Thursday, May 26, 2011

Our latest set to show you.....uranium mining!

From our early blogs about the increase in uranium mining here in the U.S. (which has just as much merit today with our country's ever-rising energy prices as it did back in 2008) to our more recent blogs, uranium mining is something we've been watching for quite some time. Back in 2009 we blogged about the Cotter Corporation's uranium mill in Canon City, CO and it's status as one of the Superfund sites in the U.S. And we were pleased to receive a note of thanks for our blog regarding mining too close to residential areas.

So what is all the fuss about? Have a look:

Aerial views of open-pit uranium mines in the Gas Hills of central Wyoming. Probably taken during summer 2002. Photos courtesy of LightHawk.

Satellite images showing details of landscape impact caused by an "in-situ" uranium leaching operation in central Wyoming operated by Power Resources, Incorporated. In 2008, PRI was fined by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality for multiple violations at this facility.

Detail of open-pit uranium mining near Wollaston Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada.

For more images, visit our Flickr gallery here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bristol Bay, Susquehanna Rivers Named "America's Most Endangered"

The advocacy group American Rivers just issued their annual "America's Most Endangered Rivers" report. The Susquehanna River in New York - Pennsylvania - Maryland makes the list this year because of concern over the unfolding boom in natural-gas drilling throughout the watershed, particularly drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales that requires heavy-duty fracking and significant local water use -- for example, a proposal to pull 250,000 gallons per day from Oquaga Creek, a small trout stream in upstate New York where my stepfather has fished many times. Stream and wetlands alteration (legal and otherwise) and poorly controlled stormwater runoff are two other, less publicized concerns that we're investigating here at SkyTruth.

The rivers and tributaries of Bristol Bay, Alaska also make the list. The proposed Pebble copper/gold mine would directly destroy some of the headwaters, and would pose a potential threat of contamination if there were any problems with the massive tailings impoundments the mine would create. See our before and after maps of the Pebble plan, and just for grins, the same plan superimposed on Seattle for scale (Poof! 10,000 Starbucks disappear!).

North Dakota Oil Spill - Bigger Than Initially Reported

This article appeared in the Bismarck Tribune on Friday, May 20. A landowner notified the McKenzie County Emergency Manager that there was oil spilled near Keene in western North Dakota which may have flowed into a stock pond where cattle drink and into a creek that drains into Lake Sakakawea. Back on May 2, the company responsible for the spill, Newfield Exploration, reported that there was a 100-barrel spill as a result of a blizzard that knocked out power, but company officials told authorities that the oil was contained to a pit on the well site. Newfield told the department at that time there was no risk of any impact, that the spill was ‘contained’, and therefore, state health officials said that they didn’t initially investigate the spill.

It wasn’t until the landowner reported the possible flow into the larger body of water that officials took a look. The county’s Emergency Manager, Jerry Samuelson, said that the spill was actually more than 2 miles long and it appeared that there were more than 100 barrels spilled. Scott Radig, the State Health Department director of waste management, said the initial report was that 85 barrels were recovered from the spill, which apparently occurred because Newfield's diesel-driven pump kept operating during the storm and no one could get to the well to shut it in.

“They reported it was contained within the dike except for a small amount of oil sprayed in the strong wind,” he said.

There is no record of this spill yet in the official oil and hazardous materials incident reports collected by the National Response Center. Maybe they weren't required to report this spill; maybe they were, and failed to do so. Exactly the kind of question our new intern Michelle will be helping us look into.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Meet Michelle!

It's our pleasure to introduce you to our newest intern here at SkyTruth, Michelle Behrmann. Michelle is a student at Shepherd University and during the summer months, she will be working on researching sources for information about pollution in the Gulf of Mexico related to oil and gas drilling. She's been tasked with locating various sources for pollution reports, and then investigating whether or not those are good sources with usable information or if they are just dead ends.

Michelle will be reporting each week on the progress that she is making, so keep an eye on this spot for her blogs. Good luck Michelle, and welcome to SkyTruth!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Oil Slick at Platform 23051 Site, Gulf of Mexico

We've been watching the site of former platform #23051 in the Gulf since the BP spill last summer, when we discovered an unrelated chronic leak at this location. The most recent air photo from the site shows it still leaking in March.

And now this: today's MODIS/Terra satellite image shows what appears to be an 18-mile-long oil slick emanating from this location. We've been told the site leaks an average of only 14 gallons per day. Once again we see evidence suggesting a much larger leak. See for yourself:

Detail from NASA MODIS/Terra satellite image taken May 11, 2011. Tip of Mississippi River delta at upper left.

Same image with annotation marking the location of the known leaking wells at the site of former platform 23051. Yellow measurement line marks apparent oil slick.

The total area of this slick is about 40 square kilometers. Assuming a minimum thickness of 1 micron (1/1000th of a millimeter) this indicates a total volume of 10,560 gallons of oil. At 14 gallons per day it would take 2 years to leak that much oil. But a micron-thick slick can survive at sea for no more than a couple of days at most before it dissipates.

Something isn't adding up...

Monday, May 9, 2011

We need your help. Volunteers needed. Apply Within!

Do you have experience with Photoshop? We're looking for some experienced Photoshoppers to assist us in projects such as the one we worked on for the Pebble Mine in Alaska. That photo gallery is located in our Hard Rock Mining collection in Flickr. What we did with the images below is superimpose the proposed Pebble Mine onto an area the size of Seattle, WA and Anchorage, AK to give folks an idea of the sheer size of the mine. We'd like to do more work like this, simulating what a proposed mine would look like, using 3D graphics and Photoshop.

