BP SPILL: Using Science to hold BP and federal regulators accountable.
Within a day of the April 20, 2010 explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico, SkyTruth began its high tech surveillance of the spill. Examining satellite images, remote sensing data and aerial photographs, SkyTruth’s experts quickly became a leading source of independent, unbiased information on the size and scope of the disaster. As the disabled well continued to pump oil into the Gulf throughout the spring and into mid-summer, John Amos, SkyTruth’s president, was quoted in hundreds of news reports and his work interpreting the raw imagery helped policy makers, the press and the general public make sense of events as they unfolded.
SkyTruth also played a vital watchdog role. One week after the accident, it raised concerns that the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf was likely much higher than the 1,000 barrels-a-day estimated by BP and government officials. The New York Times and other media outlets picked up the analysis published on the SkyTruth blog on April 27. The next day, government officials publicly broke ranks with BP and raised its estimate to 5,000 barrels a day, the amount that SkyTruth had calculated. Amos and other independent experts kept the issue in the headlines by continuing to question whether BP was low-balling the spill rate. On May 4th, the company privately acknowledged the possibility that the well was likely gushing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day, 10 times more than it had previously estimated. (Later, the government’s scientific teams concluded that higher estimate was closer to the truth; they estimated that 53,000 barrels were leaking each day immediately before the well was capped on July 15.)
Through it all, SkyTruth’s blog chronicled efforts to plug the deepwater well and provided thoughtful analysis by Amos and others with special expertise on the situation. SkyTruth also used the site to publish photos and satellite data of the spill, eventually compiling an extensive image gallery While NASA and the governments of several foreign countries made the images freely available, without organizations like SkyTruth to interpret what the satellites had captured, the public may have never known the true impact of the spill.
SkyTruth also invited people directly into the conversation. Tens of thousands visited the SkyTruth website, its blog, Twitter and Facebook pages. During the first ten days of June, for instance, the SkyTruth Blog received more than 70,000 visits – 25,000 in a single day. Meanwhile, SkyTruth’s Oil Spill Tracker site, deployed on the fly in the first days of the spill, allowed Gulf residents to act as citizen journalists posting commentary and observations, as well as photos and videos of oil awash on the beaches and petroleum-drenched wildlife.
Oceanographer Ian R. MacDonald, who collaborated with the organization during the three-month Gulf spill and an earlier one off Australia’s Timor Sea last year, likens SkyTruth’s mission to that of “a fire truck.”
“When there’s an emergency, SkyTruth is there,” says MacDonald, a professor at Florida State University and one of the world's foremost experts in remote sensing of oil slicks. “From the beginning of the BP spill to the end, SkyTruth was a public source of very timely raw satellite images and interpreted products, as well as a thoughtful commentary that pulled in the views of other people.”
Learn More about SkyTruth’s work shining a light on the environmental damage caused by oil and gas drilling on public lands, mountaintop removal coal mining, industrial fishing trawlers, and other issues.