ConocoPhillips Oil Spill in Bohai Bay – They Have Company

The Chinese government and fishermen are really hammering ConocoPhillips over their recent and apparently still unresolved pair of oil spills from two platforms at the Penglai 19-3 offshore field in Bohai Bay.  We observed small oil slicks there on a radar image taken on June 11. Reports of continued leakage from one of the platforms, where they were injecting drilling fluids beneath the seafloor for disposal, suggest they may have cranked up the pressure too high and ruptured the well casing.  Good thing that’s not a high-pressure production well or we could be looking at a major multi-month spill.

Here’s a new version of the June 11 image, with a scale bar and some helpful annotation pointing out what we infer to be the Penglai 19-3 oil field based on maps and descriptions of the location that we’ve read (does anyone have actual lat/lon coordinates? call us!).  We’ve also marked slicks and a couple of vessels with distinctive wakes (there are more – pick ’em out!):

Detail from Envisat ASAR satellite radar image of Bohai Bay, China, showing oil slicks and offshore oil platforms at what we infer to be the location of the Penglai 19-3 offshore oil field.  Image taken on June 11, 2011, courtesy of the European Space Agency.

We’re not making any excuses for the problems caused by ConocoPhillips, but we’ve been looking at radar satellite images of the Bay and it seems pretty clear that there is routine oil pollution throughout the Bay that is not attributable to the Penglai field operation.  Penglai 19-3 lies just south of a major east-west shipping lane where we see slicks, probably from vessels, on a couple of images.  Here’s an example, showing an obvious slick from a vessel that stretches for nearly 40 miles:

Detail from Envisat ASAR image taken on August 21, 2011, showing an area in Bohai Bay about 60 miles north-northeast of the June 11 detail above. Slick from vessel is about 40 miles long.

So ConocoPhillips may be fouling the Bay, but it appears they’re not the only ones.

Bohai Bay Oil Spills, China – Radar Satellite Image, June 11, 2011

We just got a satellite radar image of Bohai Bay taken June 11, 2011.  It shows what appear to be oil slicks emanating from two platforms in the vicinity of the Penglai 19-3 offshore oil field operated by ConocoPhillips.  This fits the story so far, that apparently unrelated spills with different causes occurred at two of the new platforms there. Radar is a powerful tool for detecting oil pollution at sea; it’s very sensitive to the “roughness” of the ocean surface. But not every slick – a flat patch of water – is an oil slick. Some slicks are showing calm water caused by slack offshore wind, heavy rain, thin ice, or natural surfactants from algae, phytoplankton, even large schools of fish.

So radar image interpretation benefits from long experience.  Our experience leads us to be confident in the analysis provided below. We’ll keep checking to see if there are ongoing problems in this field.

Envisat ASAR radar satellite image of Bohai Bay taken on June 11, 2011. Image courtesy of ESA – European Space Agency
Detail from ASAR image identifying cluster of platforms assumed to be in the Penglai 19-3 offshore oil field; and likely oil slicks. Image courtesy of ESA – European Space Agency

June 14 Satellite Image Shows Bohai Bay (China) Oil Spill

A MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken June 14 captured a serious oil spill in China’s Bohai Bay.  Apparently the spill began from an offshore field called Penglai 19-3 operated by Conoco-Phillips on June 4, but the public was only recently informed. Chinese authorities have launched an investigation.  In their official statement the State Oceanic Authority noted that the oil slick polluted an area of 840 square kilometers (336 square miles), and that the spill has been controlled although some oil continues to enter the sea from “small leaking points.”

We’re not sure what that means, although from this description it sounds like there were separate problems at platform B and platform C, and that platform C may have suffered a loss of well control (a blowout) at the seafloor on June 17 – after the image below was taken:

MODIS/Aqua satellite image of Bohai Bay taken June 14, 2011. Apparent oil slick in vicinity of Penglai field outlined in yellow.
Detail from MODIS/Aqua image taken June 14, 2011. Apparent oil slick outlined in yellow.  Islands in Bohai Bay are labeled for reference.

