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US Coast Guard says it has contained 14-year-old Gulf of Mexico oil seep

17 May 2019

An ongoing oil spill that has been leaking into the Gulf of Mexico for more than 14 years is finally being contained, the US Coast Guard announced on May 16. The Taylor Energy platform MC-20 Saratoga was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan on September 15, 2004, and some of its wells have been seeping oil into the Gulf ever since.

MC-20 site oil slick - Image: USCG
MC-20 site oil slick - Image: USCG

The storm triggered an underwater mudslide that snapped the 550-foot-tall platform’s legs and buried a cluster of wells. Taylor plugged nine of the 28 wells and installed three pyramid-shaped oil containment structures, but had been resisting carrying out further work, claiming it could be dangerous and cause more environmental harm than good.

Estimates have varied widely over how much oil was leaking daily from the site, but government and academic estimates have consistently been far higher than those provided by Taylor. Large oil sheens several miles long have been visible on the surface ever since the rig was destroyed.

Last year, the Coast Guard directed Taylor to eliminate the leak with a new containment system. When Taylor refused, the Coast Guard hired a marine contractor, Couvillion Group, and billed Taylor for the work.

Taylor filed a federal lawsuit last December asking the court to rescind the Coast Guard order. Taylor also sued Couvillion Group, arguing that the contractor lacked experience with the leak site and could make the problem worse.

But in the latest status report, lawyers with the Coast Guard and Department of Justice said workers had made great strides in containing and collecting the seep.

"After monitoring the system for several weeks we have determined that the system is meeting federal containment standards," Captain Kristi Luttrell said in the Coast Guard's statement. "At this time the system is working and the once large surface sheen has been reduced to barely visible."

Justice Department attorneys, who represent USCG New Orleans Sector Commander Lutrell in Taylor Energy's federal suit, said in the court filing that the containment system's collection tanks had been pumped three times and the recovered oil has been transported to shore.

According to the court documents, more than 30,000 gallons of oil have been brought ashore since the new collection system was installed.

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