Minor oil spills are often bigger than reported: GMC Member SkyTruth contributes to study of chronic oil spills

Chronic oil slick at a Taylor Energy platform 23051, damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. BILLY DUGGER/ONWINGSOFCARE.ORG

SkyTruth, Shepherdstown, WV – In collaboration with Gulf Monitoring Consortium member SkyTruth, Florida State University recently presented to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana the findings of a study that found oil spills in the Gulf are often under-estimated. Samira Daneshgar Asl, a FSU graduate student, analysed an extensive set of radar satellite images of detected oil slicks, and found that spills caused by human activity were consistently 13 times larger than reported to National Response Center, a federal repository operated by the Coast Guard for documenting pollution incidents. This study coincides with conclusions drawn in the GMC’s first 6-Month report – read more about the key findings of that report here.

The preliminary findings of the study were covered by the Nature news blog:



Environmental Impacts From Hurricane Isaac

Reposted from Louisiana Environmental Action Network:

Despite the fact that we live in an area that gets hit by hurricanes every few years, and has for untold millennia, Louisiana Industry is consistently unable or unwilling to take the steps necessary to prevent environmental impacts due to hurricanes. When a hurricane hits it consistently leaves in its wake a slew of oil spills, lost hazardous material containers and chemical plants and refineries releasing pollution due to power outages, start-up and shut-down, and flooding. Isaac was no exception.

 Stolthaven Chemical Facility

Rail cars and storage tanks at Stolthaven Chemical Facility moved out of place by hurricane Isaac. 9-10-12

Residents in the area around Stolthaven Chemical Plant in Braithwaite, LA, just 9.5 miles south-east of the New Orleans French Quarter, remain under evacuation orders due to concerns of the possibility of a release of hazardous material from the facility. Stolthaven, owned by a London-based Stolt-Nielsen Limited, is a petroleum and chemical storage and transfer terminal. Hurricane Isaac caused significant damage to the facility including damage to a large number of rail cars containing hazardous materials there. The storm knocked chemical storeage tanks off of their foundations and caused the facility to lose power for several days. Stolthaven stores a variety of chemicals, some of which, including styrene and methyl acrylate, require cooling and stirring to keep them stable.

Railcars at Stolthaven Chemical Facility, many containing hazardous materials, are being put back onto the tracks after being pushed around by Hurricane Isaac. 9-10-12

More info:

Kinder Morgan International Marine Terminal and TECO Bulk Terminal

Orange, yellow and black water runs off of the coal piled up at TECO Bulk Terminal into a roadside drainage ditch. 9-10-12


These two extensive coal terminals reside on the Mississippi River near Myrtle Grove, LA and receive coal mined by companies like Massey Energy and Peabody Energy from the heart of the country which is then loaded onto ships and exported to buyers around the world. Rain and flood waters contaminated by the coal piles was documented making its way offsite into the surrounding environment.

 More photos:



ConocoPhillips Alliance Refinery

Some standing water can still be seen around the ConocoPhillips Alliance Refinery 9-10-12.

ConocoPhillips Alliance Refinery was extensively flooded by Isaac and oily sheen was observed on the remaining flood waters and it appears likely that some of the oily material made its way offsite during the flooding.

BP Oil

BP oil found on Fourchon Beach by LEAN samplers after Hurricane Isaac on September 2, 2012

Hurricane Isaac also brought oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster onshore 2 years and 4 months after the rig sank. An environmental scientist who has been sampling for the BP oil since the beginning of the disaster remaked, in reference to the condition of the oil currently being found, that “it’s just like August of 2010.” 12 miles of beach were closed between Grand Isle and Port Fourchon because of the large amounts of oil. Gooey tar balls have also been found as far east as Alabama. The oil has been fingerprinted as a match for BP’s crude. LEAN members were able to take samples of oil washed up on Fourchon Beach just before it was closed.

More Info:

Oil Spills

An oil slick (light blue), likely from an old well or a damaged pipeline, moves with the winds and currents. 9-10-12

The oil and gas infrastructure along Louisiana’s coast remains particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. Like previous storms, Isaac left behind lots of spilled oil.

Taylor Wells

The slick from the Taylor Wells site stretches off to the horizon. 9-10-12

Oil continues to be discharged from the site of Taylor Energy’s wells. The discharge began in 2004 when an undersea landslide caused by Hurricane Ivan damaged an offshore platform and 28 associated wells 11 miles off of the Mississippi River Delta off the coast of Louisiana. The slick on September 10, 2012 was reported to the National Response Center (NRC) as being 16 miles long.

