Saturday, January 28, 2012

Brazil's Latest Oil Spill - Another FPSO-Related Failure

According to a SkyTruth volunteer based in Brazil, the vessel involved in this week's spill is the tanker Elka Aristotle.

And according to a handy vessel traffic site she recently stopped off at "Campos Basin P38" which appears to be an FPSO in the Marlim Sul field of the Campos Basin. Check out this excellent, well illustrated and very detailed summary of the Marlim Sul field discovery and development, including the role of the P38 FPSO.

So this spill was most likely related to routine FPSO operations.  Something to look forward to soon in the Gulf of Mexico.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Gorgeous Gulf of Mexico - Today's MODIS Image

Thought we'd share this stunning satellite image of the Gulf, shot today by NASA's MODIS satellite.  Enjoy!

MODIS/Terra satellite image, Gulf of Mexico -  January 27, 2012.  Image courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team.

Brazil Suffers Another Oil Spill - Another Warning Shot For FPSOs?

Brazil just experienced another oil spill, this time close enough to shore that it has fouled a stretch of beach in Rio Grande do Sul.  The spill apparently happened while a tanker was offloading a cargo of oil at the Osorio terminal operated by Petrobras, near the city of Tramandai.

The spill was reported to be about 315 gallons.  Video and photos from the affected beaches show one hell of a mess.  I guess a little really goes a long way when it comes to an oil spill:


This spill is reminiscent of Shell's recent spill off Nigeria caused when oil leaked from a cracked transfer line between an FPSO and a shuttle tanker. It's possible this Petrobras spill happened at the other end of an FPSO operation, where the shuttle tanker was offloading its cargo to a coastal facility. This is a concern, since FPSOs are now being used in US waters in the Gulf of Mexico for deepwater oil development -- and Petrobras, the world leader in FPSOs, has already had a serious failure at the first FPSO installation under construction in the Gulf.

Oil slick from spill that occurred at an offshore terminal near Tramandai, Brazil on January 26, 2012.  Photo courtesy World Maritime News.
[More images and analysis after the jump...]

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Drilling to Begin Soon in Deep Water Off Cuba

Say hello to my little friendScarabeo-9 arrives to begin deepwater drilling off Cuba.  Photo courtesy Shipspotting.com.

The Scarabeo-9, a big semisubmersible drill rig owned by Italian company ENI, just built in China, and currently under contract to the Spanish oil company Repsol, has arrived in the Florida Straits off the north coast of Cuba to begin exploratory oil drilling.  The rig will begin its work in exploration block N27 (see map after the jump) just 90 miles from Key West, in water about 6,500' deep.  That's 1,500' deeper than the site of the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf in 2010. 

[More after the jump...]

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chevron Blowout and Rig Fire off Nigeria - Small Slick Visible on Radar Today

The K.S. Endeavor jackup drill rig operated for Chevron in shallow water about 5 miles off the coast of the Niger Delta is continuing to burn.  This blowout probably won't be under control until a relief well can be drilled. Chevron confirms the rig had been drilling a gas exploration well they call the Funiwa Deep-A, with a planned depth of 16,500 feet.  But the well had only reached a depth of 12,945' when the blowout occurred early Monday morning.  That's comparable to the depth of BP's Macondo well that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, launching what would become the world's worst accidental oil spill.

The Funiwa field has both oil and gas reservoirs.  A big question on everyone's mind:  Could this lead to a major oil spill?  Is there a lot of oil already coming out of the well right now, fueling this blowtorch of a fire?  Some have reported sighting slicks and sheen in the vicinity.

Satellite imagery gives us some reason for optimism so far.  This Envisat ASAR radar satellite image taken today shows only a very small slick around what we infer to be the location of the burning Endeavor, based on multiple observations of the fire itself on MODIS 7-2-1 satellite images and the bright spots on the radar image that indicate big hunks of metal out in the water (rigs, vessels, platforms):

Detail from Envisat ASAR image taken January 20, 2012 showing small slicks in vicinity of burning K.S. Endeavor drill rig.  Inferred location of rig shown. Large dark patches along the coast are probably caused by turbid river water entering the ocean.  Image courtesy European Space Agency.

[More images and analysis after the jump...]

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Media Highlights - 2011

Check out SkyTruth's media page for the link to our Media Highlights - 2011 page. The page contains a list of all of SkyTruth's major media hits from 2011, from the Op-Ed piece in the Huffington Post that John co-wrote with Dr. Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, to the Los Angeles Times blog announcing the launch of our SkyTruth Alerts System.

