Six years ago, scientists studying the long-term effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill began noticing something very odd. They found enormous rainbow oil slicks on the surface of the water off the coast of Louisiana – which, curiously, were many miles away from the area where the Deep Water Horizon spill had taken place.
What these scientists discovered was on-going leakage from the Taylor Oil Spill, which has been quietly releasing between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf Coast over the last 14 years. The spill began in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan's 145 mph winds and 70 foot waves toppled an oil production platform owned by Taylor Energy.
Because the shattered wells that fed the platform were buried under a mud slide and never capped, the site has quietly leaked vast quantities of oil into the gulf, and is now threatening to overtake the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest marine oil spill in American history.
The Washington Post recently broke the story in an article by Darryl Fears, which explains how it took scientists six years to catch on to reality of the enormous spill, which federal officials estimate could continue through this century.
"The Taylor Energy spill is largely unknown outside Louisiana because of the company’s effort to keep it secret in the hopes of protecting its reputation and proprietary information about its operations," writes Fears, and the extent of the spill was only discovered when a lawsuit filed by environmental watchdog groups eventually forced the company to reveal its cleanup plan.
After the spill was discovered, initial estimates by the NRC put the amount of oil leaking into the water at 1 to 55 barrels of oil per day. However more recent data shows that the truth is closer to 1 to 700 barrels of oil per day.
"The Interior Department is now fighting an effort by Taylor Energy to walk away from the disaster," reports Fears. "The company sued Interior in federal court, seeking the return of about $450 million left in a trust it established with the government to fund its work to recover part of the wreckage and locate wells buried under 100 feet of muck."
While scientists are just beginning to assess the environmental damage caused over the past fourteen years, there is growing potential for similar spills take place. The article notes that the Trump administration has proposed to expand drilling leases to the entire out continental shelf, including along the Atlantic coast, where hurricanes are twice as frequent as they are in the Gulf.
The risks associated with these new developments are greatly increased by the growing intensity of storms, fueled by waters warmed by climate change, and environmental groups worry that officials have not learned from the mistakes of the Taylor spill.
To learn more about the background of the spill, and how Taylor Energy kept it so quiet for all these years, be sure to check out Fears’ original article!