Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Houston Chronicle Photo of Hurricane Ike Oil Slick

Oil slicks covering Hurricane Ike floodwaters around High Island, Texas.
Photograph by Smiley N. Pool / The Houston Chronicle via MSNBC.


MSNBC is running a small gallery of photos of post-Ike destruction, including a shot by The Houston Chronicle showing oil slicks covering floodwaters around High Island, Texas. This is the same area shown in SkyTruth's mosaic of NOAA aerial photographs, and it was taken on the same day (September 14). It's pretty clear that this is indeed floating oil. You can follow this particular slick back to multiple sources on our mosaic, or by using Google Earth (look at Mosaic 8 in this KMZ file to see the High Island slicks).

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for the information. I hope many Americans view this photo. The news talks about damage to oil rigs and platforms, but fails to mention ecological damage caused by oil in the water and fumes in the air. More importantly, it would be nice to know all of the potential health risks the damage to the environment causes in pets and humans.

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  2. Thanks Clare. Our dependence on fossil fuels definitely requires us to make some trade-offs. We at SkyTruth want to help everyone become aware of that. With the raging national debate about allowing more offshore drilling, we'd like folks to realize that you can't produce oil and gas offshore without also building a supporting network of industrial infrastructure along the coast. Storage tanks, refineries, pipelines and other onshore facilities go hand-in-hand with offshore energy production, no matter how far offshore you put the rigs and platforms. And as we saw after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, those onshore facilities are vulnerable to storm damage and can cause huge spills (the Coast Guard estimates that nearly 9 million gallons were spilled after Katrina and Rita, mostly from coastal facilities). So far we're not aware of anything nearly that bad resulting from Hurricane Ike, but the oil slicks we're seeing in Ike's floodwaters are another unfortunate reminder that there are definite risks to coastal communities from offshore oil and gas drilling. We all have to decide whether we think the benefits of more drilling are worth those risks.

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  3. Clare and John,

    We cannot be so myopic as to not realize that:
    1 - Mother nature herself is the greatest contributor of "oil spills" in the way of seepage from the sea floor, and this without a drilling rig or platform, but these hydrocarbons seep out through natural fractures and formations around the globe. Mother nature has mechanisms to deal with these natural processes as well as those resulting from mankind's activities. She'll also get lots of help from good and caring souls like ourselves in the way of government funded clean up;

    2 - The US Offshore Oil Drilling and Production Fields have a fantastic environmental record over the past couple of decades, as regulation and training requirements were put into play and continue to grow and expand as environmental stewardship become part of business plans and management systems. Go to the Minerals Management Service website to find actual incidents resulting in release of >50 barrels (42 US Gal per 1 Oilfield Barrel) -- http://www.mms.gov/incidents/spills1996-2008.htm.
    3 - If we were to cease and desist with all offshore drilling and production activities today we would still have a need for oil in our everyday lives. Our thirst for the product will not be slaked, so we'll need to increase the amount of money we send foreign countries to buy their oil and have it shipped to our ports.
    4 - The vast majority of manmade spills do not come from the drilling or production facilities, but from shipping and storage. So the rationale for not drilling/producing our own energy resources erroneously harms the very industry that is doing a good job of it now. This oil thirst would be filled by supertankers delivering oil, gas and derivatives to us daily. The exposure to loss of containment takes a different form, one more likely, based on historical statistics, to actually produce a sizable spill (e.g. Valdez).

    The risks mentioned by John would include a reversal of our national success, fortune and power, and we would soon fall into 3rd world status.

    I urge everyone to look at the facts...not those you can find on YouTube or various blogs...but at sites where reliable facts and statistics and incident reports can be read by a knowing eye to put together a real picture of how each company contributes to the problem (or not) and to the corresponding solution (or not).

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  4. Joey - the oil industry has certainly come a long way in terms of safety and environmental performance, thanks to a combination of technology development and government regulation. But it is not a risk-free activity. The U.S. Coast Guard reported that 9 million gallons of oil were spilled during hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They now report at least 154 spills from relatively puny Hurricane Ike (http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/50297/story.htm). Those are the facts, straight from the responsible U.S. government agency. Unlike the oil that leaks slowly and steadily from natural oil seeps in the Gulf, giving natural systems plenty of time to adjust, these spills are sudden and locally catastrophic.

    We can argue about whether or not the environmental damage and risk to human health from producing and burning fossil fuel is worth the lifestyle it has supported. Heck, maybe cavemen used to sit around the fire and argue about whether they should keep making tools out of stone, or move on to bronze. I dunno. But as a geologist I do know that oil and gas supplies are not infinite. We can keep producing oil and gas for a long time, but it is increasingly difficult and expensive to find it, get it out of the ground, and refine it. To me that is clear writing on the wall: the longer we rely on oil and gas to run our economy, the more likely we are to sink into Third World status as our energy costs to produce things steadily rise, compared to our competitors. The sooner we in America apply our ingenuity to increase our efficiency and develop viable alternative forms of energy, the more competitive our nation will be in the global economy. I think that's a winning scenario for the future. The countries that cling to fossil fuels are going to be the big losers.

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