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.

Harvey’s Environmental Impact, a Look at Flooded Petrochemical Sites

Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall last month, we continued to analyze satellite imagery along the middle of the Texas Gulf Coast for environmental impacts. The first in a series of catastrophic storms, Harvey struck the heart of the U.S. petrochemical industry, leading to widespread flooding of oil and gas infrastructure, toxic chemical spills and adverse short and long-term public health risks from air and water pollution. We encourage citizens to report pollution incidents and have made the SkyTruth Spill Tracker available on an ongoing basis for this purpose. Harvey’s environmental toll is significant. In addition to the widely reported explosions at the Arkema plant,  

  • fifty-five refineries and petrochemical plants emitted 5.8 million pounds of air pollutants
  • oil and gas operators reported crude oil, gasoline, saltwater and other contaminants spilled from wells, pipelines and storage tanks into coastal or inland water totaling 568,000 gallons.

The images below show some examples we found that reveal flooded oil and gas infrastructure in the impacted area.

1. PlanetScope imagery shows flooded oil and gas infrastructure along US-90 between Denvers and Nome. It is unclear whether the large rectangular pond in the upper left corner of the imagery is connected to the nearby drilling infrastructure. A small pond at 30°01’36.7″N 94°30’07.5″W adjacent to a well pad doesn’t appear to have a liner, and may be a stormwater runoff impoundment. View a larger version of the slider here.

This image shows a zoomed-in view of the oil and gas infrastructure from the previous slider, with the location of possible stormwater runoff impoundment identified.

2. Imagery from Planet’s RapidEye 3 satellite shows a flooded well pad and fluid impoundment along the Guadalupe River near Hochheim. View a larger version of the slider here.

3. PlanetScope imagery shows flooded oil & gas infrastructure between Smithers Lake and the Brazos River southwest of Houston. View a larger version of the slider here.

The following images show flooded oil storage tanks identified in the flooded area between Smithers Lake and the Brazos River, visualized above:


4. Imagery from Planet’s RapidEye 2 and RapidEye 5 satellites shows flooded petrochemical storage tanks in Galena Park operated by Magellan Midstream Partners. According to a National Response Center report, close to half a million gallons of “gasoline type product” were discharged at this site. View a larger version of the slider here.

Good News

We see fewer large oil spills compared with the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, where operators reported more than 9 million gallons of oil spilled from storm-damaged oil storage tanks and offshore platforms and pipelines.

Bad News

We’re continuing to see major air pollution impacts from storm-impacted refineries and other chemical plants, some surrounded by densely populated residential areas; and inland and coastal flooding submerging drilling sites and drilling-related fluid impoundments, toppling unsecured tanks and adding a wide range of chemicals to the floodwaters inundating people’s homes, schools and businesses. As sea level steadily rises, and the warming atmosphere subjects some areas to stronger storms and heavier rainfall events, these problems are likely to get worse. Moving oil and gas infrastructure out of high-risk flood zones would seem to be a common sense action to mitigate at least some of this threat.

 

Harvey Spill Tracker

New Citizen Pollution Reporting Tool, Now Available for Hurricanes

We’ve launched the SkyTruth Spill Tracker, a map-based tool to allow citizens on the ground in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean to quickly report oil and hazardous waste spills and other pollution incidents as a result of the storms.  

You can access the Tracker via mobile or desktop browsers at SkyTruthSpillTracker.org, or via the Ushahidi mobile app

Pollution Spill Tracker

Submit your report at SkyTruthSpillTracker.org

We operated a similar tool, the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker, during and after the BP oil spill in the Gulf in 2010.  We also helped the Louisiana Bucket Brigade launch their iWitness Pollution Map. If you’re reporting pollution in Louisiana, you might prefer to use the iWitness map.

How to Submit a Report

Click the + symbol in the upper left corner of the map to report oil, chemical or hazardous waste spills. Follow the prompts to enter a brief description of what you see. If you are able, please upload a photo or video showing the incident and hit submit.

A technology-driven non-profit with a mission to protect the environment by making more of it visible, SkyTruth launched this reporting tool to enable citizens to report environmental pollution as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Read more about related work after the BP oil spill, the Taylor Energy oil spill, and Hurricane Katrina.

