Hercules 265 Drill Rig Post-Fire

SkyTruth – July 26, 2031: Yesterday, the runaway gas well at the Hercules 265 jackup drill rig in the Gulf “bridged over” – essentially choked itself with sand, rock and other debris – shutting off the flow of natural gas, extinguishing the fire that had been burning since Tuesday night. Here is a post-fire photo of the rig.  The small production platform it had been working at is a total loss.  The jackup itself has sustained plenty of damage but it looks like much is still salvageable.  And a very small slick is visible next to the rig.

The main questions many folks are asking is — what happened to the blowout preventer?  Why did the BOP fail?

When are those new BOP regulations that we’ve been talking about since the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster going to be implemented?  And would those new regs address the cause of failure in this incident?

Post-fire photo of Hercules 265 jackup drill rig in South Timbalier Block 220, taken July 25, 2013. Photo from BSEE via gCaptain.

Drilling safety comes down to a lot of nitty gritty details.  But the BOP is a critical element of safety that deserves the highest level of attention.  It’s the main thing protecting us from the next major oil spill.

And it’s way past time we implemented all of the recommendations made by the National Spill Commission in the wake of the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster.  With a renewed drilling boom underway in the Gulf, and the full-on resumption of high-risk, high-pressure deepwater drilling, we can’t afford not to.

UPDATED: Hercules 265 Rig Blowout and Fire

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Hercules 265, a jack-up rig that was working on an old gas well in the South Timbalier Block, on fire today after it suffered a blow-out yesterday and ignited late last night.     Photo: US Coast Guard via Times – Picayune

UPDATE: On July 25, the well “bridged over” and the fire is now out. Hercules is expected to drill a relief well to completely kill the run-away well. See the most recent update from GMC member SkyTruth here.

July 24, 2013 @ 3:58 pm – Around midday yesterday, (Tuesday, July 23)  a natural gas blowout occurred at a jackup drill rig, the Hercules 265, operating in shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana (South Timbalier Block 220).  All of the workers — more than 40 — were safely evacuated.  The rig, operated by Hercules Offshore at a well owned by Walter Oil and Gas corporation, was enveloped in a cloud of gas, which ignited around 11 pm last night and as far as we know, remains on fire.

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One of the first public images of the burning Hercules 265 rig, taken from about 6 mi. away. -Photo Courtesy of gCaptain.com

So far, official statements have only referred to gas leaking from the well, and a small sheen was reported around the platform – probably a thin slick of highly volatile natural-gas condensate.  However, the report submitted to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center identified the material being spilled as “CRUDE OIL” and estimated that “APPROXIMATELY 7 BARRELS AN HOUR” was leaking from the unsecured well. We do not know at this time if this discrepancy is a transcription error from the phoned-in report, or an indicator of something more serious. 

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This incident comes in quick succession to another blowout that happened in the Ship Shoal area last week, yet another reminder that drilling is an inherently risky activity.  Options for controlling the blowout are now a lot more limited, since the rig can’t be occupied by well-control specialists.  Eventually the well might collapse on itself, “bridging over” and shutting off the flow of natural gas.  Otherwise a long and complicated intervention might be required, such as the drilling of a relief well — the solution required to kill BP’s runaway Macondo well in 2010, Chevron’s fatal blowout off Nigeria in 2012, and the months-long blowout and massive oil spill off Australia at the Montara platform in 2009.  Either way, the rig is certainly a total loss. 

GMC member SkyTruth saw nothing unusual at the site on yesterday’s MODIS satellite images, which were taken in early afternoon, long before the fire began.  Today’s images might reveal more, although if the leak is only gas, we do not expect to see any significant slick on the water.  Hopefully, this well is just a gas producer.  Otherwise the situation could be gravely worse, from an environmental and economic perspective.  

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Hercules 265 on July 23, before the rig ignited Tuesday evening. Photo – BSEE

We have questions, as usual:  Was the blowout preventer (BOP) engaged?  If not, why not?  If so, why did it fail to do its job?  Should federal regulators speed up the implementation of new BOP standards?  Would these new standards have addressed the problem in this case?

Judge Denies Taylor Energy Motion to Dismiss Clean Water Act Violations Suit

Crude oil leaking from Taylor Energy's damaged well stretches from the source to the horizon.

