Friday, August 31, 2012

Isaac Moves North - Small Oil Slick Sighted at Chevron Platform

As Isaac steadily weakens and moves off to the north, the clouds are starting to part over the Gulf of Mexico and workers are making their way back to the offshore platforms that had been evacuated.  Reports of actual and potential oil spills in the Gulf are coming in to the National Response Center, and can be seen on our SkyTruth Alerts map.  Several have caught our eye, including a report from Chevron that one of their wells was improperly shut-in when they evacuated Platform B in High Island Block 563. 

The slick from this leaking well appears on yesterday's MODIS/Aqua visible satellite image. It's a very small slick, so this doesn't look particularly serious yet.  We hope they can get the problem fixed soon.

MODIS/Aqua visible satellite image of northern Gulf of Mexico taken August 30, 2012. Site of reported leak from Chevron platform is marked.  Small red dots are locations of oil and hazardous materials spill reports (see SkyTruth Alerts).
Detail from above showing apparent slick emanating from location of Platform B, consistent with NRC report.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Blast at Venezuela Oil Refinery

On Saturday, August 25, an explosion and fire at one of the world's largest oil refineries, the Amuay on the coast of Venezuela killed 41 people and injured more than 150, according to the Washington Post.  While the actual cause has not yet been officially determined, officials have said that a gas leak led to the blast. The fire was finally extinguished after three days, according to the Christian Science Monitor.  Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all who were killed or injured in the blast.

Here's how it looked from space on August 26:
MODIS/Aqua 7-2-1 infrared satellite image taken on 8/26 showing large area of extreme heat (bright orange) from the fire at the Amuay refinery in Venezuela.
MODIS/Terra true color satellite image taken on 8/26. Heavy black smoke, topped by a line of bright white pyrocumulus clouds, can be seen coming from the vicinity of Punto Fijo and trailing out to the nothwest over the Caribbean Sea.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Isaac Downgraded to Tropical Storm

Isaac's sustained winds have died back down to 70 mph, downgrading it to tropical-storm status.  But it looks bulkier than ever on today's MODIS satellite image, with a diameter of about 480 miles.  And it's been practically parked along the Louisiana coast most of the day, moving to the northwest at only about 6 mph.  Heavy rain is pounding the region and ratcheting up the flooding threat. Some relief could come for the New Orleans area tomorrow as the storm moves inland.  

MODIS/Terra visible satellite image of Isaac taken at 12:10 pm Central time on August 29, 2012. Offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines shown in orange.

Report Oil Spills to NRC and Gulf Oil Spill Tracker

There's some serious speculation that old oil from the 2010 BP / Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf could get churned up from the seafloor, and exposed by erosion of beaches and marshes, as a result of Hurricane Isaac's wind and wave action. And as we've seen in past storms, new leaks and spills can occur from storm-pummeled platforms, pipelines, storage tanks and other facilities.

If you do see what you think could be a leak or spill of oil or hazardous materials, please report it to the National Response Center.  This is the nation's official front-line agency for collecting and distributing information about pollution incidents. You can report via their website or by calling their toll-free hotline, 1-800-424-8802.  If your report to the NRC includes a good description of the location of your sighting (we love latitude/longitude coordinates, but the nearest street address is also useful) then we'll be able to grab it from the NRC and put it on our SkyTruth Alerts map, so everyone can see your report. 

If you think you've observed oil pollution, you can also submit a report on the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker site for all to see. Including some photos with your Spill Tracker report is a great way to document possible new spills or the re-deposition of old BP oil, and helps validate your report. 

But above all, be safe.  Please don't go out chasing oil spills in hazardous conditions.  Plenty of time for that after Isaac has moved on and the danger has passed. 

Isaac is Onshore - Barely

Hurricane Isaac, with sustained winds of 80 mph (Category 1), made landfall last night around Grand Isle on the west side of the Mississippi Delta. But it's barely moved, and is still lashing a large area with strong winds and rain. Here's the latest GOES satellite image:

GOES infrared satellite image of Hurricane Isaac, taken at 7:15 am Central time on August 29, 2012.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hurricane Isaac Heading for Shore - MODIS Image

Heeeeer's Isaac....

This MODIS / Terra color satellite image of the Gulf was taken at 16:30 hours UTC (1:30 pm Central time).  Isaac is now a Category 1 hurricane, with sustained winds of 75 mph, moving steadily toward the northwest at 10 mph. It's expected to make landfall along the Louisiana coast tonight.  Right now it's passing through the offshore oil fields, throwing a right hook at the platforms and pipelines on the east side of the Delta from Breton Sound to Dauphin Island and Mobile Bay.  That northeast quadrant of the storm is where the strongest winds and biggest waves usually occur. Data buoys in that area are now reporting 18 foot waves and surface wind speeds of 60 knots (69 mph): 

MODIS / Terra satellite image taken at 1:30 pm Central time on August 28, 2012. Hurricane Isaac, looking more organized and "wound up" than in previous images, should make landfall tonight.
Same image with oil and gas platforms and pipelines shown in orange.

