Timor Sea Drilling Spill – Satellite Images Reveal Extensive Slicks

Looks like the ongoing oil spill gushing into the Timor Sea off northwest Australia may be worse than initially reported (see a slideshow of aerial photos and watch a video).

Oil slick from blowout during drilling off Australia.

Photo: Chris Twomey, courtesy of WA Today

One observer this weekend estimated that oil slicks and sheen from the blowout in the Montara field extend across 180 km of ocean and are within 20 km of the Australian coast, in an area that The Wilderness Society calls a marine life “superhighway” for migrating whales, turtles and other animals.
Location map showing site of Montara Platform blowout and spill.
TSX radar image © DLR 2009, Distribution INFOTERRA/CSTARS

SkyTruth, working with CSTARS at the University of Miami, just obtained TSX radar satellite images showing oil slicks and sheen (very thin films of floating oil) extending across more than 800 square miles:

Detail of spill on TSX radar satellite image acquired August 30, 2009.
Oil slicks and sheen (very thin films of oil) appear dark gray to black on radar imagery.
TSX radar image © DLR 2009, Distribution INFOTERRA/CSTARS

And NASA has just published yet another satellite image, taken on the same day, that shows an even larger area of slicks extending far to the east of the area shown on this radar image, across a total area of over 1800 square miles. It’s clear that the impacted area is much larger than reported last week:

Detail from NASA’s MODIS satellite image acquired August 30, 2009. Slicks and sheen extend across more than 1,800 square miles of the Timor Sea.

It will take at least several weeks before another drilling rig can get into the area to drill a relief well and control the spill. It’s worth pointing out to folks here in the US, who are considering opening new areas of our coastlines off Florida, Alaska, the Carolinas and Virginia to offshore oil and gas production, that this blowout occurred during drilling operations on a brand-new (installed in 2008) state-of-the-art platform. While these incidents have become less common, they still do happen.

UPDATE 9/3/09: We’ve created a new online photo gallery with aerial photos, satellite images, and maps of this spill. Images will be added over coming days/weeks, so keep checking in.

UPDATE 10/5/09: The company operating the West Atlas drill rig, Seadrill of Norway, has stated that the leak occurred from a previously completed well on the Montara oil platform while the West Atlas was drilling a new well on that platform. The Montara platform was built in 2008, and was installed in mid-2009 by Perth, Australia-based engineering company Clough after the original contractor, Saipem, bailed out to do a job elsewhere.