Will Taylor Energy Response Offer Any New Answers?

On Jan. 20, Taylor Energy will host a public forum in Baton Rouge, La., to explain what efforts they have taken to respond to the ongoing oil spill in Mississippi Canyon Block 20 (MC-20) – the former site of Taylor Energy Platform #23051. Over eleven years ago Hurricane Ivan triggered a subsea landslide which destroyed the platform and buried 28 wells under a hundred or more feet of mud and sediment. The spill first came to public attention during the 2010 BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster, when GMC charter member SkyTruth observed the leak on satellite imagery and began investigating with GMC assets in the air and on the surface.

Taylor Energy Platform #23051

Undated photo of Taylor Energy Platform #23051 before it was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Image Credit – Taylor Energy 

Oil still leaks from the site to this day, eleven miles off the coast of Louisiana, while the now-idled company’s efforts to stop the leak have remained a carefully guarded secret. In early 2015, an AP investigation pressed the U.S. Coast Guard to increase their estimated spill rate to an amount 20x higher than Taylor had ever acknowledged. In Sept. 2015, GMC partners, including the Waterkeeper Alliance, settled a law suit over the company’s lack of transparency about efforts to fix the leak. This forum was a condition of that settlement.

The Gulf Monitoring Consortium has the following questions for Taylor Energy, which, in one presentation posted in advance to the forum’s website called the events surrounding Hurricane Ivan, an “Act of God“.

1) What is the plan to stop this leak?

2) If the plan is to just let it go for the next 100 years, what research has been done to determine that the environmental harm would be minimal and acceptable?  Why wasn’t the public involved in that decision making?

3) What lessons were learned and are they being applied to new permitting and drilling in the Gulf?

  • What do we know about slope stability and the risk of slope failure throughout the Gulf, especially in deepwater; and is that risk being incorporated into engineering and permitting?
  • What is the plan if a similar fate befalls a deepwater platform with 20 high-pressure producing oil wells?
  • What systems are in place to successfully shut in those wells in the event of a slope failure?

4) What is the estimated cost to the public of the lost oil and gas revenue if the decision is made to let the reservoir bleed out?

5) What were the various interventions that were deployed on the seafloor to try to capture the leaking oil and gas? How much oil and gas did they capture, and during what time periods?  What was done with the captured oil and gas?

To attend, you are asked to register.

LOCATION:

Louisiana State University
Pennington Biomedical Research Center
Building “G”
6400 Perkins Rd
Baton Rouge, LA 70808

DATE & TIME:
9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
January 20, 2016

[Waterkeeper Alliance] Veil of Secrecy Finally Lifted on Taylor Energy’s Decade Long Oil Leak

SkyTruth-21jun2014-L8-Taylor-slick-overview

Landsat-8 satellite image taken June 21, 2014, shows slick emanating from chronic leak site in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Mississippi Delta (green) at upper left.

 

On September 3, 2015, Waterkeeper Alliance, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, and Louisiana Environmental Action Network, represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and the National Environmental Law Center, signed a settlement agreement with Taylor Energy. The environmental groups initiated the lawsuit three years ago in response to the lack of transparency surrounding the spill and Taylor Energy’s response efforts. This agreement signals the end of this veil of secrecy.

This settlement will make it easier for the public to obtain information about the oil leak. A key part of the settlement agreement is that Taylor Energy will be providing information about the spill since it started in 2004 and open public access to information on an ongoing basis. For the first time in more than a decade, Taylor Energy will publicly disclose what it has done to stop the oil leak. Taylor Energy will also be barred from continuing to broadly object to the release of information about the leak and its efforts to contain it.

Through this release of information, the environmental groups hope that it will bring much needed accountability to the response efforts, and reveal whether there are further efforts Taylor Energy can take to stop the leaks. The information will also be helpful in understanding the risks of offshore oil drilling and whether oil companies lack the ability to adequately respond to some leaks.

In addition to releasing information, Taylor Energy will be paying $400,000 to Supplemental Environmental Projects that will help study and mitigate the impacts of oil pollution on the Gulf of Mexico. $300,000 will be going to the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), a research and education facility, for the purchase of hard assets such as boats and other research equipment. Another $100,000 will go to a oil pollution research grant that will be matched and administered by LUMCON.

The parties also agreed to petition the Federal Government, requesting that it establish a transparent and public process for responding to the leak. If the Federal Government does not grant the petition, Taylor Energy will instead host a public meeting on the leak to provide information and answer the public’s questions.

