Taylor oil spill

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Taylor Oil Spill
Taylor oil spill is located in Louisiana
Taylor oil spill
Location of the Taylor oil spill, off the southeast coast of Louisiana
LocationGulf of Mexico
Coordinates28°56′09″N 88°58′12″W / 28.93583°N 88.97000°W / 28.93583; -88.97000Coordinates: 28°56′09″N 88°58′12″W / 28.93583°N 88.97000°W / 28.93583; -88.97000[1]
Date2004 – 2019
Cause
CauseHurricane
OperatorTaylor Energy
Spill characteristics
Volume1,400,000 US gallons (5,300,000 l; 1,200,000 imp gal) (upper 2015 estimate)
Area8 square miles (21 km2)
Shoreline impactedGulf Coast of the United States

The 2004 Taylor Oil Spill is an ongoing spill located in the Gulf of Mexico, around 11 miles (18 km) off the coast of the U.S. state of Louisiana, which resulted from the destruction of a Taylor Energy oil platform during Hurricane Ivan, and it is the longest oil spill in U.S. history.[2] It was first brought to public attention when the contamination at the site was noticed in 2010 by those monitoring the nearby Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A later report by the Associated Press in 2015 challenged the estimates of the extent of the leak given by the company and the U.S. Coast Guard, which were then revised to be around 1000 times greater than initially reported.

Upper estimates of the spill have been calculated to be as much as 140,000,000 US gallons (530,000,000 l; 120,000,000 imp gal) (about 3,333,300 barrels) of oil lost over the life of the disaster, affecting an area as large as 8 square miles (21 km2).[citation needed] As of 2018, it was estimated that 300 to 700 barrels of oil per day are being spilled, making it one of the worst modern oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico by volume. The reserves are likely sufficient for the spill to continue for up to 100 years if it is not contained.

Taylor Energy claims to have spent as much as $435 million decommissioning the site. They claim that nothing further can be done to contain the spill and that current observations of oil plumes in the area are the result of contaminated sediments, and not an active spill. These claims have been proven wrong in reports from non-profit groups, the press, and the government.

In 2019, the US Coast Guard and private contractors finally managed to begin to contain the majority of the leaking oil. But after 16 years of uncontrolled leakage, the Taylor spill has become the nation's longest continuous oil spill, rivaling the famous BP spill, which, coincidentally led to its discovery.

Origin[edit]

Taylor Energy Oil Platform[edit]

Taylor took over an oil-production platform once operated by BP in 1995. The Taylor Energy Mississippi Canyon 20 site[a] was constructed in 1984, 11 miles (18 km) southeast of the Plaquemines-Balize delta, 12 miles off the Louisiana coast. It consisted of a "fixed, 8-pile structure" in 490 feet (150 m) deep water, with 28 wells reaching reservoirs of depths of up to 2.08 miles (3.35 km).[3]

Hurricane Ivan and Gulf Storms[edit]

On September 16, 2004, Hurricane Ivan passed within 62 miles (100 km) of the site, creating 145 mph winds and waves of roughly 70 feet high, and caused submarine landslides that capsized the drill rig and moved it 560 feet (170 m) from its original location.[3][4] This resulted in between 25 and 28 leaking wells being buried beneath the sea floor, approximately 475 feet (145 m) below the surface. At the moment of capsizing, more than 600 barrels of crude oil, each containing 42 gallons, came tumbling into the Gulf and the rig, now leaking oil, was shortly buried in 150 feet of mud. [5][6][7]

Public Awareness[edit]

According to The Washington Post, although Taylor Energy reported the spill to the Coast Guard at the time, the Coast Guard "monitored the site for more than half a decade without making the public fully aware" of the severity of the leak.[6] For six years, Taylor Energy secretly repeated attempts to cap the leaks and failed over and over. Because no human lives were lost to the accident and because there was no immediate and obvious impact on the surrounding ecosystems, Taylor Energy and the government managed to keep the disaster completely secret from the public. Increased attention later came in 2010, when observers monitoring the Deepwater Horizon oil spill discovered a persistent oil slick at the Taylor site.[6]

