Quantcast

Taylor Oil Spill—7 Years, 1.1 Million Gallons, Still Going

Energy

SkyTruth

By Paul Woods

On Feb. 9, SkyTruth released its Site 23051 Cumulative Spill Report showing an estimation of the total cumulative amount of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico at the site of Taylor Energy's ongoing oil spill that began in 2004. In this report, we conclude:

  1. Crude oil has been leaking continuously from this site for more than 7 years
  2. Estimated cumulative volume of crude oil spilled is between 251,677 and 1,174,492 gallons

Read the full report to see how we came up with these numbers by clicking here.

We created this report using 950 pollution reports filed with the National Response Center (which we presume were filed by the polluter, Taylor Energy) covering 714 out of 2,662 days (just 27 percent) from the first report of oil at the site on Sept. 17, 2004 through the end of 2011. We filled in the substantial gaps in this official public reporting record with observations on satellite images, and then computed an Estimated Average Daily Slick Extent. From that we derived an Estimated Average Daily Flow Rate for each calendar year since the spill began. Multiply the daily flow rate by the number of days the site has been leaking, and you have an estimate of the cumulative volume of the spill.

There are two key assumptions we used to compute the average daily flow rate:

  1. Average oil thickness in observable slicks
  2. Average rate of degradation of an oil slick, expressed in terms of a half-life

For average thickness, we used our tried and true standard of 1 micron (1 millionth of a meter). We also computed everything using 0.5 microns to reflect the possibility that this slick is thinner than most. For degradation half life, we assumed that one half of a given amount of a thin slick of oil on the surface of the ocean will degrade in 3-7 days. We believe this range is a very conservative assumption, because the longer the assumed lifetime of oil on the surface of the water, the lower the implied daily flow rate will be.

Combining all our data on slick extent with the high and low values for each of the key assumptions, we get 4 values for estimated cumulative oil spilled (see the calculations):

Half Life (days)    Thickness (microns)    Estimate(gallons)    
            3                                   1.0                                       1,174,492
            3                                   0.5                                         587,246
            7                                   1.0                                         503,354
            7                                   0.5                                         251,677

Background

SkyTruth, the Gulf Monitoring Consortium and others have been actively monitoring this site for 21 months since May of 2010 (during what turned out to be the early days of the massive BP—Deepwater Horizon spill), when we noticed on our satellite images another much smaller slick about 11 miles off the tip of the Mississippi River Delta.

Since then, we have analyzed historic satellite imagery back to the beginning of the spill,  and we have waded through the spotty but extensive public record of official pollution reports filed with the National Response Center. Site 23051 also featured prominently in the recent Gulf Monitoring Consortium report, and earlier this month Waterkeeper Alliance announced a lawsuit against Taylor Energy over the ongoing spill.

Other Sources of Estimates

As far as we know, our report is the first comprehensive attempt to estimate the total amount of oil spilled at this site. However, the Coast Guard was recently quoted in an Associated Press news article as saying "a total of 12,720 gallons of oil have been reported from daily observations since the spill started in 2004."

We called the Coast Guard last week and asked them where that number came from, and they told us, "Approximately 12,720 gallons have been reported from daily observations (over flights) as of Feb. 2, 2012." We followed up on Feb. 9 and the Coast Guard told us that this number is the total of all the reports filed with them by Taylor Energy, who is conducting the regular overflights, but they could not say how many reports this represents.

We asked them to investigate and get us a breakdown of exactly what they added up to get this number, especially what days are actually covered in that total, but as of this writing we do not have an answer. However, if their reporting record is as spotty as the public NRC record, then this number likely only captures a fraction of the true amount.

More on this under-reporting problem coming soon, so stay tuned.

Parting Thought—Worst-Case Scenario?

The environmental and economic damage from this chronic spill may be relatively minor, although if you ask a biologist and tell her it's a 1.2 million gallon spill, you might get a different answer than if you tell her it's only a 12,000 gallons spill. But imagine that the same event that wiped out Taylor's platform just 11 miles off the coast, had instead happened at a deepwater platform 100 miles offshore.

More on that later

For more information, click here.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

PhotoAlto / Laurence Mouton / Getty Images

By Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

You've probably heard the buzz around collagen supplements and your skin by now. But is the hype really that promising? After all, research has pointed to both the benefits and downsides of collagen supplements — and for many beauty-conscious folk, collagen isn't vegan.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Marlene Cimons

Neil Pederson's introduction to tree rings came from a "sweet and kindly" college instructor, who nevertheless was "one of the most boring professors I'd ever experienced," Pederson said. "I swore tree rings off then and there." But they kept coming back to haunt him.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Aerial view of the explosion site of a chemical factory on March 22 in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province of China. Caixin Media / VCG / Getty Images)

At least 47 people have died in an explosion at a plant in Yancheng, China Thursday run by a chemical company with a history of environmental violations, Sky News reported.

Read More Show Less
A fishmonger in Elmina, a fishing port in the Central Region of Ghana. Environmental Justice Foundation

By Daisy Brickhill

Each morning, men living in fishing communities along Ghana's coastline push off in search of the day's catch. But when the boats come back to shore, it's the women who take over.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Sam Nickerson

Links between excess sugar in your diet and disease have been well-documented, but new research by Harvard's School of Public Health might make you even more wary of that next soda: it could increase your risk of an early death.

The study, published this week in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) each day — like sodas or sports drinks — increases risk of an early death by 14 percent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Krystal B / Flickr

Tyson Foods is recalling approximately 69,093 pounds of frozen chicken strips because they may have been contaminated with pieces of metal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.

The affected products were fully-cooked "Buffalo Style" and "Crispy" chicken strips with a "use by" date of Nov. 30, 2019 and an establishment number of "P-7221" on the back of the package.

"FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers' freezers," the recall notice said. "Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase."

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Hrefna Palsdottir, MS

Cold cereals are an easy, convenient food.

Read More Show Less
A tractor spraying a field with pesticides in Orem, Utah. Aqua Mechanical / CC BY 2.0

Environmental exposure to pesticides, both before birth and during the first year of life, has been linked to an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, according to the largest epidemiological study to date on the connection.

The study, published Wednesday in BMJ, found that pregnant women who lived within 2,000 meters (approximately 1.2 miles) of a highly-sprayed agricultural area in California had children who were 10 to 16 percent more likely to develop autism and 30 percent more likely to develop severe autism that impacted their intellectual ability. If the children were exposed to pesticides during their first year of life, the risk they would develop autism went up to 50 percent.

Read More Show Less