Possible Bilge Dumping, Offshore Brazil

We’ve been looking at satellite imagery of offshore Brazil regularly since Chevron’s November 2011 blowout and spill in the Campos Basin.  Yesterday Teri noticed what appears to be a 40-mile-long, thin slick about 50 miles offshore in the southern part of the Campos oil field, playing hide-and-seek between the clouds and cloud shadows, on a MODIS/Terra satellite image:

Detail from MODIS/Terra satellite image taken on February 25, 2014, showing apparent bilge-dumping slick from a vessel operating in or passing through the Campos Basin oil field, offshore Brazil. Oil platforms and FPSOs shown as purple dots. Image courtesy of NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team. 

Given the location, one might suspect this is a leak from one of the many oil platforms or FPSOs in this area, shown as purple dots in the image above.  Petrobras platform Namorado-2 is located close to the north end of this slick. But we think, given it’s length and consistent width, this is more likely a bilge-dumping slick or leak from a passing vessel than a leak from a platform.

Is bilge dumping legal in Brazilian waters?  And who is the culprit? There is plenty of coastal shipping activity in this area, including cargo ships that we’ve caught dumping bilge elsewhere. There is also a lot of tanker traffic here, hauling oil from the FPSOs offshore to storage facilities and refineries onshore, occasionally causing spills here in Brazilian waters.

If we had to place a bet, we would guess this is bilge dumping from a shuttle tanker serving the Campos Basin oil facilities. Teri is running through the AIS data now to see if she can identify the source of this slick.

Pollution Response Activity in Campos Basin off Brazil?

We’re still trying to figure out what caused that big smoke plume we saw in the Marlim Sul oil field of the Campos Basin, about 70 miles off the coast of Brazil, on a December 31 satellite image.  So far, we’ve looked at data showing the locations of active exploration wells (where we would expect to see a drill rig at work); active oil production platforms, including FPSOs; and vessels broadcasting an AIS signal; and we can’t identify anything at the location where the smoke plume originates: 

Detail from December31, 2013 MODIS satellite image showing smoke plume off coast of Brazil in the Campos Basin oil field. Source of smoke plume shown by red marker.  Nearby / notable drill rigs and platforms shown by yellow markers.  Other oil platforms shown as purple dots.

So we are still stumped by this incident.  If any of you want to lend a hand, the smoke plume’s point of origin is here:

latitude -22.604346° / longitude -40.065453°  ( 22°36’15.65″S /  40° 3’55.63″W)

Meanwhile, our investigation has turned up something else of interest. 

We’re using global satellite AIS data to track vessels around the world, as part of our work to monitor marine protected areas and detect illegal commercial fishing activity.  We spotted an oil spill response vessel, the Mar Limpo II, operating in the Campos Basin about 45 miles southwest of the smoke-plume location. Judging by its repeated back-and-forth track, it looks like the vessel is actively engaged in oil spill response, possibly skimming oil and/or applying chemical dispersant to an oil spill:

Map of Campos Basin off Brazil, showing vessel AIS data. Track of the oil pollution response vessel, the Mar Limpo II, is shown in blue. Image Credit © exactEarth
Detail from above showing the back-and-forth motion of the Mar Limpo II. Current position (January 9) of the vessel is indicated by square white brackets. Vessel appears to be engaged in oil spill response. Image Credit © exactEarth

 If anyone has information about a possible spill here, please let us know.

NOAA’s Nifty Interactive Hurricane Map

NOAA has a very cool interactive map that allows you to pick a location and show the tracks of all of the known hurricanes that have come near that spot.

[Update 4 Sep 2019: The Historical Hurricanes Tracks Map has moved here.]

Let’s take a quick look at the mid-Atlantic coast.  As the politicians in Virginia and North Carolina fall all over themselves to promote the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling to their part of the Atlantic, it’s worth pausing to think about the potential for future hurricane-related damage to the web of offshore and coastal oil-handling infrastructure that would be built to support that development, and the resulting spills that would inevitably occur:

Map showing the tracks of all known hurricanes since 1851 that have come within 65 nautical miles of Virginia Beach. Source: NOAA / Historical Hurricane Tracks.

We’ve seen spills again and again from storm-damaged infrastructure on the Gulf Coast, in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Ike, and Isaac.  Industry apologists tend to shrug their shoulders whenever these spills occur and say “Hey, whattaya gonna do?” But these so-called acts of God are entirely predictable, from the perspective that severe storm events are a regular, expected part of life along the Gulf and Atlantic seaboards.

Just spend some time with NOAA’s interactive map.  It’s an eye-opener.

95-Mile-Long Slick in the Gulf of Mexico?

This report on SkyTruth’s handy pollution Alerts system caught my eye yesterday afternoon:


That sounds like bilge-dumping from a passing vessel — an activity that is illegal in US waters (and much of the rest of the world).   Intrepid SkyTruth intern Patrick busted somebody for bilge-dumping off Angola last year using satellite radar imagery and AIS data.  The report was submitted to the Coast Guard-operated National Response Center by image analysts at NOAA.  We’re thrilled that they’ve started reporting their analyses of possible pollution incidents to the NRC, so we can easily incorporate them into our Alerts system.  (We like to think our Gulf Monitoring Consortium activity helped spur NOAA to get their experts into the game in a more public way.)

NOAA’s analysts now think it’s probably not oil; more likely it’s natural surfactant caught in the convergence zone between two water masses.  I agree; this is close to the edge of a loop current now in the northeastern part of the Gulf.  And bilge-dump slicks usually look a lot sharper than this (see a slideshow of our examples from radar imagery).

Here’s detail from a MODIS/Terra satellite image taken at 16:50 UTC on April 14, 2013, showing the apparent slick.

Location map showing detail from MODIS/Terra satellite image taken on April 14, 2013.
Detail from MODIS/Terra satellite image of slick (dark, east-west trending streak) probably caused by natural surfactants accumulating along the convergence zone between ocean currents.

And the flaring continues off Nigeria…

Looks like flaring on offshore oil and gas platforms in Africa didn’t take a holiday this year. As you can see by this MODIS Aqua 7-2-1 image from  12/23/2012, there was lots and lots of flaring activity going on off the coast of Nigeria.

MODIS Aqua 7-2-1 taken on 12/23/2012 showing multiple flaring incidents off the Nigerian coast.

And not to be outdone, this area where we’ve seen flaring before is at it again:

MODIS Aqua 7-2-1 taken on 12/23/2012 shows an area of flaring that we’ve been following for awhile now.

You can read about that spot off the Niger Delta on our blog post of December 3.We still don’t know who is operating out there, so if anyone knows, fill us in!