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Satellite Images Show Oil Spill After Hurricane Ida


Off the coast of Louisiana over the weekend, divers discovered a potential source of an oil spill. Now, people noticed the spill after Hurricane Ida swept through an oil and gas hub there. Images taken last week showed a rainbow sheen on the water and a dark, thick line suggesting an ongoing spill. Joining us now to talk about these images and what we know so far is Oscar Garcia-Pineda. He's a geoscientist at Water Mapping.



CORNISH: Divers have located this dislodged pipeline in the Gulf that may be feeding this particular spill. But so far, do you get the sense that this is a problem with a single source? This was a huge hub, right? We're talking many, many, many platforms of oil and gas refineries.

GARCIA-PINEDA: That is correct, yes. So that's the problem. When we see a satellite image and we see the oil exploration on the surface of the ocean, that's an indication that, obviously, there could be an active spill coming from either a structure or the seafloor. In the case that you are referring, there is no structures connected to this field or to the slick. So that's why there has to be investigations. And the evaluation of the damage normally takes place. And we have to just keep monitoring to see the magnitude of the problem. The number of pipelines across the area is incredible. This is literally hundreds of kilometers of pipelines all over the place. So detecting the oil on the seafloor is very challenging. It could be - it could take days.

CORNISH: How does this compare to, say, a storm like Hurricane Ivan - right? - which also caused this massive spill? I think that was back in 2004.

GARCIA-PINEDA: Well, that's too early to say or to compare. Right now, we are looking into every single one of these small spills. And if there is any indication that there could be a significant spill that could be persistent, then, obviously, we want to make sure that doesn't happen again. However, the strength of the hurricane was probably as much as Ivan, and it passed in a very close proximity to the location of the Ivan path. So I think, I mean, honestly, I think that we can see a change on the way the oil industry responds to or prepare to these situation, because what happened on Ivan is that destroyed oil platforms by mudslides, et cetera. And in this case, I mean, we haven't seen that level of damage. We want - we just wanted to make sure that the spills that we see could be under control rapidly.

CORNISH: So the oil and gas companies are using data - right? - from your company to monitor and understand what's going on. At the same time, it's clear that climate change is fueling larger and more powerful hurricanes, right? This is what the research is showing. So are they being proactive about the safety of these oil rigs? Is there a sense of urgency?

GARCIA-PINEDA: In terms of the planning for safety, for responding to or preventing a spill, I believe so. I have to say that it's not only the oil industry. I think the federal agencies have imposed stronger regulation that will prevent from anything to happen. And that's why I believe is why we haven't seen anything since Ivan.

CORNISH: What are you going to be looking for in the next couple of days in terms of getting closer to the source of the spill?

GARCIA-PINEDA: Well, there is no doubt on the next days the monitoring is going to continue to be as intense as possible on the field from airplanes, from satellites. And we will continue to keep an eye on - particularly on those spills where we identified already and to make sure that if they are persistent, if they are going to be active, then, you know, we're going to make sure that those could be contained.

CORNISH: Oscar Garcia-Pineda is a geoscientist who's led research into the use of satellite and aerial images for oil spills.

Thank you for talking with us.

GARCIA-PINEDA: Absolutely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
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