Update: The spill continues, and a third attempt to staunch the flow failed, according to various reports. NASA has released a new satellite image of the spill (see below). And the Sierra Club and Environment America point out in a new report that the proposed expansion of offshore oil drilling on the U.S. coast -- part of the Senate's pending energy legislation -- could threaten tourism and fishery industries that are more lucrative for the local economy than oil would be.
With the Senate considering a boost to offshore drilling as a way to boost support for the carbon cap-and-trade legislation supported by President Obama, there's a lesson in the making on the other side of the globe. A spill at an offshore oil rig in the East Timor Sea has been leaking about 400 barrels -- that's 16,800 gallons -- every day for seven weeks, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts and the West Australian. That's enough oil to fill an Olympic sized pool, and a second pool one-quarter full.
The company responsible for the spill, Thai-based PTTEP Australasia, has made at least two failed attempts to fix the leak since it was first discovered two months ago.
A week into the spill, NASA captured the images below. Oil slicks are typically all but invisible. The dark oil matches the dark water too closely for a jaw-dropping image that illustrates the extent of pollution from spills. The key to capturing this image, according to NASA, is "sunglint":
"Sunglint is the mirror-like reflection of the Sun off the water. If the ocean were as smooth as a mirror, a sequence of nearly perfect reflections of the Sun would appear in a line along the track of the satellites orbit (Aqua orbits roughly south to north over the daylight side of the Earth). Because the ocean is never perfectly smooth or calm, however, the Suns reflection gets blurred as the light is scattered in all directions by waves. The blurred reflection gives the ocean surface a washed out appearancethe sunglint region.
"An oil slick dampens waves on the waters surface, changing the way it reflects light. The smoothing of the waves can make the oil-covered parts of the sunglint area more or less reflective than surrounding waters (depending on the exact location within the sunglint area and the sensors viewing angle). In this image, captured on August 30, 2009, the dark patches in the water at the eastern edge of the sunglint are likely oil slicks; they are similar in appearance to other slicks that have been detected in MODIS images, and they are in the correct location (near the leaking oil rig)."
Here's a look:
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