Crude oil leaking from Taylor Energy’s damaged well stretches from the source to the horizon in this photo taken on a Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper/Gulf Monitoring Consortium monitoring flight which was provided by SouthWings.

New Orleans, LA – Yesterday, the judge in a lawsuit (Apalachicola Riverkeeper v. Taylor Energy Co. LLC) brought against Taylor Energy for a leaking oil well issued an order denying most of Taylor Energy’s Motion to Dismiss and denied Taylor’s Motion to Stay the lawsuit. The Clean Water Act lawsuit was brought by Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Louisiana Environmental Action Network on behalf of it’s Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper program, and Waterkeeper Alliance in an effort to stop Taylor’s oil discharges of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Three claims by the plaintiffs said that 1) Taylor violates the Clean Water Act by discharging oil without a Clean Water Act permit, 2) if Taylor somehow has a Clean Water Act permit, Taylor is violating that permit; and 3) by discharging oil into the Gulf, Taylor is disposing of waste and causing or contributing to a situation that may pose an imminent hazard to the public or the environment. The Judge dismissed the second claim because Taylor has now admitted that it has no Clean Water Act permit for discharge of oil. Aside from that, Taylor has lost its motion and Waterkeepers will move forward with the lawsuit.

“This lawsuit is necessary because of Taylor’s slow pace in stopping the flow of oil from its wells into the Gulf. To the best of the Waterkeepers’ knowledge, this contamination has continued for nearly nine years,” said Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “This lawsuit is also needed because of the secrecy surrounding Taylor’s response to a multi-year spill that threatens public resources. BP took five months to kill the Deepwater Horizon well to the outrage of the Nation. In this case, Taylor’s leak has been ongoing for more almost nine years.”

Waterkeeper Alliance is a founding member of Gulf Monitoring Consortium, a rapid response alliance that collects, analyzes and publishes images and other information from space, sky, and the surface to investigate and expose oil pollution incidents that occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf Monitoring Consortium has been pivotal in identifying and documenting the ongoing Taylor leak.

Oil leaking from Taylor Energy's well snakes past an unrelated platform in this photo taken on a Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper/Gulf Monitoring Consortium monitoring flight which was provided by SouthWings.

Oil leaking from Taylor Energy’s well snakes past an unrelated platform in this photo taken on a Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper/Gulf Monitoring Consortium monitoring flight which was provided by SouthWings.

An underground mudslide began this spill on about September 15, 2004, by destroying a Taylor drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico and burying up to 28 wells. Without details about Taylor’s response to this crisis, it is impossible for members of the public to assess the risk that similar events will cause additional multi-year spills, including spills from higher-pressure wells in deeper water. Because such spills may damage the Gulf’s eco-system on a scale comparable to or exceeding that of the BP spill, it is essential that the public learn from the 9-year Taylor response.

The denial has already generated some press:

Environmental groups’ lawsuit to stop flow from failed Taylor Energy platform cleared for trial – The Times-Picayune

http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/07/environmental_groups_lawsuit_t.html

Taylor Can’t Dodge Gulf Spill Clean Water Act Suit – Law360 

http://www.law360.com/environmental/articles/459028/taylor-can-t-dodge-gulf-spill-clean-water-act-suit

Coast Guard Responding to Leaking Gas Well 44 miles from Louisiana Coast

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Last Updated: 7/10/13 @ 2:32 PM EST

July 10, 2013 – 12:54 pm: The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced Tuesday they are responding to a loss of well control at Platform B in Ship Shoal Block 225. On July 9, USCG reported a 4-mile by 3/4 mile rainbow sheen in the Gulf (covering an area of 1,920 acres based on reported dimensions) around an oil and natural gas platform 79 miles southwest of Port Fourchon, Louisiana and 44 miles from the nearest land. According to a statement by the well owners, the incident occurred at an older well that was being plugged and abandoned, and the other two producing wells on the platform have been shut-in.  CNN reports the wellhead is located on the Gulf floor at a depth of 130 feet, and quoted Jonathan Henderson of Gulf Restoration Network (a GMC member organization) on the potential environmental impact of this leak:

“Toxic gases will damage the bodies of fish that come into contact by damaging their gills and causing internal damage … Marine species in the Gulf are more vulnerable when water temperatures are high and when oxygen concentrations are low like they are now.”

