UPDATED: Hercules 265 Rig Blowout and Fire


Hercules 265, a jack-up rig that was working on an old gas well in the South Timbalier Block, on fire today after it suffered a blow-out yesterday and ignited late last night.     Photo: US Coast Guard via Times – Picayune

UPDATE: On July 25, the well “bridged over” and the fire is now out. Hercules is expected to drill a relief well to completely kill the run-away well. See the most recent update from GMC member SkyTruth here.

July 24, 2013 @ 3:58 pm – Around midday yesterday, (Tuesday, July 23)  a natural gas blowout occurred at a jackup drill rig, the Hercules 265, operating in shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana (South Timbalier Block 220).  All of the workers — more than 40 — were safely evacuated.  The rig, operated by Hercules Offshore at a well owned by Walter Oil and Gas corporation, was enveloped in a cloud of gas, which ignited around 11 pm last night and as far as we know, remains on fire.


One of the first public images of the burning Hercules 265 rig, taken from about 6 mi. away. -Photo Courtesy of gCaptain.com

So far, official statements have only referred to gas leaking from the well, and a small sheen was reported around the platform – probably a thin slick of highly volatile natural-gas condensate.  However, the report submitted to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center identified the material being spilled as “CRUDE OIL” and estimated that “APPROXIMATELY 7 BARRELS AN HOUR” was leaking from the unsecured well. We do not know at this time if this discrepancy is a transcription error from the phoned-in report, or an indicator of something more serious. 

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 11.43.47 AM

This incident comes in quick succession to another blowout that happened in the Ship Shoal area last week, yet another reminder that drilling is an inherently risky activity.  Options for controlling the blowout are now a lot more limited, since the rig can’t be occupied by well-control specialists.  Eventually the well might collapse on itself, “bridging over” and shutting off the flow of natural gas.  Otherwise a long and complicated intervention might be required, such as the drilling of a relief well — the solution required to kill BP’s runaway Macondo well in 2010, Chevron’s fatal blowout off Nigeria in 2012, and the months-long blowout and massive oil spill off Australia at the Montara platform in 2009.  Either way, the rig is certainly a total loss. 

GMC member SkyTruth saw nothing unusual at the site on yesterday’s MODIS satellite images, which were taken in early afternoon, long before the fire began.  Today’s images might reveal more, although if the leak is only gas, we do not expect to see any significant slick on the water.  Hopefully, this well is just a gas producer.  Otherwise the situation could be gravely worse, from an environmental and economic perspective.  

Hercules 2

Hercules 265 on July 23, before the rig ignited Tuesday evening. Photo – BSEE

We have questions, as usual:  Was the blowout preventer (BOP) engaged?  If not, why not?  If so, why did it fail to do its job?  Should federal regulators speed up the implementation of new BOP standards?  Would these new standards have addressed the problem in this case?

Judge Denies Taylor Energy Motion to Dismiss Clean Water Act Violations Suit

Crude oil leaking from Taylor Energy's damaged well stretches from the source to the horizon.

Crude oil leaking from Taylor Energy’s damaged well stretches from the source to the horizon in this photo taken on a Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper/Gulf Monitoring Consortium monitoring flight which was provided by SouthWings.

New Orleans, LA – Yesterday, the judge in a lawsuit (Apalachicola Riverkeeper v. Taylor Energy Co. LLC) brought against Taylor Energy for a leaking oil well issued an order denying most of Taylor Energy’s Motion to Dismiss and denied Taylor’s Motion to Stay the lawsuit. The Clean Water Act lawsuit was brought by Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Louisiana Environmental Action Network on behalf of it’s Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper program, and Waterkeeper Alliance in an effort to stop Taylor’s oil discharges of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Three claims by the plaintiffs said that 1) Taylor violates the Clean Water Act by discharging oil without a Clean Water Act permit, 2) if Taylor somehow has a Clean Water Act permit, Taylor is violating that permit; and 3) by discharging oil into the Gulf, Taylor is disposing of waste and causing or contributing to a situation that may pose an imminent hazard to the public or the environment. The Judge dismissed the second claim because Taylor has now admitted that it has no Clean Water Act permit for discharge of oil. Aside from that, Taylor has lost its motion and Waterkeepers will move forward with the lawsuit.

“This lawsuit is necessary because of Taylor’s slow pace in stopping the flow of oil from its wells into the Gulf. To the best of the Waterkeepers’ knowledge, this contamination has continued for nearly nine years,” said Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “This lawsuit is also needed because of the secrecy surrounding Taylor’s response to a multi-year spill that threatens public resources. BP took five months to kill the Deepwater Horizon well to the outrage of the Nation. In this case, Taylor’s leak has been ongoing for more almost nine years.”

