Platform 23051 / Ocean Saratoga Site Revisited

June 5, 2010: Oil slick next to Ocean Saratoga semisubmersible drill rig. Rig is working to plug leaking wells that were damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Photo courtesy J. Henry Fair.


June 25, 2010: Oil sheen marked by orange buoy. Rig was not observed in the area. Photo courtesy J. Henry Fair.

A few weeks ago we noticed a small but persistent slick on satellite images, appearing near a known oil platform location, designated Platform 23051 in a government database of all Gulf oil and gas platforms (including platforms that have been destroyed or removed). J. Henry Fair, a professional photographer, was flying over the site a few days later and captured photos and video showing an oil slick next to a semisubmersible drilling rig called the Ocean Saratoga. We learned the rig was not the source of any leak – it was working to plug one of 26 leaking oil wells that had been damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and have apparently been leaking ever since. Platform 23051 must have been destroyed during Ivan, or so badly damaged that it was subsequently removed.

The Coast Guard reported the wells were leaking, on average, just 14 gallons per day; and a containment device was said to be capturing most of that oil. But based on the size of the oil slick, we calculated a leakage rate in the range of 100-400 gallons per day. In our most recent observation on satellite imagery, June 18, the oil slick is 12 miles long and covers 4.5 square miles. The Ocean Saratoga is apparent as a bright dot on the radar image near the western end of the slick.

Mr. Fair flew over the site again on June 25 and took photographs showing a thin oil slick (rainbow sheen) marked by an orange buoy at one end, with no sign of the Ocean Saratoga rig or any other activity. It’s possible the rig was towed back to shore to ride out tropical storm Alex, or has been moved to another job. As long as we keep getting satellite imagery covering the nearby BP oil spill, we should have more opportunities to check up on the progress at stopping this small but persistent leak.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Radar Images Show Western Reach of Slick, June 28

Two CSK radar satellite images (black-and-white) are superimposed on a cloudy MODIS satellite image (color) taken June 28, 2010. The radar on the left was acquired at 6:56 pm, and the image to the right at 7:44 pm local time on June 28. Only the western half of the oil slick is visible on these images:

COSMO-SkyMed (CSK) radar satellite images acquired June 28, 2010. Images courtesy of CSTARS.

Tropical Storm Alex was roiling the Gulf when these images were taken. Weather data buoys in the vicinity recorded wind speeds of 6-11 meters/second (13-25 miles/hr), strong enough to break up areas of thin oil sheen and possibly render them undetectable. We infer that the dark areas enclosed within the orange line are thicker patches of oil slick. Oil is reaching farther to the west than we’ve seen recently, impacting Timbalier Bay and Terrebonne Bay.

SkyTruth on CNBC Tonight – “America’s Crude Reality”

Catch John Amos of SkyTruth (yes that’s me) talking about the Gulf spill, offshore drilling, and satellite images on CNBC at 8pm Eastern tonight. The show is called “America’s Crude Reality” and features SkyTruth’s testimony to Congress last fall warning of the risks posed by offshore drilling; our work on the blowout and 10-week-long spill off Australia last year; and our ongoing investigation and monitoring of the BP / Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill. Dr. Ian MacDonald, the Florida State University oceanographer who helped us calculate that the spill was at least 20 times larger than official estimates at the time, also appears tonight. Check here for show times – don’t miss it!

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – RADARSAT Images, Trouble With Alex

Two radar satellite images (black and white) taken by the RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2 satellites on June 27, 2010, show oil slicks and sheen extending across 19,112 square miles (49,500 km2) in the Gulf. The radar images were acquired at 6:48 am (long image on right) and 6:52 pm (image on left) local time:

RADARSAT images aquired June 27, 2010, courtesy of CSTARS.

The color backdrop is a MODIS/Terra satellite image taken early afternoon on June 27. Thick clouds from Tropical Storm Alex, passing off to the south, are visible at lower left.

Alex is now causing problems – cleanup operations were suspended today because of the rough weather. Even the radar satellite images are getting messed up by gusty thunderstorms spawned by Alex and sweeping through the area. We may not get any good satellite imagery of the oil spill again until Alex has exited the Gulf later this week.

See all of our satellite images, maps and photos for the ongoing spill in our image gallery.
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BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Tropical Storm Alex Makes a Drive-By

This GOES weather satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico shows Tropical Storm Alex at 6:45am Central time. Alex has just entered the southern Gulf after moving west across the Yucatan Peninsula:

GOES weather satellite image, June 28, 2010

Large bands of clouds containing strong thunderstorms are moving into the northern Gulf and affecting the area of the leaking Macondo oil well, raising the anxiety level surrounding the cleanup and response operation, but Alex is forecast to move steadily northwest, making landfall around the Texas-Mexico border:

NOAA forecast track for Tropical Storm Alex as of 10am CDT, June 28, 2010

Storm fans: see an animated loop of Alex’s progress.