September 22, 2021

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Satellite imagery finds a “substantial” oil spill in the Gulf after Ida

Clean-up crews are working to contain what experts have been calling a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a review of satellite and aerial imagery, ship location data, and interviews with local officials and others involved in the spill response. .

The spill, one of multiple plumes spotted off the Louisiana coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, was identified in satellite images captured Thursday by space technology companies Planet Labs and Maxar Technologies.

A black expanse and a rainbow oil explosion that extends for at least 10 miles has spread across coastal waters about two miles from Port Fourchon, an oil and gas hub. An aerial image of the spill was captured Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The powerful hurricane, which engulfed one of the country’s largest chemical, oil and gas hubs when it landed on Sunday, has increased concerns about the vulnerability of the region’s fossil fuel infrastructure to intensifying storms, which are linked to global warming. induced by oil and gas emissions.

It was not known how much oil had been poured into the Gulf, according to a person with direct knowledge of the cleanup. The spill, likely from an old pipeline that is no longer in use and was damaged by the storm, was first spotted on reconnaissance flights Monday by a number of Gulf Coast producers and was reported to the Guard Coastal, the person said he was unauthorized to speak publicly about the cleanup effort.

On Saturday morning, two more boats appeared to join the cleanup. James Hanzalik, Deputy Executive Director of Clean Gulf Associates, a non-profit cooperative created by the industry, confirmed on Friday afternoon that a leak was in progress and a cleaning was in progress.

US Coast Guard Lieutenant John Edwards said the spill would be crude oil from an old pipeline owned by Houston-based oil and gas exploration company Talos Energy. A cleaning vessel chartered by Talos was using skimmers to collect the oil and had placed a containment arm in the area to try to contain the spread, he said. Talos Energy declined to comment on the matter.

The Coast Guard boats had not yet arrived at the site, Lt. Edwards said, but the agency had been informed by Talos that only 42 gallons of material had been recovered from the water so far. The agency has launched a preliminary investigation, he added.

Several experts who have studied the flyby and satellite imagery said the spill appeared to be ongoing and significant.

“This is a significant leak that needs further investigation,” said Oscar Garcia-Pineda, a scientist at Water Mapping, a Gulf Breeze, Florida-based consulting firm that has conducted research on the use of satellite and aerial imagery. for oil spills. “I see an indication of thick heavy oil, which is the main dark feature, surrounded by a rainbow sheen,” he said. The flyover image on Wednesday seemed to show the leak starting underwater.

The area was known to be dense with pipelines, and in the past powerful storms have caused landslides that can damage pipelines or even the foundations of platforms containing equipment that pumped oil and gas from the sea floor. , he has declared.

Cathleen E. Jones, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who took part in flyovers to assess storm damage, said the images suggest a very thick oil spill and that more is needed. investigations.

In a case like this where you clearly have thick oil, you can calculate the area, but what you don’t know is its thickness, “he said. But based on the color, he said,” it’s a very, very thick tablecloth. ” .

The probable origin of the Talos spill was first identified by John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, a research center based at the University of Toronto, who had examined images of Ida’s damage.

“The fact that this spill could be found is due to the fact that NOAA made the aerial images publicly available,” he said. “If NOAA hadn’t made it public, it would have been much more difficult to find out what an ongoing environmental problem is clearly. “

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that there appeared to be a long oil slick off the Louisiana coast, several miles east of the Talos spill. It was not clear if this tablecloth was tied.

The flyby and satellite imagery showed several other patches along the Louisiana coast, NOAA confirmed Saturday. And the person familiar with the cleanup said it was possible that leaks from other sources were also contributing to the plume.

The U.S. Bureau of Environmental Safety and Enforcement, which regulates offshore oil and gas platforms, said in a media update that workers were evacuated from 133 platforms on Friday morning. production plant and six drilling platforms. Over 90% of oil and gas production in the Gulf is still closed, the agency said.

The office update did not mention the cleaning in progress. Once the inspections have been carried out, the production of the undamaged plants “will immediately be put back into operation,” he said. Calls to the office, as well as to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, went unanswered.

Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson Janie Acevedo-Beauchamp addressed the questions to the Coast Guard, which manages spills in coastal waters. The EPA remained “committed to deploying the resources at our disposal to help communities affected by the storm,” he said.

Naomi Yoder, a scientist with Healthy Gulf, a New Orleans-based environmental group, said the spill was the latest sign that hurricane-induced pollution was widespread. “The companies that plague our communities must be held accountable and must reverse this disaster,” he said.

A report released earlier this year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that since the 1960s, federal regulators have allowed Gulf oil and gas producers to leave approximately 18,000 miles of pipelines on the seabed. These pipelines, about 97 percent of the disused pipelines in the region, are often abandoned without being cleaned or buried.

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan destroyed an oil rig about 10 miles off the coast of Louisiana. It triggered what is still the longest oil spill in US history.

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