Thursday, September 18, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
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).
Monday, September 15, 2008
And now you can explore the NOAA air photos with Google Earth. GE users, here is the KMZ file. This is very useful - you can toggle the NOAA photos on and off, and see from the underlying hi-res Google imagery exactly what facilities seem to be the source of the slicks. Mosaic 8 in the KMZ includes the area shown in the SkyTruth mosaic at the top of this post.
NOAA has just posted aerial photographs taken on September 14-15 in the Galveston area. These photos show what might be oil slicks, some originating at what appear to be large storage tanks. We can't say for sure at this point, and we can't tell how thick the oil is from these photographs -- much of it may be thin "sheen" -- so we don't know how big these possible spills are. So take a look for yourself. Here's our preliminary analysis. We don't have any confirmation so be skeptical. If you can confirm or refute any of this, please provide a comment.
Extensive slicks near possible oil storage facility:
Slicks emanating from storage tanks:
Slick from large storage tank:
Large slick - source unknown:
Phot0 credit: POOL/AFP/Getty Images
Ike came ashore in Galveston, Texas, early Saturday morning as a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph. Storm surge was about 10 feet, much less than the predicted range of 20 - 25 feet. Even so the storm caused extensive flooding throughout the Galveston - Houston area, and hurricane-force winds were felt well inland for several hours following landfall.
No large oil spills have yet been reported. Early damage reports to oil and gas facilities include 10 offshore oil and gas production platforms damaged or destroyed, along with "some" pipelines; one shallow-water jackup rig damaged; and two mobile drilling rigs adrift in the central Gulf. The US Coast Guard is going out to fetch them.
This last item is a concern. Drifting drill rigs after hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused significant pipeline damage as the rigs dragged their anchors across the seabed. Mooring systems were supposedly beefed up to prevent this from happening again:
Katrina and Rita were Cat 5 monsters in the Gulf with sustained winds reaching 175 mph. But another of Transocean's mobile rigs, the Amirante, suffered damage to its mooring system from the relatively weak Hurricane Gustav and was towed back to port for repairs. Ike's winds (110 mph) were weaker than Gustav's (115 mph). It's only a matter of time before the Gulf will experience another major Category 4 or 5 hurricane. Maybe those mooring systems need another serious look. I'll bet the companies that insure those rigs will insist.
One of the key conclusions was the need for stronger mooring systems that anchor rigs to the sea floor, sometimes in thousands of feet of water. That's prompted major rig owners like Transocean Inc. and Noble Drilling Inc. to increase the number of anchor lines from eight or nine to 12 in some cases.
One of Transocean's moored rigs, the Marianas, broke free during Hurricane Rita in September 2005 and drifted 140 miles (225 kilometers). Another, the Deepwater Nautilus, was set adrift a month earlier by Katrina.
Such unscheduled voyages can be costly. Besides lost revenue, Transocean spent $25 million (euro19 million) to fix and upgrade the two rigs, both of which now have 12-point mooring systems.
Check out the discussion on The Oil Drum blog if you want to learn more.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Hurricane Ike, still a Category 2 storm but expected to strengthen to Category 3 by landfall, is now moving into the offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines off the Texas and Louisiana coasts. And the latest forecasts now place it on a beeline for Galveston and Houston, with a possible storm surge of up to 20 feet. This poses a very serious threat to coastal and onshore facilities -- refineries, storage tanks, and onshore pipelines -- in this very low-lying region. The next 24 hours are going to be rough going. Check out The Oil Drum for updated maps and discussion of potential damage for offshore and coastal facilities in Ike's path.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
The latest National Weather Service forecast is predicting Hurricane Ike will take a sharper turn to the north, putting Galveston and Houston (and more of the offshore and coastal oil and gas facilities) in the line of fire. Here is the latest 3-day track prediction. As of this morning Ike is a very large Category 2 storm with sustained maximum winds near 100 mph, hurricane-force winds extending for 115 miles, and tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 275 miles from Ike's center. Expected to strengthen to at least Category 3 before landfall. For a detailed, interactive tracking map, check out Weather Underground.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
After pounding Cuba, Hurricane Ike has entered the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 1 storm, and is expected to strengthen over the next couple of days into a major hurricane. The latest forecast track shows Ike aiming for the western Gulf and the Texas coast, taking a swipe at the offshore oil and gas infrastructure on the way, and making landfall early Saturday morning.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Too soon to say for sure -- we haven't yet seen any of the satellite images of the Gulf that were taken in the wake of Hurricane Gustav last week -- but we haven't heard of any offshore or onshore oil spills like those following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One drill-rig operator, Transocean, reported some damage to three of their offshore drill rigs; one suffered damage to it's mooring system, not good news considering that mooring systems were supposedly beefed up after Katrina blew a bunch of rigs around the Gulf. Let's compare the two storms: Gustav was a Category 3 storm out in the northern Gulf, while Katrina was a monster Cat 5. Gustav hit the offshore oil fields with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. Katrina moved through the OCS with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, gusting to 215 mph, with hurricane-force winds reaching 105 miles from the eye. Katrina generated 100-foot waves in the Gulf, high enough to batter the upper decks of major production platforms. At landfall, Gustav was a strong Cat 2 (110 mph) and Katrina was a strong Cat 3 (125 mph sustained, with gusts over 140 mph). Damage increases exponentially with increase in category - a Cat 4 could be 250 times as damaging as a at 1. Katrina was the 6th strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history.
Since the OCS platforms are designed to withstand at least a Cat 3 storm, they better not get beat up by the likes of Gustav. A Cat 4 or 5 storm is a whole 'nother ballgame. Let's hope Hurricane Ike doesn't give us that test.