felt well inland for several hours following landfall.

No large oil spills have yet been reported. Early damage reports to oil and gas facilities include 10 offshore oil and gas production platforms damaged or destroyed, along with “some” pipelines; one shallow-water jackup rig damaged; and two mobile drilling rigs adrift in the central Gulf. The US Coast Guard is going out to fetch them.

This last item is a concern. Drifting drill rigs after hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused significant pipeline damage as the rigs dragged their anchors across the seabed. Mooring systems were supposedly beefed up to prevent this from happening again:


One of the key conclusions was the need for stronger mooring systems that anchor rigs to the sea floor, sometimes in thousands of feet of water. That’s prompted major rig owners like Transocean Inc. and Noble Drilling Inc. to increase the number of anchor lines from eight or nine to 12 in some cases.

One of Transocean’s moored rigs, the Marianas, broke free during Hurricane Rita in September 2005 and drifted 140 miles (225 kilometers). Another, the Deepwater Nautilus, was set adrift a month earlier by Katrina.

Such unscheduled voyages can be costly. Besides lost revenue, Transocean spent $25 million (euro19 million) to fix and upgrade the two rigs, both of which now have 12-point mooring systems.


Katrina and Rita were Cat 5 monsters in the Gulf with sustained winds reaching 175 mph. But another of Transocean’s mobile rigs, the Amirante, suffered damage to its mooring system from the relatively weak Hurricane Gustav and was towed back to port for repairs. Ike’s winds (110 mph) were weaker than Gustav’s (115 mph). It’s only a matter of time before the Gulf will experience another major Category 4 or 5 hurricane. Maybe those mooring systems need another serious look. I’ll bet the companies that insure those rigs will insist.

Check out the discussion on The Oil Drum blog if you want to learn more.

Hurricane Ike Heads For Western Gulf

Latest 5-day predicted path of Hurricane Ike – seafloor oil and gas pipelines shown in brown

After pounding Cuba, Hurricane Ike has entered the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 1 storm, and is expected to strengthen over the next couple of days into a major hurricane. The latest forecast track shows Ike aiming for the western Gulf and the Texas coast, taking a swipe at the offshore oil and gas infrastructure on the way, and making landfall early Saturday morning.

Gustav Gives US A Break

Hurricane Gustav’s track and wind history, courtesy of Weather Underground

Too soon to say for sure — we haven’t yet seen any of the satellite images of the Gulf that were taken in the wake of Hurricane Gustav last week — but we haven’t heard of any offshore or onshore oil spills like those following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One drill-rig operator, Transocean, reported some damage to three of their offshore drill rigs; one suffered damage to it’s mooring system, not good news considering that mooring systems were supposedly beefed up after Katrina blew a bunch of rigs around the Gulf. Let’s compare the two storms: Gustav was a Category 3 storm out in the northern Gulf, while Katrina was a monster Cat 5. Gustav hit the offshore oil fields with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. Katrina moved through the OCS with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, gusting to 215 mph, with hurricane-force winds reaching 105 miles from the eye. Katrina generated 100-foot waves in the Gulf, high enough to batter the upper decks of major production platforms. At landfall, Gustav was a strong Cat 2 (110 mph) and Katrina was a strong Cat 3 (125 mph sustained, with gusts over 140 mph). Damage increases exponentially with increase in category – a Cat 4 could be 250 times as damaging as a at 1. Katrina was the 6th strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history.

Since the OCS platforms are designed to withstand at least a Cat 3 storm, they better not get beat up by the likes of Gustav. A Cat 4 or 5 storm is a whole ‘nother ballgame. Let’s hope Hurricane Ike doesn’t give us that test.

Uh Oh – Here Comes Gustav?!

Here we go again?

Hopefully not, but exactly three years ago today, Hurricane Katrina made landfall after buzzing through the offshore oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 5 storm (we documented some of the resulting offshore oil spills), and now it looks like Hurricane Gustav may be heading for the same trajectory. It just regained hurricane strength today, and forecasters have been predicting at least a Category 3 storm when it reaches the hot water of the central Gulf of Mexico.

We’re also hopeful that the mooring systems for floating drill rigs have been significantly strengthened. During Katrina, some of these huge rigs broke loose and got blown around the Gulf, dragging their anchors across the seafloor and tearing up the pipeline network. We think that caused many of the offshore slicks we observed on satellite imagery.

But most of the oil spilled by hurricanes Katrina and Rita happened onshore: over 9 million gallons, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, spilled from coastal refineries, storage tanks and pipelines – 6 major spills (>100,000 gallons), 5 medium spills, and over 5,000 minor spills. And those onshore facilities are just as vulnerable now as they were three years ago. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and say a prayer for the folks down along the Gulf coast. And keep an eye on Gustav. (What’s that you say? Hanna too?? You gotta be kidding me….)