By Andy Rowell
It may be a New Year, but there is an old oil spill that keeps on spilling. The trouble is that you will probably have never have heard about the spill.
But you need to know. Because, for more than 14 years, some 10,000 to 30,000 gallons of oil have leaked daily from a sunken oil rig owned by Taylor Energy into the Gulf of Mexico, about 12 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The disaster began way back in September 2004, when the company's oil platform, known as MC-20 Saratoga, was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan. Although the company contained some of the pollution caused by the loss of the platform, it did not stop all the leaks.
Unless the oil spill is stopped, the sunken rig could carry on leaking for 100 years, becoming America's worst environmental disaster. Even now, if you take the high end of the leak estimate, the site may have released an estimated 150 million gallons of oil. This is silently creeping towards the estimated 200 million gallons spilled by BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
Back in November last year, the U.S. Coast Guard directed Taylor Energy to implement a new containment plan which "must eliminate the surface sheen and avoid the deficiencies associated with prior containment systems." In theory the company could be fined $40,000 a day for failing to comply.
As you would expect, the company responsible for the spill, Taylor Energy not only disputes the figures concerning the leaks, but even whether it is to blame for the leak itself. Over the years it has tried to dismiss the leak as nothing more than a mere "trickle." That is hardly surprising because it could cost an estimated $1 billion to fix.
The bottom line is that this a slow unseen disaster that could have been stopped years ago. As NOLA reports, some six years ago, Skytruth, an environmental group based in Shepherdstown, measured the oil sheen coming from the platform at over 20 miles long and urged the authorities to act. However, it was not until 2016 that the U.S. authorities began investigating the ongoing pollution.
He is rightly not the only one concerned about what is going on. Writing in The Guardian at the end of last year, Janis Searles Jones, the CEO of Ocean Conservancy and Philippe Cousteau, from EarthEcho International, said the thought of the spill carrying on for decades is a "nightmare scenario that should terrify anyone who cares about the health of the wildlife and people who live along the Gulf coast."
Taylor Energy's tricks continue. Just before Christmas, according to NOLA, "The company filed a federal lawsuit in New Orleans asking the court to toss out a recent Coast Guard order to contain the leak." The company said that "containing the leak is unnecessary."
The Largest U.S. #Oil Spill You've Probably Never Heard of Is Still Leaking After 14 Years @skytruth… https://t.co/2zcNw2GmUG— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1540237214.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.
Federal District Court Judge Shelly Dick on Friday halted the construction of the controversial Bayou Bridge pipeline across the Atchafalaya Basin. The decision grants a preliminary injunction to prevent ongoing irreparable harm to this ecological treasure while a lawsuit, filed Jan. 11, is being heard.
Judge Dick found that the lawsuit filed by several groups—Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association (West), Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance and Sierra Club, represented by lawyers with Earthjustice—raises serious concerns and that the 162-mile pipeline would irreparably harm the Atchafalaya Basin.
The Atchafalaya Basin is located in southern Louisiana. The proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline would connect the Dakota Access Pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico.
The groups recently presented live testimony during a hearing showing that the ancient cypress and tupelo trees slated to be turned into mulch while the pipeline right-of-way is being cleared would never return, including evidence that these old-growth trees are the Noah's Ark of the swamp—providing habitat for migratory birds, bears, bats and numerous other wildlife.
In addition, the groups showed that pipeline construction would further degrade nearby fishing grounds that local commercial crawfishers rely on for their livelihood.
"The court's ruling recognizes the serious threat this pipeline poses to the Atchafalaya Basin, one of our country's ecological and cultural crown jewels," said Jan Hasselman, attorney from Earthjustice representing plaintiffs in this matter. "For now, at least, the Atchafalaya is safe from this company's incompetence and greed."
Jody Meche, a third-generation commercial crawfisher and president of the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, testified about how the Bayou Bridge pipeline would make existing problems worse—problems created by the irresponsible behavior of oil and gas companies during construction to previous pipelines in the basin.
These problems include hypoxic water conditions that kill crawfish, eliminating harvests in areas of the Basin, the safety of local communities and the survival of Cajun culture.
"We fight the fight for years, telling our story, raising public awareness about the issues we have in the Atchafalaya Basin," Meche said. "It felt great to finally be able to tell my story in a courtroom."
Crawfisherman Jody Meche drives through Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin on his way to check his traps. Read a Q&A with Meche.Emily Kasik
"After years of witnessing the systematic destruction of the Basin with impunity by these companies, while our government turns a blind eye, it felt good to finally tell our story to a person with the power to make a difference," said Dean Wilson, executive director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper.