We believe if people can easily communicate their needs, organizations and governments can more effectively respond. Federal and state authorities will be able to download the reports in a standard *.csv format, readable by any spreadsheet or database software.

Contact Us

With your help, the SkyTruthSpillTracker should prove to be a useful resource for aiding the response and recovery efforts throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. We encourage everyone impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to use the tracker. We are also interested in coordinating with other groups organizing similar pollution reporting efforts on the ground. Please email suggestions to us at info@skytruth.org.

 

 

Site 3. Multiple flooded drilling sites approximately 1 to 1.25 miles west of Dreyer. The color of the floodwaters here suggests a possible oil or chemical spill.

Satellite Images Begin to Show Hurricane Harvey’s Environmental Impact

Our thoughts continue to be with the people of the Gulf Coast, as they start to recover and rebuild from Hurricane Harvey. The Hurricane turned out to be one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history, dropping an estimated 27 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana.  

Harvey’s environmental impact is among the many consequences felt by residents. While many are still displaced, they are also dealing with all manner of air and water contamination from damaged petrochemical infrastructure. The cleanup has only just begun.

In the days since the Hurricane, we have been examining a wide variety of satellite imagery and datasets to help us try to understand the scope and environmental consequences of this catastrophic storm.

Satellite Imagery Shows Flooding of Well Pads and Impoundments in the Region

So far we have seen multiple drilling sites, and possibly drilling-related fluid impoundments, that have been inundated by floodwaters. It is highly likely that any drilling chemicals held in the impoundments have escaped into the floodwaters if those impoundments were submerged. Here are a few examples, looking at four locations along the Guadalupe River near Hochheim, Texas.

Index map showing the examples of flooded drilling sites below. All of the examples are from RapidEye 3 satellite imagery collected on August 30, and made publicly available thanks to the International Disaster Charter.

Index map showing the examples of flooded drilling sites below. All of the examples are from RapidEye 3 satellite imagery collected on August 30 and made publicly available by Planet thanks to the International Disaster Charter.

Site 1. A flooded drilling site (well pad) and possibly a flooded drilling-related fluid impoundment, 1.7 miles northwest of Hochheim. The nearest home is about 400 yards from the impoundment. A low berm around the impoundment may have prevented floodwaters from entering

Site 1. A flooded drilling site (well pad) and possibly a flooded drilling-related fluid impoundment, 1.7 miles northwest of Hochheim. The nearest home is about 400 yards from the impoundment. A low berm around the impoundment may have prevented floodwaters from entering. The operator for the wells at this site is EOG Resources, Inc.

Site 2. Four flooded drilling sites and possibly a flooded drilling-related fluid impoundment two miles west of Hochheim. A low berm around the impoundment may have prevented floodwaters from entering.

Site 2. Four flooded drilling sites and possibly a flooded drilling-related fluid impoundment two miles west of Hochheim. A low berm around the impoundment may have prevented floodwaters from entering. The operator for the wells is Burlington Resources O&G Co. LP.

Site 3. Multiple flooded drilling sites approximately 1 to 1.25 miles west of Dreyer. The color of the floodwaters here suggests a possible oil or chemical spill.

Site 3. Multiple flooded drilling sites approximately 1 to 1.25 miles west of Dreyer. The color of the flood waters here suggests a possible oil or chemical spill. The operator for the wells connected to this site is EOG Resources, Inc.

Harvey Flooded Impoundment 4

Site 4. Multiple flooded drilling sites approximately two miles southwest of Dreyer. The operator for the wells is EOG Resources, Inc.

Drilling in floodplains is a risky thing to do. Placing storage tanks and open fluid impoundments in flood zones is especially ill-advised. Reports of oil spills caused by flooded storage tanks that have floated off their foundations suggest new regulations need to be enacted to ensure tanks are firmly anchored to their foundations. We saw similar incidents after the flooding along the Colorado Front Range a couple of years ago. Operators, please tie down those tanks!  

Sentinel-2 multispectral satellite image showing oil slick making landfall along Kuwait’s coast near Al Khiran on August 11, 2017. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

Satellite Imagery Reveals Scope of Last Week’s Oil Spill in Kuwait

A large oil spill was reported on August 10th off the southern coast of Kuwait near the resort community of Al Khiran. 

