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?

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.

Infrastructure Drives Development in the Brazilian Amazon: Highway –> Hydroelectric Plant –> Gold Mine

Big changes are happening in the Brazilian Amazon along a stretch of the Xingu River known as the Volta Grande (Big Bend), where it takes a detour to the south before turning back north to flow into the Amazon River. The region has experienced rapid growth and deforestation following the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway (BR 230 ) in 1972, as this pair of images illustrates:

1988:  Satellite imagery showing the Volta Grande region along the Xingu River in Brazil’s Para state. Tendrils of deforestation reveal settlement reaching out into the rainforest along the Trans-Amazonian Highway, built in 1972. Site of the future Belo Monte hydroelectric project is marked for reference. Compare with 2016 image below of the same area.

 

2016:  The same area as shown above in 1988. Considerable deforestation has occurred in the 18-year interval.

Small-scale gold mining has also occurred in this area over the past few decades, peaking in the 1980s. But now a major hydroelectric project, that became operational in 2015 and is still under construction, may be paving the way for a multinational mining company, Belo Sun of Canada, to propose a massive open-pit gold-mining operation.  Some local residents, already negatively impacted by the hydro project, are wary of the gold mining proposal: “I have seen mining companies elsewhere, they take all the wealth and leave craters. We have to think about it ten times over before accepting their projects.”

The mining operation is temporarily on hold, so there’s nothing yet to see.  But Google Earth does have high-resolution satellite imagery showing the construction of the hydroelectric project that may be a key part of the business plan for this mining project.

2014: High-resolution panchromatic (black and white) satellite imagery of the Belo Monte hydroelectric project under construction on Brazil’s Xingu River. Project became operational in 2015. Compare with 2010 image below of the same area.

 

2010: High-resolution satellite imagery showing the site of the future Belo Monte hydroelectric project. Compare with 2016 image above of same area.

As we can see from the detail below, showing a line of trucks at work on the dam in 2014, this is a huge project. And the development sequence illustrated so clearly in this area shows that one big project begets another — from highway, to hydro, to mine.

Detail from 2014 satellite imagery showing trucks at work on part of the Belo Monte hydroelectric project.

The influx of people that results is inexorably transforming the Amazon rainforest.

Into… Ohio?