While this settlement ends the lawsuit between the environmental groups and Taylor Energy, it in no way impacts Taylor Energy’s continuing obligation to address the oil leak. The environmental groups will continue to monitor the progress towards a resolution that fully stops the flow of oil.

 

Five Years Since BP: Gulf Watchdogs Reflect on the Other Gulf Oil Spill

April 22, 2015 – Five years ago today the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig sank into the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion claimed 11 lives and touched off a disaster that still poisons the Gulf Coast. While the 2010 BP disaster undeniably devastated Gulf communities and ecosystems, few people realize that chronic oil and gas pollution from other sources is impacting the Gulf Coast on an almost daily basis. Since July 15, 2010, the date when BP finally “capped” the gushing Macondo well, the Coast Guard’s National Response Center (NRC) has recorded at least 9,800 spills of crude oil, petrochemicals, and other contaminants into Gulf Waters.

(Above): SkyTruth’s map showing spills reported to the NRC since July 2010. Each dot on the map represents an individual spill report. This map does not include releases to the air, only spills to the waters of the Gulf. Click here to see a full-screen version.

While any one of these individual spills may not garner the attention that the BP disaster does, the cumulative impact of this chronic pollution deserves its own attention. Government regulators, and the oil and gas industry, promised to fix the problems that led to the BP disaster. Yet as NPR reports, near-daily oil spills still continue to be business as usual.

Above: Photos taken by GRN illustrate the chronic pollution in the Gulf.

 Faced with a lack of substantial response from government regulators, community organizations joined forces to form the Gulf Monitoring Consortium (GMC). GMC pairs local conservationists with air support from volunteer pilots and intelligence from geospatial data and satellite image analysts. GMC partners systematically monitor for oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico using satellite images, geospatial data, observation and sampling on the ground and in the water, and aerial reconnaissance. 

5 Years Since Deepwater Horizon – GMC Tracks Chronic Pollution in the Gulf

Here are some examples of the work conducted by GMC partners to document and respond to pollution in the Gulf.

GMC partners have published reports on the underreporting of chronic offshore oil pollution and spills resulting from inadequate preparations for Hurricane Isaac. GMC partners are playing a pivotal role in exposing the ongoing oil leak 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana at an offshore oil platform destroyed eleven years ago by Hurricane Ivan.

SkyTruth monitors the Gulf using satellite imagery and geospatial data, providing intelligence to partners in the air, on the ground, and in the water. SkyTruth first identified the leaking Taylor Energy Site 23051 during the 2010 Gulf Oil Disaster, documents offshore accidents and near misses by reviewing government data and satellite imagery, and provides guidance to GMC partners and other conservation pilots.

 Gulf Restoration Network is a tireless monitor of Gulf Coasts and Gulf waters, taking thousands of photographs from the air, and collecting samples from the ground and water. Based on direct observations made during monitoring trips over the last five years GRN has reported more than 50 oil and gas related spills to the NRC.

Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper and other members of the Waterkeeper Alliance serve as GMC’s on-the-water guides, documenting leaking infrastructure from the water and participating in aerial monitoring (above) provided by SouthWings. Waterkeeper Alliance and Gulf waterkeepers have also filed a lawsuit against Taylor Energy over the ongoing spill at Site 23051.

SouthWings has been flying in the Gulf of Mexico since 1998. Since SouthWings launched the first official Gulf Monitoring Consortium flight on May 7, 2011, twelve different volunteer pilots have contributed 33 flights to GMC member organizations’ fossil fuel pollution monitoring work. Through these collaborations, GMC members have learned much about documenting and reporting oil spills in open water.

Louisiana Bucket Brigade exemplifies citizen response to pollution, launching and maintaining the iWitness Pollution Map, enabling anyone to report their photos and observations of oil and petrochemical pollution.

Public Lab was founded in direct response to the BP oil spill and the lack of access to information and images about the spill. Using balloons and kites, over 200 volunteers worked to collect over 100,000 images mapping over 100 miles of affected shoreline. Public Lab continues to develop low-cost open-source monitoring tools such as the new oil testing kit for use by citizen-scientists.

Five years since the start of the worst accidental oil spill in history, industry and government assure us that offshore oil development is safer than ever. Consortium partners, however, will continue to document and report on the reality that we observe through systematic monitoring of the Gulf offshore oil fields.

