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?

Radar Imagery Shows Possible Slick From Oil Platform Off Peru’s Coast

Traditional sail powered fishing craft below Oil Platform 10 on the Peruvian north coast.

Last month we learned of an oil slick that had been sighted off the north coast of Peru in proximity to a number of offshore platforms. The slick was first observed by local fishermen in January and was reported in the pressAt the time SAVIA Perú, which operates platforms in the area, stated that they had inspected their facilities and were not responsible for the leak.

We’ve now had a look at Sentinel-1 satellite radar imagery of the area over the past few months. This imagery, provided by the European Space Agency, does show a possible oil slick extending about 14 miles from one offshore platform on February 3rd. Imagery from the weeks before and after the reported slick may also show some evidence of chronic leaks in the area. 

While initial reports in the press named Platform 10 in the area as the likely source, the imagery shows a possible slick extending from a different platform, Peña Negra TT (PNGR TT), also operated by SAVIA as part of lot Z-2B. A dive support vessel Urubamba is also seen alongside another platform further south (PNGR BB) indicating there may be ongoing maintenance on oil infrastructure in the region.

Sentinel-1 imagery from Feb 3, 2017 showing a possible oil slick extending from a platform on the Cabo Blanco area of Peru’s north coast. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

Two additional Sentinel-1 images are below, from March 11, 2017 and April 16, 2017.  On March 11th we again see a possible oil slick extending south 1.8 miles from platform PNGR TT. However other larger dark patches also appear on this image making it difficult to interpret. These patches are areas of relatively flat water which could result from a sheen of oil on the water’s surface but could also be from other causes such as blooms of phytoplankton or even an area of heavy rainfall. Recent imagery from April 16th shows no indication of any oil slicks in the area.

Sentinel-1 imagery from March 11, 2017 again showing a possible slick extending south from well PNGR TT. Large dark patches to the west indicate areas of still water. Image of courtesy European Space Agency.

Sentinel-1 imagery from April 16, 2017 shows no indication of possible oil slicks in the area. Image courtesy of European Space Agency.

Along with extensive oil infrastructure, this area has the highest marine biodiversity on Peru’s coast and for that reason has been proposed as part of a new marine protected area. Under proposed legislation oil companies operating in the area could continue provided they complied with environmental regulations. We can’t be certain who was responsible for the oil washing ashore a few months ago but as this imagery shows there is reason for concern regarding this particular platform (PNGR TT) and continued monitoring of oil platforms in this area will be essential if this unique environment is going to be protected.

 

 

 

Imágenes de radar muestran posible derrame de petróleo proveniente de una plataforma de la costa norte del Perú

29 de abril 2017 / por Bjorn Bergman

Tradicionales embarcaciones pesqueras con velas pasan por debajo de la plataforma petrolera 10 en la costa norte de Perú.

El mes pasado nos enteramos de un derrame de petróleo que fue visto en la área de Cabo Blanco en la costa norte de Perú en proximidad a unas plataformas petroleras. El derrame fue observado por primera vez por unos pescadores locales en enero y se informó a la prensa. A el momento SAVIA Perú, que opera plataformas en el área, declaró que habían inspeccionado sus instalaciones y no eran responsables por la fuga.

Ahora hemos examinado imágenes del radar satelital Sentinel-1 durante los últimos meses. La imágen del 3 de febrero, proporcionada por la Agencia Espacial Europea, muestra un posible derrame de petróleo que se extiende a unos 22 kilómetros de una plataforma petrolera. Las imágenes de las semanas anteriores y posteriores a esta fecha también pueden mostrar alguna evidencia de fugas crónicas en el área.

Mientras que los reportes iniciales en la prensa nombraron una Plataforma 10 como la fuente probable, estas imágenes muestran un posible derrame que se extiende desde una plataforma diferente, Peña Negra TT (PNGR TT) también operada por SAVIA como parte del lote Z-2B. También se observó un buque de apoyo de buceo, DSV Urubamba,  junto a otra plataforma más al sur (PNGR BB) lo que podría indicar que se realiza  mantenimiento en la infraestructura petrolera de la región.

Imagen del Sentinel-1 de 3 de febrero 2017 mostrando un posible derrame que se extiende de una plataforma en la área de Cabo Blanco en la costa norte del Perú. Imagen cortesía de la Agencia Espacial Europea.

Dos adicionales imagenes Sentinel-1 están por debajo, del 11 de marzo y del 16 de abril de 2017. En el 11 de marzo volvemos a ver un posible derrame que se extiende 3 kilómetros de la plataforma PNGR TT pero debido a la presencia de unas manchas oscuras más grandes al oeste se torna difícil interpretar lo que aparece en la imagen. Estas manchas oscuras son áreas de agua relativamente plana que podría ser el resultado de la presencia de petróleo en la superficie del agua, pero tambien podria ser de otras causas, como las floraciones de fitoplancton o incluso lluvias fuertes. Un imagen reciente del 16 de abril no indica ningún posible derrame de petróleo en la zona.

Imagen del Sentinel-1 del 11 de marzo de 2017 que otra vez muestra un posible derrame de petróleo que se extiende al sur de la plataforma PNGR TT. Las grandes manchas oscuras al oeste indican áreas de agua mas calmada. Imagen cortesía de la Agencia Espacial Europea.

Imagen de Sentinel-1 de 16 de abril de 2017 que no muestra indicaciones de petróleo en la agua. Imagen cortesía de la Agencia Espacial Europea.

Junto con una extensa infraestructura petrolera, esta área tiene la mayor biodiversidad marina en la costa peruana y por eso se ha propuesto como parte de una nueva área marina protegida. Según la legislación propuesta, las compañías petroleras que operan en la zona podrían continuar siempre que cumplieran con las regulaciones ambientales. No podemos estar seguros de quién fue responsable por el petróleo que llegó a la playa de Cabo Blanco hace unos meses, pero con estas imágenes se puede mostrar que hay motivo de preocupación por una plataforma en particular (PNGR TT) y que el monitoreo continuo de plataformas de petróleo en esta área sería esencial si este ambiente único va a estar protegido.