Chevron Oil Spill off Brazil – 10 Times Bigger Than Official Estimate?

Today’s Guest Blogger is John Amos, Sky Truth

Sky Truth promotes environmental awareness and protection using satellite remote sensing and digital mapping technology. They have been on the job in the Gulf of Mexico for the duration of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster and have been an invaluable source of information throughout for those working to study the ongoing crisis in the Gulf as it unfolds.

November 15, 2011

We’ve been tracking the oil spill reported off Brazil a few days ago, in the Frade field operated by Chevron in the Campos Basin, Brazil’s most productive area of offshore production, and a place where many deepwater technology milestones have been made for offshore oil production. Chevron claimed the oil slick was being caused by a natural oil seep on the seafloor, but they suspended drilling on a well in the field. Brazilian authorities quickly disputed that a natural seep was the cause. And yesterday Chevron admitted the possibility that something went wrong at their drillsite. According to today’s news release from Brazilian authorities, Chevron is trying to kill the well – indicating a loss of well control and blowout. 18 response vessels are on the scene, and Chevron reports the well is leaking about 8,400 – 13,860 gallons (200 -330 barrels) per day.

Based on Brazilian government data showing the locations of active drill rigs, provided to us by some of our very helpful followers on Twitter, we conclude that Chevron’s well was being drilled by the SEDCO 706 semisubmersible drill rig operated by – wait for it – Transocean. Yes, the same company that operated the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig for BP.

MODIS/Aqua satellite image shows growing oil slick in the deepwater Campos Basin off Brazil. Image taken around midday on November 12, 2011.

The MODIS/Aqua satellite image from NASA, above, was taken three days ago. It shows an apparent oil slick originating from the drilling location and extending over 2,379 square kilometers (the south end of the slick gets entrained in an interesting clockwise eddy in the ocean currents). At 1 micron thickness, that’s a volume of 628,000 gallons (14,954 barrels) of oil.

Assuming the spill began midday on November 8 (24 hours before we first observe it on satellite imagery), we estimate a spill rate of at least 157,000 gallons (3,738 barrels) per day. That’s more than 10 times larger than Chevron’s estimate of 330 barrels per day.

Macondo Mystery Deepens: Nine Large Vessels Spotted Working in Vicinity of Deepwater Horizon Site

Today’s Gulf of Mexico Report is from Guest Blogger,
Attorney Stuart Smith, Smith Stagg LLC, New Orleans, LA

The mystery continues to unfold at the site of last year’s massive oil spill. Flyover surveillance footage taken Nov. 12 reveals no fewer than nine large oil-related work vessels in the waters surrounding BP’s Macondo Prospect. Vast expanses of surface oil have been reported at the site since we broke the story here on this blog in mid-August, but both BP and the U.S. Coast Guard have been unable – or unwilling – to identify the source (see link to my breaking post below).

Credit: On Wings of Care

Here’s how On Wings of Care pilot Bonny Schumaker recounts the scene on the water in her Nov. 12 flyover report:

We saw lots of “work” vessels out in the Macondo today! And new orange buoys we hadn’t seen before. Our southeast-bound route took us past the platform “VK989″ at about N28°58′ W088°37′, and the first two orange buoys we saw were a little over 50 miles off shore to the east-southeast. Thence came a progression of oil-related (BP-contracted, we think) work vessels, some ROV-capable and more. These included the Meg L. Skandi, C. Chariot, Monica Ann, Normand Pacific, Sarah Bordelon, Deep Blue, HOS Iron Horse, Brooks McCall, and Holiday.

That’s a lot of vessels in a tight area of the Gulf of Mexico. We’re talking about a big operation – and an expensive one. For example, the Normand Pacific, flying under the flag of the United Kingdom, is equipped for diving and ROV operations (see file photo below). The vessel is well over a football field long.

According to the website Marine Traffic, the Holiday, flying under the American flag, departed out of Port Fourchon and arrived at a destination listed as “MC 252″ (the abbreviation for the location of the Macondo Prospect) on Nov. 5 at 9:00 a.m. (see file photo below).

My guess is the cost per day of operating a fleet of nine vessels like this has to be in the seven-figure range. You have to wonder what kind of alarming subsea scenario would demand that kind of expenditure.

Here is a map of Schumaker’s flight path. You can see the Deepwater Horizon site, marked by the black square labeled DWH. The other black squares signify the vessels in the area (see link to Bonny Schumaker’s On Wings of Care website below for full report, photos and video).

