Taylor Energy Oil Spill: This Is How Change Happens

Recently a front-page article ran in The Washington Post, 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 result for the environment in the Gulf and will 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.

Taylor Energy - Washington Post

Source: The Washington Post, October 21, 2018

How did we achieve this significant victory for the environment and the people of the Gulf Coast?  We….  

  • 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.  
  • 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 an article that triggered Coast Guard action.  Now, of course, we will continue 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 to sustaining 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!

More Oil Spotted at the Taylor Energy Site

We posted about a slick emanating from the Taylor Energy site on April 28th. And surprise, surprise a mere 12 days later, what should we see but yet another slick.

In 2008 Taylor Energy set aside over $600 million to pay for work related to the chronic leak that we have covered extensively since it came to our attention in 2010. As you can see in this image collected by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 satellite, as well as in numerous other images we have collected, their work to date doesn’t seem to have stemmed the leak.

Sentinel 2 image collected of the Taylor Energy Site on May 8, 2017.

Which begs the question: why is Taylor suing the government to return the $432 million remaining in trust? That money was set aside for work that is yet to be finished. Why would they think they have earned it back?

Tropical Storm Karen Building in Gulf of Mexico

It’s been a relatively quiet hurricane season in the northern Gulf so far this year – knock on wood – but right now a tropical storm is gaining strength and moving north off the Yucatan Peninsula and into the central part of the Gulf. The current forecasts show Karen strengthening to Category 1 (the weakest level of hurricane) sometime late Friday night as the storm center reaches the offshore oil platforms and pipelines, and making landfall along the Gulf coast near Mobile, Alabama early Sunday morning.  But of course, this could change, so get the latest info from the National Hurricane Center

Here are two maps showing the latest forecasts for the track of the center of the storm and the “cone of uncertainty” for that track; and the probability of tropical storm-force winds over the next 5 days.  We’ve overlain the offshore oil and gas infrastructure: platforms are shown as orange dots, seafloor pipelines as thin orange lines: 

Forecast track (black line) for center of tropical storm Karen. Pale blue envelope shows cone of uncertainty for the centerline.  Offshore oil and gas platforms are orange dots; seafloor pipelines are thin orange lines.  Forecast data from NOAA/NWS/NHC.
Forecast showing probability of tropical storm-force winds occurring over the next 120 hours. Offshore oil and gas platforms are orange dots; seafloor pipelines are thin orange lines.  Forecast data from NOAA/NWS/NHC.

We’re hoping, as always, for minimal damage and no injuries as Karen makes her way through. And that we won’t see much pollution from storm damage to offshore and coastal oil and petrochemical facilities, as we did after Isaac, Ike, Katrina and Rita.  

Those were all much stronger storms than a Category 1 hurricane, so we’re hopeful Karen will leave no such damage in her wake.

Gulf Coast Coal and Petrochemical Facilities Still Not Storm Ready

 

On August 6, SkyTruth and four other environmental organizations comprising the Gulf Monitoring Consortium (GMC) announced their findings from a review of pollution reported from petrochemical and fossil fuel processing facilities during and immediately after Hurricane Isaac. Based self-reporting by “responsible parties” to state and federal authorities, GMC members found operators blamed the storm for at least the following pollution from their facilities:

341,044 gallons of oil, chemicals, and untreated waste-water

192.3 tons of gases and other materials (354,819 pounds)

12.6 million gallons of untreated “process area water” from one overwhelmed facility

 
After an additional review of pre-storm aerial surveys; post-storm monitoring efforts in the air, on the ground, and in the water; and analysis of satellite and aerial survey imagery, the Consortium concluded:

 

  • Substantial amounts of pollution were released into the environment due to damage from the only hurricane to make landfall on the Gulf Coast in 2012.
  • Harmful chemicals, including recognized neurotoxins and carcinogens, were released due to damage from the storm.
  • Despite advance warning of the storm path and intensity, operators used the weather as an excuse for polluting.
  • Fossil fuel infrastructure in the Gulf Region is vulnerable to predictable tropical weather events.
  • Oil from the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster continues to wash ashore. 

