Possible Oil Spill in Alaska Spotted With Google Maps?

By Tom Yulsman | March 21, 2013 11:16 am

A screenshot from Google Earth of a ConocoPhillips facility in Alaska. Visible in the image is what may be an oil slick, as well as what could be containment booms. (Image: © 2013 Google)

I don’t think there are many other people who spend their spare time perusing remote sensing images, Google Maps, and the like. I’m one of them, and I may have found a compatriot: climate blogger Michael Cote — who says he has found evidence of an unreported oil spill in the Arctic using Google Maps.

He posted a series of Google Maps images showing what appears to be a very small oil spill at a ConocoPhillips facility near the Colville River in Alaska. I decided to have a look on Google Earth — to get a more interesting oblique perspective on the scene. The image at top is what I came up with. Click on it for a larger view, and then look at what appears to be a dock projecting into the waterway. There’s a dark stain in the water, as well as a structure that sure looks like a containment boom to me.

The ConocoPhillips facility is in the background. It is brighter than the foreground because it consists of another image taken at a different time that was stitched together to make for a continuous scene in Google Earth.

In his post, Cote notes that the watermark on the map image is 2013, “so these satellite shots are very recent.” I don’t think that’s right. The terrain is green, so the images were clearly captured in the summer — which was at least six or seven months ago.

In any case, it will be interesting to see whether the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation picks up on this, and what the ultimate outcome will be. Oil spills are not uncommon in drilling operations. But as far as I know, they’re supposed to be reported. Did ConocoPhillips try to sweep this one under the rug? I hope we find out.

And btw, kudos to Michael Cote for his work on this!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Arctic, Fossil Fuels, select, Top Posts
  • http://profiles.google.com/michaelcote Michael Cote

    Thanks Tom! AK DEC contacted me and think it’s an unreported spill. They offered alternatives, but they seemed infeasible to me. We can chat off line if you like.

  • hdavis

    Google Earth seems to timestamp this at July 3, 2012.

  • http://www.facebook.com/damngoodcoffe Joacim Magnusson

    That’s not an oil spill. It’s just windy, and the boats, or whatever that is, are obstructing the wind, leaving the water behind them appearing darker, since it is not whipped as much by the wind, and hence not reflecting as much light. I’ve seen this many times, both IRL and on google maps. Look att this view for instance: http://goo.gl/maps/i1pCv it’s larger scale, but the same phenomenon.

    • http://twitter.com/Cornerss william

      and the oil boom surrounding the dock? Practice?



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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