[SouthWings] Best Practices in Aerial Observation of Oil Spills in Open Water

 

In the five years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in April of 2010 — killing 11 people and leading to an uncontrolled 87-day oil gusher that covered vast areas of the Gulf of Mexico in oil — SouthWings and our partners in the Gulf Monitoring Consortium have learned much about effective citizen reporting of pollution, especially related to oil spills in water. Thanks to the work of SkyTruth, we have also learned that there are oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico on an almost daily basis. While it certainly takes some practice to train your eyes to spot oil on water at a distance while flying, here are a few tips and some resources to get you started:

LMRK JeffreyDubinsky sheen 091012

The basics:

  • When to fly: fly during a time of low-angle light (early morning works well) for the best visibility of oil sheen on water. Pick a clear day with low wind and seas (waves break up spills and make them harder to spot).
  • Tips: we find that polarized sunglasses can make oil sheen harder to spot. Some people also recommend wearing non-reflective colors (black), especially if you’ll need to take photographs through plexiglass.
  • Photos: be sure to note altitude and direction photos are taken. If possible, include oil platforms, boats, etc. in photos for scale. Note color of oil sheen, as well as approximate dimensions and direction it seems to be moving. Noting coordinates of each spill is critical. Some cameras automatically GPS tag photos, but, if yours does not, a lower-tech option is to snap a photo of the coordinates on an external GPS unit; there are many higher-tech options that will geotag your photos with a bit of post-flight processing (details on a free option here). Document anything you see about a potential source of the problem and any information about a suspected responsible party.
  • Reporting spills: call the National Response Center (NRC), operated by the US Coast Guard, at 1-800-424-8802. It’s important to file NRC reports for spills of oil or potentially hazardous materials you notice (whether you find them on flights or otherwise), as this is the only way to ensure that the spill is included in the public, official government record.

Details and additional resources:

  • Training manual: before you fly, be sure to download and read Open Water Oil Identification Job Aid for Aerial Observation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It has great examples of what to look for and will help you avoid common false positives, such as seaweed clumps and cloud shadows.
  • Checklist: printable oil observation checklist from NOAA here.
  • Estimating spill volume: the color of the oil sheen varies with thickness of the oil spill. Gray sheen is the thinnest, followed by rainbow sheen and then metallic sheen. A thicker oil spill will have a darker color closer to “true” oil color. There are a variety of standards for making oil spill volume estimates based on visual assessments, so always state which standard you’re using if you make a volume estimate. The Bonn Agreement Oil Appearance Code is a scientifically rigorous and straightforward option.

GRN Jonathan Henderson2March2013

Here are a few great examples of Gulf Monitoring Consortium collaboration on aerial monitoring from Gulf Restoration Network, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, and Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

If you’re a pilot and would be interested in volunteering to fly with Gulf Monitoring Consortium members, please contact David Moore at SouthWings: david@southwings.org.

Photos: Jeffrey Dubinsky for Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper (top of page); Jonathan Henderson for Gulf Restoration Network (bottom of page). Flights provided by SouthWings.

[GRN] Op-Ed: Warnings from the Gulf

Op-Ed published on March 28, 2015 in The Virginian-Pilot by Cynthia Sarthou, Exec. Director at Gulf Restoration Network

When the Obama administration announced it would open the Atlantic Coast to offshore oil drilling in January, references to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill began almost immediately. While Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell asserted the government had “learned from the challenges” of the 2010 disaster, those alarmed by the decision to open the Atlantic reminded the public of the effects of the Gulf spill.

Above: Oil sheen coming from an offshore platform on April 11, 2014 in the Gulf of Mexico.      Credit: Jonathan Henderson, Gulf Restoration Network/ Flight provided by SouthWings

 

As executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, I know all too well the devastation a massive offshore oil spill can cause to coastal environments and communities. The aftereffects of the BP spill have been well documented. Almost a mile of Louisiana’s coast is still considered heavily oiled five years after the disaster. Our dolphins are dying, tar mats as big as 2,000 pounds are affecting beach communities 100 miles away, and lucrative coastal industries lost millions of dollars and continue to struggle today.

But I’ve also come to understand that few pay attention to the consequences of offshore drilling when there’s no catastrophe involved. In the debate over offshore drilling in the Atlantic, few have spoken to the results when everything goes right. As horrific as the BP spill was, it is only the largest in a line of insults inflicted on Louisiana and the Gulf by the oil and gas industry.

