Photo: NOAA

By Alexandra Patel

As we have reported previously, in 2004, an oil production platform owned by Taylor Energy Company sank in a mudslide triggered by  Hurricane Ivan. This sparked an oil spill that has been quietly leaking millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico for the past 15 years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recent flow rate calculations revealed that between 378 to 4,536 gallons of oil has been spilling into the Gulf per day, as opposed to the estimated 3 to 5 gallons per day claimed by Taylor Energy.

Why This Matters: As oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico unchecked and with no end in sight, the Trump administration is drafting a five-year program to expand leases for the oil and gas industry in most of the U.S.’ continental shelf waters – including the protected areas of the Arctic and Atlantic. While opposition from coastal state lawmakers have hindered its implementation, the Draft Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program continues to stay on the table despite the lack of accountability historically held by the oil and gas industry. Not only is current Administration ignoring the environmental damage of present future oil and gas projects, but it is sending a signal that these are issues that the industry need not concern itself with as expansion plans push forwards despite the wreckage it is leaving behind.  In addition, the size of the spill is significant because the company’s financial liability is directly related to the number of barrels spilled.  

The Cover-Up: Secrecy obscuring the spill from the public has only begun to be lifted as a three-year lawsuit between Taylor Energy and various environmental groups ended in 2015 with the company settling to disclose the information. Oscar Garcia-Pineda, a geoscience consultant who authored the most recent spill analysis, stated that there were several instances when the NRC reported low estimates on the same days he was finding heavy layers of oil in the field. Despite the company’s awareness of the ongoing damage, Taylor
Energy in 2010 began petitioning that it be relieved of its clean up responsibilities, pushing the government to finally intervene in 2017.

Little Media Coverage: Oil spills like Deepwater Horizon and the Exxon Valdez incident received enormous attention in the media while the Taylor spill made only a small splash across news outlets until this recent NOAA report.  Yet it is on track to be the largest spill in history,  spanning more than a decade. Awareness of the spill was buried by concerns of the company over loss of reputation and proprietary information regarding its business tactics. If it were not for the BP spill, local activists monitoring the situation and the satellite analysis firm Skytruth’s continued monitoring — the oil slicks that might simply have been attributed to Deep Horizon.

Environmental Consequences: The ecological harm done to the surrounding environment by the oil spill is unknown, as much of the research at the site had been previously led by Taylor Energy, which presented the leak as having a negligible effect on the environment. Studies have shown that oil spills have wide-ranging consequences on the local marine life, such as the smothering of organisms due to the oils high viscosity and chemical toxicity, which then disrupt and alter the entire ecosystem.

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