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.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Curb Your Enthusiasm, Part 2

Yesterday’s MODIS and RADARSAT images show something we didn’t expect: slicks and sheen spanning nearly 12,000 square miles. Based on other reports, and the recent trend on satellite images indicating steady dissipation of the surface oil slick, we are optimistically assuming that nearly all of this is very thin sheen.

Speculation: winds from Bonnie obliterated most of the thin sheen throughout the area; but since then, sheen has had time to “reassemble” into observable layers that noticeably affect the sunglint on MODIS images, and the backscatter on radar, but may not look like much to folks out in the Gulf on vessels or in low-flying aircraft. That’s our theory at this point. Chime in if you have other thoughts about what we’re seeing on these images:

MODIS/Aqua satellite image, July 28, 2010

The MODIS / Aqua satellite image above, taken at 2 pm Central time on July 28, shows oil slicks and sheen (encircled with orange line) that we think are likely attributable to the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill, spread out across 11,832 square miles (30,644 km2) in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve marked the eastern edge of a persistent ocean-color anomaly with a dashed line; this anomaly may simply be related to the Mississippi River discharge, or could indicate an area where ocean chemistry has been affected by oil, dispersant, and/or dissolved methane from the spill and cleanup response. Three small slicks attributable to natural oil and gas seeps are also marked.

RADARSAT-2 satellite image (black-and-white) taken July 28, 2010. RSAT-2 data courtesy CSTARS.

We overlayed the RADARSAT-2 image (black-and-white) taken at 6:48 pm Central time on the MODIS/Aqua image taken earlier that same day. The large dark area on the radar image is probably oil slick and sheen from the BP oil spill: wind conditions throughout the area were ideal for slick and sheen detection on radar satellite imagery, ranging from 2 to 8 meters per second with minimal gusts. Weather satellite images taken at about the same time showed few clouds in the area and very low chance of any rain in the vicinity.

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.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Curb Your Enthusiasm

We’re as relieved as anybody to see that the massive months-long oil slick from the BP / Deepwater Horizon blowout is finally breaking up, but it’s way too early to declare victory:

As NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenko says in today’s New York Times,

Less oil on the surface does not mean that there isn’t oil beneath the surface, however, or that our beaches and marshes are not still at risk. We are extremely concerned about the short-term and long-term impacts to the gulf ecosystem.

At SkyTruth, we’ll keep looking at the Gulf. If funding allows, we’ll use satellite imagery and other remote-sensing techniques to track the future health of marsh grasses and coastal ecosystems where oil made landfall.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – 68,000 Square Miles of Direct Impact

Fingers crossed: it looks like the cap on BP’s Macondo well will hold until the relief well intercepts and permanently plugs it, and no more oil from this blowout will enter the Gulf.

So here’s a map showing the cumulative oil slick footprint for the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill, created by overlaying all of the oil slicks and sheen mapped by SkyTruth on satellite images taken between April 25 and July 16, 2010, blogged here, and published in our gallery.

Cumulatively, the surface oil slicks and sheen observed on these satellite images directly impacted 68,000 square miles of ocean – as big as the state of Oklahoma:

Map showing cumulative oil slick footprint from BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill, based on satellite images taken between April 25 and July 16, 2010

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – The Slick Is Dissipating

At long, long last.

Radarsat images taken yesterday (July 26) show the oil slick is steadily dissipating. The failed Macondo well has been tightly sealed since July 15, so no new oil has been entering the Gulf for over a week. Oil floating at the ocean’s surface has a limited lifespan – it’s been collected and destroyed by skimming, booms, chemical dispersants, evaporation, photolysis, biodegradation – and took a beating from wind and waves when tropical depression Bonnie blew through over the weekend. If the well stays plugged until the static-kill and bottom-kill efforts permanently plug it with cement, then the remaining fragments of slick should disappear within days.

The big question: what’s the fate and impact of the oil we can’t see with satellite images? Oil now buried on Gulf coast beaches, embedded in marshes, and remaining dispersed underneath the water’s surface or lying on the seafloor? It will take diligent, systematic research to find the answers. We need to make sure that this research actually gets funded, conducted and published, and not sidetracked by litigation and confidentiality.

Here’s the July 26 imagery without SkyTruth’s analysis. Wind conditions (ranging from 3-6 meters per second) were nearly ideal for detecting oil slicks on radar imagery. Scattered dark patches of slick and sheen are spread across a wide area, but it appears that the oil slick created by the Macondo well blowout is steadily dissipating, and no new oil can be found around the well site:

RADARSAT images taken July 26, 2010, without analysis. Images courtesy CSTARS.

And here’s the version with our analysis of BP-related oil slicks and sheen, delineated in orange:

RADARSAT images taken July 26, 2010, with SkyTruth analysis. Images courtesy CSTARS.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – What Did Bonnie Do?

The center of Bonnie’s circulation appears close to the Macondo well site on a CSK radar satellite image taken July 24. CSK and MODIS satellite images the next day, July 25, show remnants of the BP oil slick scattered around the Mississippi Delta. No new oil is seen around the well site; it’s been tightly capped since July 15.

COSMO-SkyMed radar satellite image showing center of circulation of tropical depression Bonnie, July 24, 2010. CSK-1 image courtesy CSTARS. Backdrop (color) is MODIS/Aqua image from earlier the same day.

The center of circulation for tropical depression Bonnie was located about 15 miles (24 km) south-southeast of the Macondo well site when this CSK-1 radar satellite image (black-and-white) was taken, at 6:44 pm local time. Weather station 42364, on the Ram-Powell oil platform about 27 miles (43 km) northeast of the Macondo well, recorded sustained wind speed of 22 mph (10 m/s) at that time. Station 42887 on the Thunder Horse oil platform about 39 miles (63 km) south of the well recorded winds at 11 mph (5 m/s).

Radar images show the “roughness” of the ocean’s surface, revealing the pattern of Bonnie’s counterclockwise-circulating winds. The strongest winds are generally in the northeast quadrant of cyclones in the northern hemisphere. This is reflected by the overall gray tone in the radar image: the area of stronger winds north and east of the storm’s center is brighter than the area to the south and west.

Two distinct storm bands are also apparent; these are lines of strong thunderstorms with gusty winds. A narrow line of oil slick is also visible – possibly related to the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill, although we think most of the slick and sheen from that spill is obscured on the radar image by the strong wind conditions.

COSMO-SkyMed radar and MODIS/Terra satellite images taken July 25, 2010, showing remnants of BP oil slick. CSK-1 image courtesy CSTARS.

CSK radar and MODIS / Terra satellite images taken on July 25, 2010, show the effects of tropical depression Bonnie’s passage on the oil slicks and sheen from the spill. No new oil is seen in the immediate vicinity of the well. But remnants of the oil slick are visible around the Mississippi Delta.

The MODIS image also shows dozens of small oil slicks from natural oil and gas seeps. These seeps appear unusually active, possibly due to seafloor disturbance caused by Bonnie. A bright area of slicks or sheen between the spill-related oil slicks (orange line) and the area of active seeps (dashed red line) could be where oil from both sources is mingling.

See all of SkyTruth’s images related to the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill in our gallery.