The reality is that there are constant consequences from the industrialization of the Gulf coast, as well as routine ecological harm. Every time I fly over the coastline, I can see the smaller spills that happen almost daily from oil rigs. In the 15 years I’ve worked with Gulf environments, I’ve witnessed the slow erosion of coastline from drilling infrastructure.

While people on the Atlantic should be worried about a major catastrophe like the BP spill, the effects of drilling will be felt even if everything proceeds according to the oil and gas industry’s plans. Residents of the Atlantic coast should likewise be aware of the industry’s terrible track record of cleanup and safety procedures.

Take Louisiana’s famous wetlands. Much like the complex barrier islands and marshes off the Atlantic coast, Louisiana’s wetlands provide storm protection and are home to a wealth of wildlife.

However, Louisiana is now facing a coastal wetlands crisis – losing a football field’s worth of wetlands every 45 minutes.

Studies link much of the loss to construction and operation of navigation, drilling, and pipeline canals. The state estimates that it will take $50 billion to restore our wetlands to the condition needed to sustain our coastal communities. Our share of oil and gas revenues – which begins in earnest in 2017 – won’t come close to paying this cost.

Meanwhile, ocean rigs spill small amounts of oil on a daily basis.

The Coast Guard’s National Response Center receives around 1,500 oil spill notifications for Louisiana each year, with an average volume of 330,000 gallons spilled per year. While this number is nowhere near the 200 million gallons spilled in 2010, these frequent daily spills add up to significant environmental damage.

One well 11 miles off Louisiana’s coast has been leaking since 2004, creating a constant rainbow slick that stretches across the water for at least 10 to 15 miles. Nothing that the industry or government has attempted over the last 10 years has been successful in stemming the flow. Even without mistakes from the oil companies themselves, rigs can pose a danger: 115 oil and gas platforms were destroyed and another 52 damaged in hurricanes Katrina and Rita, spilling nearly 11 million gallons.

Sadly, despite all of this the federal and state governments have done very little, even after the BP disaster, to make the oil and gas industry safer and more protective of the environment.

Few, if any, of the changes suggested by the president’s Oil Spill Commission were ever implemented and little, if anything, has been done to improve the industry’s ability to respond to oil spills or other environmental hazards. Despite Secretary Jewell’s assertion that the DOI and oil industry have learned from the Deepwater spill, current policy does not reflect lessons learned.

I’m not telling the residents of the Atlantic Coast what’s best for them. Citizens living and working on the Atlantic Coast have a right to decide for themselves if they want to allow drilling off their shores.

I do think it’s important for people along the Atlantic Coast to hear about our experience in the Gulf, even before the catastrophic BP disaster. If oil and gas industry officials ask if you want their development, you might ask them about the many effects, both on land and at sea, that your community may face. Is it really worth the risk?

Cynthia Sarthou is executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, www.healthygulf.org.

[SkyTruth] Playing Hide-and-Seek! With an Oil Tanker…

Sept. 3, 2014 by John Amos, SkyTruthPlaying Hide-and-Seek! With an Oil Tanker…

2014-07-30T160031Z_01_TOR510_RTRIDSP_3_USA-IRAQ-KURDISHOIL-1919

The oil tanker SCF Byrranga, which was renamed the United Kalavrvta in March, is seen near the Isle of Arran, Scotland. The tanker is currently off the coast of Texas, carrying $100 million worth of Kurdish crude oil. (Tom Duncan/Thomson Reuters Eikon)

Supertankers loaded with crude have been making the news recently, mostly because they can’t find a place to sell the stuff. These tankers departed from Kurdistan, but Iraq claims the oil they carry is their property and the Kurds don’t have the right to sell it.  This global political dispute is playing out on the water in an interesting, albeit risky, way: the tankers are unable to come into port, so are lingering offshore, fully loaded, waiting for some kind of resolution.

Late in July, we tracked the tanker United Leadership as it roamed across the Mediterranean and loitered in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco.Now we’re following one that’s a little closer to home:  the United Kalavrvta has been parked in a holding pattern in the northern Gulf of Mexico about 50 nautical miles southeast of Galveston…

 
SkyTruth - United Kalavrvta 8-4 Landsat8 pan detail

Above: Detail from Landsat-8 image taken August 4, 2014. Panchromatic band (15 meter pixels). United Kalavrvta marked by red circle. A similar-sized vessel also appears to be anchored about 4km to the west.
 

Read the full story on the SkyTruth Blog and see more on the latest satellite image of the United Kalavrvta here