Isaac Entering Gulf Oil Fields

Isaac is still a strong tropical storm with winds at 70 mph, now hitting the offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. Isaac is by no means a pushover, posing a serious threat of flooding to New Orleans and surrounding areas inland, but it is far weaker than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita which slammed the oil fields as Category 5 storms in 2005, destroying dozens of platforms, breaking hundreds of seafloor pipelines, and spilling millions of gallons of crude oil

Here's the latest forecast track for the storm.  Oil and gas infrastructure shown in orange.  The predicted path for Isaac's center is shown as a black line, with the "cone of uncertainty" for the path shown in purple.  This does not show the extent of tropical-storm-force winds thatt extend outward for a considerable distance from the storm's center:
National Hurricane Center forecast storm track for Isaac, August 28, 2012 (Advisory #29).  Orange dots and lines are offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines.

Weather satellite image of Isaac - August 28, 2012 at 6:45 am Central time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Isaac Forecast Track: Shifting West

The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center at NOAA has shifted the predicted track of Tropical Storm Isaac further to the west, putting it on line to pass right over New Orleans.  Of course, this could still change before Isaac makes landfall, predicted for sometime tomorrow evening.  Maximum sustained winds are currently 70 miles per hour, but Isaac is predicted to reach hurricane strength tonight or tomorrow morning.

Here's a map using the latest forecast track (from Advisory #27, issued at 4pm Central time today).  As with yesterday's maps, the likely path of the center of the storm is shown as a black line; the "cone of uncertainty" for the storm track is shown in purple, and offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines are orange dots and lines:

National Hurricane Center forecast storm track for Isaac, August 27, 2012 (Advisory #27).  Orange dots and lines are offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tropical Storm Isaac Heading for Gulf of Mexico

The latest forecast for Tropical Storm Isaac shows it likely headed into the Gulf of Mexico along a track slightly further west than earlier forecasts.  That would have it passing through an area of dense offshore oil and gas infrastructure.  While it's currently still a tropical storm, it's predicted to strengthen over warm Gulf waters, possibly reaching Category 2 strength.  That's significantly weaker than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which caused so much damage back in 2005, resulting in 9+ million gallons of oil spilled from coastal and offshore facilities. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 also caused problems, blowing drill rigs around the Gulf and flooding coastal oil storage tanks and wells.  So we'll be keeping a close eye on Isaac in coming days.

These maps show the latest forecast from NOAA / National Weather Service.  The dark line is where forecasters predict the center of the storm is most likely to pass (the "storm track"); the purple area is the cone of uncertainty for that track. Orange dots and lines are offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines.

NOAA/NWS forecast storm track for Isaac, August 26, 2012 (Advisory #22).  Orange dots and lines are offshore oil and gas pipelines and platforms.
Detailed view: NOAA/NWS forecast storm track for Isaac, August 26, 2012 (Advisory #22).  Orange dots and lines are offshore oil and gas pipelines and platforms.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sea Ice Receding at Shell's Alaska Drill Sites

Last January, fellow SkyTruther Sara Scoville-Weaver wrote an article, Black Ice Is Never A Good Thing..., about potential drilling in the Arctic Ocean and how a large oil spill - like the one caused by Shell and spotted on satellite image by SkyTruth last December off the coast of Nigeria - could affect the waters off the coast of Alaska where Shell is now poised to commence drilling.

Wide view of Shell's drilling areas in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the north slope of Alaska
Since then, we have been monitoring the changing sea ice using data published by the National Ice Center at NOAA. The sea ice extent varies dramatically from winter to summer, and even the daily variations can be substantial.
This graph that we got from the Danish Meterological Institute  shows the average Arctic ice coverage over the course of the year, in millions of square kilometers. As you can see, August (01/08) marks the beginning of the part of the year with the least ice coverage; the lowest being through the month September (01/09). The black line indicates this year (2012).

Yearly ice coverage data in millions of sq km. Source: Danish Meteorological Institute 

Shown below are a series of sea ice maps from the National Ice Center covering the last three weeks. The large white portions represent thick ice coverage, the grey is thin or broken up ice. Red squares show lease blocks which could be potentially drilled. The yellow points are Shell's planned drilling locations.

Slideshow showing recent weekly change in sea ice coverage in the vicinity of Shell's planned offshore drilling sites.
As you can see, even this far into the summer season, Shell's planned drilling sites are still impacted by sea ice, and the ice coverage is still changing drastically from week to week. We shudder (or shiver) to think what it would take to mobilize an oil spill response on the scale of the response to BP's 2010 disaster in these icy, unpredictable conditions.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gas Drilling Time Series Analysis in Pennsylvania

Back in June, Yolandita and David's frack related blog posts and video, put the amount of materials used in a typical hydrofracturing operation into a perspective that was easier to grasp. With a better idea of how much fluid is used in every operation fresh in your head, I would like to give you an idea of how many fracturing operations there are.