 

 

We believe this is a particularly important issues as pressure is building to expand offshore oil and gas development to new coastlines, including hurricane-prone regions of the Eastern Seaboard like Virginia and North Carolina. In evaluating the trade-offs between offshore development, tourism, and fishing, citizens of these areas should be aware of the constant drumbeat of pollution reports we observe during routine petrochemical extraction and processing operations, and the repeated incidence of serious pollution that occurs when strong storms hit the coast.
 
We routinely observe significant pollution in the wake of strong storms. The coastal facilities required to support offshore oil and gas drilling continue to show dismaying vulnerability to storm damage. We found this to be true after hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike; we experienced it yet again with Hurricane Isaac; and we’re reminded of it on a daily basis as we monitor the ongoing oil leak from a Taylor Energy platform destroyed in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan.

 

 
About GMC: The Consortium is a rapid response alliance that collects, analyzes and publishes images and other information acquired from space, from the air, and from the surface in order to investigate and expose pollution incidents that occur in the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Coast region.


GMC Member Organizations:

Below: Image highlights from GMC monitoring trips and Investigations – photos may be reproduced so long as credit is attributed to the individual or organizations named.

 

Judge Rules Waterkeeper Lawsuit Against Taylor Energy Can Proceed

So now maybe we’ll get some answers:  last week a judge threw out two motions filed by Taylor Energy to dismiss the lawsuit filed against them by Waterkeeper Alliance (one of the founding members of the Gulf Monitoring Consortium) for their chronic leak in the Gulf of Mexico that’s been spilling oil 24/7 from a cluster of wells damaged by Hurricane Ivan nearly 9 years ago.  Now this legal action can proceed.  

SkyTruth is not involved in the legal action, but we’ve been tracking this spill since we “discovered” it on satellite imagery during the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.  We’ve compiled a linked list of all the pollution reports for this incident that we could find at the Coast Guard’s National Response Center (mostly submitted as required by law by Taylor Energy or their contractors; some submitted by passers-by), all the direct observations and measurements of the slick on satellite images made by SkyTruth and recently by image analysts at NOAA, and observations from flyovers by Gulf Monitoring Consortium and On Wings of Care.  

We also attempted to estimate the cumulative amount of oil that has leaked into the Gulf since Hurricane Ivan.   

Now we have a powerful new tool to do offshore pollution monitoring, with the successful launch earlier this year of the Landsat-8 satellite.  These images, while not as frequently acquired, are much more detailed than the twice-daily MODIS satellite images we’ve been relying on.  

Here is what the Taylor slick looked like on a Landsat-8 image shot on June 18, 2013: 

Detail from Landsat-8 image showing 30-mile-long oil slick emanating from site of former Taylor Energy oil platform destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, about 11 miles from tip of Mississippi Delta (green areas at upper left). Image taken on June 18, 2013. See below for measurement. Clouds and shadows at lower right and upper left.
Direct measurement of slick on June 8, 2013.

Our observation shows the slick was nearly 30 miles in length.  NOAA satellite experts agreed.  But on that same day — in fact, at 10am local time, almost exactly the moment the Landsat-8 satellite passed overhead and captured this image — Taylor Energy reported a slick that was 10 miles long.  Taylor does their observations by aerial overflight, so it’s possible their pilot just couldn’t follow the slick over the full 30 mile distance.  But this isn’t an unusual discrepancy:  we, working with researchers at Florida State University, have noted systematic under-reporting by Taylor, and by polluters in the Gulf in general.  

Polluters beware:  when the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite is launched, we’ll soon have radar imagery back in our monitoring toolkit.  That will open up a lot of new monitoring possibilities.  We’ll need a few more eyeballs looking at images around here to take advantage of these great new data sources, so if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer skytruther, or contributing to our work, please contact us!