The Oil Started Spilling in 2004. The Feds Finally Studied It

And now Taylor Energy is paying $43M
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 26, 2019 8:11 AM CDT
Updated Dec 23, 2021 12:31 AM CST
14 Years After Oil Began Spilling in Gulf, the Feds Study It
This September 2018 photo provided by NOAA shows a NOAA research vessel at a Taylor Energy production site in the Gulf of Mexico.   (NOAA via AP)

(Newser) Update: Taylor Energy will pay $43 million in civil penalties and damages over the longest-running oil spill in US history. The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced the settlement with the Louisiana-based company, which ceased production in 2008, the New York Times reports. Oil and gas has been seeping into the Gulf of Mexico since 2004; the company maintains 16 damaged undersea wells are too dangerous to cap, but an outside contractor's containment system is now believed to be capturing most of the oil that continues to leak each day. The settlement caps a yearslong legal battle, and will end with Taylor Energy's liquidation and any remaining assets being turned over to the federal government. Our original story from June 26, 2019, follows:

Two NOAA scientists were asked why the federal government waited 14 years to conduct a study of an oil spill that started in the Gulf of Mexico in 2004. They didn't know, reports the Washington Post, but as the ones asked to do the study they could put a figure on what's still pouring out of the site all this time later: as many as 4,578 gallons daily. The oil platform was located in an underwater canyon some 12 miles from Louisiana and leased by the Taylor Energy Company—which claims just 3 gallons are seeping out daily. Monster waves churned up by Hurricane Ivan on Sept. 15, 2004, triggered an undersea mudslide that took down the platform and more than two dozen well pipes, which were buried in more than 100 feet of sediment. Taylor Energy claims the oil is seeping out of the oil-soaked sediment.

The report commissioned by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement found the oil is coming from a number of wells. The AP explains nine wells were capped by Taylor Energy, but the company has maintained it's more environmentally prudent to leave 16 of them buried than try to cap them. Gizmodo puts the new numbers in context, reporting they make for a cumulative spill of 25 million gallons; the Deepwater Horizon Spill was more than six times bigger, at 168 million gallons. The Weather Channel reports news of the former spill only publicly emerged in 2010, as scientists discovered it while looking into the latter spill; no coastal environmental damage has been reported. The researchers relied on sonar and a newly developed "bubblometer" to measure the leakage. (Taylor Energy is fighting a federal order to stop that leakage.)

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