Gulf of Mexico oil leak contained after 14 years

The U.S. Coast Guard has managed to contain a Gulf of Mexico oil leak that has been oozing for over 14 years from Taylor Energy’s toppled oil platform.

Oil slick at the Taylor MC20 site
Oil slick at the Taylor MC20 site, file photo by the U.S. Coast Guard

“The Coast Guard and a team of contractors successfully deployed a subsea system that is able to contain and collect oil being discharged from the Taylor Energy Company Mississippi Canyon 20 toppled oil platform site 11 miles south of the Louisiana shoreline. The containment system is actively collecting oil,” the Coast Guard said on Thursday.  According to reports, the U.S. Coast Guard has hired Couvillion Group to install the containment system.

The USCG said the installation of the containment system is a major milestone in the Coast Guard’s efforts to contain the Taylor Energy MC20 oil spill that has affected the waters off the Gulf Coast for 14 years.

“After monitoring the system for several weeks we have determined that the system is meeting federal containment standards,” said Capt. Kristi Luttrell, the Coast Guard’s federal on-scene coordinator for the incident. “At this time the system is working and the once predominately large surface sheen has been reduced to barely visible. We will continue to monitor the containment system’s performance and make necessary adjustments to maximize containment of the spill.”


Diver working on the containment installation amidst oil plumes subsea


As previously reported, the U.S. Coast Guard in December 2018 said that it would access the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and assume authority for containing and disposing of the oil from the site.

The leak started in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan caused a mudslide on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico that toppled Taylor Energy’s MC20 offshore platform, about 12 miles off the tip of the Mississippi River. Taylor Energy liquidated its oil and gas assets four years later and ceased all drilling and production operations.

The platform’s well conductor pipes were left buried in more than 100 feet of mud and sediment. Since the initial incident, federal officials have directed Taylor Energy to remove the platform deck, remove sub-sea debris, decommission the oil pipeline, attempt to contain the leaking oil, and plug nine of the 25 impacted wells that were deemed the highest risk.

Following multiple scientific studies, conducted over several years by federal and industrial experts, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) issued an administrative order in October 2018 requiring Taylor Energy to propose a final viable plan to install a containment system.

In November 2018, the FOSC ultimately issued Taylor Energy a Notice of Federal Assumption and assumed authority for containing the oil at the company reportedly failed to comply with the previous order.

In the same month, the Coast Guard contracted a specialized team to conduct a comprehensive site survey, fabricate a containment system, and install it at the source to start collecting the oil.

Echoscope image of containment system fully installed – no plumes coming from the erosional pit

As previously reported, Oscar Pineda-Garcia, director of an oil-spill tracking company Water Mapping LLC last year used satellite imagery to estimate that the spill was leaking anywhere from 239 to 697 barrels a day.

Following the estimate by Water Mapping, the Washington Post published an article in October to suggest that the Taylor Energy leak “is threatening to overtake BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever” there was “no fix in sight.”

Taylor trying to prevent U.S. Coast Guard’s intervention

According to EarthJustice, a nonprofit law firm focused on environmental issues, a federal judge has this week allowed Healthy Gulf to intervene in a lawsuit defending the U.S. Coast Guard’s actions to contain the ongoing Taylor Energy oil spill.

Namely, Earthjustice, which is representing Healthy Gulf, an organization that was first to discover the leak by chance in 2010 when out on a monitoring mission for the Deepwater Horizon spill, said that Taylor is actually seeking to “bar any work by the federal government or its contractor on the spill response, effectively asking the court to allow its oil spill to continue indefinitely.”

“After 14 years, we are glad the Coast Guard is taking action to contain this runaway oil spill,” said Dustin Renaud, communications director for Healthy Gulf. “Now we must make sure that they follow through on a permanent solution and ensure a spill like this never goes unchecked again. Rather than relying on industry self-reporting in the future, we must employ independent science and hold companies accountable to the law.”

“It’s good news from the Coast Guard that the containment device appears to be working despite Taylor Energy’s efforts to allow this disaster to continue to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Brettny Hardy, an attorney from Earthjustice. “Now that Healthy Gulf is a party in the litigation, we will keep the pressure on to ensure the containment is complete and effective in putting an end to the longest oil spill in American history.”

Taylor Energy, which sold its oil and gas business in 2008 and says of itself that it “exists today solely to respond to the MC-20 incident,” has a website dedicated to the spill and the response.

The website indeed shows that Taylor Energy is taking legal action against the Coast Guard and the contractor Couvillion citing safety concerns.

A description of the lawsuit, as found on Taylor’s website dedicated to the spill, reads: “This lawsuit concerns activities currently being performed and to be performed by Couvillion at the request of the Coast Guard’s current Federal On-Scene Coordinator, including Couvillion’s design, construction and installation of a subsea “Rapid Response” containment system that is to be attached to and fully supported by Taylor Energy’s downed platform jacket, which is partially buried and lies on the seabed in federal waters adjacent to the State of Louisiana in approximately 475 feet of water at the MC-20 site.

“Due to concerns about sediment stability in the area and red flags regarding Couvillion’s lack of experience and knowledge of the MC-20 record, Taylor Energy placed Couvillion on notice that it intends to hold Couvillion responsible for any damages, environmental or otherwise, that might arise out of Couvillion’s reckless and grossly negligent activities at the MC-20 site. Taylor Energy filed the suit because it fears that Couvillion’s lack of professional qualifications and unfamiliarity with the site and the longstanding, comprehensive scientific record have the potential to cause catastrophic environmental damage. In the suit, Taylor Energy seeks to prevent Couvillion’s unauthorized use of Taylor Energy’s property and to protect itself in the event that adverse environmental consequences result from Couvillion’s actions.”



Offshore Energy Today Staff / Images by U.S. Coast Guard

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