The hypothetical Mountaineer Pipeline Eastern Panhandle Expansion map. Base imagery provided by Google.

SkyTruth Map Shows Potential Path of Proposed Pipeline Expansion in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle

 

Mountaineer Gas Company has proposed building a pipeline through the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Eastern Panhandle Protectors asked SkyTruth to produce a map showing the pathway the pipeline will take, based on documents from Mountaineer Gas Company and land easements they’ve purchased. Mountaineer included maps within their “petition to amend infrastructure and expansion program” covering the pipeline route across the Panhandle, but these are small-scale maps lacking in detail, with very broad-stroke yellow lines pointing directions for several miles. These maps do not show enough detail to be useful. For example, they don’t indicate which side of Route 9 or Interstate 81 the pipeline would follow (see map from Mountaineer Petition below).

Map from Mountaineer Petition to amend infrastructure and expansion program shows very general proposed route for new pipeline.

Map from Mountaineer Petition to amend infrastructure and expansion program shows very general proposed route for new pipeline.

The Project

Eastern Panhandle Protectors provided SkyTruth with addresses of easements purchased by Mountaineer and asked us to create a more detailed map that would be useful for public outreach. Members of Eastern Panhandle Protectors also spoke with property owners along the proposed path of the pipeline to find out if they had sold an easement to the gas company, or if they had been approached for an easement and were “holding out”. Property addresses (both holdouts and easements) were marked on Google Earth, and the general path of the pipeline began to take shape. However, street addresses and Google imagery were not enough information to delineate the proposed path, so we obtained a tax parcel map from the WV GIS Technical Center and used the data to visualize property boundaries (see below).

Teal polygons represent tax parcels the pipeline would possibly intersect. In Jefferson County, the pipeline follows Route 9, Route 51, and county Route 11.

Teal polygons represent tax parcels the pipeline would possibly intersect. In Jefferson County, the pipeline follows Route 9, Route 51, and county Route 11.

Methodology

We had to make some educated guesses to determine where the pipeline would go as it crossed each of these properties. Eastern Panhandle Protectors suggested the following assumptions: Pipeline companies generally do not want to

 

  • turn the pipeline at a sharp angle,
  • build on steep slopes, or,
  • build too close to homes or businesses.

 

They do want to take the shortest possible route.

Starting with the general pipeline path as defined by the properties shown in the map above, SkyTruth refined the hypothetical route by applying these guidelines.  

The hypothetical Mountaineer Pipeline Eastern Panhandle Expansion map. Base imagery provided by Google.

The hypothetical Mountaineer Pipeline Eastern Panhandle Expansion map. Base imagery provided by Google.

The hypothetical route shown in yellow on the map above is dashed to indicate our uncertainty about the exact path the pipeline will follow. Given the noted assumptions we had to make in delineating the most likely pipeline route, we can make no claims about the accuracy of this map. It is simply our best guess at where the pipeline could go, based on the imprecise and incomplete information the gas company and the state are making available to the public. It’s a shame better information is not being provided to the public.  

Mapping Oil Pollution Hot Spots in the World’s Oceans

We’ve embarked on an ambitious new project with the help of our stellar team of summer interns (Brady Burker, Flynn Robinson and Brian Wong). We set out to systematically identify and monitor ‘hot spots’ of oil pollution in the world’s oceans.  

Using freely available satellite imagery, we have identified and mapped several representative ‘hot spots’ of three major sources of oil pollution threatening the health of the world’s oceans and coasts: the illegal dumping of oily wastes at sea (also known as bilge dumping), persistent leaks from aging or damaged oil and gas production infrastructure, and long-term vessel anchorages where dozens of small spills and leaks on a nearly daily basis create chronic pollution conditions.

You can find the report here.

Free satellite imagery is becoming increasingly useful for systematically detecting and monitoring oil pollution in the world’s oceans.  Building from the methods and case studies outlined herein, our goal is to develop a semi-automated daily ocean monitoring platform.  This imagery will remain a core resource for this work. We will also seek to leverage high temporal and spatial resolution commercial imagery resources in order to create a clearer picture of the sources, causes and consequences of oil pollution at sea, and to empower and engage environmental advocates and concerned citizens to protect their oceans and coasts.

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.

 

 

The Liverpool Bay oil & gas infrastructure funnels through the Douglas Complex (ENI Liverpool Bay Operating Company, 2016)

ENI — Italian Firm Recently Approved for Offshore Exploration in Alaska — Responsible for Last Week’s UK Oil Spill

Blobs of oil and balls of tar washed ashore in northwestern England last week. The oily litter impacted a 15 kilometer stretch of coastline and originated from an OSI (offshore storage installation) that receives oil from the Douglas Complex, an offshore triple-platform central to the Liverpool Bay oil and gas production operations seen below.

The Liverpool Bay oil & gas infrastructure funnels through the Douglas Complex (ENI Liverpool Bay Operating Company, 2016)

The Liverpool Bay oil & gas infrastructure funnels through the Douglas Complex (ENI Liverpool Bay Operating Company, 2016)

The Douglas Complex is integral to the Liverpool Bay’s network because all oil and gas collected by its four satellite sites (Lennox, Hamilton, Hamilton East, and Hamilton North) is funneled through the Complex for processing. Natural gas products are then re-directed ashore to the Point of Ayr Gas Terminal and crude oil to the OSI. It was this latter-most connection, an oil tanker anchored in place, that failed in Liverpool Bay on July 10, 2017.

