A Secret, 14-Year-Long Oil Spill is Becoming as Bad as BP’s Deepwater Horizon

The U.S. Government and oil industry have hidden the second-worst oil spill in history for 14 years, and now want to expand offshore drilling

An aerial image of an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, taken on April 28, 2018. (Oscar Garcia-Pineda)

As many as 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico ever since 2004, when Hurricane Ivan sank an oil platform 12 miles off the Louisiana coast, the Washington Post reports.

The platform, originally owned by British Petroleum, was owned by Taylor Energy at the time of the disaster.

Sixteen of the wells damaged by the mudslide still have not been capped, as they are buried under 100 feet of “muck” and extremely difficult to locate.

With no fix in sight, the Taylor spill could soon surpass BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest offshore oil spill ever.

Despite the astronomical size of the spill, now approaching 150 million gallons in total, hardly anyone outside of coastal Louisiana has heard about it.

The coverup

The company and government kept the Taylor spill hidden for six years before environmental watchdog groups stumbled on its oil slicks while monitoring the BP spill in 2010.

“We were flying to monitor the BP disaster and we kept seeing these slicks, but they were nowhere near the BP spill,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network.

Satellite images confirmed their suspicions.

“It was there all the time, longer than the BP spill,” said John Amos, founder and president of Sky Truth, a nonprofit organization that tracks pollution.

Taylor Energy did report the spill to the U.S. Coast Guard, which monitored the site for more than half a decade without informing the public, but massively under-reported the severity of it.

Initially, the company claimed the leak was only 2 gallons per day. Later, the Coast Guard put the number at 84 gallons. The most recent government estimates are between 13,000 and 30,000 gallons per day.

In 2008, the Coast Guard deemed the site of the 16 uncapped wells “a continuous, unsecured crude oil discharge” that posed “a significant threat to the environment.”

In 2009, a private firm tested fish in the area and submitted an assessment to Taylor Energy in 2009 warning “there is an acceptable risk to humans if fish from the . . . area are consumed.”

The cleanup

The owner of Taylor Energy, Patrick F. Taylor, died of heart complications two months after Ivan demolished his colossal oil rig.

The company has since been sold to a South Korean company, and is attempting to walk away from the disaster, suing the U.S. government to return remaining $450 million from the $666 million trust fund it created for cleanup.

In 2016, the company’s president William Pecue argued efforst to contain the spill were hopeless and claimed that because the hurricane was “an act of God” the company should no longer be held responsible.

Fixing the spill is definitely a risky, if not impossible task. The leaking wells are buried in “a nearly impenetrable grave of mud and debris,” the Post reports.

And contractors have been forbidden from boring or drilling through the muck for fear they will strike a pipe or well and create a catastrophe on the scale of the BP disaster.

Taylor Energy spent a fortune to pluck the deck of the platform from the ocean and plug about a third of the wells and built a shield to keep the crude oil from the rest from rising. But the oil kept leaking.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is more than 3 years behind deadline to publish an assessment of the BP spill’s impact on marine life, and hasn’t even begun to look at the impact of the Taylor spill.

Dolphin killed by BP oil spill

Researchers have estimated it will take dwindling dolphin populations in the Gulf 40 years to recover.

Activists also want an analysis to determine if oil is ruining marshland and making its way to beaches.

The future

As oil continues to ruin the Gulf, the Trump administration is proposing opening the entire outer continental shelf to offshore drilling, including the Atlantic coast, “where drilling hasn’t happened in more than a half century and where hurricanes hit with double the regularity of the Gulf,” the Post reports:

“In an era of climate change and warmer open waters, the storms are becoming more frequent and violent. Starting with Ivan in 2004, several hurricanes battered or destroyed more than 150 platforms in just four years.”

Along the Atlantic coast, where nearly every state economy depends on beaches and tourism, both Democrats and Republicans oppose offshore drilling.

Governors, state lawmakers and attorneys general have lashed out at the administration’s proposal. New Jersey passed a law that forbids oil infrastructure in state waters. Other states have passed similar laws.