Waterkeeper Alliance is a founding member of Gulf Monitoring Consortium, a rapid response alliance that collects, analyzes and publishes images and other information from space, sky, and the surface to investigate and expose oil pollution incidents that occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf Monitoring Consortium has been pivotal in identifying and documenting the ongoing Taylor leak.

Oil leaking from Taylor Energy's well snakes past an unrelated platform in this photo taken on a Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper/Gulf Monitoring Consortium monitoring flight which was provided by SouthWings.

Oil leaking from Taylor Energy’s well snakes past an unrelated platform in this photo taken on a Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper/Gulf Monitoring Consortium monitoring flight which was provided by SouthWings.

An underground mudslide began this spill on about September 15, 2004, by destroying a Taylor drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico and burying up to 28 wells. Without details about Taylor’s response to this crisis, it is impossible for members of the public to assess the risk that similar events will cause additional multi-year spills, including spills from higher-pressure wells in deeper water. Because such spills may damage the Gulf’s eco-system on a scale comparable to or exceeding that of the BP spill, it is essential that the public learn from the 9-year Taylor response.

The denial has already generated some press:

Environmental groups’ lawsuit to stop flow from failed Taylor Energy platform cleared for trial – The Times-Picayune


Taylor Can’t Dodge Gulf Spill Clean Water Act Suit – Law360 


Coast Guard Responding to Leaking Gas Well 44 miles from Louisiana Coast


Last Updated: 7/10/13 @ 2:32 PM EST

July 10, 2013 – 12:54 pm: The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced Tuesday they are responding to a loss of well control at Platform B in Ship Shoal Block 225. On July 9, USCG reported a 4-mile by 3/4 mile rainbow sheen in the Gulf (covering an area of 1,920 acres based on reported dimensions) around an oil and natural gas platform 79 miles southwest of Port Fourchon, Louisiana and 44 miles from the nearest land. According to a statement by the well owners, the incident occurred at an older well that was being plugged and abandoned, and the other two producing wells on the platform have been shut-in.  CNN reports the wellhead is located on the Gulf floor at a depth of 130 feet, and quoted Jonathan Henderson of Gulf Restoration Network (a GMC member organization) on the potential environmental impact of this leak:

“Toxic gases will damage the bodies of fish that come into contact by damaging their gills and causing internal damage … Marine species in the Gulf are more vulnerable when water temperatures are high and when oxygen concentrations are low like they are now.”

– CNN Report: Coast Guard responds to natural gas leak in Gulf of Mexico

Energy Resource Technology (ERT) Gulf of Mexico LCC, the platform’s operators, first reported trouble with the well to the USCG’s National Response Center (NRC) on July 7th, disclosing that at 4:45 pm local time “CRUDE OIL WAS RELEASED THROUGH HOLES IN THE HOSE” as they were cleaning out a well with “coil tubing.” The caller estimated the resulting a sheen was 750 feet wide by 1 mile long (90.9 acres). That same day the NRC received a call from the same area reporting a 1 mile by 4 mile ( 2,560 acres) oil slick from “AN UNSECURED WELL HEAD THAT HAS RELEASED THREE BARRELS OF OIL INTO THE WATER.”

The following day, on July 8th, ERT again reported that at 7:00 am they had spilled 4.2 gallons of crude oil “DUE TO EQUIPMENT FAILURE WHILE PLUGGING THE WELL.” The caller reporting the spill estimated the sheen was 450 feet wide by 0.3 miles long (16.36 acres).

At 6:45 am on July 9th, a passing aircraft reported a much larger sheen to the NRC – 200 feet wide by 5 miles long (121.2 acres).

As of July 9, the most recent reports from USCG state that platform personnel had been evacuated and federal agencies are monitoring well-control and pollution response activities. Gulf Monitoring Consortium member SkyTruth reports that cloud cover in the Gulf has impeded observation by satellite, but will continue to monitor reports and available satellite imagery.

This report will be updated as needed with new information and images.

“Still leaking in Gulf” : Times-Picayune Reports on Perpetually Leaking Taylor Energy Site


Oil slick from the Taylor site, seen from the air by Gulf Restoration Network on a Southwing’s flight – both GMC member organizations. See more photos at flickr.com/healthygulf

SkyTruth – July 2, 2013 : Following a recent cluster of “conflicting reports” of oil-slicks observed around the wreckage of former Taylor Energy platform #23051, the Times – Picayune of New Orleans ran an article yesterday on the almost nine-year saga of ongoing pollution from the damaged wells. On June 18th and 20th, GMC member SkyTruth reported a larger than usual discrepancy between the reports from Taylor Energy’s contractor who flies the site daily, Marine Pollution Surveillance Reports by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and SkyTruth’s own analysis of the satellite images from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.