See more incredible photos from the aerial patrol on September 10, 2012 here:

Special thanks to SouthWings for the flight and Jeffrey Dubinsky for the amazing photos!


Oil Spill! Oil Spill! Sheen! Sheen!

By Anna Hrybyk, LABB Program Manager

Reposted from Louisiana Bucket Brigade:

Fresh from our first Flash Mob shouting “Sheen!” and dancing the Crude-Step 2-Step to Stomp out the Stink on Frenchmen Street, on Monday September 10th, I flew over several oil spills and sheens in the lower Mississippi Delta courtesy of Southwings with volunteer pilot Skipper T.

On August 28, 2012 we released a map showing the state’s oil and gas infrastructure that was vulnerable to Hurricane Isaac’s winds and surge.

On September 6, 2012 we released a map of all the oil and gas accidents reported by facilities resulting from Hurricane Isaac.  By that date, we had recorded 93 accidents attributed to Hurricane Isaac.  But today as I write this that number is now 111 accidents.

On the flyover, I was joined by Jonathan Henderson of Gulf Restoration Network and a photographer from the Lower Mississippi Riverkeepers.

Our flight path started in New Orleans and flew over:

  1. Chalmette Refining
  2. The town of Braithwaite
  3. Stolthaven Chemical Plant, Braithwaite
  4. Chevron Oronite
  5. Phillips 66 Refinery, Belle Chasse
  6. Kinder Morgan Coal Terminal/United Coal Terminal
  7. Breton Sound Area
  8. Pass a la Loutre
  9. Taylor Energy well
  10. Bayou Branquille
  11. Bay Batiste
  12. Grand Isle/Elmer’s Island

On just that short flight, we spotted six accidents leaking oily sheen from wells, platforms, pipelines and storage terminals into wetlands and the Gulf.  All of my photos from that flight can be seen on our Flikr page:


In all I submitted 10 reports to the National Response Center based on the evidence of oil industry pollution we found.  The most striking examples were:

  1. Stolthaven Chemical Plant in Braithwaite:  The railcars were overturned and a few tanks had been dislodged.  Also two large tanks did not have any roofs and appeared to contain water (we would have been able to see a sheen if it contained chemicals).  The fact that they did not have any roofs is problematic because if there is any product in those tanks it is venting freely into the atmosphere.  If these tanks have floating roofs that were inundated with water, that is also problematic because the water can tip the floating roof causing the chemical contained beneath the roof to vaporize into the air.  There was an observable sheen in the wetlands surrounding the chemical plant.  We know from a report to our iWitness Pollution Map that residents of Braithwaite are very concerned about this facility.

I am a very concerned citizen from Braithwaite, Louisiana. We live on Bazile Drive and lost our home to flood waters. I am concerned because several of my adjusters think the floodwaters contained some sort of toxic junk and now our homes are covered in it.”


2. Taylor Energy well in the Gulf of Mexico:  The wellhead that has been leaking since 2004 after Hurricane Ivan hit it, is still leaking.  The sheen stretched for miles and miles.  Will it ever stop leaking?

3. BP’s Macondo Oil:  BP’s oil is definitely still in the Gulf, it has only been sunk by chemical dispersants.  Every storm and hurricane churns up the residual oil in the Gulf and it is back on our shores.  We saw what looked like pretty fresh oil on shore at Bayou Branquille near Grand Isle.

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.

Detail from above showing apparent slick emanating from location of Platform B, consistent with NRC report.


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.

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 surfacewind 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.


GMC SouthWings Flight on April 10

SouthWings conducted a flight for the Gulf Monitoring Consortium on April 10. The Gulf Monitoring Consortium is a unique partnership of SouthWings, SkyTruth, and the Waterkeeper Alliance that is systematically monitoring oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico with satellite images and mapping, aerial reconnaissance and photography, and on-the-water observation and sampling. For this flight, New Orleans-based volunteer pilot Lance Rydberg flew with Paul Orr, the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, in his two-seat Citabria. Their route took them from New Orleans, parallel to the Mississippi River to the gulf and back, passing over several points of interest.  (You can read more about this flight on the SouthWings blog here.)

Who is the Gulf Monitoring Consortium?


