Atlantic Drilling – New Jersey Oil Spillustration

A lot of folks were surprised by the Obama administration’s recently announced plan to expand oil and gas drilling in US waters to much of the Atlantic coast and into the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska. Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home to a wild-salmon fishing industry that rakes in some $300-400 million every year, will be put off-limits to drilling until 2017.

Under this plan, drilling will be allowed off the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Delaware:

Map source: New York Times

SkyTruth thought it would be interesting to illustrate what could happen if a drill rig off Delaware had a blowout and spill comparable to what we saw unfold off Australia last year. So we took the cumulative oil slick “footprint” – all of the oil slicks we observed on NASA satellite images throughout the ten-week duration of the Australia spill – and transposed it onto the Atlantic coast, assuming the source of the spill was a well 60 miles off the Delaware shore. The entire coast of New Jersey, from Cape May to Sandy Hook, would be impacted:

Hypothetical illustration showing 2009 Australia oil spill superimposed on Atlantic coast.

This image was used by New Jersey Senator Lautenberg in a meeting yesterday with Senators Kerry and Lieberman, who support more offshore drilling if it helps gain the votes they need to pass a climate bill. Lautenberg, and his colleague Senator Menendez, aren’t big fans of that plan.

We want to stress that our illustration is hypothetical. It’s not based on a numerical model of how oil would likely move and disperse if a well off Delaware really did have a major problem; that’s a function of wind, tide, current, the properties of the oil, the rate and quantity of spillage, and of course the effectiveness of our efforts to contain the oil in such an incident. But this illustration is based on actual observations of a real event, the Montara / West Atlas blowout and spill that we tracked in the Timor Sea off Australia last year.

Offshore Oil Is Spilled in Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

We just learned about an oil spill yesterday in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge near Venice, Louisiana. The US Coast Guard is responding to the estimated 18,000-gallon spill of crude oil from a pipeline jointly operated by Chevron and BP. The cause of the spill is under investigation, but early reports suggest that workers on an Exxon barge may have accidentally damaged the pipeline.

This is yet another reminder of the risks that offshore drilling poses to onshore and coastal habitats and communities: the pipeline carries oil from an offshore platform out in the Gulf of Mexico.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class James Peterson with Sector New Orleans, takes a sample from an oil spill that occured approximately 10 miles southeast of Venice, La., in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, April 6, 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse Kavanaugh.

The Coast Guard has posted high-resolution photos showing the impacts of this spill, which ranks as a “medium” spill by Coast Guard definition (an inland spill of 1,000 to 10,000 gallons); the kind of spill we usually don’t hear about, unless it happens in an interesting location like an urban area, a popular beach, or a place that we all assume is protected, like a wildlife refuge. Looking at these pics it’s difficult to imagine the impact of a multi-million-gallon spill like the Montara/West Atlas blowout and spill off Australia’s coast last year.

Hands Across the Sand

Phil Compton, Sierra Club-Florida, refers to SkyTruth map during press event.

Folks concerned about offshore drilling in Florida held an event on February 13 called Hands Across the Sand. Sierra Club of Florida reports about 10,000 people participated. SkyTruth’s work related to last year’s oil spill in the Timor Sea off Australia made an appearance, in the form of a poster-sized map superimposing the Australia oil slicks on the Gulf Coast of Florida for scale. This was presented at a news conference hosted by a major coastal resort.

Our work is intended to communicate just how much ocean was affected by the 10-week-long Montara oil spill, and what a similar spill could impact if it were to happen in US waters. See the latest maps in our gallery.

Timor Sea Drilling Spill – Superimposed on Florida Coast

Given the big Hands Across the Sand event tomorrow that’s getting so much media attention down in Florida, we thought it would be interesting to take the cumulative Timor Sea oil slick footprint from the Montara / West Atlas blowout and spill last year and superimpose it on the Gulf coast of Florida. This is not a spill simulation; it’s just a map intended to show how large an area of ocean the Australia spill ultimately impacted during the ten-week period after the blowout until the spill was finally stopped:

Cumulative Timor Sea oil spill footprint superimposed on Florida’s Gulf coast.

This is based on SkyTruth’s analysis of MODIS satellite images provided by NASA throughout the event, from August 21 to November 1. Read all about it in this blog; see our large collection of images and maps; and follow us on Twitter to stay tuned in on all our latest work.

And if you like what we do, and want us to keep at it, please make a donationSkyTruth is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered with the IRS, and your donation is fully tax-deductible.

Timor Sea Drilling Spill – Cumulative Impact

We’ve generated a sequence of maps showing the cumulative area of ocean covered by oil slicks and sheen during the 10-week oil spill in the Timor Sea off Australia last year. This is based on SkyTruth’s analysis of MODIS satellite images obtained from NASA throughout the event.

Cumulative slicks from Timor Sea blowout and spill; state of Virginia superimposed for scale.


We calculate a total area of 22,163 square miles where oil slicks or sheen occurred at some time during the spill, which began when a well blew out during drilling operations on the new Montara platform on August 21, and ended when the damaged well was finally plugged on November 1. This is about the size of SkyTruth’s home state of West Virginia. Because there were many days when the MODIS images weren’t useful for mapping slicks (due to cloud cover or illumination conditions), the actual area is probably greater.