Public Lab Research note

Kite Photo of Ongoing Coal Pollution in Plaquemines Parish, LA

by eustatic | May 28, 2013 16:48 28 May 16:48 | #7945 | #7945

Kite Photo of Pollution from United Bulk terminal

We gained a new perspective on the ongoing pollution from the United Bulk terminal using a "Little Bear" Delta kite.


Quick Success

It was a sunny, windy day with uncommonly steady, strong wind at the sweet spot of 15 miles per hour.

We walked the levee and put the kite up. On account of the excellent conditions, the kite "sank" into the air like an anchor, actually much steadier than any balloon I've ever flown. This is also a testament to the quality of the kite model, I think, which is made to lift laundry.

the picture below was taken within two minutes. All pictures were taken in ten minutes, and the camera put away before the sheriff arrived.

It's important to note that

  • we didn't drive on the levee, as per parish ordinance. this becomes more of an issue as high water season has arrived, and levee inspections occur daily.
  • it is perfectly legal to stand on public property and take pictures of pollution. It is important to know property boundaries and assert them if plant managers accuse you of trespass.
  • there are no Homeland Security regulations concerning photography of oil or coal facilities, despite what the plant manager will tell you. (it's different for nuclear facilities and military bases specifically barred from photography by local military authorities)
  • the Sheriff has discretion to arrest anyone deemed a threat. In this situation, the plant manager reported that we were "suspicious," but also that we "look[ed] like normal guys". Our names were run through the FBI system.
  • you might not have such luck with the Sheriff if you don't 'look like a normal guy.'
  • I was glad to have Devin there to talk to the workers and manager while I flew the kite.

Later, an NRC report was filed.

Future Modifications

in the future, I plan on modifying the soda bottle rig to capture obliques. I find that the breen box / picavet is commonly too heavy for Gulf Coast's irregular winds.

Below is the re-post from

A few fridays ago, I and Devin Martin of Sierra Club Delta Chapter walked the river to find coal and pet coke washing into the batture.

On previous trips we had seen both mineral coal and slimy coal tar downstream of United Bulk, and watched as a river otter fed on blue crab in the anchorage of an array of barges. 

We walked the levee along the blackened river and flew a kite to gain perspective on the source of the discharges lazily spewing from a coal conveyor. Click here to see how United Bulk is polluting the river with Coal and Petroleum Coke.

Although a mystery to us from google earth photography,which has been wonderful at documenting the long-negligent practices of the terminal, the little pile of petroleum coke building up in the batture of the flooded riverbank was apparent from the kite photos. 

Our public watchdogs shouldn't stand for this.  Although we live in an area saturated with chemical plants, Petroleum Coke should still be considered a pollutant significant enough for the attention of the Coast Guard. United Bulk is not allowed to just let their waste into our river. When cleaning up the pile would only require simple mechanical fixes--like a cover on the conveyor belt, companies like United Bulk can easily do more to keep it clean.

Sadly, it's up to us, the citizens ourselves, that must enforce the environmental laws. As of press time, we still haven't heard from DEQ on what is happening at this conveyor, and why it's so dirty.


Although the plant manager doesn't like it, it's unquestionably legal to stand on public property and take photos of United Bulk's pollution.

 A photo of the kite used to catch United Bulk in the act.

tar in the batture at United bulk

tarry substance in the batture at United Bulk

Scott Eustis, M.S. is GRN's Coastal Wetland Specialist




Just wanted to link up this old post with the great followup summary here:

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