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The Oil Leak in the Gulf We’re Not Supposed to Know About

RP Siegel | Wednesday March 13th, 2013 | 0 Comments
Oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico from the Taylor Energy leak.

Oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico from the Taylor Energy leak.

Wait a minute. What’s this about a leak in the Gulf of Mexico? I thought we stopped that leak. You know, the one that started two years ago, the big one that leaked for five months, releasing an estimated 4.4 million barrels as the result of an explosion that killed 11 workers.

Oh, this is a different one. Where was it located? Eleven miles off the Louisiana coast?

I see. And how long has it been leaking? What, you’re kidding? Eight years?

Who owns this well? Taylor Energy? Never heard of them.

How much oil has been spilled?

What do you mean, nobody knows?

Really, just about all we have about this situation are questions. This is why six environmental groups have served a freedom-of-information lawsuit to the US Coast Guard in an attempt to learn more.  The suit challenges the denial of two previous freedom-of-information-act (FOIA) requests.

The groups also filed a separate lawsuit against Taylor Energy, claiming that 28 wells that were damaged in an underwater landslide, back in 2004, and continue to leak to this day, even as we struggle to understand the lingering impacts of the massive BP spill and the chemical dispersants used to try and contain it, on the health of that ecosystem.

Taylor Energy, is a privately held oil company, operating in the Gulf of Mexico, that was sold to a joint venture of Samsung and Korea National Oil Company (KNOC) in 2008. The joint venture is now known as Ankor Energy LLC. The Taylor purchase was one of many KNOC acquisitions. CEO Phyllis Taylor took over the company, when her husband, long time oilman Patrick Taylor, died in 2004. Worth some $1.6 billion, Taylor is on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people.

The first FOIA request was filed with the Coast Guard on October 19, 2011, asking for “any and all public records relating to” Mississippi Canyon block 20 of the Gulf of Mexico associated with Taylor Energy. They received only 19 out of 256 pages.

The plaintiffs, which include Waterkeeper Alliance, Atchafalya Basinkeeper, Galveston Baykeeper, Louisiana Bayoukeeper, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), claim that the Coast Guard has been unresponsive to requests for information regarding the cause of the leak, the volume being released, and what actions are being taken to stop it.

According to Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, “We filed this suit to stop the spill and lift the veil of secrecy surrounding Taylor Oil’s eight-year long response and recovery operation. Neither the government nor Taylor will answer basic questions related to the spill response, citing privacy concerns.”

Machelle Hall, an attorney with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, says that factual information, such as how much oil has been released, is not included in the exemptions provided by the law to protect agencies’ ability to deliberate or discuss private information and make decisions.

A second FOIA request filed in December 2011, was acknowledged but never responded to.

This almost seems like another conspiracy of silence intended to quash resistance to the stampede to develop America’s domestic energy resources on environmental grounds, despite the voluminous body of evidence of how inherently unsafe these operations are.

“The Taylor Oil spill is emblematic of a broken system, where oil production is prioritized over concerns for human health and the environment,” said Paul Orr, of the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper. “Nearly three years after the Deepwater Horizon Spill, none of the comprehensive reforms recommended by the National Oil Spill Commission have been enacted and Congress has yet to pass a single law to better protect workers, the environment or coastal communities.”

While this leak is clearly far smaller than the BP leak, the fact that it seems to have been left to run free for so long and the Coast Guard is neither doing anything nor providing information is scandalous.

There seems to be an untold story here, part of a bigger picture in which cash-rich energy companies, alarmed at the way that renewables have been elbowing their way into the economy, are fighting back aggressively with every weapon they have. And their number one weapon is price. If they can get their prices down they can begin to drive renewables back, which is already beginning to happen in the investment world where big investors are now backing away from clean energy.

This is exactly what happened back in the seventies, when renewables first came on the scene. They were beginning to flourish, then oil prices dropped and the market dried up. Today, lower costs are only possible with the kind of aggressive push for domestic production that has thrown caution to the wind with dangerous offshore drilling, risky Arctic exploration, an unconscionable tar pipeline based on environmental report written by a TransCanada contractor and accepted as a government document, and reckless fracking. There is an urgency behind this as a last ditch effort with no regard whatsoever for the longer term consequences. This is a full court press and these companies are using every means necessary including whatever arm-twisting or contribution-giving is necessary to gain the complicity of government agencies we’ve entrusted with the protection of our planet and our children’s future. Only an informed public can stand up to this kind of manipulation, with a determination equal to that of those who will do anything to have things their way.

[Image credit: Courtesy of Dubinsky Photography]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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