Oil represents one of Libya’s main sources of export revenue and with an estimated 48 billion accessible barrels, the volatile nation has one of Africa’s largest reserves. Since 2011, Libya’s oil industry has been hit by frequent attacks, causing oil production to shrink to less than a quarter of its pre-uprising levels.
Libya’s largest oil terminal, which is also home to a refinery and a number of crude oil storage tanks, is located near the port of Ras Lanuf. In 2016, a series of terrorist attacks set several of the tanks on fire, causing them to burn uncontrollably for several days. Pipelines in the area were also attacked during that time, with oil workers struggling to isolate pipelines and contain the damage. The area, which is located 220 kilometres southwest of Banghazi and 200 kilometres southeast of Surton, needed to be regularly monitored to provide stakeholders with accurate updates of the situation on the ground and to enable an appropriate response to be planned.
The area immediately around the Ras Lanuf Oil Refinery was of particular interest and an accurate level of awareness was essential.To achieve this level of up-to-date visibility, the decision was taken to use Airbus’ very high-resolution Pléiades satellites constellation, which can be flexibly updated in accordance with a client’s specific requirements and provides decision-makers with the required detail, without incurring unnecessary risk or costs associated with in-field surveying.
As regular monitoring of the area was essential, the OneSeries option was selected as the most appropriate service from the One Tasking portfolio.
OneSeries allows for regular tasking of Airbus’ satellites, at the customer’s required frequency, enabling constant monitoring of a specific location or area, with cloud coverage guaranteed to represent less than 10% of the image. As requested for this project, the images were captured and delivered every two weeks.
THE SOLUTION & RESULT
The first image was captured on the 16th of January 2016. It shows dark grey and black patches – oil leaks saturating the desert’s sandy ground. Visually, the oil leaks are in stark contrast to the light brown colour of the desert which surrounds the oil refinery. The image also allows the client to clearly identify burnt out tanks. An intact tank, as visible in the North, has a white roof and white side-walls. In contrast, the damaged tanks are black on the image. Some of the oil tanks don’t even have visible side-walls anymore and they appear to have been torn apart due to explosions or destroyed in the fire, with oil seeping into the sandy ground around them.
Another image taken on the 30th of January 2016 shows that the situation on the ground has worsened further. A fire with black smoke and a new oil leak are visible in the North, whilst further tanks in the storage facility’s centre appear to be damaged. Near infra-red views show the fire in great detail, sufficient enough to understand the real situation and to inform the emergency response.
Images taken on the 13th of February show that the situation on the ground now is under control – the leaks haven’t worsened and there is no smoke or fire visible anymore.
Images taken on the 29th of February show that cleaning work of the facility has started with some of the oil leaks cleared and areas around destroyed storage tanks cleared.
The following images captured on the 12th and 30th of March and the 11th of April further confirm that the situation on the ground hasn’t worsened. This illustrates the advantage these remotely acquired images have, as costs and risks that are associated with visiting the site in person, can be reduced.
The timeliness of the service allowed the client to monitor the oil storage facility and the ongoing attacks, as well as clean-up activities when control was regained. This example shows how Airbus’ OneSeries option of the One Tasking service allows frequent monitoring of critical areas on the ground, ensuring up-to-date information is provided to emergency response teams and decision-makers. It demonstrates the crucial position earth observation satellites have in providing up-to-date intelligence, especially when the situation on the ground is dangerous.