Radar imagery from  ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite appears to show the slick resulting from this spill, as it drifts away from the storage tanker and heads toward shore. ASCAT satellite-derived surface wind data from the time of the spill confirms the wind was blowing from the north and east, consistent with the trajectory seen in these images. A spokesperson claimed that between 630-6,300 gallons of oil leaked; our conservative estimate, based on the size of the slick and an assumed average thickness of 1 micron, show this to be at least 6,843 gallons. Also note the half-mile gap between the OSI and a safety response vessel, the Vos Inspirer, on July 11 in the image that matches AIS vessel tracking data. An educated guess would be that the leak originated under water, potentially from the pipeline leading from the Douglas Complex, from the riser pipe from the seafloor to the OSI, or from the seafloor junction between the two.

Radar imagery from  ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite appears to show the slick resulting from this spill, as it drifts away from the storage tanker and heads toward shore

Radar imagery from ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite appears to show the slick resulting from this spill, as it drifts away from the storage tanker and heads toward shore.

U.S. Arctic Offshore Energy Policy Context

ENI, the Italian oil firm that accepted responsibility for the Liverpool Bay oil spill was recently granted access to drill for oil in US waters in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. This approval comes on the back of President Trump’s executive order that recently reversed a permanent ban on new offshore drilling.

The policy change has faced substantial criticism from environmental heavy-weights, culminating in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity, League of Conservation Voters, REDOIL, Alaska Wilderness League, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society to challenge the executive order’s legality.

Risk, Risk, Risk.

Beyond legal concerns, one would be remiss not to acknowledge the intrinsic risk of Arctic drilling. ENI reported the UK spill to be up to 6,300 gallons, and this took place in a very favorable location for clean-up. But experts agree we are ill-prepared for an oil spill in the markedly less forgiving conditions of the Arctic. The head of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Paul Zukunft, recently commented on the topic by saying:

We saw during Deepwater Horizon, whenever the seas are over four feet, our ability to mechanically remove oil was virtually impossible…Four-foot seas up there [in the Arctic] would probably be a pretty darned good day, so certainly environmental conditions weigh heavily in addition to just the remoteness.”

ENI might learn from Shell Oil’s failures. Shell canned a $7 billion offshore drilling project in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea after determining it was not financially worthwhile. Economic risk factors are furthered by International Energy Agency reports of an oil-supply “glut” and lowering crude prices amidst the rise of both renewable energy, and cheaper oil produced by fracking onshore.

Between supply-side risk, threats of lawsuits, and low oil prices, ENI is diving head first into a complicated, high-risk pool. Off the Fylde coast, authorities were quick to execute a plan after locals immediately brought the situation to their attention. As the Coast Guard continues to advocate for the basic resources needed for emergency preparedness and response in the Arctic, is this a gamble worth taking?

Global Flaring Map Reset

The wasteful practice of flaring off natural gas from oil and gas fields is again making news, coinciding with a new release of SkyTruth’s Global Flaring Map that visualizes gas flaring activity around the globe. This map relies on the Nightfire data provided by NOAA’s Earth Observation Group, which has written extensively about their work detecting and characterizing sub-pixel hot sources using multispectral data collected globally, each night, by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard the Suomi-NPP satellite. Read about the algorithm that creates Nightfire data here and methods for estimating flared gas volumes here.

SkyTruth’s enhanced map has these added features:

  • NOAA has published two additional years of flaring data, allowing our map to extend back to March 2012.
  • A location search box lets you go directly to a city, state, country, landmark, etc.
  • Date range selection helps you limit the visualization to the time-frame of interest.
  • You can identify your rectangular Area of Interest and download flaring data within that AOI (works best in Chrome browsers).
  • We’ve caught up with NOAA’s daily download after adjusting to recent changes in their web security.


About our Global Flaring Map

Please read about some of the uses for this map and how SkyTruth processes NOAA’s data in this original post describing our map. If you don’t see a flaring detection you expected to see, consider the caveats:  some flares don’t burn hot enough to be included in our dataset, they may not have been burning when the satellite passed overhead, the flare may not be frequent enough to make it past the 3 detection threshold, heavy clouds may have obscured the flare from the sensor, etc.

If you find this map useful, drop us an email at info@skytruth.org to let us know.

Why Flaring is In the News Again

In November 2016 the Interior Department announced a new Methane and Waste Prevention Rule to reduce wasteful flaring and leaks of natural gas from oil and gas operations on public and Indian lands. Although Congress tried repealing the rule after the 2016 elections, that effort failed to advance out of the Senate after a May 2017 vote.

Despite the Senate’s action to keep the methane rule, the Environmental Protection Agency just announced (as of 6/15/2017) they would suspend implementation of the rule for 90 days — an action leading environmental groups claim is unlawful.

Bilge Dumping Proving to be a Persistent Issue for the UAE

15 kilometers (about 9 miles), off the coast of Fujairah and Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates is a popular tanker parking lot.

Tankers anchored offshore of Fujairah and Khor Fakkan in the UAE.

There is no issue with this, until you consider the fact that it appears to be the cause of persistent pollution problems for the UAE. There have been 4 spills in the past 3 months and local communities are getting fed up as these spills impact both local businesses and the environment.
This image, collected on May 24, by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 satellite shows the Nordic Jupiter, one vessel which was anchored offshore as well as oil slicks visible on the surface of the water. While we don’t know if the Nordic Jupiter is the source of this slick, it seems likely based on this image.

The Nordic Jupiter and oil slicks off the coast of the UAE.

Occasional overflights by enforcement agents would be more than sufficient to police this parking lot, to deter future dumping, and to catch violators.

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?