Oil and gas plumes found at site of 13-year-old leak in Gulf

South Florida Times - - NATION - By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN

BA­TON ROUGE, La. - Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors have found fresh ev­i­dence of an “on­go­ing oil re­lease'' at the site of a 13-year-old oil leak in the Gulf of Mex­ico, where chronic sheens of­ten stretch for miles (kilo­me­ters) off Louisiana's coast, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment lawyers.

In a court fil­ing Fri­day, Jus­tice Depart­ment at­tor­neys said re­cent sci­en­tific sur­veys re­vealed two plumes of oil and gas flow­ing from where an un­der­wa­ter mud­slide dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Ivan in 2004 top pled an off­shore plat­form and buried the clus­ter of wells owned by Tay­lor En­ergy Corp.

The New Or­leans-based com­pany has re­peat­edly in­sisted there is no ev­i­dence that oil is seep­ing from any of its un­plugged wells on the seafloor. The gov­ern­ment's court fil­ing doesn't ad­dress whether any of Tay­lor's wells could be the source of the plumes.

“There is no ev­i­dence of an ac­tively leak­ing well, and all ev­i­dence con­tin­ues to sup­port the con­clu­sion of rem­nant oil that has long been trapped in sed­i­ment on the sea floor,” Tay­lor En­ergy spokesman Todd Ra- gusa said in a state­ment Mon­day.

But the pres­ence of the plumes could com­pli­cate the com­pany's ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate a set­tle­ment that could al­low it to re­cover mil­lions of dol­lars it set aside for work to end the leak.

Tay­lor En­ergy sued the fed­eral gov­ern­ment nearly two years ago, seek­ing to re­cover up to $432 mil­lion from a trust it formed nearly a decade ago. The law­suit has re­mained on hold for months amid set­tle­ment talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and com­pany.

Those ne­go­ti­a­tions were on­go­ing when the In­te­rior Depart­ment's Bureau of Safety and En­vi­ron­men­tal En­force­ment con­ducted an un­der­wa­ter sur­vey of the leak site in Septem­ber, us­ing a re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cle. Ear­lier this year, sci­en­tists for the gov­ern­ment and the com­pany also per­formed a se­ries of stud­ies at the leak site.

The sur­vey and stud­ies showed the two “ac­tive plumes” em­a­nat­ing from a de­pres­sion ad­ja­cent to and partly un­der­neath the wreck­age of Tay­lor En­ergy's top­pled plat­form, Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers said in Fri­day's fil­ing. They didn't dis­close any other de­tails of their find­ings.

In its Jan­uary 2016 law­suit, the com­pany said it had elim­i­nated two oil plumes that were present at the site in Ivan's after­math. Sonar sur­veys “con­firmed an ab­sence of any plumes (well leaks) re­main­ing in ex­is­tence,” the com­pany said in a Novem­ber 2016 court fil­ing.

Tay­lor En­ergy has ar­gued noth­ing can be done to com­pletely elim­i­nate the per­sis­tent slicks on the sur­face. The com­pany has claimed the sheens are com­ing from resid­ual oil ooz­ing from con­tam­i­nated sed­i­ment.

Ra­gusa, Tay­lor En­ergy's spokesman, said the re­cent de­tec­tion of plumes “is not new in­for­ma­tion” and “merely refers to a well­known wa­ter col­umn anom­aly largely con­sist­ing of nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring bio­genic gas, which is preva­lent in the Mis­sis­sippi River Delta area.”

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