You can also read the Associate Press interview with John about the size of the Shell oil spill off the coast of Nigeria. That story was carried in several major media outlets like The Guardian and the New York Times. You can also find the radio interview as well as the television interview with WV Public Broadcasting, and many more media hits so what are you waiting for? Go have a look!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Blowout off Nigeria?

Given the sustained intensity of the fire on the K.S. Endeavor  drill rig that ignited off the coast of Nigeria yesterday morning, we're starting to think a total loss of well control occurred.

Yep, that would be a blowout.  Two workers are still missing.

We assume the rig was drilling Chevron's "Funiwa Deep" natural gas exploration well. Since gas was the target, we hope that means the risk of a major oil spill is low.

What's next? The rig will probably collapse soon from the intense sustained heat. It's possible that will extinguish the fire, although the natural gas and/or gas condensate release will continue to pose a serious fire/explosion hazard until Chevron can plug the leaking well. They'll have to bring in another rig to drill a relief well. 

Depressingly familiar? You bet.  See the Montara blowout off Australia in 2009, and BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, for two of the more spectacular drilling failures in recent years.

Satellite Image Shows Heat From Chevron Drill Rig Fire, Offshore Nigeria

K.S. Endeavor jackup drilling rig burning off Nigeria's coast on January 16, 2012. Photo courtesy Chevron.
We've been following reports of a drill rig on fire off the coast of Nigeria, working for Chevron in the Funiwa field. We've also been collecting satellite imagery of the site.  Yesterday's MODIS images had a big data gap right over this area, so we didn't get a chance to see this until today. Here's what it looked like this morning from space, captured by NASA's MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite.  Clouds and haze, all too common in this part of Africa, obscure most of the area, and there is little sign of a big problem down below in the standard "true color" rendering:

MODIS/Terra true-color satellite image of Niger Delta region, January 17, 2012.  Clouds and haze obscure much of the area.

But let's look again, this time with the 7-2-1 rendering that includes the mid-infrared wavelengths.  There is a bright red dot located approximately where we think the rig was working (we could use a more precise location if anyone has it):

MODIS/Terra 7-2-1 infrared composite of Niger Delta region, January 17, 2012. Clouds and haze are minimized, and the burning rig appears as a bright red spot just offshore along the curve in the Delta coastline.
[See zoomed-in images after the jump...]

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chevron Drill Rig on Fire, Offshore Nigeria

Chevron reports one of their drill rigs caught on fire this morning off the southern Niger Delta near their North Apoi production platform. Reuters reports it's a jackup rig, the K.S. Endeavor, which means it was working in water less than 300' deep; the Apoi field is close to shore.  Some of the rig workers are still missing.  Hopefully in this incident, no lives have been lost.


 Photo taken early Monday morning showing fire at drill rig off coast of Nigeria.  Image courtesy SaharaReporters.

We're looking for satellite imagery to monitor the situation.  Any time a drill rig catches fire there is the potential for a spill or gas release. 

Chevron is also battling the fallout from their recent oil spill in deepwater off Brazil, and their ongoing legal battle over oil pollution in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, which they inherited when they bought Texaco in 2001.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sediment-Laden Runoff, Campos, Brazil

Tragedy struck southeastern Brazil when heavy, persistent rain lead to a landslide that killed at least 13 people near Jamapará in Rio de Janeiro state. This is a distressingly persistent problem in Brazil, where landslides triggered by torrential rains one year ago killed nearly 1,000. We hope the rains ease off and give the people a break.

MODIS satellite image showing sediment-laden runoff from Paraiba River, 100 miles downstream from recent deadly landslide triggered by heavy rain.
This MODIS satellite image taken on January 12 shows cloud cover lingering over much of the region.  But a patch of brown coloration in the Atlantic Ocean along the coast near Campos is a sign of the tumult more than 100 miles inland: it's caused by sediment-laden discharge of the rain-swollen Paraiba River, which flows past the site of the landslide and through the city of Campos in its way to the sea.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Black Ice Is Never A Good Thing...

The recent oil spill by Shell off Nigeria's coast briefly brought to light the some of the most insidious consequences of the world's addiction to fossil fuels.

As our thirst for oil grows, companies are stretching the limits of depth and technology to drill wherever and however. Shell has recently received conditional approval to begin exploratory drilling in one of the world's most environmentally sensitive and valuable ecosystems - the Arctic Ocean. Drilling will begin this summer in northern Alaska's Chukchi Sea, leading many to wonder if this is such a good idea.

