Gulf Spill – Source?

Coast Guard has tentatively identified a well damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as the source of the oil spill last weekend that came ashore in Louisiana. Located in West Delta Block 117, and operated by Anglo-Suisse, the spill reportedly occurred for a few hours last Saturday afternoon during operations to permanently plug and abandon the well.

Polluters are required to report any oil spills to the National Response Center, including the amount spilled. So what do the official pollution reports say? We checked the NRC database this morning and found only three reports that list Anglo-Suisse as the responsible party since last Wednesday (March 16). These reports show amounts spilled of 1.89 gallons, 1.33 gallons, and 0.5 gallons – a whopping total of 3.72 gallons spilled.

Can a 4-gallon spill of oil travel across 20 miles of the Gulf, come ashore across a 30-mile stretch of coast, and oil 1300 to 2700 feet of beach? Call us skeptical, but we don’t think so. If the Anglo-Suisse well in West Delta 117 really is the source of this pollution then they have significantly underreported the amount spilled. (And why shouldn’t they lowball it, if nobody is going to check up on their reports?) We’ve seen this before, at the continuing spill from the Taylor Energy site where a platform was taken out by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. This calls into question repeated claims of industry and politicians that oil pollution related to offshore production is minimal, because they’re using these same highly questionable reports to make this claim.

Or, Anglo-Suisse has reported their spill accurately. Then there must be another source of the oil that came ashore, and some say is still coming ashore.

We’ll keep looking.

Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico Last Weekend – Questions Remain

Still trying to pin down exactly what happened in the Gulf last weekend. The Coast Guard has reported that a well south of Grand Isle that was being plugged and abandoned leaked on Saturday for 4-6 hours for some reason, with oil showing up on the beaches of Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and Fourchon. Cleanup is continuing although no new oil is washing ashore. [UPDATE 5:56pm – see pics of oil coming ashore].

Locations of interest mentioned in this post. Active oil and gas platforms are orange dots. Backdrop is MODIS satellite image taken March 19, 2011.

We’ve looked at low-resolution MODIS satellite images of the Gulf over the past few days and haven’t seen any signs of a large oil slick, although this aerial pic that was reportedly taken by the Jefferson Parish Department of Emergency Management appears to show a sizable oil slick, with relatively thick brownish-red stringers of weathered crude oil surrounded by thinner sheen. MODIS images aren’t always suitable for oil slick detection, so we’re still looking. At this time, yesterday’s images are mostly incomplete and don’t fully cover the affected area.

This morning we called the Coast Guard public affairs office in Louisiana to ask a simple question: where is this well located? The answer: “that is under investigation.” They couldn’t tell us the name of the platform, who the operator is, or even what protraction area it is in.

Some possibilities have been mentioned in various press accounts. This report claims the leaking well is at a hurricane-damaged platform operated by Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners, LLC. A 2006 news release from the former U.S. Minerals Management Service shows that Anglo-Suisse had a cluster of five platforms in West Delta Block 117, about 30 miles southeast of Grand Isle, that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Maybe the well was under one of those now long-gone platforms. That’s our bet: it’s close to Grand Isle, and satellite pics of the past few days show currents are sweeping masses of sediment-laden water from the Mississippi River through the West Delta 117 area and straight toward the beach. Any spilled oil at that location would most likely get caught up in that current.

But other reports hinted at problems at the site of the Matterhorn SeaStar platform, a state-of-the-art “mini Tension Leg Platform” owned by W&T Offshore, whose stock prices nosedived Friday. W&T issued this statement today claiming the the slick is not coming from Matterhorn or any of their other nearby facilities. The TLP was installed in 2003, in water 2800′ deep, in Mississippi Canyon Block 243 about 28 miles due west of the BP / Deepwater Horizon site and 80 miles east-southeast of Grand Isle.

Another possibility, not mentioned in any news accounts we’ve seen, is the platform that caught fire on March 6 and was evacuated. Located in Grand Isle Block 102, it’s about 50 miles due south of Grand Isle.

Meanwhile, oil is continually leaking from the site of a Taylor Energy platform (Platform 23051) that was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan way back in 2004, and the Ocean Saratoga rig is back on site working to plug the leaks. You may recall we “discovered” that chronic leak during the massive BP spill last summer. Here’s a pic that Greenpeace took on Sunday of the oil slick there:

Photo of oil slick from chronic, ongoing leak at former site of Taylor Energy platform destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Ocean Saratoga drill rig is working to plug the leaks.

Lots of questions. Here’s one more: In the wake of the world’s worst accidental oil spill, can’t we manage our offshore resources better than this?

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.

Leaking Well at Platform 23051 Location – Rate?

Just a quick followup to our last post. The Ocean Saratoga rig is working to plug 26 wells that had been connected to an oil platform damaged (and destroyed, or removed) by Hurricane Ivan in 2004:

The Taylor wells are leaking an average of less than one- third of a barrel of oil each day, the Interior Department said. The leaks have been “substantially reduced” over the years by containment domes and other interventions, Taylor said in a statement yesterday.

1/3 of a barrel is 14 gallons. The slick we measured on June 18 satellite imagery holds an estimated 3,157 gallons of oil, assuming the slick is only 1 micron thick. It would take 225 days, at a rate of 14 gallons per day, to make an oil slick that large. Oil on the surface of the ocean can’t survive that long — especially a slick that’s only 1/1000th of a millimeter thick.

The leakage rate from these wells in recent days must be significantly higher, probably in the range of 100-400 gallons per day. If they’ve been leaking at that rate since Hurricane Ivan, that’s a total of 210,000-840,000 gallons of oil. To put it in perspective, less than one day’s worth of leakage from BP’s Macondo well.