Port Aransas

Oil Spill Off Port Aransas, Texas

Around 4:30 am on October 20, a barge filled with nearly 5-½ million gallons of crude oil exploded off the coast of Port Aransas, Texas. Two crewmen lost their lives, and although the cargo holds reportedly were not breached, the crippled vessel began leaking oil into the Gulf. The U.S. Coast Guard reported a spill roughly two miles long and a quarter mile wide, and response crews were seen setting up oil booms by late afternoon. By the end of the weekend, more than 6,000 feet of containment booms had been placed to protect essential habitat areas along Mustang and North Padre islands.

Port Aransas Spill

Satellite imagery from Planet shows the spill at a resolution of three meters, just two days after the explosion. The spill spread out off Port Aransas and started drifting slowly south toward Mustang Island State Park and Padre Island National Seashore – critical wintering habitat for migratory birds including the red knot and the piping plover, both listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The Coast Guard issued a news release late on October 25 indicating the barge had been moved to shore. Beach cleanup teams continued to work on Mustang and North Padre islands, where more than 70 cubic yards of “oily solids” have been removed. Some shorebirds have been seen with oil on them, but wildlife teams have had difficulty catching and cleaning any of them. If oiled wildlife is rescued, they’re likely to go to the University of Texas Marine Science Institute’s Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) for treatment.

Hurricane Harvey as seen by the GOES-16 satellite at 8:30 am CDT Friday, August 25, 2017. Image credit: NOAA/CIRA/RAMMB. NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite has not been declared operational and its data are preliminary and undergoing testing.

One-Third of U.S. Oil and Gas Reserves are Located in Harvey’s Path

Hurricane Harvey is anticipated to strengthen to a category 3 storm as it reaches the Texas coast tonight through early Saturday, bringing high winds, coastal flooding, and torrential rains. Some areas could see 30 inches or more of rain —  the amount these coastal cities normally get in a year.

After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we saw leaks and spills from dozens of pipelines and platforms offshore, and from damaged coastal facilities, that cumulatively amounted to at least 9 million gallons of oil. After Ike and Isaac, we saw similar leaks from drilling sites, processing and storage facilities, and petrochemical facilities inundated by flood waters resulting from sustained heavy rainfall. Forecasts for Hurricane Harvey suggest we may see similar problems as it moves ashore.

Christian developed the following map using Carto to show just how much oil and gas infrastructure is in Harvey’s projected path (in red). The green points below represent offshore platforms. The gray lines are pipelines.

Map Legend: The black points on the map are Forecast center locations for Hurricane Harvey, from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. The red area shows the potential track area, from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, the red path is the forecast path, again from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center The green dots represent offshore platforms, and the gray lines are pipelines, data from BOEM.

The black points on the map are the forecast center locations for Hurricane Harvey for the next few days, from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (data downloaded at 2pm ET on August 24).  The red path connecting those dots is the predicted track of the storm.  The larger area enclosed in red shows the potential track area, indicating a high degree of uncertainty as the storm is predicted to stall over the coast after making landfall late Friday.  The green dots show the locations of offshore oil and gas platforms, and the gray lines show seafloor oil and gas pipelines; data from BOEM. View more detail on our interactive map here.

We will be monitoring Hurricane Harvey over the weekend and will be sharing more information as it becomes available. In the meantime, follow the latest radar here.

 

More Oil Spotted at the Taylor Energy Site

We posted about a slick emanating from the Taylor Energy site on April 28th. And surprise, surprise a mere 12 days later, what should we see but yet another slick.

In 2008 Taylor Energy set aside over $600 million to pay for work related to the chronic leak that we have covered extensively since it came to our attention in 2010. As you can see in this image collected by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 satellite, as well as in numerous other images we have collected, their work to date doesn’t seem to have stemmed the leak.

Sentinel 2 image collected of the Taylor Energy Site on May 8, 2017.

Which begs the question: why is Taylor suing the government to return the $432 million remaining in trust? That money was set aside for work that is yet to be finished. Why would they think they have earned it back?

More Offshore Drilling to Come?

Once again, the federal government is proposing that we expand offshore drilling to new areas in US waters.  Today, President Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of the Interior, which manages our public lands and waters, to review the Obama administration rule that deferred oil and gas leasing along the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska.  People who could be affected by new drilling in those areas should consider that it’s not just the risk of the occasional major disaster they would be facing; it’s the chronic, day-to-day pollution accompanying offshore oil development that is systematically under-reported by industry and the government, the “death by 1,000 cuts” that is so easy to ignore.

Case in point: check out last night’s slick at the site of the chronic Taylor Energy oil spill in the Gulf:

Sentinel-1 radar satellite image showing oil slick caused by a chronic leak of oil from the seafloor at the Taylor Energy site, where an oil platform was destroyed by a hurricane in 2004.  Image acquired 4/27/2017 at about 7pm local time.

This Sentinel-1 image taken on April 27, 2017 shows an oil slick covering an area of 45.5 square kilometers (km2). Our calculations assume that oil slicks observable on satellite imagery have an average thickness of at least 1 micron (one millionth of a meter), so each km2 contains at least 264 gallons of oil. Multiply that by the area of 45.5 km2 and the Taylor slick shown in this image contains at least 12,012 gallons of oil.

This site has been leaking oil continuously into the Gulf since Hurricane Ivan came through and knocked over the Taylor Energy oil platform in September.  That’s September, 2004.  You can review the history of this site and see the hundreds of spill reports received and tracked on our Taylor Chronology page here. Until something is done to stop this leak, we’ll continue to monitor the site and keep you informed.