The Marcellus formation is a large basin of shale in the United States. The formation dips 9,000 feet below the surface in the Southwestern and Northeastern portions of the state, but is exposed to the surface in central Pennsylvania. Natural resource companies are interested in these formations because of natural gas contained within the impermeable layers of shale. By installing deep wells and then hydrofracturing, these gases can be extracted. Hydrofracturing has only subtle impacts to the surface's appearance, however the impact to the lives of those who are living near these fracturing sites is a large and continually growing concern for many.

Screen shot of Google Earth. The State of Pennsylvania. The arrow points to our frame interest and the bordering states of PA have been color coded.
In November 2010 a joint effort by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and Audubon Pennsylvania produced a map published on The Nature Conservancy's website. The map places a mark on all drilled and permitted Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling locations. Within the crowd of hundreds of place-marks, there were locations where wells were extra concentrated. I selected one of those areas to investigate, using imagery available in Google Earth.

Screen Shot of Google Earth, Imagery from 10 May, 2010. The yellow and white boxes frame the areas that I inspected more closely.
The image above centers Carmichaels, PA. and two areas of further investigation are also framed in the image. The borough of Carmichaels, as of the 2000 census, has a population of about 500 people. This small town, located near the Monongahela River, on the crossroads of rt.21 and 88, served as a landmark for my investigation. From a visual inspection, there were plenty of wells to take a look at here.
Screen shot of Google Earth, Imagery from 10 May, 2010. Two Marcellus Shale Formation wells. Northern location is magnified in a window.
The image above is an example of Marcellus Shale Formation drilling; waste-water retention ponds, trucks, storage tanks, and uneven and unpaved roads leading to square patches of barren ground are common characteristics of gas wells that have been fractured. All Marcellus Shale Formation wells must be fracked in order to be profitable.
Screen shot of The Nature Conservancy's map of the locations of Marcellus Shale Formation that have been drilled. (the place marks have been enlarged from their original appearance.)
The Nature Conservancy's map provided location of drilling pads that extract gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation.

Screen Shot of Google Earth, Imagery from 10 May, 2010. 
In the image above, the Marcellus Shale Formation gas well locations are marked in pink, and the blue marks under the pink marks represent the permits. The roads have been traced in red for comparison to the TNC's online version of the map

Many gas well sites are not as large or noticeable as Marcellus Shale wells, and may or may not have been fracked. There is no comprehensive source of information available to determine whether the well has been fracked, therefore, we marked all drilled gas wells (spuds).

Screen Shot of Google Earth, Imagery from 10 May, 2010. Marcellus Wells are marked in pink. All spud reports are denoted with yellow marks, the light blue mark of the same shape is a well I discovered in the imagery. The overlapped blue marks are Marcellus Formation drilling permits.
I layered a collection of all of the reported spuds on top of this view to get an idea of the ratio of gas wells in the area that are not utilizing the Marcellus Formation. 

This was an astonishing discovery for me, finding so many drilling reports in such a small space. In this ~3square mile area there are 27 spud reports, and only three of those are Marcellus Formation wells. While I had all of this area framed, I wanted to see how quickly these wells appeared in the area. By flipping through historic imagery in Google Earth I was able to make a time series.

Screen shot of Google Earth, imagery dated 28 May, 2008.
In the image above I gave the single spud location that was not present in the image a white marker, all other wells are still present, and yellow. Note the cleared areas around the spud locations and the lack of water retention ponds in the Marcellus areas.

Screen shot of Google Earth, imagery dated 5 August, 2006.
In the third image, dated the 5 August, 2006, there are no wells of any kind and all of the marks have been changed to white.

Screen Shot of view over Carmichaels, PA.Image dated: 10 May, 2010. Pink marks are Marcellus wells, and white markers are spud locations from any type of gas well. The location of the previous image has been outlined in white.

In the image above, many more spuds are visible. I counted 127 total spuds including 17 Marcellus Shale Formation wells. There are very few wells very close to populated areas, such as downtown Carmichaels, however, in the rural area, there is a higher concentration. This pattern is similar for many cities in Pennsylvania that were built above the natural gas shale formations.

The concentration of spuds in this map provides an idea of the total cumulative impact that natural gas extraction can have on the surface of the land. Many of these wells, including the Marcellus Shale wells, undergo the process of hydrofracturing that also impact the features under the surface. However, it is important to note that surface impacts from non-Marcellus drilling could have an even larger impact in the state of Pennsylvania, and The Chesapeake Bay.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Powder River Basin Coal Mines - Stunning Air Photos

A few days ago we posted some maps and images to show how the export of coal mined here in the U.S. to the Asian market would ramp up the impact on Western landscapes and habitat in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.  Our friend Chris Boyer at Kestrel Aerial Services just sent us a link to their image gallery of stunning, super-crisp low altitude aerial photos of mining operations there, to give you a nitty-gritty feel for what we mean when we say "impact."  Here's an example: 

Coal mine in Powder River Basin. Air photo by Chris Boyer / Kestrel Aerial Services - all rights reserved. Click here to see more.