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A 14-year-long oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico is set to become one of the worst offshore disasters in U.S. history. The leak is releasing between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day off the coast of Louisiana.  The spill started in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan battered the area resulting in a mudslide that sank an oil production platform.  The platform is owned by Taylor Energy and the oil wells have not been capped and continue to spill into the Gulf.

Taylor Energy kept the spill a secret for six years until environmental groups discovered it while monitoring the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill just a few miles away.  In 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard estimated that 16,000 gallons were flowing from the well into the surrounding water each day.  Just last month, the Department of Justice submitted an independent study that claims previous evaluations of the damage, submitted by the platform’s owner Taylor Energy Co. and compiled by the US Coast Guard, significantly underestimated the amount of oil being leaked.  The study gave a new estimate of between 10,000 and 30,000 gallons of oil leaking from wells around the platform each day.

In the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, 176 million gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf, contaminating 1,300 miles of shoreline and killed thousands of marine mammals and contaminated their habitats.  The spill lasted 87 days and a range of protected species were exposed to oil during the spill.  If the estimates of the Taylor Energy spill are correct then between 81 and 153 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over the last 14 years.  With no plan to stop the flow of oil, the Taylor Energy spill is threatening to overtake BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever offshore oil spill in US history.

Taylor Energy liquidated its oil and gas assets and ceased production and drilling in 2008.  In 2015, Taylor Energy settled a lawsuit with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN).  A complaint filed in relation to the suit, Taylor Energy claimed the sheen at the site of the Taylor spill was “residual” and “there is no evidence to suggest” an ongoing leak. The company also claimed it had been fully compliant with US Coast Guard regulations regarding the spill.

The Taylor Energy oil spill has been well-known to people in the area for years but has never maintained national conversation because it isn’t as “in your face” as the Deepwater Horizon spill.  This leak has managed to fall through the cracks for over a decade and is set to potentially become the worst leak in US history because its effects are not immediately seen and because of flawed estimates when it was discovered.  Companies responsible for significant spills report them to the National Response Center operated by the Coast Guard.  Mandatory reports from the company are then submitted containing regular aerial measurements showing the iridescent sheen on the water that appears to the naked eye.  Estimates of spills are calculated by calculating those measurements with the estimated minimum thickness the oil needs to be to cast such a sheen.

The initial estimates when the leak was discovered in 2010 are based on the reporting from Taylor Energy.  The Department of Justice findings are based on estimates of satellite imagery.  Some of the resulting measurements of the oil leakage were 17 times larger than Taylor Energy’s initial estimates.  The numbers show the volume of the spill is much higher but the environmental impact remains unknown.  There hasn’t been enough public or political pressure for research to figure out the damage of a long-term, chronic leak.

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