Taylor Energy Company was once one of the largest offshore operators in the Gulf of Mexico. Today, it employs exactly one individual. This sea change arose from the death of its founder, but also because of a dirty (not-so?) little secret.
That secret was revealed in 2010, when satellites captured daily oil sheens near ‘Ground Zero’ of the BP disaster. GRN and others responded to Skytruth’s discovery with monitoring trips by sea and air. But beyond these observations, little information about the oil’s source was available.
Environmental groups in the Waterkeeper Alliance filed a lawsuit to break the silence, eventually reaching a settlement this past year. The court mandated the release of many confidential documents, and for Taylor to hold a public forum to elaborate on the leak.
Taylor held its forum at LSU last Wednesday. I traveled to Baton Rouge to witness and report on the nearly 9-hour ordeal. The day began with key facts. Taylor was operating in ocean deeper than 400 feet. Undersea oil was pumped to the surface via 28 well conductors. Hurricane Ivan upended the entire rig with an underwater mudslide in 2004, and the wells now lie under a hundred feet of sediment.
It soon became clear however that the day’s speakers see the last 11 years through quite the unique framing. Reappearing sheens are allegedly not the result of any active leaks. Everything polluting the Gulf is instead “remnant oil,” left over in sediment from intervention-well activity and an unforeseen “Act of God” (Hurricane Ivan). Taylor has not measured the amount of oil “trapped” within the sediment, even as its own contractors report hundreds of gallons on the surface each week.
Despite the roundabout language, Taylor and its selected speakers did offer some concrete claims: dispersants were never used at the site, the drilling rig met or exceeded all regulatory requirements, no fines have been paid through the Clean Water Act, and environmental sampling shows no harm to birds, fish, or mammals.
The claim of no ecological damage caused Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to ask for further clarification, during a question-and-answer period. William W. Pecue II, Taylor’s sole remaining employee, declared comments from the floor forbidden and threatened to shut the forum down. The exchange ended when Lt. Gen. Honoré excused himself, comparing the space to the repressive petro-state of Russia on his way out.
A denial of verbal engagement naturally allowed for the vetting of all written questions. I was therefore surprised when one of mine was read in its entirety. I was curious what Taylor would say to an investor interested in offshore drilling, especially after over a decade of damage-control.
“We’re really not in a position to discuss investment advice,” replied Mr. Pecue. “But fair statement, fair statement.”
The room released its largest collective laugh of the day. And after sitting through 15 presentations, I was glad others seemed to recognize the layers of absurdity.
Graph by Scott Eustis, GRN’s Coastal Wetland Specialist.
James Hartwell is GRN's Coastal Wetland Analyst.