Friday 24th of May 2024

gas leak...

gas leak

Mt Trafalgar, Kimberleys. Picture by Gus.

An environmental group says an oil spill in the Timor Sea off the West Australian coast is worse than it feared.

The World Wide Fund for Nature has completed a three day boat trip of the area and says the spill is having a significant impact on marine life.

The West Atlas oil rig operated by PTTEP Australasia has been leaking oil for nine weeks.

A team of engineers will make a fourth attempt to plug the leak today.

WWF spokeswoman Dr Gilly Llewellyn says if the spill was closer to shore there would be global outrage.


see also oil leak in the Kimberleys...

Gus: it is my view that the Kimberleys could be considered the last true warm-weather wilderness in the world... About the size of "the British Isles" plus Ireland, this amazing country in the north-west of Australia is sparsely populated — a few Aboriginal settlements such as Kalumburu (the largest by far) and about three small "European" towns on the edges of the plateau —  Broome, Kununurra (where the film "Australia" was mostly shot) and Derby... The rest is a wild, forbodding country full of craggy rocks and sharp deep cuts making it very inaccessible, very hot, and were tidal currents can be fearsome in places only accessible by fast boats or seaplanes... There, in the Kimberleys could be thousands of islands in a sea of turquoise and burning aquamarine blue, where the sea surface temperature is now around 30 degree C... It would be a tragedy should the spewing oil from the leaky gas well ends up on the pristine beaches and rocks. It has been my observation in the past that Indonesian fishermen come often in the inlets and bays to fish illegally there. The most sophistcated method they use is a large "mothership" with several small runaround dinghies with high speed facility. Most people who get lost in this extraordinary area soon die — of thirst, of heat, of the inability to cross this magnificent ruggedly cut country, and of "going troppo"...

priceless cost to nature...

The fact of the matter is, it's a fiendishly difficult exercise - a little bit like threading the needle - to try to get this oil spill stopped," he said.

"I very much hope that it will be on this occasion. I'm concerned about it, but we've put a lot of measures in place not only to monitor it, but to make sure that any wildlife that's affected is properly treated."

Earlier this week, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the cost of the clean-up had reached more than $5 million.

Oil contamination


I notice the company in question is a Indonesian registered company and this worries me greatly.

As I recall it was also an Indonesian company that cause the mud floods last year that wiped out a whole town and is still flowing this very day.

After token gestures the company simply walked away from it and washed their hands.

Are we going to see the same repeated here with this spill ?

oil leak contamination...

Dear John, (see query above)

Petroleum and gas exploration and exploitation in the Timor Sea has been a contentious issue but quite profitable for this country. When Timor Leste became independent I did this cartoon with John Howard and Xanana Gusmao about the sea sovereignty between Australia and Timor Leste — boundary that "changed" from when east Timor was under the control of Indonesia. Of course cynical people would see a way to hit two birds at the same time: take the high moral ground by "freeing" East Timor and take the petroleum out of the hands of the Indonesian and off the East Timorese at the same time...

freedom for oil?


When one looks at the space between Australia and Timor, one can see there is a deep trench close to Timor while the continental shelf continues from Australia to very near Timor Leste. Thus Australia can "claim" that the continental shelf is part of Australia while the law of the sea equally divides the space at the surface. Conflict of interest is thus large but this was more or less settled by John Howard and a bit of muscle after the liberation of Timor Leste.






In regard to the exploration and exploration, there are complications that the shelf under which oil and gas are found is intersected by a large number of fault-lines — and having seen the kimberleys close up, I would suspect fault-lines in all sorts of directions, like a criss-cross — till the sea floor appears at the bottom of the trench.




Drilling for oil is different from one field to the next and assumptions need to be made in order to have more hits than misses when drilling. Of course the odds can be improved with very detailed geological surveys starting from general surveys to more complex detailed mapping using the "geophys" (used crudely in Time Team) and other methods. In the early 1980s, a friend of mine did geophysic surveys in planes that were used to criss-cross the countryside with dopplers. Dopplers transmit a signal the reception of which gets time distorted when bouncing back to the instrument and the time difference creates the well-know "doppler" effect. Different surfaces and sub-surfaces create different delays. the delays are mapped and give a reasonable picture of what lies below the surface. These days geophys and dopplers are also supplemented on the ground by seismic surveys and satellite mapping.