From The Times – Picayune [Excerpt]: Taylor Energy Oil Platform, Destroyed in 2004 During Hurricane Ivan, is Still Leaking in Gulf

Conflicting reports

On most days, the aerial inspection by Taylor Energy finds an oil sheen, and its dimensions are repo[r]ted to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center.

On June 18, according to the report, that sheen was a bit larger than normal: 10.1 miles long and 200 feet wide, and contained 3.84 gallons of oil. But on that day, NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service spotted the same slick from space, using NASA’s Aqua satellite. Its estimate, also reported to the center, was that the slick was 30.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. That report contained no estimate of the amount of oil.

Skytruth, an environmental group based in Shepherdstown, W.Va., that specializes in remote sensing and digital mapping, estimated the spill was 22 miles long and contended that the slick contained at least 65 gallons of oil. In a report released last year, the Gulf Monitoring Consortium, made up of Skytruth and other environmental groups, said its estimate of oil slicks ‘suggests the leakage rate is possibly in the range of 100-400 gallons per day.'” 

Read the rest at nola.com…

While the Unified Command disputes our numbers, SkyTruth has always been consistent and transparent about how we calculate our estimates, (see here from the early days of the BP spill) and exactly what assumptions we use. We are very interested in how Unified Command and Taylor’s contractor calculate their reports, given that it has been flown multiple times by other groups, especially Bonny Schumaker from On Wings of Care, who consistently reports a slick much larger than what Taylor’s contractor reported on the very same day.

SkyTruth’s reports can be found on their blog at:

June 18 – 9 Years, Countless Gallons Spilled, No End in Sight

June 20 – Responsible Modern Offshore Drilling. Except When It Isn’t.

SkyTruth also maintains a chronology of all documented reports of pollution from the Taylor site:

Site 23051 Chronology – Oil Spill Reports

See photos of the Taylor Site from Gulf Restoration Network: Taylor Leak – by Air & Sea

New Atlas Highlights Damaged & Threatened Gulf Ecosystems

GMC – June 27, 2013: As the Gulf Coast continues to clean up from the largest accidental oil-spill on the planet, there are many important and sensitive ecosystems that have been damaged, or are threatened by future human activity.  To guide decision-makers planning restoration and preservation projects in the Gulf of Mexico, the Ocean Conservancy has released an atlas of this important ecosystem. This great resource contains a wealth of information about the Gulf, and highlights some of the many special  places that Gulf Monitoring Consortium member organizations work to understand and protect.


Ocean Conservancy – June 2013: A vast and bountiful place, the Gulf of Mexico is one of the nation’s most diverse ecosystems. Ocean Conservancy has developed a region-wide coastal and marine atlas to aid decision-makers as they plan current and future restoration and management strategies in the region.

The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas includes maps and companion descriptions of 54 physical and geographic features, animals, habitats, environmental stressors and human uses in the Gulf of Mexico.

By accessing the best data available, scientists at Ocean Conservancy have created a suite of easily readable maps to show how the Gulf’s coastal and marine ecosystems are connected and interdependent.

The atlas was developed to:

  • Provide a big-picture view of the Gulf of Mexico and its resources
  • Support a multi-layered understanding of how the Gulf ecosystem functions
  • Highlight overlapping distributions and ecological linkages
  • Serve as a tool for identifying knowledge gaps

Restoring the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem requires a holistic approach that addresses not only the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster but also the reversal of long-term environmental degradation. The goal of the atlas is to serve as a reference tool and help decision-makers determine how best to allocate funding toward restoration efforts.

Using the Atlas

Species recovery—Use the maps to identify and target areas of overlapping species ranges to implement restoration measures that benefit multiple species.

Hazardous material spill planning and response—Use the distributions of species and habitats to identify resources at greatest risk from oil spills.

Ocean resource management—Use the distribution map of rare, slow-growing deep-water corals to inform the siting of oil and gas platforms and pipelines.

Learn how you can help Ocean Conservancy restore a healthy and prosperous Gulf of Mexico for the wildlife and the people who depend on this important resource.


