By: Waterkeeper Alliance
September 3, 2015, New York, NY and New Orleans, LA — Today Waterkeeper Alliance, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, and Louisiana Environmental Action Network, represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and the National Environmental Law Center, signed a settlement agreement with Taylor Energy. This settlement signals the end of a three-year lawsuit intended to lift the veil of secrecy on an oil leak that has been ongoing since 2004 at Taylor Energy’s wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
As a key part of the settlement agreement, Taylor Energy agrees to provide information about the spill since it started in 2004 and open public access to information on an ongoing basis. For the first time in more than a decade Taylor Energy will publicly disclose what it has done to stop the oil leak. The settlement agreement bars Taylor Energy from continuing to broadly object to the release of information about the leak and its efforts to contain it.
This settlement will make it easier for the public to obtain information about the oil leak. If any person or news organization files a public information request with the federal government, Taylor Energy may only object to the release of the information if it is of significant commercial value and pertains to the engineering of the intervention wells or containment dome. Objections by Taylor Energy to releasing any documents requested by Waterkeeper Alliance, Apalachicola Riverkeeper or Louisiana Environmental Action will be reviewed by a Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana and the judge will make a final determination as to whether Taylor Energy must make the document public. This will empower the public to gain access to information, and illuminate the chain of events that led to the leak and the years of attempts to cap the leak.
Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance, explained the significance of this waiver of confidentiality: “When we began this lawsuit, the public was completely in the dark about what was happening with this ongoing oil spill. This agreement will provide much needed transparency, and therefore accountability, surrounding the response process. We hope that once the veil of secrecy has been lifted, independent experts will look at what Taylor has done so far and provide insight as to whether there is more that can be done to stop this spill.”
Apalachicola Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire noted that this information could provide important insight into the risks of offshore oil drilling: “The inability to stop the over a decade-long leak demonstrates the significant risks being taken by those in the oil drilling industry without clearly stating those risks to the public. The lack of assurances required by those permitting and overseeing drilling operations needs a serious review to ensure the public interest is protected at the oil industry’s expense, not at the cost of lost public resource value.”
Taylor Energy will also be paying $400,000 to Supplemental Environmental Projects that will help study and mitigate the impacts of oil pollution on the Gulf of Mexico. $300,000 will be going to the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), a research and education facility, for the purchase of hard assets such as boats and other research equipment. Another $100,000 will be provided to another organization to be agreed upon by the parties.
“The Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium was formed in 1979 and has a long history of conducting research and education programs on the environment and the health of the Gulf of Mexico,” explained Marylee Orr, the Executive Director of Louisiana Environmental Action Network and Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper. “We are excited that this Supplemental Environmental Project will help LUMCON study and mitigate the impacts of oil pollution on the Gulf.”
All parties in the suit agreed to petition the Federal Government requesting that it establish a transparent and public process for responding to the leak. If the Federal Government does not grant the petition, Taylor Energy agreed to host a public meeting to provide information on the leak and Taylor Energy’s response to the leak. Meeting participants will be allowed to ask Taylor Energy questions to which Taylor Energy will respond unless the information meets the criteria for confidentiality. Taylor Energy will post information on the presentations on a website and provide more information to an institution capable of storing it and providing public access for review.
During the course of this lawsuit, Waterkeeper Alliance and partners prompted more accurate estimates about the amount of oil leaking from the wells to reflect far higher amounts than originally reported by Taylor Energy. This settlement in no way impacts Taylor Energy’s continuing obligation to address the oil leak. A resolution that stops the leak is everyone’s goal and will be closely watched as the final response plan is reached. The parties would like to thank Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby for her guidance in helping parties reach a settlement.