Oil Slick from Platform 23051 Site – Aerial Video

Bonny Schumaker of Wings of Care flew out over the site of former platform 23051 in the Gulf on Friday, July 1, to document the chronic oil leak there. She reported seeing just a buoy at the location, and a long oil slick. Check out her blog to see several photos and this brief video she captured during that flight showing what appears to be a rainbow sheen (0.3 to 5 microns thick).

The Ocean Saratoga drill rig is no longer working at the site, yet this chronic leak since 2004 has not been repaired.  When will this job resume?  And when will it be finished?

Closing The Book on This One – For Now

So there have been lots of questions and not very many answers over the past few weeks regarding the status of leaking wells in the Gulf. Where are they? Are they leaking? How much? Who owns them? Questions led to more questions, so the Gulf Monitoring Consortium (GMC) took action to get to the bottom of things.

A possible spill was originally reported off of Venice, LA (see our blog) on June 8. Later that same day, an oil slick in that general vicinity was sampled and tested by scientists from National Wildlife Federation and LSU, who determined this was fresh crude oil unrelated to the BP spill. On June 10 our GMC partners at SouthWings took Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network on a flight to see where that leak was coming from, but they didn’t find anything near the coordinates where the leak was originally reported.

However, they DID stumble across an actively leaking well not far away, in Breton Sound. You can read Jonathan Henderson’s blog here. Below is the well, obviously leaking, photographed on June 10, 2011 during the overflight. You can see all the photos taken on that flight here.

Photo taken on June 10 by Jonathan Henderson of Gulf Restoration Network

Many, many thanks go out to the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, who on June 17 went out in a boat to inspect that well in Breton Sound. Paul and Michael Orr went out check the status of the well head. What they found was that this well was no longer leaking but there was a distinct petroleum odor on site. The well looked somewhat battered, as if it was hit by a vessel, but there was no oil leaking from it.

Photos taken on June 17, 2011 by Jeffrey Dubinsky

You can check out their gallery and see not only the well in question but the other shots they took of the declining oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf, like this one:
Photo taken on June 17, 2011 by Jeffrey Dubinsky

Hopefully this puts to rest the saga of the leaking well in Breton Sound for now, but the Gulf Monitoring Consortium is hard at work keeping an eye on things, because sadly there will, no doubt, be many more leaks to investigate.

Oil Slicks in Gulf of Mexico

Another day, another spill in the Gulf. Or two.

Map showing locations of two recent NRC oil spill reports relative to Mississippi Delta, chronic leak at site of platform 23051, and BP / Deepwater Horizon spill. Pink dots are locations of active oil/gas platforms in Federal waters.

Yesterday’s MODIS/Aqua satellite image shows a couple of small slicks in the Main Pass area, a region jam-packed with offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines.  The two slicks we’ve outlined in yellow below appear to be closely associated with two recent National Response Center oil spill reports, one (#980916) submitted on June 27 and the other (#981157) on June 29.  The report on June 27 indicates the spill location (but not necessarily the source) as a manned oil/gas platform in Main Pass Block 299, installed in 1991 and operated by Freeport McMoRan Energy LLC.  (LLC…really?  Think about that for a moment.  This is a division of a multinational mining and energy conglomerate that, among other things, operates the massive Grasberg Pit in West Papua that is steadily smothering lowland rainforest with tailings.)  No amount spilled, or estimate of the size of the oil slick, is given in the report.  The slick is described as being dark brown, which indicates something thicker and more substantial than the “unknown sheen from unknown source” so frequently described in NRC reports.

Detail from NASA MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken June 29, 2011. Red pushpins mark locations of NRC spill reports on June 27 and June 29. Pink dots mark active oil/gas platforms in Federal waters. Scattered clouds and shadows at lower left. Strong sunglint on this portion of the image makes areas of smooth water (including oil slicks) appear very bright.

