Drip, drip, drip.
If you’ve ever had a leaky faucet, you know how annoying it can be.
Well, how’s this for annoying?
Leak, leak, leak.
That’s what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico.
Though we rarely hear about it.
And it’s worse than annoying.
It’s dangerous. For people, for animals, for the environment.
It’s called the Taylor oil spill.
It’s been going on for 14 years.
Never heard of it, right?
So here’s a little history for some context.
Patrick Taylor founded Taylor Energy Company in New Orleans in 1979. According to Taylor’s 2004 obituary, “Taylor Energy Company is one of the larger independent oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico to explore for and produce oil and natural gas in Federal offshore waters in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Taylor Energy was doing well, and the price of gasoline was increasing:
Then in September 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana. Powerful waves triggered an underwater mudslide that wrecked Taylor Energy’s oil platform.
The mudslide also buried a cluster of wells under mounds of treacherous sediment, preventing the company from employing traditional techniques to plug them. Taylor Energy plugged nine wells, leaving 16 unplugged.
Patrick Taylor died in November 2004.
Taylor Energy “sold its oil and gas assets in 2008 and ceased oil drilling and production operations,” according to its one-page website:
And ever since Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, Taylor Energy’s drilling site has been leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
I knew nothing of this until I heard an interview on NPR’s The Takeaway. The gentleman being interviewed, Michael Kunzelman of the Associated Press, had talked of and written about the Taylor oil spill for years.
I wonder if Kunzelman felt like the proverbial voice crying in the wilderness – writing and warning and nobody listening.
I listened, and got angry, then started doing my own research, and got angrier.
Based on what I’m learning, from my perspective, here’s one of the reasons no one is listening: The Deepwater Horizon disaster:
In 2010 BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded. Spectacular flames, clouds of billowing smoke. Countless gallons of oil in and on the water, moving toward shorelines. Countless birds and marine life killed. Massive oil spill, massive rescue efforts. Eleven workers never found.
And massive media attention: The disaster was brought to us live from the flames and smoke to pictures of oil-soaked pelicans staggering at the water’s edge. “BP” was on everybody’s lips. The disaster was BP’s fault. BP was the villain, and everybody knew it.
And in case anybody forgot it, a movie, Deepwater Horizon, came out in 2016 to remind us.
But in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan wrecked Taylor Energy’s oil platform – no explosions, no flames, no deaths, no staggering pelicans.
No one was paying much attention, and Taylor Energy certainly wasn’t talking about it.
And since 2004:
Leak, leak, leak.
So there’s a brief history of the Taylor oil spill. As one writer put it, “a quietly devastating oil spill that’s been contaminating the Gulf of Mexico for 14 years.”
Said another, “It threatens to overtake the Deepwater Horizon spill as the biggest offshore disaster in US history.”
Reminder: Deepwater Horizon: More than 200 million gallons (more than 4 million barrels) of crude oil pumped into the Gulf of Mexico.
In 2008, the same year that Taylor Energy sold its assets and ceased production, federal government regulators required the company to deposit approximately $666 million in a trust to pay for oil leak response work.
Taylor Energy has shirked its responsibility, and an army of lawyers has fought further responsibility every step of the way. “The company,” wrote Kunzelman, “has insisted there is no evidence any wells are still leaking. It claims residual oil is oozing from sediment on the seafloor.”
As for what is we’re seeing on the Gulf of Mexico surface, says Taylor Energy, “The sheens contained an average volume of less than 4 gallons per day.”
Over the past 14 years, Taylor Energy has maintained that the leaks are minimal, as is any environmental damage. Each time new measurements were taken – by the Coast Guard and environmental groups who insisted the leaks were increasing – Taylor maintained its position.
No, no, insisted Taylor Energy scientists. The slicks are caused by oil and gas bubbling up from the oil-saturated seafloor, and not from leaking wells.
In November 2018 Kunzelman wrote, “Government lawyers recently disclosed a new estimate that approximately 10,500 to 29,400 gallons of oil is leaking daily from the site where slicks often stretch for miles off Louisiana’s coast.”
But Taylor Energy has held fast.
And William Pecue, Taylor Energy’s president, has consistently referred to the events that led to the oil leak as an “Act of God.” Meaning that Hurricane Ivan triggered a mudslide in the canyon that the wells were located in, and the event was an unforeseen natural phenomenon for which Taylor cannot legally be held responsible.
In one article Kunzelman quoted Justice Department attorney John Roberson as saying, “I believe that their [Taylor Energy’s] position is there’s no more that can be done and they should be able to walk away from the issue.”
And not only “walk away” – Taylor Energy had sued the Federal government, demanding the return of $432 million of that $666 million.
Take the money and run. The good old American way.
But…maybe not. According to a spate of articles on November 20,
“Last week, the Coast Guard directed Taylor Energy to decide on a new containment plan and a contractor to do the work. The new method of containment ‘must eliminate the surface sheen and avoid the deficiencies associated with prior containment systems,’ the Coast Guard wrote in an administrative order. The company will be fined up to $40,000 per day for failing to comply.”
And on November 21 Kunzelman wrote,
“The Interior Board of Land Appeals refused to excuse Taylor Energy Co. from requirements to permanently plug oil wells that could be the source of the leak. [It] can be required to perform more underwater drilling and excavation work to stop the flow of crude.”
Taylor Energy has fought unfavorable decisions in the past and will no doubt fight these decisions as well.
And while they’re fighting…
Leak, leak, leak.
And in the meantime: