Clean-up crews are working to contain what experts have called a large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a review of satellite and aerial images, vessel tracking data and interviews with local officials and others involved in spill response.
The spill, one of multiple plumes spotted off the coast of Louisiana 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 burst of oil spanning at least 10 miles spread through the coastal waters about two miles from Port Fourchon, an oil and gas hub. An aerial image of the spill was captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday.
The powerful hurricane, which swept through one of the country’s largest chemicals, oil and natural gas hubs when it made landfall on Sunday, heightened concerns about the vulnerability of China’s fossil fuel infrastructure. the region to intensifying storms, which are linked to global warming caused by oil and gas emissions.
It was not known how much oil had spilled 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 Monday during reconnaissance flights by a number of Gulf Coast producers, and was reported to the Coast Guard, said the person who was not authorized to speak publicly about the cleanup effort.
Late Saturday, two more boats appeared to join in the cleanup. James Hanzalik, Deputy Executive Director of Clean Gulf Associates, an industry-created non-profit oil spill cooperative, confirmed Friday afternoon that a leak was in progress and that a cleanup was in progress.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. 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 clean-up vessel hired by Talos was using skimmers to scavenge the oil and had placed a containment boom in the area to try to contain the spread, he said. Talos Energy declined to comment on the matter.
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 so far been recovered from the water. The agency has launched a preliminary investigation, he added.
Several experts who studied the flyby and satellite imagery said the spill appeared to be ongoing and significant.
“This is a significant leak that requires further investigation,” said Oscar Garcia-Pineda, scientist at Water Mapping, a consulting firm based in Gulf Breeze, Fla. That has conducted research into the use of satellite and aerial images for oil spills. “I see an indication of thick heavy oil, which is the main dark feature, surrounded by a rainbow sheen,” he said. Wednesday’s flyby image appeared to show that the leak was starting underwater.
The area was known to be dense with pipelines, and in the past, powerful storms have caused mudslides that can damage pipes or even the foundations of platforms containing equipment that pump oil and gas out of the seabed. sailors, he said.
Cathleen E. Jones, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Who took part in flyovers to assess storm damage, said the images suggested a very thick oil leak and that a further investigation was needed.
Extreme weather conditions
“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, ”she said. But based on the color, she said, “it’s a very, very thick tablecloth.”
The probable origin of the Talos spill was first spotted by John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, a research center based at the University of Toronto, who had scrutinized images of Ida’s damage.
“The fact that it was possible to find this spill is because NOAA made the aerial images available to the public,” he said. “If NOAA hadn’t made this public, it would have been much more difficult to find out what is clearly an ongoing environmental issue. “
The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that there appeared to be a long slick of oil off the coast of Louisiana, several miles east of the Talos spill. It was not clear if this tablecloth was tied.
Overflight and satellite imagery showed several other slicks along the Louisiana coast. The person with knowledge of the cleanup said it was possible that leaks from other sources were also contributing to the plume.
The US Bureau of Environmental Safety and Enforcement, which regulates offshore oil and gas rigs, said in a media update that on Friday morning workers were evacuated from 133 rigs. production plant and six drilling platforms. More than 90 percent of oil and gas production in the Gulf was still closed, the agency said.
The office update did not mention the ongoing cleanup. Once the inspections have been carried out, the production of the damage-free facilities “will immediately be brought back on line,” he said. Calls to the office, as well as the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, were not answered.
Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Janie Acevedo-Beauchamp referred questions to the Coast Guard, which manages spills in coastal waters. The EPA remained “committed to deploying the resources at our disposal to help the communities affected by the storm,” she said.
Naomi Yoder, a scientist with Healthy Gulf, a New Orleans-based environmental group, said the spill was the latest sign that the pollution triggered by the hurricane was widespread. “The companies that plague our communities must be held accountable and must reverse this disaster,” she said.
A report released earlier this year by the United States Government Accountability Office found that since the 1960s, federal regulators have allowed Gulf oil and gas producers to leave some 18,000 miles of pipeline on the seabed. . These pipelines, about 97 percent of the decommissioned pipelines in the region, are often abandoned without cleaning up or burial.
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 U.S. history.