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!  

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.

 

Aerial survey photos from the 2013 National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) show how drilling and fracking have altered the West Virginia landscape.

Half of West Virginians Live Within a Mile of an Active Well

According to a new study by Environmental Health Perspectives, 17.6 million Americans live within one mile of an active oil or gas well. West Virginia topped the list. Half of the state’s population resides within a mile of an active well.

Aerial survey photos from the 2013 National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) show how drilling and fracking have altered the West Virginia landscape.

Aerial survey photos (above & below) from the 2013 National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) show how drilling and fracking have altered the West Virginia landscape.

Aerial survey photos from the 2013 National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) show how drilling and fracking have altered the West Virginia landscape.

Studies have found links between public health outcomes and active oil and gas production.

Oil and gas development:

  • degrades the quality of air and water,
  • contaminates the soil,
  • increases exposure to noise and light pollution.

People who live within a mile of an active well have higher rates of health problems including:

  • heart-related illness,
  • neurological problems,
  • cancer,
  • asthma.

Living near an active well has also been associated with adverse health outcomes in babies including:

  • pre-term birth,
  • lower birth weight,
  • neural tube defects,
  • congenital heart defects.

In Everyone’s Backyard: Assessing Proximity of Fracking to Communities At-Risk in West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale

SkyTruth recently partnered with Downstream Strategies and San Francisco University on a related report, focused on West Virginia. The report concluded that Marcellus Shale gas production has become more common near places essential for everyday life in West Virginia, increasing the potential for human exposure to toxic chemicals.

“This report shines a light on the impacts of fracking on the health and well-being of West Virginians. It is a perfect example of why I founded SkyTruth,” said John Amos. “If people are aware of how these decisions impact their lives, they will be able to be part of the solution.”

Many Homes Are Too Close to Well Pads

According to the report, more than 7,000 homes were located less than one-half mile from well pads in 2014. While the Horizontal Well Control Act established a setback distance of 625 feet between the center of well pads and homes, many homes are located closer than this distance to well pads.

Well Pads Have Encroached on Schools

As fracking progressed in West Virginia, well pads have also encroached on schools. By 2014, seven schools had at least one well pad within one-half mile, and 36 schools had at least one well located within one mile.

More Well Pads Have Been Built Near Public Lands, Including Water Protection Areas and Healthcare Facilities

Well pads must be more than 1,000 feet from public drinking water intakes; however, there are no restrictions on the construction of well pads within drinking water protection areas upstream from intakes. In 2014, hundreds of well pads and impoundments were in these protection areas. Since 2007, more and more well pads and impoundments have been built in or near public lands and health care facilities.

A systematic, screening-level evaluation of the toxicity of chemicals self-reported by operators in West Virginia revealed several hazardous substances had been used to frack wells near schools and immediately upstream from surface public drinking water intakes.

New Setback Distances Needed

Unlike other states, West Virginia State Code does not require setbacks between Marcellus Shale development and several types of sensitive areas assessed in this report. Setback distances for schools, healthcare facilities, and public lands—and restrictions in zones of critical concern and zones of peripheral concern above drinking water intakes—would help protect vulnerable populations and recreational opportunities as fracking development continues.

“Now that this analysis is completed, it’s a good time for the Legislature to consider new setback distances from homes, schools, and other sensitive areas,” said Evan Hansen, President of Downstream Strategies.

This report was made possible by a Switzer Network Innovation Grant.

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.

Image credit: A “vessel of opportunity” skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon/BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. (NOAA Office of Response and Restoration)

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?