(Note these surveys are more than ten years old)

One needs to consider the important fact that only continental shelf and continents have reserves of oil and gas for the reasons that all sea floors are very young geologically — the oldest sea floors being around 150 million years old and constantly "rejuvenating themselves", while continents and continental shelf can have rocks as old as the first cooling of the earth about 4.3-ish billions years ago... The various upheavals, folding and layering of continents surfaces have create complex geological moirés of rocks and hydrocarbons pockets (decay of biological mass — plants and animals). Exploitation of coal, gas and oil is akin to tomb-raiding, of life past.

In any exploration and exploitation via mining or drilling, there are very complex contracts between parties such as government and operators and "owners of the surface". On land, the owner of the surface (usually farmers) get screwed. In the Timor Sea, one would need a team of a dozen lawyers to sieve through the terms of contracts and find who is responsible for what, or pays for which. When one is drilling at depth of more than 4 kilometres under the rock surface, with a couple of hundred metres of sea above, things are rarely going to go to plan and contingencies are usually in place to minimise potential damage... 

Mapping of the geology below the surface can be quite precise but these maps are jealously guarded by government and the more precise local mapping are hugged secretly by the exploration companies. Anomalies due to fault lines are numerous in that region, down to a level that could interfere with the process of drilling.

The Timor Sea is also close to the Banda Sea. The Banda Sea is the meeting point of the two largest cracks in the earth crust and subjected to the constant push northward of the Australian plate by 7 centimetres a year. On average, every two days, there is an earthquake in the Banda Sea of 5.0 average on the Richter scale ( It has been my observation that in some instances, resonance can create stronger ripple effect further away than at the source of disturbance, in very localised areas.


seismic activity


All this to say that the numerous fault lines in the continental shelf off the coast of the Kimberleys can be rattled by these quakes and other interference including the massive earthquake and tsunami of Chrismas 2004 in Aceh. For example, it has been said that the island of Nicobar moved 30 metres away from its original position because of the event. The forces involved are massive.

One could say that it was bad luck that the drilling exploration hit a snag. I would suggest that drilling which I believe was going down "at an angle", went through a "leaky" fault line. But the drilling went on as this fact would not have been possibly known until the gas and oil further below were reached. The fault line cannot be capped. thus one solution is to drill another hole, one that would avoid this fault line and joining with the original hole, diverting the gas and oil through this new hole that would be leak proof. The other solution would be to plug the present hole past the fault-line, but the enormous gas pressure from below may prevent this.

The engineering feat to achieve puncturing a new line through to the older hole, down at 4 kilometres below are close to nil... It's like threading needle under a haystack by remote control. One can be a metre out: result nil. A new hole needs to be drilled again. There may have other ways to fix this, but they're not telling us...

Whether the firm is Indonesian may have some bearing to the problem, but I think not. Most the geologist and engineers would be highly qualified and possibly have harnessed the best at hand to solve this embarrassing problem...

It could be possible that the first hole has collapse at a particular point making the injection of substances under very high pressure that could plug the hole to the point of leakage, impossible.

Meanwhile, not knowing the terms of contract, we the blind consuming public, only have to hope for the best and possibly infer that our government starts to send a large mopping device that could remove most of the oil on the surface near the leak till the problem is fixed and send the bill to whomever, usually the taxpayer... Then the next problem is what to do with the collected mush of oil and sea water? Meanwhile the gas, mostly methane (91% methane, 5.3% ethane) goes into the atmosphere, adding to global warming...

We're lucky too that the gas/oil fields in the Timor sea is of very light "crude" in terms of the damage... But then this might have compounded the problem... making the crude far more fluid and able to escape through the tiniest of cracks in the rocks. A heavy crude would have oozed slowly, gelled and plugged the leak...

And we need our petrol? and our gas? Don't we...? Our cars and consumption of oil-derivatives from make-up to plastics demand it... The bulk of the gas is to be sold to the Chinese... We need the cash, don't we?

We need to put our thinking caps on, fast. I believe the best experts are not sleeping and working feverishly on the problem day and night... The Government is prodding hard, the media is searching for "blame"...