The Gulf Monitoring Consortium (GMC) is a rapid response alliance that collects, analyzes and publishes images and other information acquired from space, from the air, and from the surface in order to investigate and expose pollution incidents that occur in the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Coast region. Our members engage in systematic monitoring of oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico using satellite images and mapping, aerial reconnaissance and photography, and on-the-ground and in-the-water observation and sampling to identify, locate and track new and ongoing pollution from fossil fuel extraction, transport, and production.

GMC Member Organizations:

The Consortium’s long-term goal is to ensure that industry and government pollution reports are accurate, credible and understandable, so that the true state of fossil fuel pollution related to energy development is widely acknowledged and incorporated into public policy and decision-making.

Read more about the GMC

More Questions Than Answers

The Consortium’s work over the six months of its existence is preliminary and, to date, it has produced more questions than answers. For instance, although we have determined that the number and size of oil spills in the Gulf are greatly underreported, we have significant questions about whether it is possible to determine the magnitude of the underreporting. Likewise, we have significant questions about the best way to optimize use of the resources available to us, especially satellite imagery, and maximize the information obtainable from them. And, of course, the fundamental question of the cumulative impact of these releases remains unanswered. We hope to make progress toward answering these and more questions as the Consortium continues to refine its work.

Key Findings

In its first six months, the Gulf Monitoring Consortium uncovered systematic problems with the reporting of oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico.  These problems include the failure of responsible parties to report oil spills, underreporting of spills, and inconsistencies in the collection and publication of spill reports by the federal National Response Center.  You can read more about our Key Findings here or read our full report 

Gulf Monitoring Consortium members use a variety of methods to document and evaluate oil spill events: continuously monitoring official oil and hazardous materials spill reports collected and distributed by the National Response Center (NRC), processing and analyzing satellite images, conducting aerial overflights to acquire photographs and video, launching “sea-truth” expeditions on the water for direct observation and sampling, and analyzing other available data using GIS and interactive mapping tools. Using this innovative combination of techniques, Consortium members have discovered deficiencies in the process created to hold parties responsible for oil pollution accountable, and minimize the frequency and severity of oil pollution in the Nation’s waters:

Lack of reporting of oil spills by responsible parties

Many of the pollution reports submitted to the NRC come directly from industry as they are the ones most likely to be near offshore oil infrastructure when an oil spill occurs and because polluters are required by law to report their spills. However, two of the spills we investigated were not reported to the NRC. This strongly suggests that oil spills occur more frequently than regulators and the public realize.

Underreporting by responsible parties

In addition to the lack of reporting, chronic underreporting of oil spills makes it impossible for the public and decision makers to understand the true scope of pollution caused by oil and gas exploration and production. NRC reports lacking estimates of the amount of oil spilled are common. Between October 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011 a total of 2903 oil or refined petroleum (e.g. diesel fuel) spills were reported in the Gulf region. Seventy-seven percent (2221) of those reports did not include an estimate of the quantity of oil spilled. Forty-five percent (1311) identify a suspected responsible party – a strong indicator that those reports were submitted by the actual polluters – and of those, nearly half (620) do not include any spill amount.

Inconsistencies in National Response Center collection and publication of oil spill reports

In two cases that we are aware of, information provided to the NRC by members of the public was incompletely or incorrectly captured in the resulting NRC reports. In the first case, a passenger aboard a SouthWings overflight of the Gulf on June 10, 2011 reported an oil slick emanating from a wellhead in Breton Sound. The resulting NRC report (#97928) published that same day includes an incorrect latitude coordinate and is missing critical information about the suspected source of the leak, describing the incident only as follows: “Caller stated that there is an unknown sheen in the water, the cause is unknown.” Comparison of the lack of information in the NRC report with the fairly detailed information and photos published by the passenger in his blog on June 13 suggests that the NRC may not be accurately capturing important information provided by concerned citizens. In the second case, a local resident observed tarballs and oil on several occasions on the beaches near Pensacola. She filed several reports with the NRC, providing precise latitude-longitude location coordinates obtained with a handheld GPS unit in decimal degrees. The NRC mistakenly interpreted the coordinates as degrees-minutes-seconds, resulting in very inaccurate locations for the reported sightings of oil. These reports (for example, #990418, which gives an incorrect location far onshore, about 15 miles from the correct location provided by the caller) would be useless to responders.