BP / Gulf Oil Spill – This Dragon Is Dead

Finally — after killing 11 people, injuring 17 others, spewing 172 million gallons of oil and untold amounts of natural gas into the ocean, and tormenting the entire Gulf of Mexico region for almost 5 months — the BP / Deepwater Horizon dragon has been declared officially dead by the US Coast Guard. After some tense last-minute complications, a relief well successfully intersected the failed Macondo well 13,000′ beneath the seafloor last Thursday (September 16). Cement was pumped into the base of the Macondo well, and pressure testing conducted over the weekend confirmed that this cement job had sealed the well.

Hallelujah. It’s a relief, but the BP / Deepwater Horizon Oil and Gas Disaster is far from over. There is a lot of work to do to fully measure and understand the impact of this event, to monitor its impacts over time, to apply all the lessons learned to our offshore drilling practices, and to help the Gulf ecosystem and communities recover.

Hurricane Earl and Virginia Offshore Drilling (Lease Area 220)

What if Virginia had active offshore oil and gas development?

We got the latest wind-history data from NOAA, showing the extent of hurricane-force and tropical-storm-force winds as Hurricane Earl moved along the East Coast today. We overlaid these “wind envelopes” on the proposed drilling area designated Lease Area 220. Here is the result, using a satellite image of the storm taken at 3pm EDT as backdrop:

Most of the drilling area would have experienced hurricane conditions today. The western part, along with the coastal support facilities onshore – pipelines, storage tanks, refineries, etc. – would have faced tropical storm conditions.

Here is the source for the wind history data, current through 11am EDT today. We’ll update this map as more complete wind-history data become available:

Mariner Energy Gas and Oil Rig – MODIS Imagery, September 2, 2010

Fighting fire on the Mariner Energy platform in Vermilion Block 380, Gulf of Mexico, September 2, 2010. Photo by Greenpeace. More photos here.

Here at SkyTruth we finally got NASA/MODIS satellite imagery taken yesterday of the Gulf of Mexico, covering both the BP/Deepwater Horizon/Macondo well site and the location of the Mariner Energy platform that caught on fire yesterday morning while workers were painting it. Everyone was rescued and the fire was extinguished later that day. Early reports of a growing sheen of oil in the water were later retracted by the Coast Guard, and the seven wells under that platform have reportedly been shut in and are not leaking.

MODIS/Terra satellite image showing Mariner Energy platform (magenta cross) relative to BP spill site (yellow cross). Inset shows MODIS/Aqua imagery of the platform location taken an hour or so later.

NASA reported that the MODIS / Terra image taken at about 1pm local time showed a small plume of smoke from the burning rig, but the alleged plume is located about 40 miles northwest of the stated platform location, which we have verified by overlaying government GIS data for the locations of all oil and gas platforms in the Gulf. An offshore weather station on a Shell oil platform in the general vicinity reported wind consistently from the east to east-southeast. So we’re not sure what that reddish-brown blotch is that caught NASA’s eye – possibly a large patch of Sargassum, although it does seem to throw a shadow like the adjacent clouds, so maybe 1) it is a different smoke plume, or 2) everyone has misidentified the Mariner platform, which is very unlikely. Another little Gulf mystery.

BOTTOM LINE: We don’t see anything on the Terra image to indicate either smoke or oil slick around the Mariner platform location, but it is pretty cloudy. The Aqua image taken at about 2pm local time (inset) is clearer, but we don’t see anything unusual on it either. We’ll keep looking at the area for the next few days but this seems to be just another one of the 100+ “run-of-the-mill” fires and explosions that are reported on Gulf oil and gas platforms every year.

Mariner Energy Gas and Oil Rig – Location Map

Here’s a map showing the location of Mariner’s burning rig relative to BP’s infamous Macondo well (still only temporarily plugged, awaiting a final “bottom kill” operation). The Mariner gas and oil rig is situated near the edge of the continental shelf, 100 miles off the Lousiana coast, 240 miles west of Macondo, in a water depth of 340 feet (surprisingly shallow at that distance offshore):

(Click on map for full-sized version)

It’s busy out there. We’ve overlain active oil and gas platforms (orange dots) and oil and gas pipelines (green lines). Seafloor bathymetry is shown in shades of blue. All that rumply-looking stuff is the broad belt of salt domes and basins that makes the Gulf a really unique place, geologically and biologically.

UPDATE 9/2/10 6pm EDT – The Washington Post is reporting that the fire has been extinguished, and the 7 wells have all been successfully shut in (i.e., closed) and are not leaking. The Coast Guard is backing off their earlier report of a small oil slick. We’re still waiting for today’s NASA / MODIS satellite imagery to become available for download, but NASA has already published one of the images showing a small plume of smoke from the burning platform earlier this afternoon. We’ll take a look at the images acquired for the next few days as well.

Oil Rig On Fire Off Louisiana Coast

US Coast Guard photo of burning Mariner Energy platform off Louisiana, 9/2/10. Source: AP via Miami Herald.

Breaking news – we just learned that an oil platform operated by Mariner Energy about 100 miles off the Louisiana Coast is on fire. 13 workers, who were on board when an explosion occurred about 9am Central time today, have been rescued from the water; one was injured.

The platform (Vermilion Oil Platform 380) is in water about 340 feet deep, 200 miles west of BP’s Macondo well that caused this year’s massive oil spill.

The Coast Guard is reporting a one-mile-long sheen of oil is spreading from the platform. It’s unclear how many wells are at this platform, which produced an average of 9.2 million cubic feet of natural gas and 60,000 gallons of oil and liquid natural-gas condensate per day during the last week of August.

Based on these numbers we think the potential for a major oil spill is low, but we still don’t know what caused the explosion.

SkyTruth is working to get satellite imagery of the area. We’ll let you know as soon as we see anything. Follow us on Twitter to get the latest updates.