BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Radar Image, May 18, 2010

This Envisat ASAR radar satellite image taken on May 18 shows oil slick entrained in the Loop Current and spreading out to the southeast. Slick and sheen covers 15,976 square miles (41,377 km2), about 50% larger than seen in yesterday’s MODIS image and about twice the size of New Jersey:

Envisat ASAR image, May 18, 2010. Image courtesy CSTARS.

Some of that apparent rapid growth may be due to the fact that radar images are generally a lot better at showing areas of thin sheen than the MODIS imagery.

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BP / Gulf Oil Spill – How Big Is It?

It’s time to revisit this subject. NOAA and BP are still saying the spill rate is 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) per day, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Many in the media continue to uncritically accept this estimate.

Why is it important to get this number right? This is about more than just liability, or PR. You can bet that our future response capacity is going to be overhauled and retooled based on this spill. If we low-ball the spill amount and rate, we run the risk of designing an inadequate new spill-response system that is doomed to fail the next time something this big occurs.

A couple of thoughts:

1) Are we really being asked to believe that the spill-response capability of one of the world’s biggest oil companies AND the United States Coast Guard has been totally overwhelmed by a spill of just 210,000 gallons per day? That’s a big spill, but not nearly as big as could reasonably be anticipated. Plenty of wells in the Gulf produce more than that under controlled flow-rate conditions; plenty of tankers plying our waters hold millions of gallons of oil.

2) BP claims the siphon they’ve inserted into the end of the damaged riser pipe is diverting 84, 000 gallons (2,000 barrels) of oil per day from the main leak to a tanker at the surface. That is good news indeed. But it’s worth remembering that for nearly a week BP stated the total spill rate was only 1,000 barrels per day.

3) Scientists analyzing video of that main leak, apparently shot on May 11 and released by BP on May 12, have estimated the flow rate from that leak to be anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 barrels per day. This makes SkyTruth’s 1.1 million gallon (26,500 barrel) per day estimate, based on our measurements of the oil slick as observed on satellite images and mapped by the Coast Guard, look fairly conservative. And it doesn’t even include the additional 15-20% coming from the secondary leak. That means BP’s siphoning effort is only capturing, at best, about 10% of the flow. This video of the main leak, shot on May 17 after the siphon was inserted and apparently working, shows the plume of oil continuing to spew into the Gulf; it hardly looks abated.

4) Speaking of which: video shot on May 15 and 16 has just been released showing the secondary leak, where the riser pipe is kinked and bent about 90 degrees a few feet above the blowout preventer stack. Unlike the short, blurry clip of the main leak, this video is several minutes long and quite sharp.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Slick Now Entrained In Loop Current?

Today’s MODIS / Terra satellite image is the most cloud-free we’ve seen in many days, and what it reveals is disturbing: part of the still-massive Gulf oil slick has apparently been entrained in the strong Loop Current, and is rapidly being transported to the southeast toward Florida. The total area covered by slick and sheen, at 10,170 square miles (26,341 km2), is nearly double what it appeared to be on the May 14 radar satellite image, and is bigger than the state of Maryland:

MODIS/Terra image, May 17, 2010, showing slick apparently entrained in Loop Current.

From Weather.com today:

Per The Weather Channel’s tropical expert Dr. Richard Knabb, “based on satellite images, model simulations, and on-site research vessel reports, I think it is reasonable to conclude that the oil slick at the surface is very near or partially in the loop current. The loop current is responsible in the first place for extending that stream of oil off to the southeast in satellite imagery.”

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Video of Main Leak Supports SkyTruth Estimates – Nearly 30 Million Gallons Spilled So Far

By now everyone has seen this video, released on May 12 by BP, that is reportedly showing the main leak from the damaged well as a result of the fatal Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, fire and ongoing spill:

BP video, reportedly of main leak, released on May 13, 2010.

The main leak is located along the riser pipe about 460′ from the blowout preventer; the pipe is laying on the seafloor. The second, smaller leak is just above the blowout preventer, and apparently accounts for about 15-20% of the total flow from the well. According to statements made by BP to the press on May 3:

 

The riser is kinked at a 90-degree angle about 5 feet above the blowout preventer, and oil is bleeding from an irregular crack, BP spokesman Bill Salvin said.

A second leak is 460 feet away on a section of the riser that lies on the gulf floor.

 

A third leak, about 800′ down the riser pipe, was sucessfully capped on May 5 but that operation did not change the rate of flow, which was simply diverted to the other two leak points.

Multiple scientists have reviewed this video; their estimates of the flow range from 840,000 gallons (20,000 barrels) per day to as much as 2.9 million gallons (70,000 barrels) per day. Add another 15-20% to those estimates for the secondary leak, and it’s clear that SkyTruth’s early alarm back on April 27 — that the spill is actually much worse than the official BP and government estimates — was valid, and conservative. By May 1 we had exceeded the official estimate of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster (about 11 million gallons); and by our count, at a rate of at least 1.1 million gallons (26,500 barrels) per day, we’re closing in on 28.9 million gallons (689,000 barrels) spilled so far (it’s Day 26 since the blowout began).

Where is all that oil? We don’t think we’re seeing that much at the surface in our satellite images. But scientists just announced they’ve discovered large underwater plumes of oil. Not all of the oil leaking from the well may be making it to the surface; dispersants, applied directly into the stream of leaking oil, and sprayed on the oil slick at the surface, are driving some of the oil underwater; and natural mechanical action of wind and waves can also cause oil to eventually sink. That may spare the beaches to some extent, but it raises questions about where all that oil is going, where will it ultimately end up, and what are the potential environmental and economic consequences.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Slick Getting Bigger?

The COSMO-SkyMed radar image taken yesterday is somewhat ominous – it shows nearly all of the slick from the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and at 4,922 square miles (12,748 km2) it’s significantly larger than it appeared on May 13:

COSMO-SkyMed radar satellite image, May 14, 2010. Image courtesy CSTARS.

And we think we’ve discovered an unrelated leak from a nearby platform that was installed back in 1984. The MMS ID# for this platform is 23051 (look it up here). A small, dark slick appears next to this platform on radar satellite images from April 26, May 8, and May 13 as well as this May 14 image.

It’s not a major leak but it may indicate a chronic problem. Somebody should check that out to make sure it doesn’t get any worse.