The Louisiana Environmental Action Network and several other conservationist organizations sued Taylor Energy in 2012, alleging that they, along with the federal government had withheld information from the public in a way that was "inconsistent with national policy", specifically a provision of the Clean Water Act, which mandates "public participation in the ... enforcement of any regulation".[6][8]

In 2015 the Associated Press conducted an investigation into the spill, and when provided with their results, the Coast Guard updated their leak estimates to one that was "about 20 times greater than one recently touted by the company".[6][9] Additional information regarding the spill has been withheld by the company, with the approval of the government, in the "name of protecting trade secrets".[9]

As of 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was three years behind a deadline for producing a study of the environmental impacts of the spill. In July 2018, the non-profit Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against NOAA for "failing to produce a timely study".[6] As of 2018 no economic impact analysis of the spill had been conducted.[6]

Magnitude[edit]

Oil sheen from the nearby Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in 2010, when those monitoring the area observed similar contamination coming from the Taylor Energy site

As of October 2018, it was estimated that between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day were being spilled near the Taylor Energy site. In May 2019, the US Coast Guard installed a containment system that has been collecting 30 barrels per day.[10] As of June 2019, a report by the National Center for Coastal Ocean Science estimated that the flow rate of oil leaking at the site was between 9 and 108 barrels per day.[11] The resulting oil sheen was estimated in 2015 to cover 8 square miles (21 km2).[6][12] As of 2014, the sheen was approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide and 14 miles (23 km) long, with an average of 1 mile (1.6 km) wide and 5.5 miles (8.9 km) long.[5]

Estimates by the environmental non-profit group SkyTruth indicated that the spill may have emptied up to 1,400,000 US gallons (5,300,000 l; 1,200,000 imp gal) of oil as of 2015, making it the 8th largest spill in the Gulf of Mexico since 1970.[12][13] Taylor Energy originally estimated the volume of the spill was in decline and was set to dwindle to around 12 gallons per day, but following an examination of 2,300 pollution reports by the Associated Press, the spill was shown to be dramatically increasing in both volume and area.[14]

According to Greenpeace and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), if not contained, the tapped reserves contain sufficient oil for the spill to continue for 100 years until they are depleted.[4][5] According to a report from the U.S. Coast Guard, the leak represented a "significant threat" to the surrounding environment, although they did not find evidence that oil from the spill had reached the nearby shoreline.[12]

In documents submitted to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in 2015, Taylor Energy contended that "there is no evidence to suggest that any wells are leaking," but that "small residual sheen persists as the result of soil contamination that cannot safely and feasibly be addressed." However, the U.S. government reports concluded that "oil is most likely emanating from one or more of the 25 wells ... because the discharge volume is greater than can reasonably be accounted for by oil released from sediment only."[6][15]

Containment Efforts[edit]

Taylor Energy entered an agreement in 2008 with the Minerals Management Service to decommission the site, and the Coast Guard established a dedicated multi-agency Unified Command structure to complete and oversee the work. Although the Minerals Management Service had ordered Taylor Energy to complete decommissioning by June 2008, they failed to do so, claiming "the technology needed to plug the wells at the site did not yet—and still does not—exist."[3]

Because the wells were themselves buried under the seafloor, now a seemingly impenetrable wall of mud and metal from the rig, traditional methods known as "plug and abandon" were not feasible.[9] Examination of conditions on the location indicated that dredging the seafloor for access to the wells, or drilling intervention wells for 17 of the 24 posed too high of a risk for safety and the environment.[3] The contractors were actually forbidden from penetrating the debris and mud to locate the wells in the fear that they may strike an oil pipe or well by accident. An accident like this proved too much of a risk as it could result in a BP Oil-like disaster and would complicate and prolong cleanup efforts further as well as damaging the environment even more. The result of these, likely, wise precautions, was the slowing down of cleanup efforts.

