For more than a decade, oil has been continuously leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that environmental groups and the New Orleans energy company responsible for the spill had finally reached a settlement ahead of a trial slated to begin in October.
According to the AP, under the terms of the settlement, Taylor Energy agreed to make a $300,000 donation to a Louisiana marine research consortium — to purchase vessels, electronics and other equipment — as well as fund $100,000 worth of research into the ecological effects of long-term oil leaks in the Gulf.
“We are pleased to have found common ground with Waterkeepers. The agreement balances the public’s right to information with adequate safeguards for Taylor’s proprietary technology,” Will Pecue, Taylor’s president, said in an emailed press statement.
According to Waterkeeper Alliance, however, there has been no final agreement on a settlement or terms.
“We are very pleased about the progress of negotiations with Taylor, and have come to a conceptual agreement that has not yet been finalized,” Waterkeeper Alliance said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “As no final settlement agreement exists between the parties at this time, we are not at liberty to discuss the details of a potential settlement. We will provide a full statement when the settlement is finalized.”
The leak first began in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf Coast, triggering an underwater mudslide that knocked over an offshore well platform owned by Taylor Energy. The mudslide essentially buried 28 wells beneath the Gulf, some 10 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Because the wells were buried some 475 feet under water in sediment up to 100 feet deep, traditional plug methods did not work to staunch the flow of oil.
In 2008, Taylor sold the last of its offshore assets. According to an April investigation into the spill by the AP, Taylor Energy currently has just one full-time employee, dedicated to managing the oil spill. Since the leak began in 2004, Taylor has downplayed its impacts, claiming that the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf has been tapering down in recent years, and that the ecological impacts of the spill were minimal. For years, Taylor was not forced to disclose details about its cleanup efforts, or other spill-related information, under the guise of protecting trade secrets.
The AP investigation, however, uncovered serious under-reporting in the volume of the spill, showing that actual amounts were some 20 times higher than figures put forth by Taylor Energy. According to government numbers, the annual average daily leak rate for the spill was around 22 gallons per day, and had fallen to 12 gallons per day by 2012. The AP, however, cited SkyTruth — a watchdog group that had monitored the spill’s slick by satellite — who said that the average daily leak rate could be between 37 and 900 gallons. The AP also found that pollution reports did not match Taylor’s official account of a decline in the rate of leaks — instead, the AP found that sheen size and oil volume related to the spill actually increased dramatically in 2014.
In 2008, the Coast Guard said that the spill posted a “significant threat” to the environment, capable of impacting fish, birds, and marine life. Using satellite data, SkyTruth estimates that between 300,000 and 1.4 million gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf from the site of the leak since 2004, according to the AP. If the high-end estimates are right, that would make the spill one of the largest in the Gulf’s history — the Deepwater Horizon oil spill released between 134 and 176 million into the Gulf back in 2005.
According to U.S. government estimates obtained by the AP, if left unchecked, the Taylor Energy leak could continue to spill oil into the Gulf for at least another 100 years.