Mapping Oil Pollution Hot Spots in the World’s Oceans

We’ve embarked on an ambitious new project with the help of our stellar team of summer interns (Brady Burker, Flynn Robinson and Brian Wong). We set out to systematically identify and monitor ‘hot spots’ of oil pollution in the world’s oceans.  

Using freely available satellite imagery, we have identified and mapped several representative ‘hot spots’ of three major sources of oil pollution threatening the health of the world’s oceans and coasts: the illegal dumping of oily wastes at sea (also known as bilge dumping), persistent leaks from aging or damaged oil and gas production infrastructure, and long-term vessel anchorages where dozens of small spills and leaks on a nearly daily basis create chronic pollution conditions.

You can find the report here.

Free satellite imagery is becoming increasingly useful for systematically detecting and monitoring oil pollution in the world’s oceans.  Building from the methods and case studies outlined herein, our goal is to develop a semi-automated daily ocean monitoring platform.  This imagery will remain a core resource for this work. We will also seek to leverage high temporal and spatial resolution commercial imagery resources in order to create a clearer picture of the sources, causes and consequences of oil pollution at sea, and to empower and engage environmental advocates and concerned citizens to protect their oceans and coasts.

Image credit: A “vessel of opportunity” skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon/BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. (NOAA Office of Response and Restoration)

The Liverpool Bay oil & gas infrastructure funnels through the Douglas Complex (ENI Liverpool Bay Operating Company, 2016)

ENI — Italian Firm Recently Approved for Offshore Exploration in Alaska — Responsible for Last Week’s UK Oil Spill

Blobs of oil and balls of tar washed ashore in northwestern England last week. The oily litter impacted a 15 kilometer stretch of coastline and originated from an OSI (offshore storage installation) that receives oil from the Douglas Complex, an offshore triple-platform central to the Liverpool Bay oil and gas production operations seen below.

The Liverpool Bay oil & gas infrastructure funnels through the Douglas Complex (ENI Liverpool Bay Operating Company, 2016)

The Liverpool Bay oil & gas infrastructure funnels through the Douglas Complex (ENI Liverpool Bay Operating Company, 2016). From eni Liverpool Bay Operating Company 2014 Environmental Statement.

The Douglas Complex is integral to the Liverpool Bay’s network because all oil and gas collected by its four satellite sites (Lennox, Hamilton, Hamilton East, and Hamilton North) is funneled through the Complex for processing. Natural gas products are then re-directed ashore to the Point of Ayr Gas Terminal and crude oil to the OSI. It was this latter-most connection, an oil tanker anchored in place, that failed in Liverpool Bay on July 10, 2017.

Radar imagery from  ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite appears to show the slick resulting from this spill, as it drifts away from the storage tanker and heads toward shore. ASCAT satellite-derived surface wind data from the time of the spill confirms the wind was blowing from the north and east, consistent with the trajectory seen in these images. A spokesperson claimed that between 630-6,300 gallons of oil leaked; our conservative estimate, based on the size of the slick and an assumed average thickness of 1 micron, show this to be at least 6,843 gallons. Also note the half-mile gap between the OSI and a safety response vessel, the Vos Inspirer, on July 11 in the image that matches AIS vessel tracking data. An educated guess would be that the leak originated under water, potentially from the pipeline leading from the Douglas Complex, from the riser pipe from the seafloor to the OSI, or from the seafloor junction between the two.

Radar imagery from  ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite appears to show the slick resulting from this spill, as it drifts away from the storage tanker and heads toward shore

Radar imagery from ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite appears to show the slick resulting from this spill, as it drifts away from the storage tanker and heads toward shore.

U.S. Arctic Offshore Energy Policy Context

ENI, the Italian oil firm that accepted responsibility for the Liverpool Bay oil spill was recently granted access to drill for oil in US waters in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. This approval comes on the back of President Trump’s executive order that recently reversed a permanent ban on new offshore drilling.

The policy change has faced substantial criticism from environmental heavy-weights, culminating in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity, League of Conservation Voters, REDOIL, Alaska Wilderness League, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society to challenge the executive order’s legality.

Risk, Risk, Risk.

Beyond legal concerns, one would be remiss not to acknowledge the intrinsic risk of Arctic drilling. ENI reported the UK spill to be up to 6,300 gallons, and this took place in a very favorable location for clean-up. But experts agree we are ill-prepared for an oil spill in the markedly less forgiving conditions of the Arctic. The head of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Paul Zukunft, recently commented on the topic by saying:

We saw during Deepwater Horizon, whenever the seas are over four feet, our ability to mechanically remove oil was virtually impossible…Four-foot seas up there [in the Arctic] would probably be a pretty darned good day, so certainly environmental conditions weigh heavily in addition to just the remoteness.”