The groups also raised concerns about the fact that construction of the pipeline would decrease natural flood protection in the basin, which acts as the major floodway project that protects millions of people in coastal Louisiana and the Mississippi River valley from Mississippi flood waters.
A community meeting in Napoleonville, Louisiana, on the Bayou Bridge pipeline on Feb. 8, 2017, where residents voiced opposition to the project.Emily Kasik
The Bayou Bridge pipeline project proposes to connect the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, which transports volatile and explosive Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in St. James Parish and export terminals, forming the southern leg of the Bakken Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), which owns the Dakota Access Pipeline and is a joint owner in the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline, has one of the worst safety and compliance records in the industry.
Oil and gas infrastructure in the basin, where hundreds of pipelines have been built.Emily Kasik
Federal data shows that Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary Sunoco Inc. have been responsible for hundreds of significant pipeline incidents across the country in the last decade.
Last week, Sunoco was fined a record $12.6 million by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for violations incurred during the construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline.
The court ordered BBP to halt construction, citing the need to prevent further irreparable harm until the matter can be tried on the merits. The judge said the court would provide a more detailed opinion at a later date.
"The Bayou Bridge pipeline would pose an unacceptable risk to the wetlands, water, and communities along its route, and should never be built. It is a relief that the court has granted this injunction so we can make our case against this dirty, dangerous pipeline, and we will continue to fight until it is stopped for good," said Julie Rosenzweig, Sierra Club Delta Chapter director.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
A new well leak in the Gulf of Mexico is spewing natural gas and possibly crude oil 75 miles off the coast of Louisiana, reports the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
According to the LA Times, authorities reported a “rainbow sheen” of natural gas, more than four miles wide and three-quarters of a mile long, floating on the surface of the Gulf after a fly-over assessment Tuesday. How much had spilled was unclear.
The platform is owned by Energy Resources Technology Gulf of Mexico, LLC (ERT), which is a subsidiary of Talos Energy. According to a statement from the company, workers were attempting to permanently plug and abandon their non-producing well over the weekend when the leak occurred.
According to the Associated Press, workers were trying to temporarily plug the well Monday night when they lost control of it. The five workers on the platform were evacuated safely and two other wells were shut off, stated the U.S. Coast Guard.
As authorities are working closely with the ERT to monitor pollution response efforts, it is still unclear as to which chemicals can be used to safely clean up fossil fuel spills from offshore drilling and other incidents.
News of the leak broke the same day a coalition of environmental and public health groups filed notice to appeal a decision over the Clean Water Act regarding the use of chemical dispersants for oil spills.
Initially, the groups filed suit in August 2012 to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to comply with the Clean Water Act in preparing and publishing the list of dispersants eligible for use in oil spill response.
According to a press release from public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice, the District Court dismissed the coalition’s suit on May 7 reasoning that the EPA initially made its decision not to identify bodies of water or safe quantities for eligible dispersants back in the 1980s and 1990s, even though it was required by the Clean Water Act.
Earthjustice explains that the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to identify the waters in which dispersants and other spill mitigating devices and substances may be used, and the quantities that can be used safely, as part of the EPA’s responsibility for preparing and publishing the National Contingency Plan. But the EPA currently fails to include this required information in its list of eligible dispersants under the National Contingency Plan, which governs responses to discharges of oil and hazardous substances. This meant that during the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, 1.83 million gallons of dispersants were released into the ocean without prior scientific study and evaluation of the toxicity of those dispersants and without any understanding of whether those dispersants were safe for the Gulf of Mexico, particularly in the unprecedented quantities that were used. Research into the aftermath of that disaster suggests that indeed they were not safe.
According to the press release, the District Court stated that the groups should have challenged the EPA's decision when it was first made and were too late to claim violations of the Clean Water Act. This interpretation of the law allows an agency to continue violating clear statutory mandates so long as these violations were not caught and corrected within the first six years of their occurrence.
In October 2010, Earthjustice and the coalition had filed a rulemaking petition calling on the EPA to set a toxicity standard, require dispersant manufacturers both to improve testing of their products for toxicity and to disclose the ingredients of the dispersants as a condition of allowing the product to be eligible for use in response to spills. Earthjustice stated that while the rulemaking has been expected for years, it has yet to be released.
Earthjustice represents the Louisiana Shrimp Association, Florida Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, the Alaska-based Cook Inletkeeper, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Waterkeeper Alliance and Sierra Club in this action.
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