Posts

Michigan Pipeline Spill – A Warning Shot

Turns out the pipeline that failed in Michigan last week, spilling a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River that’s still threatening to reach Lake Michigan, was installed in 1969. Still no word on why it failed but corrosion is a constant battle for pipeline operators like Enbridge.

Like who?

Most oil, gas, and refined-products pipeline, onshore and offshore, is owned and operated by companies you’ve probably never heard of (without the brand name or deep pockets of a company like BP or Exxon). Enbridge is a Canadian company that claims to operate the world’s largest pipeline network – 15,000 miles of pipe in the US and Canada. They also have a rap sheet of recent, major spills and fatal incidents (although we don’t know if their record is any worse than most other pipeline operators).

Active oil and gas pipelines in the US Gulf of Mexico. Data from US Minerals Management Service (downloaded March 25, 2009).

There are about 25,000 miles of active oil and gas pipeline on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico, connecting 3600 platforms and tens of thousands of wells to coastal storage, processing and distribution facilities. Much of this infrastructure is getting old – drilling began offshore in the Gulf in the 1940s. Are pipeline operators doing a better job inspecting, maintaining and replacing the pipes offshore than they are onshore?

Keeping an independent eye on this vast, aging infrastructure is yet another reason we think Gulf-wide satellite monitoring should be a routine activity, not a service limited only to emergencies like the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill.

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.

More &!#@% Oil Spills – Pipelines, Abandoned Wells

Fountain of natural gas and crude oil from well blowout along Louisiana coast this week. Source: Associated Press.


Ugh – more oil spill news:

  • An estimated 800,000 gallons of crude oil gushed from a failed pipeline operated by a Canadian company, inundating a creek and flowing into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The leak began on Monday, and was stopped on Tuesday. Containment and cleanup operations are underway, but so far a 16-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo has been fouled by oil. The cause of the pipline failure has not yet been reported.

Obviously this well had not been properly plugged with cement to prevent such an occurance. An “orphan” is a well that the operator simply (and illegally) walks away from. In this case they walked away in 2008, and the state declared the well abandoned. This well has been a ticking time bomb ever since.

And by the way, there are 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico, including 3,500 wells that have been “temporarily” abandoned – some for years – without being permanently plugged.
Maybe it’s time to fix this.