ENI might learn from Shell Oil’s failures. Shell canned a $7 billion offshore drilling project in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea after determining it was not financially worthwhile. Economic risk factors are furthered by International Energy Agency reports of an oil-supply “glut” and lowering crude prices amidst the rise of both renewable energy, and cheaper oil produced by fracking onshore.

Between supply-side risk, threats of lawsuits, and low oil prices, ENI is diving head first into a complicated, high-risk pool. Off the Fylde coast, authorities were quick to execute a plan after locals immediately brought the situation to their attention. As the Coast Guard continues to advocate for the basic resources needed for emergency preparedness and response in the Arctic, is this a gamble worth taking?

Oil leaks in Angola’s ‘Golden Block’

Angola has experienced rapid offshore oil development over the last two decades. Much of this development has taken place in offshore Block 17, described as Angola’s ‘Golden Block.’ It is made up of four major hubs – Girassol, Dalia, Pazflor and CLOV (the Cravo, Lirio, Orquidea and Violeta fields) – which were brought into operation between 2001 and 2014.

This image, collected on May 28th by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite, shows what appears to be an oil leak from FPSO Girassol, one of four floating production, storage, and offloading units (FPSO) operated by Total in Block 17.

We also found what appears to be oil coming from the FPSO Girassol on May 16th and May 25th, suggesting that there may a chronic leak from the FPSO Girassol or one of the 39 wells and miles of pipelines that connect its two satellite fields – the Jasmim field, located about 4 miles away, and the Rosa field located nearly 9 miles away – and vast subsea production network.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Block 17 and the Girassol Field as Total continues to ramp up production there – and in the ultradeep waters of Block 32 further offshore.

Indonesia’s Fishing Vessel Tracking Data Now Available to the Public

Today, a big announcement was made at The Ocean Conference at the United Nations: the Republic of Indonesia has made its fishing activity data public by allowing it to be published in Global Fishing Watch. This is an unprecedented move — governments that require vessels to use their proprietary vessel management systems (VMS) typically restrict access to the system; data is made available to government and enforcement agencies but not the general public. But Susi Pudjiastuti, the head of Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (the Kementerian Kelautan dan Perikanan RI, or KKP, for short), believes that making government fisheries data visible to the public is a powerful way to engage civil society in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Global Fishing Watch, a joint project of SkyTruth, Oceana and Google, relies on publicly-broadcast Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals, rarely used by vessels in Indonesian waters. AIS tends to be used by larger vessels — typically vessels greater than 300 gross tonnage or longer than 15 meters. Much of the fishing in Indonesian waters is carried out on smaller vessels. If you take a look at Global Fishing Watch with and without Indonesia’s VMS data in Indonesian waters, it’s astonishing to see how much fishing activity is added when the VMS data of the second largest fishing nation in the world is included. Indonesia requires all vessels greater than 30 gross tonnage to use its VMS:

View a larger version here.

Minister Susi is calling for other nations to follow her lead, and the Global Fishing Watch partners are committing to process, for free, VMS data from any country that agrees to make its data public through Global Fishing Watch, for free. Her decision is already making a difference — yesterday at this conference, the Republic of Peru announced (Spanish version) that it too will commit its VMS data to Global Fishing Watch in the near future. We hope that other countries will realize the advantages of transparency and soon follow suit.

Today’s announcement is the culmination of two years of behind-the-scenes work with the KKP. In 2015, during a visit to Google headquarters, Minister Susi saw a demonstration of Global Fishing Watch given by Brian Sullivan of Google Oceans & Earth Outreach and SkyTruth’s Paul Woods, and she expressed interest in having a similar tool that her Ministry could use in fighting IUU fishing. Paul said that he thought such a collaboration might be possible, but that because AIS is generally not used in Indonesian waters, it would be necessary for the KKP to make its own VMS data available to GFW in order for there to be any data to work with. Remarkably, Minister Susi agreed.

Since then, SkyTruth team members have made several trips back and forth to Indonesia to work with KKP staff — processing the data and applying algorithms already used for AIS to the VMS data, and sharing insights about the data with KKP staff that they can use to identify illegal activity and manage Indonesia’s globally important fisheries more effectively. Meetings via Skype and Google Hangouts had to be scheduled early in the morning and late at night so that they could span the vast number of time zones occupied by team members in Europe, the Americas and Southeast Asia. SkyTruth hired Imam Prakoso in Jakarta to meet regularly with the KKP, and recruited Aaron Roan, a former Google engineer, to work with the data and the algorithms.