– CNN Report: Coast Guard responds to natural gas leak in Gulf of Mexico

Energy Resource Technology (ERT) Gulf of Mexico LCC, the platform’s operators, first reported trouble with the well to the USCG’s National Response Center (NRC) on July 7th, disclosing that at 4:45 pm local time “CRUDE OIL WAS RELEASED THROUGH HOLES IN THE HOSE” as they were cleaning out a well with “coil tubing.” The caller estimated the resulting a sheen was 750 feet wide by 1 mile long (90.9 acres). That same day the NRC received a call from the same area reporting a 1 mile by 4 mile ( 2,560 acres) oil slick from “AN UNSECURED WELL HEAD THAT HAS RELEASED THREE BARRELS OF OIL INTO THE WATER.”

The following day, on July 8th, ERT again reported that at 7:00 am they had spilled 4.2 gallons of crude oil “DUE TO EQUIPMENT FAILURE WHILE PLUGGING THE WELL.” The caller reporting the spill estimated the sheen was 450 feet wide by 0.3 miles long (16.36 acres).

At 6:45 am on July 9th, a passing aircraft reported a much larger sheen to the NRC – 200 feet wide by 5 miles long (121.2 acres).

As of July 9, the most recent reports from USCG state that platform personnel had been evacuated and federal agencies are monitoring well-control and pollution response activities. Gulf Monitoring Consortium member SkyTruth reports that cloud cover in the Gulf has impeded observation by satellite, but will continue to monitor reports and available satellite imagery.

This report will be updated as needed with new information and images.

“Still leaking in Gulf” : Times-Picayune Reports on Perpetually Leaking Taylor Energy Site

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Oil slick from the Taylor site, seen from the air by Gulf Restoration Network on a Southwing’s flight – both GMC member organizations. See more photos at flickr.com/healthygulf

SkyTruth – July 2, 2013 : Following a recent cluster of “conflicting reports” of oil-slicks observed around the wreckage of former Taylor Energy platform #23051, the Times – Picayune of New Orleans ran an article yesterday on the almost nine-year saga of ongoing pollution from the damaged wells. On June 18th and 20th, GMC member SkyTruth reported a larger than usual discrepancy between the reports from Taylor Energy’s contractor who flies the site daily, Marine Pollution Surveillance Reports by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and SkyTruth’s own analysis of the satellite images from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.

From The Times – Picayune [Excerpt]: Taylor Energy Oil Platform, Destroyed in 2004 During Hurricane Ivan, is Still Leaking in Gulf

Conflicting reports

On most days, the aerial inspection by Taylor Energy finds an oil sheen, and its dimensions are repo[r]ted to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center.

On June 18, according to the report, that sheen was a bit larger than normal: 10.1 miles long and 200 feet wide, and contained 3.84 gallons of oil. But on that day, NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service spotted the same slick from space, using NASA’s Aqua satellite. Its estimate, also reported to the center, was that the slick was 30.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. That report contained no estimate of the amount of oil.

Skytruth, an environmental group based in Shepherdstown, W.Va., that specializes in remote sensing and digital mapping, estimated the spill was 22 miles long and contended that the slick contained at least 65 gallons of oil. In a report released last year, the Gulf Monitoring Consortium, made up of Skytruth and other environmental groups, said its estimate of oil slicks ‘suggests the leakage rate is possibly in the range of 100-400 gallons per day.'” 

Read the rest at nola.com…

While the Unified Command disputes our numbers, SkyTruth has always been consistent and transparent about how we calculate our estimates, (see here from the early days of the BP spill) and exactly what assumptions we use. We are very interested in how Unified Command and Taylor’s contractor calculate their reports, given that it has been flown multiple times by other groups, especially Bonny Schumaker from On Wings of Care, who consistently reports a slick much larger than what Taylor’s contractor reported on the very same day.

SkyTruth’s reports can be found on their blog at:

June 18 – 9 Years, Countless Gallons Spilled, No End in Sight

June 20 – Responsible Modern Offshore Drilling. Except When It Isn’t.

SkyTruth also maintains a chronology of all documented reports of pollution from the Taylor site:

Site 23051 Chronology – Oil Spill Reports

See photos of the Taylor Site from Gulf Restoration Network: Taylor Leak – by Air & Sea