On this, I would say our consuming passions are to be blamed...


p.s.: some people still peddle the erroneous belief that Australia is the "oldest continent on earth". Untrue. Most continent rocks substrate are about the same age (4 billion-ish) but the surface has various contorted layers from 4 billion-ish to the present day... Most "continents" are pieces of two super continents (Pangea and Gondwana — that may have been one big crust when the earth formed, various theory abound on this subject)) that broke up during successive geological eras... As such, Australia and Antarctica could be considered the youngest continents since they separated about 45 million years ago... India (subcontinent) is closely related to Australia as a piece of Gondwana that separated about 90 million years ago and moved northward like Australia is doing presently. The surface on Australia has been erroded and has exposed some of the oldest primal rocks. There are some rocks, I believe, in the Marble Bar area that are more than 3.5 billion years...

pps: on the subject of climatic conditions, Antarctica is "the driest continent on earth" as it receives less moisture that the others but having little or no evaporation, it accumulates water as ice. It has been noted that Antarctica is "becoming wetter" with global warming — thus accumulating more ice in the centre while warming, but shedding ice in the form of cold water on the edges due to warming... If you ever possessed a non-defrosting fridge or a kero-fridge, you would know what I mean... Eventually, the engine or the evaporative process (kero-fridge) of the fridge gives up and the inside of the fridge warms up while the accumulating ice becomes "less cold" than it should be...

ppps: re the mud flows in Indomesia... One has to realise Indonesia is the place where the most volcanic activity happens on Earth... Drilling for whatever can be problematic there. Australian companies have been doing this for years and there are "Aussie" coal mines in Indonesia as well as other ventures. Same can be said for the mining of minerals in PNG and we all know of the Fly River problems... But in regard to the mud flow in Indonesia, one of the main aspect here is one should never drill or mine anything under heavy populated areas. Sydney has a few coal seams, but no one is game enough to start mining there, (limestone was quarried in Pyrmont) although it is proposed in some close-by areas..


It is Gus' view that if all else fail, one solution might be to send explosives down the first hole to very near the fault line boundary. Controlled blowing up of the rocks down there might collapse enough debris to plug the hole at the leaking point... But this has a 50 per cent chance of making the problem worse...

leak unplugged...

The company responsible for an oil leak off the north-west coast of Australia says efforts to stem it have already cost the company $US150 million ($167 million).

Oil and gas have been leaking into the Timor Sea from a well beneath the Atlas oil rig owned by PTTEP Australasia, for almost 10 weeks.

There have been three unsuccessful attempts to intercept the leak.

A fourth has been delayed until this weekend.

The company's chief financial officer, Jose Martins, has told Fairfax radio the environmental costs cannot be calculated until scientific monitoring is completed, which could take years.

He says the cost of the operation will continue to rise.

"The provisional numbers show that up to the end of September, we had provided up to $150 million US for this cost, and it's probably going to be a little bit higher because it's taken a bit longer," he said.


solution Gus? see article above...

another leak...

The Western Australian Greens have called on Chinese oil and gas company Sinopec to release more information about a gas leak in the Timor Sea, off Australia's north coast.

It has been revealed that gas has been leaking from the Puffin oil field for about eight weeks.

This comes on top of a leak in the West Atlas oil well, just 50 nautical miles south-east of Puffin, which has been leaking an estimated 400 barrels of oil and gas into the sea for nine weeks.

The Northern Territory Government says the Puffin leak is small and the gas is not harmful.

But WA Greens member Robbin Chapple says the Government should have told the public about the second leak weeks ago.


It would be good if ALL Australians, not just the greens called on the Chinese to release details about the leak and their effort to plug it... But then the media may be selective in its reporting that someone complaining about a breach of environmental protection has to be green while someone doing the breach has to be capitalist or greedy communist. It's not as simple as this.

We all should be very concerned. I'd bet these are not the only "incidents" of such kind, but the only ones we're made aware off. One leak is unfortunate, two leaks is careless, three leaks need a total rethink on the procedures that in the long run contribute to global warming nonetheless. See above

a burning issue...

Specialist fire crews are on their way to the leaking West Atlas oil rig in the Timor Sea which has caught alight.

Oil and gas first started leaking from the West Atlas rig off the north-west coast more than 10 weeks ago.

Since then the company reponsible, PTTEP Australasia, has being trying to intercept the hole using another rig, the West Triton.

After several failed attempts, the company says it was successful this morning.

While it was trying to fill the hole with heavy mud, the West Atlas rig and Montara well head platform caught fire.

national emergency...