Imagery and Analysis

Sentinel-1 satellite imagery collected on the day of the spill shows a slick that covers 131 square kilometers. Based on our conservative estimate, assuming the slick is on average only 1 micron (1/1,000th of a millimeter) thick, this slick holds at least 34,590 gallons of oil. Early media reports of 35,000 barrels (=1.47 million gallons) seem far too high, based on how quickly the spill broke up and dissipated. 

Sentinel-2 multispectral satellite imagery collected on August 11 shows oil washing up on shore near Ras Al-Zour just north of Al Khiran, and Sentinel-1 imagery collected on August 14 shows remnants of the slick drifting along the coast to the north of Ras Al-Zour.

 

Sentinel-1 radar satellite image taken on August 10, 2017, showing large oil slick off Kuwait. Slick covers 131 km2, and contains at least 34,000 gallons of oil based on a minimum thickness assumption of 1 micron. Location of pipelay vessel DLB 1600 is indicated. Image courtesy of the European Space Agency.

Sentinel-1 radar satellite image from August 10, 2017, showing oil slick off Kuwait’s coast. Slick covers 131 km2 and contains at least 34,000 gallons of oil based on minimum thickness assumption of 1 micron. Location of pipelay vessel DLB 1600 indicated. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

While the source and cause of this spill is uncertain, some have suggested it originated from a tanker offshore. Other reports speculate it is linked to the Al Khafji offshore oil field being developed by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which has pipeline infrastructure which runs to the shore. Operators deny the spill originated in their field.  At the same time the slick started, a pipeline laying vessel, the DLB 1600, was moving through the area. AIS data reveal this huge offshore construction vessel has been slowly moving eastward towards the infrastructure in the Al Khafji field for the past week, and on the 10th the DLB 1600 is visible on the Sentinel-1 image near the north end of the slick. One possibility we haven’t seen mentioned yet is the pipelay operation damaged some existing infrastructure on the seafloor — for example, an old pipeline still holding crude oil. The potential for anchor-dragging by the pipelay vessel to cause this type of damage is mentioned in this article describing plans to upgrade the DLB 1600 by installing dynamic thrusters; we don’t know if this upgrade has been implemented yet. By the 14th the DLB 1600 had closed to within 9 km of the Al Khafji field.

 

Sentinel-2 multispectral satellite image showing oil slick making landfall along Kuwait’s coast near Al Khiran on August 11, 2017. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

Sentinel-2 multispectral satellite image showing oil slick making landfall along Kuwait’s coast near Al Khiran on August 11, 2017. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

 

Sentinel-1 radar satellite image taken on August 14, 2017, showing remnants of oil slick off Kuwait. Location of pipelay vessel DLB 1600 is indicated. Vessel has moved several kilometers to the east compared to position on August 10. Image courtesy of the European Space Agency.

Sentinel-1 radar satellite image taken on August 14, 2017, showing remnants of oil slick off Kuwait’s Coast. Location of pipelay vessel DLB 1600 is indicated. The vessel moved several kilometers to the east compared to its position on August 10. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

 

AIS tracking map showing the movement of pipelay vessel DLB 1600. Vessel has been moving slowly eastward since August 5, probably installing new pipeline on seafloor.

AIS tracking map showing the movement of pipelay vessel DLB 1600. The vessel has been moving slowly eastward since August 5, probably installing a new pipeline on the seafloor.

A second slick north of the first spill was reported today not far from where a huge $30 billion new oil complex is being built. Check out Business Insider’s short video for more context. We will update this post as new information becomes available.

 

 

Photo of flooding aftermath in West Virginia

Come Hell & High Water: Flooding in West Virginia

In late June devastating flooding hit many communities across southern West Virginia resulting in over 20 fatalities and complete destruction of homes and businesses across the Mountain State. Because we are located in West Virginia and have been studying mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining across Appalachia, we’ve received a number of questions about what role MTR mining may have played in this recent disaster.

Depending on the amount of mining in the impacted watersheds, the quality of existing baseline data, and the number of measurements taken during and after the flood, scientists may not find a “smoking gun” directly linking the severity of this flood event with MTR mining. But let us take a look at what we do know about the relationship between flooding and MTR mining.