Gas Blowout at Hercules Drill Rig, Gulf of Mexico

Around midday today a natural gas blowout occurred at a jackup drill rig, the Hercules 265, operating in shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana (South Timbalier Block 220).  All of the workers — more than 40 — were safely evacuated.  The rig was enveloped in a cloud of gas, so there is a high risk of fire or explosion until the well is killed.  A small sheen was reported around the platform – this is probably a thin slick of highly volatile natural-gas condensate.  At this time we have no reason to think there is potential for a significant oil spill from this incident.  But, coming hard on the heels of another blowout that happened in the Ship Shoal area last week, it’s yet another reminder that drilling is an inherently risky activity. 

Pilot Bonny Schumaker with On Wings of Care flew over the site today and took some amazing photos.  Here is one of them.  See many more on her blog

Hercules 265 jackup drill rig enveloped by cloud of gas from ongoing blowout. Photograph by Bonny Schumaker / On Wings of Care.

 

GMC Monitoring Flight – Mobile, Al to Gulfport, MS: Part I – Coal Export and Terminals

On March 24 staff from Gulf Monitoring Consortium members SkyTruth, SouthWings, and Gulf Restoration Network flew over the Alabama and Mississippi coastline investigating pollution and degradation related to energy development. Our flight originated from Mobile, arranged by SouthWings with local volunteer pilot Dr. David Mauritson generously donating his time, talents, and fuel to our monitoring efforts.First, we flew over the Port of Mobile which dominated the landscape immediately after takeoff from the Brookley Aeroplex. The port boasts the McDuffie Coal Terminal, one of the nation’s largest coal import-export terminals. In addition to several smaller facilities nearby, McDuffie can handle a staggering 30 million tons of coal in a year, but in the past year  they processed *just* 13.9 million tons – only 46% of capacity. These numbers are of interest because of the intensifying debate over coal export.  With cheap natural gas flooding the market from fracking plays like the Marcellus Shale, there is growing pressure to sell American coal overseas to foreign markets – particularly Asia and Europe.

McDuffie Coal Terminal on the south end of the Port of Mobile, supplied by coal from from as far away as Wyoming – most of which is transported by rail. Photo: D. Manthos – SkyTruth, via SouthWings

Only  one vessel was loading coal at the time of our flight, the Panama-flagged Grand Diva. This operation was depositing a black plume of coal dust in the water.

Plume of coal dust in the water (NRC Report #1042025off the starboard bow of the Germany-bound Grand Diva. Photo: D. Manthos – SkyTruth,  via SouthWings

As an individual case, this may not result in a significant impact on the environment.  But a brief review of Google Earth’s historical imagery yields two previous events clearly showing coal in the water, and several other less-clear images that appear to show pollution, suggesting this is a common event that may result in significant cumulative impact.

Air pollution is another consideration. Chronic coal-dust blowing off the stockpiles at a coal terminal are the basis of a Clean Water Act lawsuit in Seward, Alaska, and one of the main arguments throughout the Pacific Northwest against expanding coal export terminals to move more Powder River Basin coal from Wyoming to Asian markets.  This is only one step along the way from mine to market – coal trains derail far more often than you might think (in North Dakota, Michigan, and Nebraska, just this past month), loaded barges crash into bridges (just this week)terminals flood when severe storms come through, and ships even crash into the loading docks. Not counting carbon emissions from burning the coal, scientists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens along coal transport routes are worried that these cumulative impacts will harm public health, disrupt their daily lives, and negatively impact the ecological health of waterways along the path from mine to port.

Bulk transport by barge is cheaper and more fuel efficient than even freight rail, but extreme weather events exaggerated by climate change threaten its reliability. Last year’s drought crippled transport on the Mississippi River at the end of 2012, and without significant rain  river operators could face another low water crisis in 2013.

More to come including a leaky settling pond, an oil slick off Gulfport, and severe erosion resulting from ill-conceived oil spill response practices on Dauphin Island. Be sure to check out the photos of the whole flight on Flickr.

 
 

Gulf Monitoring Consortium: Mobile, Al - Gulfport, MS

Shell Oil Spill, Nigeria: FPSOs Coming to the US

Shell’s big oil spill off Nigeria yesterday reportedly occurred during the transfer of oil to a tanker in their Bonga offshore field.  Oil is produced in the Bonga Field using an FPSO – basically, a modified oil tanker anchored in place.  Oil collected from wells on the seafloor flows up through riser pipes connected to the FPSO.  Shuttle tankers take crude oil out of the FPSO’s storage tanks and carry it to coastal refineries. Here’s a schematic diagram showing the Bonga Field layout:

FPSO operation at Bonga Field off Nigeria. Image courtesy Offshore Technology.

In March 2011, federal regulators approved the first-time-ever use of FPSOs to develop an offshore field in the US Gulf of Mexico.  Petrobras got the nod for their Cascade-Chinook development in water 8,200′ deep, 160 miles off the Louisiana coast.  Their FPSO, a converted tanker called the BW Pioneer, holds 600,000 barrels of oil (25.2 million gallons). BOEMRE and Coast Guard divvied up oversight responsibility for this vessel / production facility with an MOU in 2009. This project got off to a very poor start when 8,500′ of riser pipe went crashing  to the Gulf seafloor back in early April.

Our main concern is that FPSOs are potentially sources of massive oil spills:  a serious blowout, fire or explosion, collision with another vessel, intentional attack, rogue wave or storm damage, or other incident could result in a near-instantaneous release of millions of gallons. And as we’ve said here before, despite the underwhelming oil cleanup results during last year’s BP / Deepwater Horizon spill, we’ve made no significant progress in our ability to handle big spills.