Explore the natural and man-made features of the Gulf through this interactive map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

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GMC Members Vote to Update Consortium Guidelines and Principles

In April, Gulf Monitoring Consortium (GMC) welcomed Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) and Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) as the newest members of our integrated pollution monitoring and response alliance. These new partners are well-established environmental organizations who bring new expertise and local resources to help monitor and respond to pollution in and around the Gulf of Mexico.  To better reflect the capacities of our growing Consortium and identify the forms of pollution that we address, GMC members have voted to update our membership guidelines and key principles in three main areas:

  • Expand our area of focus from the “Gulf of Mexico” to the “Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Coast Region…,” which recognizes land-based pollution issues that directly impact the health of the Gulf of Mexico and that our new partners are specifically qualified to address. 
  • Clarifies our pollution focus to “fossil fuel and petrochemical” pollution, which incorporates spills from oil and gas drilling offshore, leaks and releases from petrochemical refining and storage onshore, and other fossil fuels such as coal and petcoke transported through and stockpiled in the Gulf Region.
  • Identifies our that the ultimate goal of GMC’s monitoring and response efforts is to “reduce pollution” by seeing that reporting is accurate and all of the impacts of these activities are easily understood by all and are accounted for by decision-makers.

For more detail, see our membership guidelines and key principles.

House Democrats Find Little Change in Drilling Incidents/Violations: Offshore Safety Lapses Continue Three Years After BP Spill

A report issued by the Democrats of the House Committee on Natural Resources concluded that offshore drilling safety lapses continue even three years after the BP Spill in 2010. In a press release, Representative Ed Markey (D-5th District, MA), ranking member on the House Committee on Natural Resources said, “Oil and gas companies with the worst safety records in the Gulf before the BP disaster continue to spill oil, lose control of their wells and rack up safety violations today.” The report was prepared by Markey’s Natural Resources committee staff based on data from the Technical Information Management System (TIMS) database maintained by the Department of the Interior (DOI).


April 22, 2010 – Deepwater Horizon rig fire,
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard.

The report found, “companies with the most serious environmental or safety violations before the BP spill are still racking up the most violations today. BP, which is among the top violators since 2000, actually has been cited for more major offshore violations in the last two years than before the spill.” The British petroleum giant has been subject to increased scrutiny after their damaged well suffered a blow-out and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into Gulf in the largest non-wartime oil spill in human history. However, other top polluters such as Shell continue to rack up violations and loss-of-control incidents, and were no more likely to be inspected post-BP than they were before the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The report found a few positive notes, however, such as 50% fewer injuries from off-shore drilling incidents and fewer loss-of-control incidents since the DOI adopted stronger regulations in 2010. Gulf Monitoring Consortium members keep a watchful eye on the chronically polluting fossil fuel industry from space, the sky, and the surface – read more about us at:      http://www.gulfmonitor.org/about/current-members/

Read the full post-BP offshore safety and environmental protection report here:

Dangerous Drillers: Offshore Safety Lapses Continue Three Years after BP Spill

Gulf Restoration Network & Louisiana Bucket Brigade Join GMC

GMC.Feature.ImageThe Gulf Monitoring Consortium (GMC) welcomes the Gulf Restoration Network and Louisiana Bucket Brigade as the newest partners in a collaborative effort to detect and respond to oil and petrochemical pollution in and around the Gulf of Mexico. Both the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) and Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) have been working with the Consortium for some time and we are pleased to announce their official membership in our cooperative effort.

GRN and LABB bring substantial local knowledge, resources, and reputation to the Consortium, improving the GMC’s connection to local communities and strengthening our objective voice in the Gulf on pollution issues. The Gulf Restoration Network is committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the vital but imperiled natural resources of the Gulf Region. Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s mission is to support communities using grassroots action (such as air quality sampling with EPA-approved “buckets”) to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution.

The GMC is an innovative partnership combining remote sensing technologies, aerial observation, and photography; and resources on-the-ground and in-the-water to detect, document, and respond to pollution. Each member contributes their expertise to this integrated approach – SkyTruth provides guidance on areas of concern based on image analysis and digital mapping, SouthWings coordinates volunteer pilots to get GMC members in the air to monitor for and document pollution incidents, and Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Waterkeeper Alliance members such as the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper provide both local knowledge of on-going issues and resources on the surface to “groundtruth” what we observe from the sky.

Read more about the leaks and spills GRN documented on a routine monitoring flight in March with Southwings, and explore LABB’s iWitness Pollution map powered by SkyTruth Alerts.

