Mapping Oil for the Destroyed Taylor Energy Site in the Gulf of Mexico

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Monday, 5 January 2015
Christopher J. Warren, NOAA/NESDIS, College park, MD; and A. Macfadyen and C. Henry

The Marine Pollution Program of NOAA/NESDIS's Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB) consists of manual detection and mapping of oil slicks through the use of available moderate to high resolution visible imagery such as MODIS (NASA), Landsat-7 (USGS) and SPOT-5 (CNES). Prior to 2012, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery from ENVISAT (ESA) was acquired in addition to visible imagery for satellite-based oil spill detection. Frequently oil spills are small in size and short in duration, but there have been times when events have continued to persist for weeks, months and even years.

Located approximately 10 miles southeast of the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico resides the former location of the now destroyed Taylor Energy oil rig. This platform was damaged in 2004 during the passage of Hurricane Ivan and since then small surface oil slicks and sheens have been observed in satellite imagery originated from the site. Surface slicks or sheens associated with this source are frequently detected in satellite imagery analysis (>110 images since August 2010). Slicks are typically aligned along the isobaths (southwest to northeast) with typical dimensions of 0.5-2 km by 10-30 km varying with wind conditions (i.e. longer slicks tend to be more visible in satellite under winds generally <10 kts). The distribution of slick detection has two peaks, one in May with secondary maxima in September. This is primarily due to the advantage of having sun-glint, which enhances the ability for surface slick detection during the months from April to October in the Gulf of Mexico. On several occasions overflight reports have confirmed the presence of oil sheens at this location, matching very well with satellite analyzed maps.

Geographic Information System (GIS) shapefiles and Keyhole Markup Language (KML) files depicting the location of the observed oil from satellites are disseminated to NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS) Emergency Response Division (ERD), U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and several local and state agencies. NOS/ERD uses these analyses in their surface oil trajectory models in an effort to improve the model's performance.