Taylor Energy reached an agreement with the federal government to establish a $666 million trust in order to fund the response to the spill according to The Washington Post.[6][b] The Huffington Post reported that Taylor Energy has spent "tens of millions of dollars" in containment efforts.[12] One other estimate put the price as of 2014 at $435 million in total spending by Taylor Energy on decommissioning.[3] However, Taylor Energy contends that "nothing can be done to completely halt the chronic slicks."[12] According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, collaborative efforts have resulted in the removal of the platform deck, removal of subsea debris, decommissioning of the oil pipeline, and efforts to plug nine of the affected wells,[c] but that despite these efforts, there is an ongoing oil discharge from the site.[5]

Containment efforts were disrupted by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, and although Taylor Energy has formulated plans to resolve the issue and presented these to federal regulators, the details were not released to the public. Taylor Energy sold its remaining oil assets in 2008, and as of 2015 had only a single employee.[12]

On October 23, 2018, one day after a Washington Post article exposing a decade of lax enforcement, the United States Coast Guard issued an order requiring cleanup of the site, blockage of the leaks, or face fines of $40,000 a day.[17]

On May 16, 2019, the United States Coast Guard reported that a containment system was working well enough to reduce the heavy surface sheen to barely visible.[18]

Consequences[edit]

Environmental Impacts[edit]

As of 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was three years behind a deadline for producing a study of the environmental impacts of the spill. In July 2018, the non-profit Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against NOAA for "failing to produce a timely study".[6] As of 2018 no economic impact analysis of the spill had been conducted.[6]

According to University of Miami Marine Biologist, Robert Jones, some species, namely benthic invertebrates, are unable to move from the site of a prolonged oil release and are, thus, likely to suffer the most from a spill; He also claims that the smaller organisms are typically impacted to a greater extent than larger sea organisms in cases of oil spills. According to Jones, it is impossible to know how long it will take for marine life to recover because to determine the recovery of the relevant sealife, the pre-spill conditions must be known so post-spill conditions can be measured in comparison. Furthermore, determining recovery also depends on which organisms are being considered in the process because. different organisms will recover at different paces, some may even take several decades, for example. Robert points out a problem with the varying recovery paces of the affected organisms: “differences in recovery rates may lead to unbalanced ecosystems with consequences for some species even if these species were not directly impacted by the spill itself. However, considering past spills, recovery can, in some cases, take decades.” [19]

Human Health Impacts[edit]

In addition to environmental concerns, there is also concern surrounding the possibility of the oil spill having negative consequences for human health. Research on the effects of the Taylor oil spill on marine life has determined that fish tend not to accumulate the many harmful chemicals found in oil to the extent that it poses a risk to the health of humans consuming fish. However, they also note that this is not true for all invertebrates in the area, in other words, some sea life may accumulate these chemicals from the oil spill in the Gulf and thereby pose a risk to human health.[19]

Economical Impacts[edit]

As of 2018, there had been no economic impact analysis conducted to demonstrate the value of oil leaking into the sea and the potential taxpayer dollars being lost. As of 2019, studies are focusing more on economic opportunities. Such research has focused on how jobs can be created by the oil companies which work with local communities to clean up hazardous spills. Oil is still being collected and sold from the Gulf in cleanup efforts from the Taylor spill, and the oil and gas industry continues to have bankruptcies resulting in tens of thousands of Louisiana oil and gas workers unemployed. With that said, these unemployed knowledgeable oil and gas workers could be employed again to evaluate and tend to current oil infrastructure which might be decaying and becoming faulty over time. Ultimately, cleaning oil out of the Gulf of Mexico could actually be well-paid work for those who need it. The policy framework for this idea is still quite underdeveloped, however.[20]

Legal Aspects and Lawsuits[edit]

Environmentalists took Taylor Energy to court for engaging in a “secret deal” with the federal government which did not adhere to national policies which state that, in the event of a hazardous spill, citizen participation will be provided, encouraged, and assisted. According to the lawsuit, Taylor Energy, in agreement with the United States Coast Guard, purposefully neglected its obligation to adhere to the aforementioned policy when it chose to hide the hazardous spill from the public. In fact, in 2009, a private company was testing fish in the area of the spill and confirmed that there was an “acceptable risk” to humans, should they consume the fish, yet Taylor Energy still neglected to make the public aware of the spill.[5][6][7]

In accordance with the law, there is a mandatory fine for not reporting a hazardous spill but, to Taylor Energy's benefit, there is, however, no fine for lying about the extent of a spill. This is precisely what Taylor Energy did; In 2015, An Associated Press investigation determined that Taylor Energy had been downplaying the extent of the spill, claiming it was about 2 gallons a day when in fact it was nearly 90 gallons leaking into the Gulf every day.[5][6][7]

