Timor Sea Drilling Spill – 2nd Relief Attempt Fails

It’s now Day 54 of the ongoing Montara oil spill off Western Australia, and the second attempt to intercept the damaged well and shut it down has failed. The next try should happen over the weekend. Third time’s the charm – we hope.

At this point, using PTTEP’s estimate of 400 barrels of oil spilled per day, at least 900 thousand gallons have been spilled into the Timor Sea since the blowout occurred on August 21. Using our estimate of 3,000 barrels per day, based on the known flow rates of nearby wells, nearly 7 million gallons have been spilled so far.

Timor Sea Drilling Spill – 1st Relief Attempt Fails

Perth Now reports that the first attempt to shut down the uncontrolled spill of oil and gas from a damaged well on the Montara platform has failed. It’s a highly challenging operation: drillers on a nearby rig that was brought in from Singapore, the West Triton, are attempting to intercept the damaged Montara well at a point more than 8,500′ below the seafloor and pump enough heavy mud into it to stop the flow. It will take up to 4 days to make another pass at the well and try again.

Offshore Drilling: Spillustrations

SkyTruth is getting barraged by requests from people around the country who want to know what could happen if an incident comparable to the Montara / West Atlas oil spill happened off their coast. In response, we’ve generated a series of illustrations that superimpose the area of oil slicks, as shown on satellite images of the Timor Sea disaster, on various parts of the US including:

These illustrations are not predictive spill models – they don’t take into account local winds, currents, shoreline configuration or bathymetry – but they do accurately portray what a Montara-sized oil slick would look like, as shown on some of the satellite images we’ve been collecting and analyzing for that ongoing event.

Illustration showing hypothetical Montara-sized oil spill off the Virginia coast.

The Montara spill is now in its 45th day, as efforts to drill a relief well continue. Using the oil company’s estimate of 400 barrels per day, over 750 thousand gallons of oil have spilled since the blowout on August 21. Using an alternative estimate of 3,000 barrels per day that is based on the actual published flow rates of nearby oil wells, over 5 and a half million gallons may have been spilled so far.

Timor Sea Drilling Spill – September 24 Images

New images from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites keep coming in for the ongoing oil spill in the Timor Sea. At 8:45 am local time, the Terra satellite passed overhead and captured this image, showing oil slicks and sheen throughout a 9,870 square mile area (=7,455 square nautical miles). Part of the slick appears to be in contact with Cartier Island, a national marine reserve.

NASA / MODIS (Aqua) satellite image, September 24, 2009, with SkyTruth analysis.

Five hours later the Aqua satellite took this image. The wind speed had increased from 10 knots to 18 knots, creating a much rougher sea surface and breaking up or obscuring the thinner slicks and sheen. Only thicker portions of the slick are apparent in this image, adjacent to the Montara oil platform, covering about 3,940 square miles (=2,976 nautical square miles). No slicks are apparent near Cartier – a good sign on Day 34 of this continuing spill.

A team of marine researchers lead by World Wildlife Fund has set out to study the effects of this spill on ecosystems and wildlife. They should be in the area for the next couple of days. If we’re lucky, we’ll get satellite images that correspond with their “sea-truth” observations and photos.

See all our satellite and aerial images of the spill here.

Timor Sea Drilling Spill – Media coverage

The spill from the Montara platform blowout continues unabated since August 21, now in its 33rd day. Using the oil company’s unsubstantiated estimate of 400 barrels (=16,800 gallons) per day, that means at least half a million gallons have been spilled, Australia’s worst offshore oil production spill since drilling began there 40 years ago. Critics calculate the spill rate could be much higher – closer to 3,000 barrels per day – based on the flow rates of nearby oil production wells. If that’s accurate then over 4 million gallons have been spilled so far, with at least three more weeks to go before the runaway well can be controlled. By either measure, this ranks as one of the worst offshore oil spills ever, and it happened at a new, state-of-the-art platform.


If you get your world news here in the United States from major TV networks or newspapers, you’d never know this was happening. This incident hasn’t been mentioned by the Washington Post, despite the fact that politicians on Capitol Hill are calling for oil drilling off the beaches of Florida, the Carolinas, and Virginia, and in the salmon-rich waters of Bristol Bay in Alaska.

Kevin Hassett with Bloomberg News explores the political significance of this spill and it’s relevance to the drilling debate here in the US. Some of the Florida media are making the same connection, with TV news pieces, articles and editorials that pose the question: what if it happened here? Folks in Alaska are also starting to take notice.