A Massive Gulf Oil Spill Is Finally Being Contained After More Than 14 Years

Up to 1,000 gallons of oil per day are being removed from the site of the Taylor Energy spill, says the owner of the company that installed a containment system.

Drillship in Gulf of Mexico seen from the air
A drillship is seen in the Gulf of Mexico offshore of New Orleans in July 2018.
Credit: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post.

The US Coast Guard said on 16 May that it is finally containing and collecting oil from a massive 14-year spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the longest offshore disaster in US history.

More than 30,000 gallons of oil have been collected over several weeks since a containment system was installed about 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana, the Coast Guard said. Capt. Kristi Luttrell, who is overseeing work performed by a contractor, the Couvillion Group, called the containment a major milestone that could significantly reduce the impact of the spill, which will enter its 15th year in September.

Luttrell entered into a contract with Couvillion last year after the company responsible for the spill, Taylor Energy, failed to follow her orders to do so on its own.

The system’s success could be a serious setback to Taylor Energy’s efforts to stop the containment effort. The company filed a federal lawsuit in December, claiming that Couvillion lacked the expertise to install a system to capture oil leaking from its wells. They broke open when Hurricane Ivan caused the walls of a deep sea canyon to collapse and sink an oil platform.

In a separate lawsuit, the company also claimed that Luttrell’s order to mount a more aggressive response to the spill was rash. It came a day after The Washington Post revealed an expert analysis that contradicted Taylor Energy’s claims that almost no oil was present at the site.

The analysis by Oscar Garcia-Pineda, a geoscience consultant who specializes in impacts from oil spills, estimated that 1.5 million to 3.5 million bbl spilled into the gulf from the Taylor Energy site over more than 14 years. Acting on that finding, as well as other scientific reports, the Coast Guard issued Taylor Energy an ultimatum to hire a company to build a device to contain the oil or face a fine of up to $40,000 per day.

Weeks of monitoring by the Coast Guard shows that Couvillion’s containment system is working, Luttrell said. The system was completed and fully operational 29 April, but Couvillion started collecting oil 12 days before that.

The oil is pumped from deepwater storage tanks to a ship that brings it to shore to separate it from water. Oil that can be salvaged is sent to a licensed receiving facility, and the rest is recycled or disposed.

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