With the Deepwater Horizon oil spill grabbing headlines for the past two months, and BP’s gaffe-prone CEO earning excoriating reviews for his handling of the crisis, energy companies with rigs, pipelines, and wells in the waters off coastal Louisiana have been understandably keen on avoiding the spotlight. They've been content to quietly continue their operations without the weight of negative publicity hanging over their heads and dragging down their stock prices.
Unfortunately, two firms eager to stay in the shadows may have been less than forthcoming about another possible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one that occurred even closer to the sensitive wetlands of Louisiana's coast. However, courtesy of our friends at Skytruth, the full extent of this smaller slick may finally be coming to light.
The Mobile Press-Register reported Monday evening that the Ocean Saratoga, a drilling rig operating twelve miles southeast of South Pass, Louisiana, has been leaking oil into the northern Gulf of Mexico since April 30th. Skytruth, which has been monitoring the Deepwater Horizon disaster using satellite imagery, picked up the leak on its scans and posted a note about the Ocean Saratoga slick back on May 15. However, when U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry was asked about Ocean Saratoga at a press conference two days later (and nearly two weeks after officials from NOAA first referenced the Ocean Saratoga spill in trajectory projections for the Deepwater Horizon disaster), she was reportedly unaware of any additional leaks in the vicinity of the larger BP spill.
Since then, the slick near Ocean Saratoga has grown into a 10-mile stretch of surface sheen visible from space. As reports of a second Gulf oil spill hit the wires on June 8, shares of Diamond Offshore Drilling, Inc., which owns the rig, fell sharply on the New York Stock Exchange. Diamond referred questions about the situation to the owner of the tapped well, Taylor Energy Company LLC. Late on Tuesday, Taylor Energy issued a statement describing the slick as evidence of "government-approved work" that had previously been scheduled, rather than a sign of a major new spill.
Debate continues over the source of the second slick and the timing of news releases surrounding the situation at Ocean Saratoga, but we think there's a bigger question that needs to be answered: How many other spills and low-level environmental disasters are lurking at the nearly 4,000 oil rigs ringing the Gulf Coast? As Congress argues over the framing of climate legislation that may allow for an expansion of offshore drilling, we echo EDF President Fred Krupp’s call for greater transparency in the management and monitoring of deepwater wells. Companies must prepare for potential spills and put in place measures to contain pollution during those instances when disaster strikes.
Yesterday afternoon, the Interior Department issued a directive mandating stronger safety requirements for Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) drilling. While we applaud this measure, we still feel that more reforms are needed to protect the Gulf Coast from a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster or an incident like the Ocean Saratoga leak.
After all, if the current oil spill (Correction: current oil spills) can’t drive home the need for comprehensive change, what will?