Bird’s Eye View: Nasty New Leaks , GRN Joins Forces

904blog   GRN has been engaged in systematic monitoring and reporting of oil pollution in the Gulf of  Mexico since April of 2010, with hundreds of field monitoring trips by air, sea and land. As such, GRN was invited to become a member of the Gulf Monitoring Consortium (GMC) which we formally joined in January, 2013. The GMC is a rapid response alliance that collects, analyzes and publishes images and other information from space, sea and sky, to investigate and expose oil pollution incidents that occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Members of the GMC use satellite images and mapping, aerial reconnaissance and photography, on-the-water observation and sampling, and years of experience to identify, locate and track new and ongoing oil spills. Below you will find two sets of photos from recent monitoring trips.
The long-term goal of the GMC is to ensure that industry and government pollution reports are accurate, credible and understandable, so that the true state of oil pollution related to energy development is widely acknowledged and incorporated into public policy and decision-making. You can learn more about the GMC by visiting here.
The goal of the GMC comports well with GRN’s overall mission, to unite and empower people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico. GRN’s vision is that the Gulf of Mexico will continue to be a natural, economic, and recreational resource that is central to the culture and heritage of five states and several nations.  The people of the region will be stewards of this vital but imperiled treasure, and assume the responsibility of returning the Gulf to its previous splendor. Yet, many challenges lie ahead.
The BP drilling disaster highlighted the dysfunctional process by which pollutant discharges are reported and cleaned up, and through which responsible parties are held accountable.  It revealed how the official channels of reporting and cleaning up pollution rely on the polluters themselves in an absurd sort of “honor system”. GRN alone has filed at least 50 reports of leaks and spills with the National Response Center since 2010, including at least a dozen in the last month alone.  Yet, there is very little transparency for the public to be made aware of responsive actions taken by the state and federal agencies charged with responding to these reports– another reason the Gulf is in desperate need of a Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council.

On our most recent flyover on March 6th, GRN and GMC partner, Southwings, observed several leaks of some sort. Our flight, piloted by Dick McGlaughlin, took us from Lakefront Airport in New Orleans to several locations both inshore and off. GRN filed 7 NRC reports*** from this flight alone, including several from the Breton Sound Area. You can see a slideshow of the photos below. After having filed the reports, I had an extensive back and forth with the United States Coast Guard and provided them with pertinent information including time, date, and GPS tagged photos. Sometime late that Saturday night, I received another call from the USCG thanking me and informing that they would be launching a helicopter the next morning at 7am to go and check on the leaks that I reported. Although wanting to personally get on that copter with the Coast Guard so I could personally show them what I had documented, I did feel somewhat good and reassured that something would be done to find and stop the leaks and ensure that the parties responsible would be held accountable.    Gmmmm

However, to my surprise, the following Monday I was informed that the USCG crew that went up was unable to find any of the leaks that I reported. This is frustrating if not infuriating because it was reported today that the apparent gas pipeline leak (pictured in the first slideshow) was spotted, documented and reported to the NRC a couple of days ago by On Wings of Care (OWOC). OWOC read the NRC reports I had filed previously and seen the pictures and took the opportunity to do a quick check on their way back inland after a separate flyover. So, if GRN and Southwings, and OWOC can find the same bubbling up leak one week apart, how did the Coast Guard miss it? The weather conditions on the morning of March 7th were perfect for aerial surveillance. This is precisely why the Gulf and the people of the Gulf need an independent, funded Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council.








SLIDESHOW #1: Photos of leaks discovered on the March 2nd, 2013 GMC flyover.

GRN will keep you updated when we learn more from the Coast Guard, especially regarding the apparent ruptured gas pipeline. We are also following up with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources as they contacted me after having receiving the same NRC reports. It is somewhat refreshing to have been contacted by three different agencies regarding the reports, but the action they take against the responsible parties is what we will be looking for.

Finally, GRN has also been keenly interested in the ongoing impacts from the BP drilling disaster. Below are some photos from recent monitoring trips to Elmer’s Island  and Grand Isle. NRC reports*** were filed for these trips as well since thousands of tar balls were found littering those shorelines.

SLIDESHOW #2: Photos of recent (January 27th, February 5th, and February 27th, 2013) oil impacts on Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle, Louisiana.

***NRC Report #’s from the March 2nd flyover are as follows:

#1039891, #1039892, #1039893, #1038986, #1039897, #1039898, #1039900

***NRC Report #’s from Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle are as follows:

#1039632, #1039633, #1037731, #1036581, #1036586

Jonathan Henderson is the Coastal Resiliency Organizer for GRN.

Wellhead allision near Port Sulphur, LA causes geyser-like discharge

We first heard about this incident on the SkyTruth Alerts System this morning, where a vessel ran into an inactive well-head in marshes near Port Sulphur, Louisiana. And now we’ve got a better understanding of exactly what damage was caused by this allision.

Image courtesy of US Coast Guard showing oily-water mixture spewing from the wellhead

ABC news reported that this incident happened at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday evening and that the Coast Guard has contracted a clean up company to remove the substance, reported to be oily-water, from the marshland. For more details about this and other incidents of this type, check out the SkyTruth blog.