The fallout from the West Atlas oil leak and rig fire off West Australia has gone global, with oil slicks reported near neighbouring countries as calls are made to acknowledge the incident as a national emergency.

The blaze that ignited on the deserted structure 200km off the Kimberley coastline yesterday continues to burn today, with fire boats watching from outside a two nautical mile exclusion zone set up due to the intense heat and hazardous fumes surrounding the site.

World Wildlife Fund conservation manager Gilly Llewellyn told ninemsn that while the fire presented a spectacular danger, the oil slick from the 10-week-old leak had spread to Indonesia and West Timor where it was threatening seaweed crops and local marine life.

"It's got to be elevated to a national emergency, not only because of the fire but also the larger environmental impact," she said.

leak making worldwide news...

An oil well at the centre of a massive spill in the Timor Sea off the north-west coast of Australia is on fire.

The company which runs the well, PTTEP Australasia, said the fire broke out as it made another attempt to plug a leak deep underwater at the West Atlas rig.

Engineers have been struggling for more than 10 weeks to stop the leak which is spewing out natural gas and oil at an estimated 400 barrels a day.

All workers were reported safe and were being evacuated from the installation.

A director of the company, Jose Martins, said the only way to stop the fire was to plug the leak.

"The measures which we have been able to take so far can only mitigate the fire. They will not stop the fire.

"The best way to stop the fire is to complete the well-kill and stop the flow of gas and oil at the surface from the H-1 well, cutting off the fuel source for the fire."

Australian Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said in a statement that some of the world's leading experts were working to fix the leaking well and respond to this latest problem.


See top picture and go to oil leak contamination to understand the problem...

fishing oily fish...

An environmental lawyer in Indonesia says local fishermen are going bankrupt because the Timor Sea oil spill has ruined fish stocks.

The West Atlas oil rig spewed hundreds of thousands of litres of oil and gas into the sea for 10 weeks and last week caught fire. It was plugged earlier this week with mud.

The Federal Government has been in contact with Indonesian officials and will send an Australian delegation there next week.

David Jones, who worked as an environmental lawyer for 10 years before moving to Kupang in West Timor, says he has started taking statements from local fishermen who claim their catch has been affected.

oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico...

In the Gulf of Mexico

Robotic submersibles are being used to try to stop a fast-flowing oil leak nearly a mile (1.5km) below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico.

Some 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of oil a day are spewing from a damaged well, after a drilling rig exploded and sank off the Louisiana coast last week.

British oil company BP, which leased the rig, said the "first-of-its-kind" attempt would take 24 to 36 hours.

There are fears of an environmental disaster if the mission fails.

Conservation experts say the oil leak has the potential to damage beaches, barrier islands and wetlands across the coastline.

For now, the weather conditions are keeping the oil away from the coastline and it is hoped the waves will break up the heavy crude oil, allowing it to harden and sink back to the ocean floor.


oil spill in the timor sea...


A study has found that contamination from one of Australia's worst oil spills is still costing Indonesian fishing villages more than $1.5 billion per year.

The Montara oil platform was in Australia's exclusive economic zone, but when the well head blew out in August 2009, the slick drifted across the Timor Sea to Indonesia.

Now the the Centre for Energy and Environmental Studies in Jakarta has produced an interim report on the damage.

It has found the oil and chemical dispersants used are still affecting marine ecosystems and costing coastal communities more than $1.5 billion per year in lost earnings.

The centre's director, Doctor Mukhtasor, says Australia, Indonesia and the Thai government-owned company involved are obligated to fund a full investigation and work out compensation.

A west Timor community spokesman, Ferdi Tamoni, says the loss of livelihood is also driving local fisherman into people smuggling.


see picture at top...


plane wrecks...

Seventy-five years ago, at the height of World War II, Japanese bomber pilots mistook a remote Aboriginal community in Western Australia for military base.

Four children, a woman, and a priest were killed in the ensuing attack on Kalumburu, in the state's north.

In what has been described as a "strange twist", an organ donated to the local Catholic church by the Nazis was also destroyed when the raiders strafed the building with their machine guns.

Some 36 aircraft are estimated to have been in the wing that flew over Kalumburu on that day in 1943.


Read more:


Gus will be searching through his many albums of pictures to recover his own photos of these plane wrecks in Kalumburu, when he went there in 2003. Patience.


Read from top.