In October 2018, The Washington Post ran a story describing the ongoing, 14-year-long leak of crude oil from hurricane-damaged wells at the former location of an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico operated by a company called Taylor Energy. The article stated that — based on the latest scientific estimates of the leak rate — the Taylor spill was about to surpass BP’s disastrous 2010 blowout in the Gulf, becoming the world’s worst oil spill. News outlets around the world pounced on this headline, shining a global spotlight on this egregious chronic leak. Within weeks, the US Coast Guard announced they had finally ordered Taylor Energy to fix the leak or face a daily $40,000 fine. The team at SkyTruth was thrilled when we heard the news: when Taylor finally fixes the leak, this will be a great win for the environment in the Gulf and send a strong message to the offshore oil industry that we won’t let them walk away from their messes. And, this is the vindication of eight years of persistent, dogged work by SkyTruth and our partners.
How did we achieve this significant victory for the environment and the people of the Gulf Coast? We….
- Conducted sustained, public monitoring and data collection. We first “discovered” this already years-old leak while we were monitoring the massive BP oil spill in 2010. We noticed a much smaller, but persistent, slick nearby that appeared on our images day in and day out, even long after all traces of the BP spill had disappeared. Over the following years we analyzed and published dozens of satellite images of the Taylor slick, built a public archive by collecting and curating thousands of official oil-pollution reports, and wrote numerous blog posts to raise the alarm about what we were seeing and credibly challenge the story being told by Taylor and the federal government; namely, that the site was leaking was only a few gallons per day.
- Built partnerships. We teamed up with Southwings and Waterkeeper Alliance to form the Gulf Monitoring Consortium. Gulf-area citizens groups, notably the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Gulf Restoration Network soon joined, giving us the ability to monitor, investigate, and systematically document the Taylor spill from space, from small aircraft, and on the water. Alerted by our work, researchers from Florida State University conducted their own independent sampling and measurements, bringing a higher level of scientific expertise to the growing public scrutiny of this continuous pollution event.
- Published credible, transparent, science-based analysis. For years, Taylor and the Coast Guard maintained that the leak was only a few gallons per day. Using very conservative assumptions, and Taylor’s own pollution reports, we calculated a much higher rate. And we worked with the researchers at Florida State University to independently assess the rate by measuring the size of the slick on satellite images, yielding an even higher estimate and revealing systematic and severe under-reporting of this spill. Ultimately, the satellite approach was accepted by the Department of Justice and suggested that the total amount of oil that has leaked into the Gulf from the Taylor spill was approaching the size of the catastrophic BP spill. Our data and analysis also helped prompt — and inform — a lawsuit by our partners at Waterkeeper Alliance against Taylor Energy and the Coast Guard. Their successful suit brought many documents to light that had previously been hidden from the public.
- Worked with journalists to help them understand the significance of this unchecked spill. Our methodical, transparent, and conservative analysis helped us build a reputation as being a trustworthy source of credible information. We developed long-running relationships with journalists, particularly Mike Kunzelman at The Associated Press. Reporters reached out for our comments and expert insights whenever new information or developments in the Taylor saga came to light. These relationships resulted in dozens of articles in major media markets over the years, helping to maintain public attention and interest, and a steady drumbeat of public criticism.
And finally, an hour-long interview with Washington Post reporter Darryl Fears resulted in the article that triggered Coast Guard action. Since then, we have continued to monitor the Taylor Energy leak to ensure that effective action is taken. And we’ll let the world know what we see.
This is what it takes to make positive change happen for the environment. We’d like to thank the foundations and individuals who have donated to SkyTruth, making it possible for us to dedicate the time and resources needed to sustain this watchdog effort over so many years. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Please help us keep it going. Donate to SkyTruth today!