Compare these images of the Pebble Mine as it relates
in size to Anchorage, Alaska.

And below are images of Pebble Mine as it relates in size
to Seattle, Washington.

Shown below is a simulation of the Rosemont Ranch
Mine Site in Arizona.

On top is an image of Grand Mesa, Colorado, and on the bottom
is the same area with simulated well-pads for natural gas drilling
superimposed on the image. We know the tools and talent are out
there to help us do a better job!

What we're looking for is someone with the tools to better automate the process, making the simulations look more photo realistic. If you have the skills we're looking for, please drop us a line at and we'll see how we can work together to create more informative maps.

Remember, if you can see it, you can change it

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hard Rock Mining - Our Featured Gallery

This week we're featuring our Hardrock Mining gallery from Flickr. Click here to read about the Ft. Knox Gold Mine in Alaska, as shown in just two of the beautiful images below. And checkout the difference between the size of the mine in 2003 and how much bigger it's grown by 2007.

Ft. Knox Gold Mine, Alaska 2003:

Ft Knox Gold Mine, Alaska 2007:


Also in our Hardrock Mining gallery are some images of the breathtaking area on Berner's Bay north of Juneau, Alaska where the Kensington underground gold mine is being built.

Tree clearing around Lower Slate Lake where tailings disposal was being planned:

Berner's Bay, Alaska, site of Kensington mine:

Some stunning images showing mines in both Brazil and Peru. Read more about them here.

Morro do Ouro Gold mine, Paracatu, Brazil:

Morro do Ouro, detail:

Cerro de Pasco Mine, Peru - panoramic view:

Cerro de Pasco Mine, Peru - Vertical view of pit

From our blog of December, 2009, you can read about how drilling was stopped at the Mt. Tenabo - Cortez Hills Gold Mine in Nevada by a U.S. Federal Court of Appeals.

Mt. Tenabo, Nevada:

Mt. Tenabo, Nevada:

Go check out these and many more images in our Hardrock Mining Gallery, and stay tuned for our next featured gallery!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Then and Now: Satellite Monitoring to Protect the Future

A guest opinion post today by Amy Scoville-Weaver.

As an appetizer, check out this weekend's article in Wired on why we need routine satellite monitoring in the Gulf (yes, we're in it...) - John


The one-year anniversary of the disastrous BP oil spill is upon us. Let's reflect on what has been learned and what has been neglected in the past year.

April 20, 2010:

  • The explosion on the Deep Horizon rig killed eleven workers.
  • Over 205.8 million gallons of oil was spilled and 966 miles of shoreline affected.
  • A total cost of $40 billion to the UK-based company which has set up a $20 billion compensation fund to victims of the spill
  • The extent of the total environmental impact is debated, which includes worries concerning the long-term impact related to the dispersant of 800,000 gallons of chemicals meant to break up the oil

April 20, 2011:

While the environmental and economic consequences of off-shore drilling were certainly called into question following the April 20th spill, this has not meant a long-term moratorium on the business –

President Obama’s current energy plan gives an essential green-light for domestic oil and gas drilling. His recent George Washington speech outlined his new energy agenda, which is based on expediting permits for oil companies. First in line to grab at this chance, BP is currently seeking permission to resume its drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama also ended a long-standing moratorium on drilling along the East coast, opening over 167 million acres of ocean. The purpose of this agenda is to decrease America’s reliance on foreign oil – however, it also escalates the potential for future environmental and economic disasters. And as gasoline prices increase and energy concerns mount with the heightened Middle-East conflict, off-shore and deep-sea drilling will likely help determine our energy future. While strict regulations are being stressed as a main factor in granting a company permission to drill, there is also a Congressional push to grant permits fast, which could further impact environmental and safety policies.

In short, off-shore oil drilling has perhaps never been as popular as it is only one year after the greatest environmental disaster to affect the nation.

The need for an open and transparent satellite monitoring system to detect future oil pollution has therefore never been more critical.

The effectiveness of satellite imagery in offering a new perspective to the impact of the spill was well-documented throughout media coverage. Seen from above, the true extent of the oil spill was dramatically exposed. These monitoring systems have been valuable in discovering undetected oil spills and giving a clear idea to their extent and location. Sky Truth has been documenting the success of satellites in monitoring leaks and the extent of their damage, which often stand contradictory to official reports.

The true costs of pollution related to energy extraction will only increase as America embraces off-shore drilling and natural gas development. Even if the BP spill is left aside, the National Resource Council estimates that almost a billion gallons of oil are spilled into the world’s oceans and waterways per year. By demanding a system designed to monitor these sources of pollution, we are taking a stand in protecting not only the environment, but the health and economic well-being of future generations.

The ability to use an available and established technical system that systemically pinpoints sources of pollution, and responds to small leaks and potentially disastrous emergencies, must not be neglected. If we have learned anything from the tragedy that was, and continues to be, the BP oil spill, it should be a growing awareness of the need for effective monitoring to ensure that regulations are complied with. And the necessity in discovering and exposing those who do not follow them.

If the Administration is serious about securing America’s energy potential, it also needs to be serious about securing the nation’s environmental and economic future. And while safety regulations can be imposed again and again, the BP spill taught us that it only takes a few cost-cutting measures (and lack of government oversight) to result in a catastrophe. By federally funding a satellite monitoring system designed to detect, track and measure pollution, the government would show its commitment to America’s citizens and not just to the interests of big oil companies. And that is a future guaranteed to benefit everyone.

April 20, 2012:

Government federally funds a monitoring program designed to protect our rights to a healthy economy, environment and energy future.