Credit to On Wings of Care

Schumaker’s first Gulf flyover since Sept. 25 not only confirmed the presence of a small fleet of vessels but also that oil continues to foul the area. At times over the last few months, slicks above the Macondo Prospect have extended for miles. More from Schumaker’s Nov. 12 report:

Only when we reached the Holiday was the visibility good enough for us to identify unequivocally a line of oil “globules,” and they were very near the Holiday. That vessel was almost stationary but there was quite a bit of exhaust coming out of a stack on it, as if it were running a pump or something. We saw several other such lines of sheen that did not resemble the usual wind-surface patches or lines, but we did not have time to fly over to them to inspect them closely.

So what does all this activity mean at a site where large oil slicks have been observed for months and a BP-Macondo fingerprint has been established? Based on Schumaker’s aerial observations, it would seem the vessels are out there for at least two reasons: (1) To identify the source of the surface oil through ROV footage; and (2) To recover leaking oil before it reaches the surface (and the prying eyes of the public).

I should note that the line of “oil globules” observed by Schumaker is in the vicinity of a known natural oil seep. But the current level of activity – punctuated by the presence of nine vessels – surrounding the Macondo Prosepect cannot be explained away by a natural seep, particularly one that has been known about for years.

More from Schumaker’s report:

There seems to be a great deal of work going on out there – well, a large number of work vessels out there, but we couldn’t see any work being done from above the water’s surface! Several vessels had cables going down, so they may have been working with ROVs or other equipment sub-surface. We did see the above-mentioned line of oil. Note that all of these vessels are in the same areas that we have documented signifcant quantities of surface oil since August and in particular on our flights dated Aug 30, Sep 10, Sep 11, and Sep 27. We saw no whales or whale sharks or dolphins or other large marine life for this entire flight. There was one other fixed-wing (multi-engine high-wing propeller) airplane that passed us at our altitude (about 800′) on our return, just north of the Holiday and the line of oil; we could not read its registration numbers.

As you can see from Schumaker’s footage (see link below), the Macondo Prospect has become a beehive of activity with a swarm of oil and vessels. Though both BP and the Coast Guard have been running from this escalating “situation” for months, it’s impossible to hide the severity of a problem that requires the presence of nine large, oil-related “work” vessels in a relatively tight area surrounding the Macondo wellsite.

In the absence of even a modicum of transparency or anything resembling leadership on the part of our federal government, Ms. Schumaker’s flights over the Gulf represent the public’s only regular access to the site of last year’s 200-million-gallon spill. We salute her relentless effort to uncover what’s really happening in the waters 60 miles off the Louisiana coast. And she continues her invaluable work in the face of an ongoing, aggressive campaign of obfuscation and misinformation executed by BP and our very own Coast Guard.

Bonny Schumaker is a hero of the Gulf Coast. She deserves a medal for her tireless pursuit of the truth. Please visit her site to see the amazing work her organization is doing – and to donate to the cause.

We will continue to bring you updates on this story as details emerge.

Read my post that broke the “new Macondo leak” story: The Stuart Smith Blog

Visit the On Wings of Care to see all activity (and the nine vessels) near the Macondo Prospect – and please donate to the cause: On Wings of Care

Newsflash: Game not over for the planet!

Today is one that will go down in the history books as a victory for Planet Ocean and for the 99% of us who are fighting to take our planet back, Avatar-style from those who would use her, abuse her and destroy her. Tonight, perhaps some of the feeling of shame at seeing our fellow citizens being arrested at the White House for exercising their rights is eased. It’s eased just a bit though, as the fight is far from over.  These days I’ll take good news – especially news this big, gratefully.

Over 1,200 people from across the United States and Canada with all different kinds of backgrounds — farmers, ranchers, Gulf Coast residents, faith leaders, indigenous people and climate activists — came to put their bodies on the line and send a clear message to the president that tar sands oil is a death sentence for the planet.

Many echoed the words of NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who said further development of the tar sands would be “game over for the planet.” By delaying the decision on the pipeline, say analysts, Obama has effectively killed it. It was a now or never deal. Not that anyone is going to turn their backs. So this evening, we celebrate with a watchful eye on what happens in 2013.

And now, from Bill McKibbon…

Dear Friends,

Um, we won. You won.

Not completely. The president didn’t outright reject the pipeline permit. My particular fantasy–that he would invite the 1253 people arrested on his doorstep in August inside the gates for a victory picnic by the vegetable garden–didn’t materialize.