At a 2016 public forum, Taylor Energy President, William Pecue, argued that Taylor Energy should be allowed to walk away from its obligation to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf. A third of the company's trust money (of 666 million dollars) had been spent on cleanup, but only about a third of the leaking wells had been fixed. Pecue's goal was to recover $450 million, arguing the spill could not be contained and that the disaster was no one's fault because the company had no control of Hurricane Ivan. “I can affirmatively say that we do believe this was an act of God under the legal definition.” However, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Ivan was one of the hundreds being tracked in the Gulf since the 1800s.[5][6][7]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The site is alternatively referred to as "Taylor Energy platform 23051".[3]
  2. ^ Taylor Energy filed a lawsuit in January of 2016, seeking to recover portions of the trust. As of December 2017 the suit was ongoing.[16]
  3. ^ Wells 1, 4, 10, 11, 13, 16, 17, 19, and 21[3]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Skytruth Alert: NRC Report: Unknown Oil 2017-10-12". SkyTruth. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  2. ^ Yessenia Funes (June 25, 2019). "Longest Oil Spill in U.S. History May Be 900 Times Larger Than Originally Estimated". earther.gizmodo.com. Gizmodo. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Sarah Josephine Harrison (2017). "Lessons from the Taylor Energy oil spill: history, seasonality, and nutrient limitation". Retrieved October 23, 2018. Thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the University of Georgia. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  4. ^ a b Tim Donaghy (February 19, 2016). "This Oil Leak Could Last for 100 Years — and the Company Involved Refuses to Fix It". Greenpeace. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Incident Archive - Taylor Energy Oil Discharge at MC-20 Site and Ongoing Response Efforts". Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Darryl Fears (October 21, 2018). "A 14-year-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico verges on becoming one of the worst in U.S. history". The Washington Post.
  7. ^ a b c d Greenpeace (February 23, 2016). "The Biggest Oil Leak You've Never Heard Of, Still Leaking After 12 Years". EcoWatch.
  8. ^ "Waterkeeper Organizations File Suit to Plug Taylor Energy's Ongoing 7 Year Gulf Oil Spill". Louisiana Environmental Action Network. February 2, 2012. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c Kunzelman, Michael; Donn, Jeff (April 16, 2015). "Secrecy shrouds decade-old oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico". Associated Press. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  10. ^ "An Integrated Assessment of Oil and Gas Release into the Marine Environment at the Former Taylor Energy MC20 Site". National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS/NOAA). June 1, 2019. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  11. ^ "NCCOS Scientists Publish Flow Rates for 14-year-long Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico (video)". National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS/NOAA). June 24, 2019. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Michael Kunzelman; Jeff Donn (April 16, 2015). "Secrecy Shrouds Decade-Old Oil Spill In Gulf Of Mexico". The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on April 17, 2015. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  13. ^ "Largest Oil Spills Affecting U.S. Waters Since 1969". NOAA Office of Response and Restoration. June 28, 2019. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  14. ^ Zoë Schlanger (April 18, 2015). "Oil Spill Has Been Leaking Into Gulf for a Decade". Newsweek.
  15. ^ "Apalachicola Riverkeeper, et al., v. Taylor Energy Company, LLC" (PDF). United States District Court Eastern District Of Louisiana. May 22, 2015. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  16. ^ "Oil and gas plumes again seen at site of Taylor Energy Gulf well destroyed 13 years ago". The Times-Picayune. December 20, 2017. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  17. ^ Darryl Fears (November 20, 2018). "Coast Guard orders cleanup of massive 14-year oil spill in Gulf of Mexico". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 21, 2018. In an order issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, Taylor Energy Co. was told to “institute a … system to capture, contain, or remove oil” from the site or face a $40,000 per day fine for failing to comply.
  18. ^ Romo, Vanessa (May 16, 2019), Oil Spill Seeping Into Gulf Of Mexico Contained After 14 Years, Coast Guard Says, NPR, retrieved May 17, 2019
  19. ^ a b Jones, Robert. "Assessing the impact of the Taylor Energy oil spill". News@TheU. University of Miami.
  20. ^ Zaitchik, Alexander. "The Longest-Running Offshore Oil Spill You've Never Heard About". Sierra Club. Sierra Club.