Drainage Sketches

 

If you are familiar with stormwater runoff issues then you have probably seen a diagram like the one above. Soil and vegetation absorb water. Impervious surfaces, like rock and pavement, do not. Since blasting off ridge tops to reach seams of buried coal strips the mountains of soil and vegetation, it seems logical that MTR mining would contribute to more intense flash floods. But even after decades of study there are a surprising number of gaps in our understanding of exactly how mining alters flooding.

Photo of flooding aftermath around Clendenin, W.Va.

Debris and mud are strewn around Clendenin, W.Va., after flood waters receded. Photo by Sam Owens, courtesy Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Research conducted so far suggests that MTR mining can contribute to greater flooding during intense rainfall events, but some studies actually found less severe flooding in watersheds with mining. Several of these studies suggested that valley-fills and underground mine workings have the ability to retain water, which may account for less severe “peaks” during moderately severe storms. If you want to dig into the details, I recommend starting with the summary of hydrological studies on MTR contained in Table 1 of this paper by Dr. Nicholas Zegre and Andrew Miller from West Virginia University.

What most of these studies have in common is that the researchers must at least know where mining occurred and how much surface area was impacted by said mining. This is where our work here at SkyTruth comes into play because we’ve been mapping the when, where, and how much of MTR mining for over forty years.

Thanks to a satellite record going back to the 1970’s, SkyTruth can look back in time to measure the footprint of mining in Appalachia. We continue to make this data freely available for research, and so far our decade-by-decade analysis has been cited in at least six peer-reviewed studies on the environmental and public health impacts of MTR. These studies investigate everything from the increased risk of birth defects and depression to impacts on biodiversity and hydrology. But clearly there are still many unanswered questions left to research.

Finally, it is worth noting that much of the rainfall (left) was concentrated on Greenbrier County, a part of the state with relatively little MTR mining. Neighboring Nicholas County, however, does have some large mines so it may be possible for hydrologists to diagnose and measure the difference in flooding between mined and unmined watersheds which received equivalent rainfall. But that will take time to decipher and analyze.

In the meantime, SkyTruth and our partners at Appalachian Voices and Duke University are working this summer  to update and refine our data about the spread of MTR mining in Appalachia. The resulting data will allow more comprehensive and more accurate research on the effects of MTR mining. Our vision is for this research and resulting studies on the impacts of MTR to lead to better decision-making about flood hazards, future mine permits, and mine reclamation.

Impact Story: BP Spill — Using Science to Hold BP and Federal Regulators Accountable

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Within a day of the April 20, 2010 explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig in the Gulf of Mexico, we began our high tech surveillance of the spill. Examining satellite images and aerial survey data, SkyTruth quickly became a leading source of independent, unbiased information on the size and scope of the disaster.

It was the largest oil spill in the nation’s history, releasing almost five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. As bad as it was, it could have been even worse. Had BP continued to downplay the extent of the disaster, delaying mobilization of the appropriate response, it may have taken even longer than the 87 days it took to cap the well. Our work challenged the official story, spurred government science agencies to get off the sidelines,  and opened a public dialogue about the magnitude of the risk posed by modern offshore drilling..

Throughout the spring and into mid-summer of 2010, as BP’s disabled well continued to pump oil into the Gulf, SkyTruth president John Amos was quoted in hundreds of news reports, and his interpretation and analysis of 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, we 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 repeated by 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 we had initially calculated.

John and other independent experts kept the issue in the headlines by presenting new estimates of 20,000 and then 26,500 barrels per day as new images and data became available, leading the public 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 the government had previously estimated.  (Later, the government’s scientific teams concluded that the 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.)

image gallery

While NASA and the governments of several foreign countries made their satellite images freely available, without organizations like SkyTruth to interpret those images, the public may have never known the true impact of the spill.

Equally important, we invited people directly into the conversation. Tens of thousands visited our website, blog, Twitter and Facebook pages. During the first ten days of June, for instance, our Blog received more than 70,000 visits – 25,000 in a single day. Meanwhile, our 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 in Australia’s Timor Sea in 2009, 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.”