Most of this area in eastern China is obscured by clouds, heavy haze, fog and dust storms on the NASA/MODIS satellite images taken over the past month.  On June 14, though, this MODIS/Aqua image captured the oil slick under relatively clear skies.  On that day the slick appears to cover about 314 square kilometers.  Assuming 1 micron thickness, that would amount to 83,000 gallons of oil, but that should be considered a bare-minimum estimate for this spill.

We’ll keep analyzing the imagery in coming days to see if there are ongoing problems in the Penglai field.

Twitter Not Working (For Us, Anyway) – Oil Spill Updates

For some reason we’ve been unable to tweet for more than 24 hours now. We’re entering severe withdrawal, but we can still give you this update (in waaay more than 140 characters):

  • Michigan pipeline spill / Kalamazoo River. The EPA estimates this spill exceeded 1 million gallons, and has now traveled more than 35 miles downriver from the point of origin since the leak began on July 26. Michigan governor Granholm is urging more aggressive response to keep this spill from reaching Lake Michigan.
  • Louisiana blowout and spill / Barataria Bay – Bayou St. Denis. The Coast Guard is saying it will take at least 10-12 more days to plug the abandoned well that has been spouting a 100′ geyser of oil and gas out of water since it was hit by a barge on July 27.
  • Dalian, China pipeline explosion and spill. Greenpeace claims this spill is much larger than reported by the Chinese government – possibly 60 times bigger, based on revelations that Chinese workers purposefully dumped oil into the ocean so it wouldn’t feed the raging inferno and cause more destruction of storage facilities onshore. Greenpeace also claims a full oil storage tank capable of holding about 28 million gallons was destroyed during the fire, possibly releasing its contents into the water as well.
  • BP / Deepwater Horizon spill, Gulf of Mexico. The containment cap is holding, remains shut, and no new oil has leaked into the Gulf from the Macondo well since July 15. Although thick, “skimmable” oil slicks have reportedly become hard to find floating on the Gulf’s surface, questions remain about how much oil continues to linger beneath the surface and out of sight. Recent satellite images show what we assume is mostly thin sheen still present across a large area. The much-anticipated “static kill” procedure to pump drilling mud directly into the well through the cap is now planned for Tuesday, with the relief well in position to begin intercepting the Macondo well by August 11 or 12. Successful execution of the “bottom kill” procedure – pumping more mud, then cement, into the well via the relief well – could take an additional three weeks.

Today’s MODIS / Aqua satellite image of the Gulf seems to have good illumination conditions for showing oil slicks and sheen east of the Delta. We don’t see much indication of the widespread sheen that was present on the July 28 imagery, although a large part of that oily-looking area is south and slightly west of the Delta and obscured by clouds on today’s image. Stay tuned, this continues to be a very dynamic event.

Dalian Oil Spill, China

Sometime last week, two pipelines in the port city of Dalian, China, exploded and burned, and a large quantity of oil was released into the Yellow Sea. One firefighter lost his life. There are some harrowing pictures of oil-covered firemen being pulled from the water. Officials report that 165 square miles of ocean was covered with oil, but the pipelines are no longer leaking and cleanup is proceeding. Aquaculture is a huge business in China – Greenpeace estimates that 10,000 shellfish farms have been affected.

Envisat ASAR radar image (black-and-white) taken July 18, 2010

This Envisat radar satellite image appears to show patchy oil slicks spread out over a large area along the coast and islands near Dalian. China Central Television reported that the spill was estimated at about 400,000 gallons. If true this is far smaller than the BP /Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, although it’s worth noting that any spill greater than 100,000 gallons is labeled “major” by the US Coast Guard.

Some of the dark patches in this radar image may be areas of calm water rather than oil. This is a rugged coast, and strong topography can generate “wind shadows” on the downwind sides of rocky islands and coastal hills.