In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil tragedy commanded the nation’s attention for months. Eleven lives were lost and communities around the Gulf of Mexico ground to a halt under hundreds of millions of gallons of oil. Yet, lurking underneath the fresh disaster, an older spill was spewing ever faithfully forth: A leak that began when another oil platform was damaged six years earlier.
The Taylor oil spill is still surging after all this time; dumping what’s believed to be tens of thousands of gallons into the Gulf per day since 2004. By some estimates, the chronic leak could soon be larger, cumulatively, than the Deepwater disaster, which dumped up to 176.4 million gallons (or 4.2 million barrels) of oil into the Gulf. That would also make the Taylor spill one of the largest offshore environmental disasters in US history.
In September, the Department of Justice submitted an independent study into the nature and volume of the spill that claims previous evaluations of the damage, submitted by the platform’s owner Taylor Energy Co. and compiled by the Coast Guard, significantly underestimated the amount of oil being let loose. According to the filing, the Taylor spill is spewing anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 gallons of oil a day.
As for how much oil has been leaked since the beginning of the spill, it’s hard to say. An estimate from SkyTruth, a satellite watchdog organization, put the total at 855,000 to 4 million gallons by the end of 2017. If you do the math from the DOJ’s filing, the number comes out astronomically higher: More than 153 million gallons over 14 years.</
A community called to action
In a 2015 complaint filed in relation to the joint suit involving LEAN, Taylor Energy claimed the sheen at the site of the Taylor spill was “residual” and “there is no evidence to suggest” an ongoing leak. The company also claimed it had been fully compliant with US Coast Guard regulations regarding the spill.
A problem floating right under the radar
Amos is familiar with Department of Justice’s commissioned report and says the analysis based estimates of the Taylor oil spill on satellite imagery, as opposed to Taylor Energy’s submitted reports. The discrepancies were severe. Some of the resulting measurements of the oil leakage were 17 times larger than Taylor Energy’s initial estimates.
An impact that’s hard to measure
There are other impacts to consider as well: Impacts on corporate accountability, regulations and transparency in the oil industry and the viability and risks of offshore drilling, to name a few. At a time when the White House has expressed interest in expanding offshore drilling and various states have put forth strong plans of opposition — such as Oregon, where Gov. Kate Brown has just announced a plan to ban offshore drilling along Oregon’s coast, the Taylor oil spill is poised to remain a painfully relevant, if not overdue, touchstone.