SkyTruth’s Work Cited in National Oil Spill Commission’s Final Report

The National Oil Spill Commission’s final report on their investigation of the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster was released yesterday, and SkyTruth’s work is cited in several places. Sections of SkyTruth’s blog regarding the initial estimates about the spill’s true size can be seen on page 146, footnote 150 of the report.

The study, “Impacts, Perception, and Policy Implications of the Deepwater Horizon Oil and Gas Disaster” by MCBI’s Dr. Elliott Norse and SkyTruth’s John Amos, which appeared in a special issue of Environmental Law Reporter News and Analysis, a publication of the Environmental Law Institute, was also cited in two separate places in the Commission’s report.

Discussion about the lack of information on the ecosystems and the impact that deepwater drilling have on them is cited on page 174, footnote number 4 and on page 182, footnote 68.

SkyTruth at ScienceOnline2011 – January 15

Well, not “at,” exactly – I’ll be participating via Skype from snowy Shepherdstown, WV, in this fifth annual conference that looks at the intersection of science and the Web. I’m part of a panel and audience discussion that begins at 11:30am ET this Saturday called “The First Line of Response- The BP Oil Spill: science, outrage, spin, and dead pelicans.” We’ll take a look at the role of blogging and science – both good and bad (flaming hurricanes! exploding tornadoes!) – during the Gulf spill.

According to the organizers, the conference sold out in 45 minutes. But you can still follow what’s happening by watching live video, and chime in via Twitter (#scio11 for the conference, #oil during our panel). Should be interesting!

National Oil Spill Commission Releases Final Report

Today, the Presidentially-appointed National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (aka “the spill commission”) released its long-awaited final report on their months-long investigation into the causes of the world’s largest accidental oil spill. The report was formally rolled out during a press event this morning. You can download it here, and view a multimedia presentation summarizing the report and the Commission’s recommendations.

The news conference included a fairly lengthy Q&A with reporters that featured some thoughtful and difficult questions for the commissioners. We tweeted what struck us at the time as some of the highlights of the session. Video of the news conference, which was broadcast by C-SPAN, should be available soon according to the Commission’s website.

One of the interesting quotes, from co-chairman William Reilly, was this helpful reminder: “Spills are predictable – they’re going to happen from time to time.”

Commissioners stressed that some of their recommendations can be implemented without any new legislation or funding – an important selling point given the renewed anti-regulation, “leave business alone” mood in Congress – but when commissioner Frances Beinecke was asked for the highest-priority recommendation of the commission she didn’t miss a beat:

Adequately fund the Interior Department so they can effectively enforce the rules and regulations that govern offshore oil and gas drilling.

That sure seems like a no-brainer, but when it comes to politics you can’t assume anything. I hope Congress is paying attention.

Stay tuned – there are other investigations still underway, so this is by no means the last word on the BP spill. We’re particularly interested in what the well-respected Chemical Safety Board turns up.

Final Hours Of The Deepwater Horizon – Why Did It Sink?

Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible drill rig sinking in the Gulf of Mexico, April 22, 2010, following blowout of BP’s Macondo well. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

The New York Times has published a detailed, harrowing account of the what it was like to be onboard the doomed Deepwater Horizon drill rig when the Macondo well blew out on the night of April 20, triggering a series of explosions that ignited an inferno and killed 11 men. One survivor tells his story on an accompanying video. A slide show includes new photos of the burning rig taken by a worker on a nearby boat in the final hours before the Deepwater Horizon sank into the Gulf of Mexico on April 22, initiating the biggest accidental oil spill in history.

This in-depth investigative piece also examines why the rig succumbed, despite the many safety systems onboard designed to prevent injury and protect the rig in the event of a catastrophic blowout:

What emerges is a stark and singular fact: crew members died and suffered terrible injuries because every one of the Horizon’s defenses failed on April 20. Some were deployed but did not work. Some were activated too late, after they had almost certainly been damaged by fire or explosions. Some were never deployed at all.”


Deepwater Horizon rig capsized and moments away from slipping beneath the waves in the Gulf of Mexico on April 22, 2010. One of the thrusters used to keep the rig on station is visible. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

National Oil Spill Commission Hearing, December 2-3, 2010 – SkyTruth Comment on Monitoring

Yesterday I attended the final public hearing of the presidentially-appointed National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (aka, the “Spill Commission”). The attendance was sparse – only about 15-20 folks were in the public audience, and several of those seemed to be Commission staff members. I hope people are watching this online (streaming here right now, until the meeting wraps up at 3pm this afternoon) because the staff reports and recommendations cover a broad range of issues, the Commission deliberation is thoughtful, and this is a good preview of what the final report to the President will – and will not – address.

During the public comment period, SkyTruth made a pitch to the Commission for implementing routine satellite monitoring for pollution detection. Here’s the text of our comment (written during my long pre-dawn train commute into DC yesterday):

Thank you Commissioners. My name is John Amos; I am a geologist and the president of SkyTruth, a non-profit organization in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. At SkyTruth we use satellite images and other remote-sensing data to study and illustrate environmental issues. During the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill we collected near-daily imagery from a variety of sources. With this imagery, and our expertise, we were able to

  • Effectively track and measure oil slicks
  • Make a conservative, science-based estimate of the flow rate within the first week of the spill
  • Show entrainment of the oil slick in the Loop Current
  • Show the dissipation of oil slicks following the July 15 closure of the Macondo well
  • Measure the total surface footprint of the spill in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico

We also stumbled on a small but persistent spill nearby, unrelated to the BP spill, and apparently known to the MMS and Coast Guard but generally not known to the public at large. This spill was caused by a group of wells damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and presumably leaking ever since.

Satellite images, especially radar images, have been regularly used for decades to detect and track oil pollution at sea. During the 1990s I personally performed dozens of commercial exploration studies for energy companies, using satellite images to detect small, persistent oil slicks caused by natural oil seeps on the seafloor worldwide. Now, with an expanded constellation of earth-observing satellites in orbit, including several radar imaging satellites, routine ocean monitoring is technically feasible.

In your final report to the President, I hope the Commission recommends that the nation moves expeditiously to implement routine, publicly transparent satellite monitoring of U.S. waters to detect and assess pollution and other threats, and to assure the American public that their government is effectively managing and protecting our vital marine resources.

Thank you.