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The Largest U.S. Oil Spill You've Probably Never Heard of Is Still Leaking After 14 Years

Energy
The ongoing Taylor Energy oil spill, photographed on Sept. 2, 2012. LEAN Louisiana Environmental Action Network

Yet another reason to #KeepItInTheGround. A 14-year chronic oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico could surpass BP's Deepwater Horizon spill as the largest offshore disaster in U.S. history, the Washington Post reported.

The spill stems from a Taylor Energy-owned production platform located 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana that was toppled by an underwater mudslide caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.


Between 300 to 700 barrels (12,600 to 29,400 gallons) of oil per day spews from multiple wells around the platform, according to a recent government-commissioned study.

This environmental horror story is amplified as the Trump administration plans to open up U.S. coastal waters to offshore drilling and as hurricanes are predicted to become more destructive due to climate change.

The nonprofit environmental watchdog SkyTruth calculated in December that between 855,000 gallons to nearly 4 million gallons of oil spilled from the site in the years between 2004 and 2017. Left unchecked, the discharge could continue for another 100 years or more until oil in the underground reservoir is depleted, a government agency warns.

How is Taylor Energy getting away with this? For one, the New Orleans-based company kept the spill's existence a secret for 6 years until environmental groups discovered it. The energy firm also claimed the leak was only 2 gallons of oil per day until a 2015 Associated Press investigation revealed evidence that the leak was much worse than the company publicly reported. After it was presented with the AP's findings, the government provided a new leak estimate about 20 times larger than one cited by the company.

Taylor Energy and federal officials have established a $666 million trust to pay for the leak response. Although the company has spent hundreds of millions trying to stop the leak, it has proven difficult to cap the affected wells that are deep underwater and buried beneath 100 feet of mud.

Meanwhile, Taylor Energy has mostly ceased to exist as a company and President William Pecue is its last remaining employee.

The Post reported:

At a 2016 public forum in Baton Rouge, Pecue made the case for allowing the company to walk away from its obligation to clean up the mess. Taylor Energy had been sold to a joint venture of South Korean companies in 2008, the same year it started the $666 million trust. A third of the money had been spent on cleanup, and only a third of the leaking wells had been fixed. But Pecue wanted to recover $450 million, arguing the spill could not be contained.

"I can affirmatively say that we do believe this was an act of God under the legal definition," Pecue said. In other words, Taylor Energy had no control over the hurricane.

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As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.


Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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