Photo: Research vessel at the Taylor Energy oil spill site pre-containment; Source: NOAA

Gulf of Mexico: 1 million gallons of oil collected from 18-year-old spill over past three years

The U.S. Coast Guard, in collaboration with partner agencies, has contained and collected over one million gallons of oil discharged from subsurface oil wells connected to a toppled oil platform in Mississippi Canyon Block 20 (MC-20), located 11 miles south of the Louisiana shoreline.

The MC20 platform, operated by Taylor Energy, collapsed in an underwater mudslide caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil continues to leak from the damaged wells and this is described as the longest-running oil spill in the U.S. history.

In an update last week, the U.S. Coast Guard informed that 1,016,929 gallons of oil have been collected – as of 12 July 2022 – from the MC-20 site with oil being captured, contained, and removed from the site since April 2019, while a permanent plan to effectively and safely decommission the oil wells at the MC-20 site is being developed.

Capt. Kelly Denning, the Coast Guard’s Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the incident, remarked: “The near elimination of the surface sheen and collection and removal of more than one million gallons of oil from the site over the previous three years is a major milestone in the Coast Guard’s efforts to contain the MC-20 oil spill that has affected the waters off the Gulf Coast for years.

“Though the containment system is considered a great success, the federal government is exploring all available response options, including to properly decommission the impacted wells on site.”

Furthermore, a subsea containment system – which was designed, fabricated, installed, and operated by Couvillion Group, specifically in response to this incident – continues to collect an average of 900 gallons of oil per day with the Coast Guard overseeing continuous oil collection and necessary system maintenance.

Back in December 2021, a settlement between the United States and Taylor Energy was reached in which Taylor Energy agreed to transfer all remaining funds in the Taylor Energy Decommissioning Trust to the United States.

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As revealed at the time, the funds will be used to properly decommission the oil wells which were originally connected to the downed platform at the MC-20 site. According to the proposed consent decree for the settlement addressing the impacts of this Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Taylor Energy would pay over $43 million and transfer a $432 million decommissioning trust fund to the United States.

Moreover, the response to the active oil spill continues to be led by the Coast Guard Federal On-Scene Coordinator and is supported by its federal partners, including the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Based on the Coast Guard’s statement, it is currently engaged in gathering key subsurface data which is intended to support future federal efforts to decommission the MC-20 wells as BSEE and U.S. Coast Guard believe this to be “the necessary step to ultimately bring this incident to a closure.”

In a separate statement, NOAA confirmed that this “marks the milestone of more than one million gallons of oil collected and removed from the environment by the U.S. Coast Guard” after the oil containment system was designed, created, and installed in 2019.

Gulf of Mexico: 1 million gallons of oil collected from 18-year-old spill over past three years
Illustrations of how the Taylor MC20 Platform in the Gulf of Mexico appeared before and after damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The third panel shows the containment system installed to capture oil from persistent leaks; Source: NOAA/Kate Sweeney

“The highly effective containment system, daily U.S. Coast Guard oversight and scientific support from NOAA and other federal agencies made this milestone possible,” underlined NOAA in its statement.