In 2004 Hurricane Ivan slammed into the Gulf of Mexico, creating an underwater mud slide that would topple Taylor Energy’s Mississippi Canyon oil platform. As the platform fell into 450 feet of water 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana, it broke the casings of the more than 20 wells connected to it.
Although the company tried to contain the leak, and actually did plug nine of the wells, the mudslide made traditional tactics difficult. So these wells have just kept leaking – at a rate that could be as high as 900 gallons/day.
Unless it is plugged, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement estimates the leak will continue for the next century, or until the underground reservoir is finally depleted. On an average day, the slick from this 12-year old leak can stretch over eight square miles.
And if it wasn’t for the scrutiny brought to offshore drilling in the region following the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon in 2010, the spill may have continued to go unnoticed.
Meanwhile, Taylor Energy has gone bankrupt, but is suing the government to establish a $432 million trust to address leak response. They feel the leak is an “act of God” for which the company cannot legally be held responsible. The company also states that any further action to halt the leaks would be worse for the environment.
So how could a spill of this size and scope not make headlines and draw greater scrutiny?
First, the Coast Guard classifies many spills—up to 100,000 gallons—as minor or moderate, and small spills get less of everything, including media attention and clean-up funding. It’s estimated by environmental watchdog SkyTruth that more than 30,000 such spills happen every year.
Taylor Energy also deserves some diversionary credit. They’ve reportedly provided low estimates to the National Response Center, and cited trade secrets and proprietary information as ways to keep their clean-up practices in the dark.
Plus, this isn’t a large, one-time spill. Because the amounts are slow and steady, this spill simply doesn’t come to the top of the priority list.
However, by the time the reservoirs have become depleted, these wells will have spilled as much as 36 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.