Starting today, Indonesian VMS data will be part of Global Fishing Watch and available to anyone who wants to view it; the VMS data will be updated daily. In addition, the KKP has been given its own mapping tool to use for monitoring fishing in Indonesian waters. The Indonesian VMS fishing activity data is shown on a separate layer, so that it can be turned on and off as the user wishes.

We’d like to give a shout out to the people and organizations that made today’s announcement possible: to the teams at SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch, to Global Fishing Watch partners Google and Oceana, and to Minister Susi and her staff at the KKP. SkyTruth’s participation in this major effort is made possible by grants from the Walton Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

 

Big Data Brings Big Transparency to Indonesia’s Fisheries

Indonesia is leading the way towards a new era of transparency in fisheries management by making its Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data available to Global Fishing Watch (GFW). This is an unprecedented move.

Traditionally, VMS data is kept secret and used only by government agencies like Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs (KKP) and affiliated enforcement agencies. The head of the KKP, Susi Pudjiastuti, referred to as “Minister Susi” by nearly everyone, is a champion of sustainable fishing in Indonesian waters, and has taken major steps to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Her policy of publicly blowing up and sinking (empty) vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters has been wildly popular. Now that Minister Susi has partnered with GFW, anyone with a browser and internet access will be able to see Indonesia’s VMS data on the GFW map, beginning in June.

Data Scientist Aaron Roan is taking the lead at SkyTruth to integrate Indonesia’s VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. A former Googler, Aaron joined the SkyTruth team officially in January, but he has been involved in the GFW project for a while, on loan from Google as a volunteer. Like many SkyTruthers, Aaron works remotely, usually from San Francisco. However, this project means that lately he’s traveling regularly to Indonesia.

SkyTruthers Aaron Roan (left) and Paul Woods sightseeing in Jakarta during The Economist World Ocean Summit 2017.

Aaron is in charge of integrating VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. Naturally, there have been some interesting challenges and adventures along the way, starting with some pretty big differences between AIS data, which GFW is currently using, and VMS data.

AIS is a well-established and standardized open system developed to keep ships from running into each other, while VMS systems are custom-created specifically to allow government fishing agencies to privately monitor and communicate with vessels. Ships using AIS are essentially just chirping their locations to the world (“I’m here, I’m here!”) using public radio airwaves. VMS systems are more like text-messaging systems on phones, sending and receiving encrypted, privacy-protected information.

Vessel congestion is often an issue for AIS: the satellites that collect AIS broadcasts from vessels have a circular “footprint” 3,000 miles wide (more than the width of the United States) and the system can only receive an AIS ping once every 27 milliseconds, or 2,250 per minute. If there is a lot of vessel traffic in one location, smaller vessels using the weaker class B AIS systems get throttled in preference to larger class A vessels. This means that it’s possible for a vessel to be chirping its location frequently, but when there are a lot of ships in the area, pings may only be infrequently received.

VMS systems can handle a lot more signals than AIS, and better manage problems like colliding messages from multiple ships. However, the cost per message is relatively expensive, so government agencies often dial the systems back to receive fewer messages from ships in a given time period. According to Aaron, if Aesop were still around, he would call VMS the tortoise, and AIS the hare.

Despite these differences, initial integration test results have been positive, with the VMS data adding a tremendous amount of new data to GFW. Below, you can see the difference between Global Fishing Watch with and without the VMS data. AIS data is shown in green and the new Indonesian VMS data in white:

You can see it here in full-screen mode:

We are lucky to have Imam Prakoso, our “on-the-ground” guy in Indonesia, working on this project. With his engineering background, he provides support to the analysis and helps out with language translation. He’s been pivotal in terms of being able to meet regularly with KKP staff and in navigating the ministry’s organizational structure.

Brian Sullivan, Paul Woods, Imam Prakoso and Aaron in Jakarta

Chris Wilcox‘s team at CSIRO, currently consulting with the KKP, has been hugely helpful as well. With our data and algorithms, and his analytical acumen, we believe we’re in a strong position to help out multiple teams within the KKP.

None of this would have been possible without Minister Susi’s innovative approach to fighting IUU fishing, and the generous financial support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.

Transparency in commercial fishing benefits everyone (with the possible exception of those engaging in illegal activities). More accurate data in commercial fishing will allow for better regulation, management, and sustainability of an important food and job source in the future. We hope that other governments will follow Minister Susi’s bold initiative and make their own fishing data transparent. With Aaron on the team now, we’re ready to help!