Outrage as 11-year-long Gulf oil spill called “an act of God”


When it comes to environmental outrages in the Gulf of Mexico, I thought I had seen and heard everything…until today. The issue at hand is the so-called Taylor Energy oil spill off the Louisiana coastline — a slow motion ecological train wreck that’s been taking place for more than a decade. Now there’s no question that — when it comes to sheer volume and amount of environmental destruction, nothing will ever top the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon gusher that unleashed more than 4 million barrels of dirty crude oil into the Gulf.

But you could make the case that the Taylor Energy situation is every bit as vexing as the BP fiasco — due to its longevity. The story starts way back in September 2004, when Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf, toppled the Taylor Energy rig some 10 miles off the Louisiana coast, and buried 28 separate wells in deep mud in sentiment, creating slow oil leaks that are difficult to cap. In the 11-plus years since the accident, observers often see miles-long plumes of leaking crude oil near the site — and little or no sign of efforts to stop the leaks. Last year, the Associated Press revealed that the volume of oil escaping from the Taylor Energy leaks was far greater than now nearly defunct company had previously acknowledged.

On Wednesday, as a requirement of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, a day-long hearing was held on the Taylor Energy crisis on the Louisiana State University campus. It included a rare opportunity for the beleaguered company to defend itself. Perhaps it’s not a shock, but after all these years and all that spilled oil, Taylor Energy will still not accept serious responsibility:

A decade-old oil leak that could last for another century was caused by an “act of God” during a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, the president of the company responsible said Wednesday.

Taylor Energy President William Pecue told a gathering of industry experts and environmental advocates in Baton Rouge that the company cares “very deeply” about the environment.

“This event hits home for us,” said Pecue, the last remaining full-time employee at the New Orleans-based company. “This is our community. We live here and it is very special to us.”

The public meeting at an LSU research center is a requirement of a court settlement that Taylor Energy reached in September with environmental groups, which accused the company of withholding information about the leak.

Of course, Pecue also refused to say exactly what he meant by his remarks. “I can affirmatively say that we do believe this was act of God under the legal definition,” he said. “Defining why we believe this is an ‘act of God event’ gets into a legal definition that is not appropriate for today.”

I find his remarks outrageous, and from what I can gather so did many environmentalists attending the event. Oil spills are created by humans — by poor decisions, by reliance on inadequate technologies, by lack of money or just lack of effort — and not by any Higher Power. Gulf hurricanes are certainly fearsome events — but they must be planned for, and they are not an excuse for allowing an environmental disaster to last for more than a decade.  At some point, human beings — the very fallible humans who run Taylor Energy — need to accept full responsibility.

The stakes at the Taylor Energy site remain high. Some environmentalists say that — without greatly stepped-up remedial efforts — oil could continue to pollute the Gulf for as long as a century! That is unconscionable: Even with Taylor out of the exploration business, the money must be found to cap these oil leaks for good. Maybe then we can get out of the business of blaming God for the foibles of humans.

Read more about Wednesday’s Taylor Energy hearing from the Associated Press: http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/14629575-63/company-executive-blames-decade-old-oil-leak-on-act-of-god

To read more about our early efforts in 2010 to show the truth about size of the the BP spill, check out my book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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