Massive Australian Oil Rig Spill to Continue for Two Months

Published on September 3rd, 2009 | by

A massive oil spill occurring off the northwest coast of Australia is predicted to continue for two months before the leak is plugged.  An oil rig in the Timor Sea, owned by Thai company PTTEP,  began seeping oil on August 21. The multi-million dollar clean up will take eight weeks under the salvage plan.  In order to stop the oil leak, PTTEP is bringing in another oil rig from Singapore.  The Age reports:

PPTEP spokesman David Tasker confirmed it could be up to eight weeks before the leak is stemmed – more than three weeks to put the second rig in place and four weeks of drilling before it could tap the well…A fracture in the well, more than two kilometres below the surface, is suspected of causing the leak.

Photo by NASA Earth ObservatoryOil spill in Timor Sea will continue for eight weeks.
Oil spill in Timor Sea will continue for eight weeks.

Located 250 kilometers off the Kimberley coast, environmentalists are concerned the area is “an important nursery ground and migration route for whales and turtles, and close to important coral reefs”.  Dr. Gilly Llewellyn, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia Conservation Manager, warned:

This is a potential disaster for turtles, whales, dolphins, sea birds and sea snakes. The oil and gas spill is still not under control and is expected to continue leaking for two months. Depending on winds, the slick could be pushed to atolls like Scott and Ashmore Reef – areas that are globally significant for their unique wildlife.

Tourism Australia calls the region “one of the world’s last true wilderness areas”.  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called the spill “appalling”.

The oil slick is even visible from outer space.  Images from Nasa’s Earth Observatory reveal the slick thanks to sunglint:

Oil spills are usually difficult to see in natural-color (photo-like) satellite images, especially in the open ocean. Because the ocean surface is already so dark, the additional darkening or slight color change that results from a spill is usually imperceptible, especially once it starts to disperse. Occasionally viewing conditions are right, however, and the location of the oil slick coincides with the sunglint area of an image. When that happens, the slicks become more visible.  Sunglint is the mirror-like reflection of the Sun off the water.

The oil leak has been treated with dispersant which is protecting the Australian coast. Such efforts have reduced the size of the current slick; however, the difficulties in stopping the seepage is a reminder of the dangers of offshore oil drilling.  It is estimated 470,000 liters a day are leaking from the oil rig with no end in the near future.

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