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.
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.
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:
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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:
The town of Braithwaite
Stolthaven Chemical Plant, Braithwaite
Phillips 66 Refinery, Belle Chasse
Kinder Morgan Coal Terminal/United Coal Terminal
Breton Sound Area
Pass a la Loutre
Taylor Energy well
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:
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.
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.
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.