But a few minutes ago the president sent the pipeline back to the State Department for a thorough re-review, which most analysts are saying will effectively kill the project. The president explicitly noted climate change, along with the pipeline route, as one of the factors that a new review would need to assess. There’s no way, with an honest review, that a pipeline that helps speed the tapping of the world’s second-largest pool of carbon can pass environmental muster.

And he has made clear that the environmental assessment won’t be carried out by cronies of the pipeline company–that it will be an expert and independent assessment. We will watch that process like hawks, making sure that it doesn’t succumb to more cronyism. Perhaps this effort will go some tiny way towards cleaning up the Washington culture of corporate dominance that came so dramatically to light here in emails and lobbyist disclosure forms.

It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end.  As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.

The American people spoke loudly about climate change and the president responded. There have been few even partial victories about global warming in recent years so that makes this an important day.

The president deserves thanks for making this call–it’s not easy in the face of the fossil fuel industry and its endless reserves of cash. The deepest thanks, however, go to you: to our indigenous peoples who began the fight, to the folks in Nebraska who rallied so fiercely, to the scientists who explained the stakes, to the environmental groups who joined with passionate common purpose, to the campuses that lit up with activity, to the faith leaders that raised a moral cry, to the labor leaders who recognized where our economic future lies, to the Occupy movement that helped galvanize revulsion at insider dealing, and most of all to the people in every state and province who built the movement that made this decision inevitable.

Our fight, of course, is barely begun. Some in our movement will say that this decision is just politics as usual: that the president wants us off the streets – and off his front lawn – until after the election, at which point the administration can approve the pipeline, alienating its supporters without electoral consequence. The president should know that If this pipeline proposal somehow reemerges from the review process we will use every tool at our disposal to keep it from ever being built; if there’s a lesson of the last few months, both in our work and in the Occupy encampments around the world, it’s that sometimes we have to put our bodies on the line.

We need to let the president and oil companies know that we’re ready to take action should they try to push this pipeline through in a couple of years. There’s a pledge to take nonviolent action against the pipeline up on our site, and I’ll be keeping your names an emails safely stored away so that you’ll be the first to know about anything we need to do down the road. You can sign the pledge here:

In the meantime, since federal action will be in abeyance for a long stretch, we need to figure out how best to support our Canadian brothers and sisters, who are effectively battling against proposed pipelines west from the tar sands to the Pacific. And we need to broaden our work to take on all the forms of ‘extreme energy’ now coming to the fore: mountaintop removal coal mining, deepsea oil drilling, fracking for gas and oil. We’ll keep sending you updates from; you keep letting us know what we need to do next.

Last week, scientists announced that the planet had poured a record amount of co2 into the atmosphere last year; that’s a sign of how desperate our battle is. But we take courage from today’s White House announcement; it gives us some clues about how to fight going forward.

And I simply can’t say thank you enough. I know, because of my own weariness, how hard so many of you have worked. It was good work, done in the right spirit, and it has secured an unlikely victory. You are the cause of that victory; you upended enormous odds.

I’m going to bed tired tonight. But I’ll get up in the morning ready for the next battle, more confident because I know you’re part of this fight too.

Bill McKibben

Shark Hero Jared Huffman Honored

Ocean Champion Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-Marin/Sonoma), was honored on Sunday at Sea Stewards wrap-up Sharktoberfest event hosted by Turtle Island Restoration Network and Lori Grace of Sunrise Center in Corte Madera.

There was a great deal to celebrate this year – the passing into law of CA Bill AB 376 banning the sale of shark fins in the state, as well as shark sanctuaries popping up around the globe in ever increasing numbers as public awareness grows of the key role of sharks in ocean ecosystems and planetary health. It truly is a case of ‘No Fins, No Future.’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And as David McGuire reminded us, poaching is a big issue, and the need for enforcement of ‘shark safety zones’ remains a challenge that we must face as we move forward to protect sharks worldwide. And now that the shark fin ban has been signed into law, next up will be to ban the killing of sharks altogether in California waters.

Todd Steiner, Executive Director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network welcomed David McGuire to the crew out in Forest Knolls. David will be directing their ‘Got’ program working to protect fish & public health. David will also continue his shark research, conservation and advocacy and with the TIRN team, will be able to achieve even greater success for ocean protection.

This has definitely been Sea Stewards (and the sharks’) best Sharktober yet!