Category: SkyTruth

New tasks at SkyTruth

Over this past year or so, I’ve done a fair bit of monitoring and image analysis in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now I’m moving on; I’ll be using radar imagery (a new source for me to learn about) to look for evidence of bilge dumping around the planet.  (Bilge dumping is when a ship dumps it’s bilge water in the open ocean rather than paying someone to pump it out when the ship is in dry dock.  The water is usually contaminated with oil and other nasty stuff).

It looks like this on a radar image (the long dark streaks):

Courtesy of SkyTruth and Asar imaging.

Hopefully, by showing how much and often bilge dumping occurs, we can get governments to do more about stopping this sort of pollution.

This is a re-post from the blog over at  My work in satellite imagery might help with evidence in the case!

Waterkeeper Alliance Takes Legal Action on Chronic Leak at 23051 Site in Gulf

One of our partners in the Gulf Monitoring Consortium, Waterkeeper Alliance, has filed a notice of intent to sue over the ongoing, chronic oil leak from the site of former platform 23051 in the Gulf of Mexico.  We discovered this leak last May while analyzing imagery of the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  According to the operator, Taylor Energy, and the Coast Guard, the wells at that location were damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and, we presume, have been leaking 24/7 ever since. Repeated observations of the site on satellite images and via aerial overflights confirm that the leak is ongoing.

Occasionally we’ve observed a deepwater drill rig, the Ocean Saratoga, at the site, working to plug these leaking wells.  But it’s not there continuously which makes us wonder: is the rig being pulled away from time to time for more lucrative drilling and workover jobs that pay a higher day rate?  We don’t know.

We’ve compiled a chronology of what we know about this chronic leak site.  We’ll continue to add to it as we see more evidence of ongoing leakage, part of our daily monitoring of the Gulf. If you’d like to bird-dog this site yourself – or anyplace else in the US for that matter – check out our SkyTruth Alerts. Or just click one of the following:

Oil on the Water

Like most of the Earth’s population, I was ignorant of just how much drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is actually occurring.  After all, we hear “Drill, baby drill” from such visionaries as Sarah Palin, and one must wonder why we shouldn’t heed that well-thought out advice (even the Deepwater Horizon spill didn’t deter her mantra).  So how much drilling is going on?

Well, here’s the Gulf al naturale:









Here it is with dots showing active oil and gas platforms:









Yes, that thing that looks like an outbreak of necrotizing fasciitis on our southern coast is the cluster of places that have been drilling for finite sources of energy in our waters (some since the 1950’s).  Would increasing the number of platforms decrease our dependence on foreign oil? Unlikely since our demand so drastically exceeds what we’re able to supply, even domestically.  And even then, it’s not as if prices would fall for the US consumer since oil is in a global market (much of it regulated by OPEC), but we have a free market here in the US.  (I.e. if the global price of oil is $130 a barrel, you’d better believe that’s what the domestic oil companies are going to sell it for.  After all, you don’t get to be the most profitable business by giving your product away, right Exxon?)

Then there’s all the environmental disasters and damage done when spills occur.  And there are a lot of spills.  Some are small or even natural (those little white streaks):










Some are not so small:











In the end, the dangers and costs outweigh the potential benefits (in my opinion), and we’d be better off spending all that time and money on renewable sources of energy.  But that won’t happen as long as special interests (i.e. oil and gas corporations) continue to feed our political machinery.  But that’s a blog for another time.

Eyes in the Sky

I’ve recently begun volunteering at SkyTruth, a non-profit group that “promotes environmental awareness and protection with remote sensing and digital mapping technology.”

Specifically, I’m helping gather data about oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico that have occurred over the last decade.  To do this, I’m looking at satellite images from NASA and comparing them to National Response Center (NRC) reports that have been filed to see if the quantity of material reported matches what we see in the images.  My workhorse application is Google Earth so I can make notes, measure the slicks, and analyze the images against our data maps throughout the Gulf region.

An example image I’m working with:

I really didn’t know much about either the process of drilling in the Gulf or the bureaucracy involved.  But working with John (the President) has been an eye-opening experience and quite rewarding as I manage to find good images to analyze.  (There are a limited number of months when the sun is at the right angle to detect slicks, and clouds often obscure the area I need to examine).

I’ve just finished the 2009 images, and I’ll post more soon about what I’ve learned from my analysis so far.