A Unified Command was established by the Coast Guard to direct the MC-20 response effort. It is composed of Taylor Energy and the Coast Guard, led by its Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC). Other federal agencies, including BSEE and NOAA, serve in advisory roles. State and local agencies are also engaged in the response.
In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan — the 10th most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, measuring the size of Texas at its peak — plowed across the Gulf of Mexico leaving catastrophic damage in its wake. During the hurricane’s extraordinarily powerful, unpredictable storm and wave conditions, a massive regional seafloor slope failure occurred that toppled the MC-20 A platform. The storm produced the largest waves that had ever been measured in the U.S., and the seafloor collapse occurred in water depths at which such wave-induced effects were previously thought to be impossible.
Taylor Energy could not have prevented the toppling event, and the incident occurred through no fault of the company. The MC-20 platform and wells were designed, constructed, and operated in accordance with industry standards and in compliance with all government regulations, and prior to the toppling event, the platform and its associated wells and pipelines posed no pollution release risk.
Numerous scientific studies performed over more than a decade consistently confirm that there is no evidence of a currently leaking well. In Nov. 2017, a work group of government and independent scientists produced data that confirmed that the sheen on the ocean’s surface is from the release of remnant oil from marine sediments on the ocean’s floor and that there is no evidence to support any other source.
Established in the fall of 2007, the Unified Command has directed all response activities related to the MC-20 site. Since the incident occurred in 2004, Taylor Energy has plugged and abandoned nine wells, installed a subsea containment system to capture plumes of oil that were subsequently eliminated as wells were plugged, and conducted overflights to monitor the size and characteristics of the sheen on the ocean’s surface.
Following the toppling of its MC-20 A platform in 2004, Taylor Energy successfully drilled intervention wells to plug the nine wells that were leaking or had a potential to leak, plugged a pipeline, and removed the damaged platform deck. In 2013, the Unified Command put Taylor Energy’s decommissioning activity on “pause” while an “ecological risk assessment” was performed. That study culminated in the 2013 publication of a Consensus Ecological Risk Assessment (“CERA”) report, in which the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Coast Guard and other government experts participated. The consensus conclusion was that drilling further intervention wells to plug any of the remaining 16 unplugged wells was:
“not recommended because drilling [such] wells was not expected to provide sufficient ecological benefit to offset the risks and impacts associated with the drilling and plugging operations.”
And, the law prohibits such activity when doing so risks causing undue or serious harm to the human, marine or coastal environment. Based on the conclusions of the CERA report and subsequent scientific studies that no further decommissioning activity is warranted, BSEE has not authorized or required further plugging activity.
The Unified Command is currently exploring containment options, and Taylor Energy conducts overflights twice per week to observe for the presence of recoverable oil. Numerous attempts to recover oil at the site have been unsuccessful due to the oil sheen being so thin.
Taylor Energy remains vigilant in its monitoring of the site, conducting overflights, originally twice daily and now twice per week, to observe the sheen and detect any changes in site conditions. Taylor Energy also has constructed three containment domes, located onshore, ready for deployment should a change in site conditions warrant their use. In addition, Taylor Energy routinely commissions state-of-the-art subsea studies at the site to assess site conditions on the seafloor and has assembled a group of the world’s leading experts to evaluate appropriate response actions.
Taylor Energy has not been authorized to and does not intend to undertake additional well plugging activities or efforts to remove the contaminated soil at the site as a Consensus Ecological Risk Assessment (“CERA”) report, developed by subject matter experts from numerous federal, state, and local agencies in 2013, concluded that intervention on the remaining 16 wells and removal of the contaminated soil should not be undertaken at this time as it would result in more harm than good to the environment.
In Nov. 2017, a work group of government and independent scientists produced data that further confirmed that the characteristics of the sheen show weathered, non-homogeneous oil indicating that the release results from remnant oil contained in the marine sediments within a depression on the seafloor. Within this depression, naturally occurring gas, which is common in the Gulf of Mexico, releases from the seafloor and enables remnant oil trapped in the marine sediments to be released into the water column. The gas bubbles move through the sediment and are released at different points within the depression along the seafloor. It is not a stationary plume or plumes.
Experts caution that further activities could disturb the sediment, resulting in an increased volume of buried remnant oil being released into the water column. Left undisturbed, scientists believe the current sheen is likely to gradually reduce through natural attenuation. Additionally, sediment may continue to be deposited on the site, further encapsulating the trapped oil.
Taylor Energy is a member of Clean Gulf Associates (CGA) and has fast response offshore skimmers available to respond should the surface sheen be outside of the typical MC-20 range and should recoverable oil be present. From 2004 to present, following recovery attempts where dark oil was observed, only trace amounts of dark, recoverable oil has ever been capable of collection at the surface with no discernible environmental harm to marine life or any land area.
The Coast Guard, as Federal On-Scene Coordinator, is also pursuing a containment system in an effort to eliminate the sheen.
While the toppling of the MC-20 A platform was the result of an Act of God event and occurred through no fault of Taylor Energy’s, Taylor Energy is classified legally as the current “Responsible Party.” As such, Taylor Energy is an Incident Commander alongside the Coast Guard on the Unified Command established to direct response efforts. All response and decommissioning efforts have been funded by Taylor Energy.
Today, Taylor Energy exists solely to address the response operations at the MC-20 site, and the company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to eliminate environmental risk at the site.
Formerly one of the largest privately-owned oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico, Taylor Energy sold all its oil and gas assets and ceased all exploration and production operations in 2008. That same year, the company entered into a Trust Agreement with Interior and funded a trust account with $666,280,000 to secure performance of a series of specific decommissioning activities of wells and facilities at MC-20. Under the terms of the agreement, as Taylor Energy performed a specific decommissioning activity, it paid for that performance with funds outside the trust and then received reimbursement from its funds held in the trust in a designated amount. Taylor Energy has received approximately $234 million from its funds in the trust as reimbursement for the decommissioning activities it has performed. Separate from its funds in the trust, Taylor Energy pays for costs related to the Response. To date, the company has spent a total of more than $480 million on MC-20.
Taylor Energy, formerly one of the largest privately-owned oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico, sold all its oil and gas assets and ceased all exploration and production operations in 2008. That same year, Taylor Energy entered into a Trust Agreement with Interior and funded a trust account with $666,280,000 to secure performance of a series of specific decommissioning activities of wells and facilities at the MC-20 site.
The funds held in trust can only be used for the specific decommissioning activities set forth in the agreement. Other activities, such as for Response (like overflights and the study of site conditions) are paid for by Taylor Energy out of the company’s operating budget.
Under the terms of the Trust Agreement, as Taylor Energy performed a specific decommissioning activity, it paid for that performance with funds outside the trust and then received reimbursement from its funds held in the trust in a designated amount. Taylor Energy has received approximately $234 million from the trust as reimbursement for decommissioning work performed. To date, Taylor Energy has spent more than $480 million on decommissioning and response activities at MC-20.