Environmental groups on Thursday sued an oil company over the pace of its cleanup of a Gulf of Mexico spill that continues seven years after it was triggered by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
“The plaintiffs filed suit to stop the spill and lift the veil of secrecy surrounding Taylor oil’s seven-year-long response and recovery operation,” Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in New Orleans. “Neither the government nor Taylor will answer basic questions related to the spill response, citing privacy concerns.”
Justin Bloom, a Waterkeeper Alliance director, told msnbc.com that the group had made Freedom of Information Act requests for documentation “and ultimately the Coast Guard has refused to provide us documents citing the Privacy Act.”
The groups allege that Taylor Energy, based in New Orleans, has violated the Clean Water Act provisions that require public participation in any enforcement of the law.
“Without details about Taylor’s response to this crisis,” the lawsuit states, “it is impossible for members of the public to assess the risk that similar events will cause additional multi-year spills, including spills from higher-pressure wells in deeper water.”
Taylor Energy did not immediately return a msnbc.com call for comment, but it has acknoweldged the spill and has been working with the U.S. Coast Guard and federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to plug it.
Three containment domes had “substantially reduced” sheening over time, it stated on June 8, 2010, after the BP spill drew attention to the area.
The gulf is home to hundreds of oil wells and platforms, both active and capped, and some of which periodically leak. In addition, the gulf and other bodies of ocean regularly see natural oil seeps.
Waterkeeper said it estimates that hundreds of gallons of oil have been leaking from the Taylor site each day for the last seven years.
The Coast Guard, however, said the average amount of oil leaking from the site is 7.5 gallons per day. Oil sheens from the site have been “minimal” and have never made landfall, according to the Coast Guard, which says a total of 12,720 gallons of oil have been reported from daily observations since the spill started in 2004.
“The sheen size of a few gallons (in volume as observed over the sheen dimensional area) has been too thin of an oil film to warrant offshore recovery operations,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The plaintiffs acknowledge that the spill is tiny next to the BP spill of 200 million gallons but, argued Bloom, the Taylor spill “is emblematic of a broken system, where oil production is prioritized over concerns for human health and the environment.”