What would happen if Shell caused a spill, like last month's event in Nigeria, in the waters of Alaska hundreds of miles away from any Coast Guard station or port? We superimposed the resulting 350-square-mile Nigeria oil slick on the Chukchi Sea in the area where Shell will be drilling:

Hypothetical 350 square-mile slick originating from a Shell lease block in the Chukchi Sea
How soon would a spill of this size reach the nearby coastline only 30 miles away? What about the effect on local fisheries and native infrastructure? How effectively could a spill like this be contained and cleaned up in icy, treacherous conditions? Shell touts emergency preparedness as key to mitigating any possible spillage, but the notoriously harsh Arctic environment raises many concerns about our ability to safely produce and transport oil in this region.

Drilling Alerts: SkyTruth Kicks It Up a Notch for 2012!

A new year brings new possibilities here at SkyTruth! For us, that means an amazing new portal of drilling data and maps for easy access and download.

SkyTruth Drilling Alerts is a compendium of datasets, links and news to give any concerned citizen the tools necessary to become informed about the issues that matter most to them.

We have created a live system of alerts for the public to subscribe to, providing up-to-date notification of drilling events in Pennsylvania and/or West Virginia (other states are on our radar). As soon as we know, you know!

Click to visit the SkyTruth Drilling Alerts site!
The site also showcases our mapping work showing drilling throughout the Marcellus shale region. Maps that highlight levels of drilling activity by county and watershed are provided in printable format as well as in interactive form for more dynamic, searchable viewing. These maps are designed to help concerned citizens get organized to perform regular tests of water quality in streams, creeks and rivers where drilling activity is highest and impacts to water quality are most likely to be occurring. As new shale-gas drilling spreads throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and on to Ohio and New York, such proactive knowledge is crucial to understanding if and how resource extraction will affect our nation's valuable waterways.

This site also provides visitors with recent SkyTruth news and updates as well as links to and explanations of our most useful data sources.

We want this to be an informative and user-driven resource, so please do not hesitate to share your comments and suggestions for improvement as you explore! We are also calling for any and all assistance with identifying and maintaining datasets you think would be useful to include on the Alerts maps. Contact us! 

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter where we will be announcing additions and improvements to this site as we strive to keep our Earth and global community as clean and healthy as possible!

Oil Slicks off Brazil - December 30, 2011

SkyTruth staff and volunteers have been looking pretty hard at the offshore oil producing areas along the coast of Brazil since Chevron's spill from the Frade field in the Campos Basin, caused when they lost control of a new well being drilled in deepwater back in November.  That well had to be plugged and abandoned.  But there is a lot going on in Brazil's waters, and there are other sources of oil pollution apparent on radar satellite images taken on November 25 and December 6

Teri  noticed that this NASA/MODIS image from December 30, 2011, shows a moderate-sized apparent oil slick (with a much smaller companion nearby) in deepwater about 225 kilometers offshore.  It doesn't have the shape we usually associate with bilge-dumping from a passing vessel; this looks more like the slicks formed by leaks at depth, or from a stationary point source. The slicks cover about 260 square kilometers.  We calculate they hold at least 68,000 gallons:

Detail from MODIS satellite image taken December 30, 2011, showing apparent oil slicks off Brazil.
(maps after the jump)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pebble Mine Plan Superimposed on Washington, DC


The concerns of many fishing and sportsmen’s groups, environmentalists and local Alaskans have risen over the proposed Pebble open-pit copper/gold mine in southwest Alaska. Here I have superimposed an image of the mine footprint over Washington DC, using Google Earth Pro, to demonstrate the size of the proposed open-pit mine and the tailings and wasterock storage impoundments that we’ve calculated would be necessary to accommodate this mining operation.

Superimposed image of proposed Pebble mine over DC

In the image above, you can compare the size of the mining pit to The Mall in DC, nothing compared to the huge impoundments required to store all the rock and tailings that would be excavated from the pit. The image below shows three very large impoundments, each bounded by a series of earth-and-rock-filled dams. The largest tailings impoundment will be held by what would be the longest dam in the world.

Tailings impoundments necessary to hold Pebble mine waste

We estimate this huge mine will produce 13.5 billion cubic yards of liquid slurry and wasterock. All of the waste must be eternally confined in a seismically active area that will likely experience major earthquakes. Spills, leakage or any other damage to the dams could negatively affect Alaska’s $5 billion BristolBay fishing industry as well as tourism. 

For more information check out all of our blog posts about the Pebble mine and check out our map and image gallery.