Platform 23051 Site – Still Leaking, Magically!

Back on September 2 somebody submitted a pollution report to the National Response Center indicating an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and it popped up in the SkyTruth Alerts system.  That’s depressingly common – there are typically a dozen or so reports of spills every day in the Gulf.  And this one came from a familiar place, the site of a former oil platform (#23051) about 12 miles off the tip of the Mississippi Delta, in Mississippi Canyon Block 20.  We’ve been systematically documenting a chronic leak there since we first became aware of it last summer during the unrelated BP / Deepwater Horizon spill.

But the September 2 report is magical:  The caller – presumably an employee of or contractor for the company – claimed a spill totalling 0.0000027 gallons.  That’s 1/500th of a teaspoon.

  • Magic Act #1: How did they measure it?
  • Magic Act #2: This vanishingly minuscule spill somehow created an observable oil slick 1,000′ long and 200′ wide, covering a total area of 4.6 acres with a “silvery sheen.”

Silvery sheen is at least 0.04 to 0.3 microns thick.  By our calculation, that’s a slick containing 0.2 to 15 gallons.  Sure, 2/10ths of a gallon isn’t much, but it is 74,000 times larger than the caller reported. Maybe this was a simple transcription error at the NRC.  But if not, this one gets the prize for ridiculousness, reinforcing our evolving theory that polluters are consistently underreporting the amounts of pollution. Cumulatively, given thousands of reported spills a year, these unreported amounts add up to a much bigger mess than the public has been lead to believe.  In a place like the western and central Gulf, maybe this is no big deal; but in new places where we’re moving ahead with drilling – the Virginia coast, the Arctic Ocean – the routine leaks and spills associated with coastal industrialization and offshore drilling might not be so easily shrugged off by tourists, fishermen, and the environment.

And by the way, we’re seeing a lot more than 5 gallons in the ongoing spill – 24/7/365 since September 2004 – from this hurricane-damaged cluster of wells.  The MODIS /Aqua satellite image below, taken on September 10, shows a slick originating at the 23051 site that extends almost 35 miles. And the radar satellite image at bottom, taken on August 30, shows a slick at the site that stretches about 13 miles. We’ve collected dozens of images showing slicks at this site routinely stretching more than 10miles.

Detail from MODIS satellite image taken September 10, 2011 showing 35-mile-long slick emanating from 23051 site at left.
Radar satellite image taken August 30, 2011, showing 13-mile-long slick at 23051 site at upper left.

We suspect that some of the oil slicks and occurrences of tarballs and other oil on the Louisiana coast are probably coming from this location, not from the BP / Deepwater Horizon site 40 miles offshore.  To help eliminate this possible source of confusion, scientists from National Wildlife Federation are taking a boat out today — guided by SkyTruth’s maps, coordinates, and image analysis — to collect a sample of the oil slick at the 23051 site.  We hope to get that sample chemically “fingerprinted.”  As always, we’ll report the results right here.

Slicks From August 30 – Back Again Today?

Tropical Storm Lee is long gone, the clouds are clearing, and the MODIS/Terra satellite image taken of the Gulf this afternoon seems to show a patch of dark slick located in the same place as the slicks documented by Bonny Schumaker on her August 30 overflight and confirmed on a radar image taken that same day.  The dark patch under the yellow marker is roughly the same size, too, about 14 miles x 5 miles.  And as before, there is no obvious connection between this patch of slick and BP’s Macondo well site.  Maybe it’s coming from something else.  We just don’t know yet.

Weather permitting Bonny may fly out there again tomorrow.

Detail from MODIS / Terra satellite image taken September 9, 2011 showing dark patch in same location as oil slicks observed on August 30.

Gulf Overflight and Radar Image (August 30) Now in Google Earth

Our friends at SarSea created an interactive Google Earth file (get it here) that shows the flight path of Bonny Schumaker’s August 30 overflight and the photos and video she took of the oil slicks she observed during that flight. Here’s an overview that also shows the location of the Macondo well – the source of last year’s BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill – and the 23051 Site where we’ve been watching a chronic leak from a cluster of wells that were damaged by Hurricane Ivan waaaay back in 2004, overlain on an Envisat ASAR radar satellite image that was taken at about 11pm that night:

Bonny Schumaker’s August 30 flight path and photo points, overlain on August 30 radar satellite image. Envisat ASAR image courtesy European Space Agency.

Meanwhile, Fires Rage in Texas

Texas is being hit hard by a one-two punch of severe drought and wildfire (here’s an interactive map of the  fires).  The same MODIS image that showed the beauty of the Mississippi Delta yesterday also starkly reveals the plumes of smoke from those Texas fires, drifting across nuch of the eastern and southern parts of the state. They sure could have used some of that rain from Tropical Storm Lee.

MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken September 6, 2011, showing pale gray plumes from wildfires in Texas and smoggy pall of drifting smoke across the southern part of the state.

Gorgeous Mississippi Delta

Let’s start the day with something pretty: yesterday’s MODIS/Aqua satellite image of the Gulf is one of the most beautiful views of the Mississippi Delta that I’ve ever seen. Tropical Storm Lee has just moved inland after drenching the coast, and the patterns of turbidity and sediment fringing the vibrant green vegetation are stunning. Wish I was down there fishing today!

Click for a larger version, and enjoy:

Where the water mingles with the land: MODIS/Aqua image showing Mississippi Delta and Louisiana coast on September 6, 2011.