The possible slick seen on the June 29 MODIS image in that area covers 75 km2.  At 1 micron (one 1,000th of a millimeter) thick, that would be 19,800 gallons (a “medium” spill by Coast Guard definition).  But standard guidelines for estimating a slick’s thickness from its appearance put a “dark brown” slick in the 50 micron range.  That would be a spill of 990,000 gallons (23,571 barrels), and a Clean Water Act fine of 26 to 101 million dollars. But somebody in the federal government needs to step up and actually start fining companies for these spills (our intern Michelle is looking into this enforcement question).  We think this is critical to improve offshore drilling safety:  a credible and consistent financial incentive for operators — large and small — to take better care of business, one of the keys to avoiding the next major spill.

Possible oil slicks delineated with yellow line.

The June 29 report describes a 125-gallon spill in Main Pass Block 313 creating a “silvery sheen” (very thin slick) of oil about 26,000′ long x 2,600′ wide drifting southeast from the source.  The report gives the spill location (again, not necessarily the source) as a platform operated by Chevron.  This roughly matches what we observe on yesterday’s MODIS image: a possible slick that’s about 9 miles long and 25 km2 in size, beginning about 3-1/2 miles southeast of the platform location.  Assuming the slick is 1 micron thick, the total amount of oil it contains should be closer to 6,600 gallons (157 barrels).

Oil Slick at Platform 23051 Site, Gulf of Mexico

It’s the Energizer Bunny of leaks: yesterday’s MODIS/Terra satellite image of the Gulf shows a 10-mile-long oil slick emanating from the site of Taylor Energy’s destroyed platform, where wells damaged by hurricane Ivan in 2004 have been leaking oil ever since:

Detail from NASA MODIS/Terra satellite image taken June 28, 2011. Red pushpin marks location of former Taylor Energy platform. Tip of Mississippi Delta at upper left; scattered clouds and shadows at right. Strong sunglint on this portion of the image makes areas of smooth water appear very bright.
Yellow measurement line indicates oil slick caused by chronic leak from damaged wells at former platform location.

We’ve now collected dozens of satellite images and air photos showing a persistent oil slick at this site, including this image from June 19 showing a slick at least 17 miles long, and possibly more than 30 miles long (a small patch of clouds interferes with the view):

Detail from NASA MODIS/Terra satellite image taken June 19, 2011. Red pushpin marks location of former Taylor Energy platform. Tip of Mississippi Delta at upper left.
Yellow measurement line indicates oil slick caused by chronic leak from damaged wells at former platform location.

So what’s happening here to finally stop this chronic oil spill? One of our readers just noted that there is no evidence of vessel activity at the site now.  According to the latest Diamond Offshore rig status report (dated June 14) the rig that’s been working to plug the leaking wells at this site – the Ocean Saratoga – is scheduled to be pulled off the site by mid-July and sent to a 5-year job elsewhere in the Gulf. If there isn’t any tracking data indicating vessel activity at the site, maybe they’ve already pulled out – without completing the job, based on the 10-mile-long slick we observed yesterday.

According to their rig status report, no other Diamond Offshore rig is assigned to the site. Maybe another drilling company is under contract to bring in a rig to continue the plugging operation.

This plugging operation is obviously a low-priority job. Possibly because, as far as we can tell at this point, no fines are being levied against the operator for the oil being continuously spilled into the Gulf at this site — so they have no financial incentive to pay higher rates to get the plugging job done quickly. Our summer intern Michelle is working to help us determine who to blame for setting up this moral hazard: the Coast Guard? BOEMRE? EPA? Department of Justice?

Oil Slick Near Venice, Louisiana – Federal Officials Stumped?

We hope not, since we’ve provided plain-as-day photos of a leaking platform not far from where the slick off Venice, Louisiana was first reported.  Maybe the Venice slick had another as-yet unidentified source, but the slick encountered by our Gulf Monitoring Consortium partners from a well likely owned by Saratoga Resources, Inc. clearly indicates a problem at this precise location:  29°31’29.40″N /  89°19’60.00″W.

What’s not clear: what – if any – action will be taken by state and federal officials to address that spill?

Oily sheen spotted from Coast Guard aircraft near Venice, Louisiana on June 9, 2011. US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Lehmann, courtesy gCaptain.

At any rate, the Coast Guard has declared the cleanup of the slick off Venice “complete,”  even though no oil was actually cleaned up – apparently it all dissipated before coming ashore.

We’ll let you know when as learn more about this unresolved incident.