23 October 2018

An environmental disaster, ongoing for 14 years

"An oil spill that has been quietly leaking millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico has gone unplugged for so long that it now verges on becoming one of the worst offshore disasters in U.S. history.

Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill 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, according to a lawsuit that forced the company to reveal its cleanup plan. The spill was hidden for six years before environmental watchdog groups stumbled on oil slicks while monitoring the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster a few miles north...

It would take another three years before the government revealed an even deeper truth. Taylor Energy had been playing down the severity of the spill. An Associated Press investigation in 2015 determined that it was about 20 times worse than the company had reported. Taylor Energy had argued that the leak was two gallons per day; the Coast Guard finally said it was 84 gallons or more.

“There’s a fine for not reporting, but none for underreporting,” Amos said.

Nearly a decade after the oil platform went down, the government determined that the actual level of oil leaking into the Gulf was between one and 55 barrels per day. Now, the new estimate dwarfs that: up to 700 barrels per day. Each barrel contains 42 gallons."


  1. Two comments come to mind on this --

    First, is that this leakage is a fraction of natural non-human caused oil in the gulf. While I am not condoning this (if humans caused this oil leak, then they should fix it) -- its useful to look at this in context of natural sources.

    Its quite common for oil to seep to the surface, both above ground and to the underwater surface. These seeps are not man made, but caused by geology -- and that's why you can find places like the La Brea Tar Pits in California, or the Asphalt lake on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean and many others.

    As a point of comparison, there are about 600 known petroleum seeps underwater in the Gulf of Mexico. These release around 140,000 metric tons per year into the Gulf which converts to about 968,300 barrels per year, or about 2700 barrels per day. Again -- not condoning this uncapped leak, but noting it in comparison to natural sources.

    Ref: Transportation Research Board and National Research Council. 2003. Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/10388.

    The second comment is that a leakage of up to 700 barrels per day would represent a potential revenue stream of about $52,000 per day (at $75/ barrel) or about $19 M a year. I'm a bit surprized that someone hasn't proposed a collector over the well head for this oil to collect it as it is free flowing from the destroyed well head, and then sell this on the market. There's an economic incentive to do this, which might be encouraged.

    1. Thanks for your post, especially the reference to the assertions in your first point. Do you have information regarding he cost of a well head to collect this oil, as well as the cost to store it, ship it, etc? Hard to believe some enterprising company would not take advantage of this, as well as garner the positive publicity.

    2. My guess, was that with the original leak posted at 85 gallons or so per day back around 2010, and not revisited and remeasured until 2015, no one had the economic incentive to do much. That's about 2 barrels per day or maybe $150/day (at $75/ barrel), or about $55,000 per year.

      I suspect (with no data) the wellhead area was not revisited for a decade -- the article points out the company that owned the broken well was down to one employee. Its highly unlikely that an almost out of business company isn't going to fund the 100's of thousands to sponsor an expedition to inspect a defunct well head, unless they had to.

      It wasn't until a group of oceanographers and scientists went down to the destroyed well heads that they found the leak was a lot more. So no one knew, and there was no incentive known -- up to quite recently.

      How much would it cost? I have no idea -- my guess is that it'll not be cheap. Subsea subsurface operations are not check -- potentially into the 100's of millions of dollars. First, you'll have to get permission to operate or purchase the broken facility. Then you'll need to survey what's down there, possibly remove some of the old broken equipment, design and fabricate something, transport and install it on site, and then operate it. As a layman, I think its doable, but I'm not an expert and I have no idea how much this will cost.

  2. BP was fined billions as it should have. Taylor Energy being a US company will get a slap on the wrist from the Trump administration which holds the environment in little regard.

    1. BTW, BP is a multi-nationally owned corporation, with more than 40& of its stock owned by Americans and American companies. At least half of the members of the board of directors are Americans. And when the company was fined, it was mostly British and American pensioners that suffered the consequences.

  3. There is virtually nothing left of Taylor Energy (http://www.taylorenergy.com/) . A slap on the wrist is likely more than they could pay. But let's make this about Trump anyway. The leak was 85 gallons a day in 2010 (When the President was some guy name of Obama). The leak was reported by the AP to be much worse in 2015 (when the President was some guy name of Obama). So yes, indeed, let's load this on to Trump. Really? Give it a rest.

    Probably the worst President we have ever had, I am embarrassed when I travel overseas and the conversation turns to our current President. I am waiting for the news report that Trump owned space in the early 70s in the Watergate Complex, so he is surely responsible for that whole fiasco...


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