Is Taylor's leak increasing?


It's been more than 11 years since Taylor Energy's series of wells at MC20 started leaking, and a few years since the company ended its attempts at drilling relief wells. Clean Water advocates have been able to force Taylor Energy to present some information on their leak. Just recently, Taylor held a secluded meeting on LSU campus where questioners were asked to leave. Because Taylor is not forthcoming with information about the spill, we are left to analyze what little is given in daily reports.

What data we have on this spill have only been produced because of the actions of citizen advocates like Skytruth, GRN, On Wings of Care, and Waterkeepers.

Taylor's neglect is oiling some of our most fertile Gulf habitat and most productive fishing grounds. The shelf is home to Sperm Whales and dolphins, pelagic birds, shrimp, crab, and fishes we consume. What is the public heath impact to fishers? The company continues to obfuscate their neglect by hiding behind the pant leg of a Senator or two. Without further action, this Leak Eternal will likely harm the Gulf for some time after we all have died.

Skytruth has long written about the inadequacy of the NRC system, spurring regular reports since September 2011. Skytruth's action and comment has been a job creator.  In September 2014, water groups recently pushed the government to increase the volume estimate. As we saw with BP, the volume estimate is most contested by Taylor --that estimate determines how many millions in fines under the Clean Water Act.

Taylor's volume estimate has changed due to political pressure.

Leaving aside the 'volume' disagreement, the surface sheen near Plaquemines is increasing since 2011. The length of the sheen hasn't seen political changes since Skytruth and others forced the near-daily monitoring of the slick in 2011.
I've taken the reports from Taylor's contractor from the Skytruth website and summarized them here. There is a monthly seasonal trend, with the length longest in July. This may relate to temperature and calm winds. Although we only have data since September 2011, the weekly average seems to be increasing. An increasing or flat trend would seem to give the lie to Taylor's claim that this oil is "residual". Wouldn't a sheen for residual oiling be decreasing? Even a flat trend would show this to be a leak, and not "residual".

A weekly average of the length of the surface sheen, in miles.

A growing sheen means a growing impact--much of the environmental impact of oiling comes near the surface, where the light reaches down into the water, the photic zone. How long must we wait for the government to assess the environmental impact of Taylor's mess? The difference between 100 gallons a month claimed by the company, and 10,000 gallons a month assessed by the Bonn method is a big difference.  We must have an answer to this problem, for the sake of the Gulf, but also for other coasts that face the risks of offshore drilling. 

Scott Eustis is GRN's Coastal Wetland Specialist

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