Group challenges reports on 8-year Ala. oil spill

February 11, 2012 

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - Oil wells still leaking off Alabama's Gulf coast nearly eight years after Hurricane Ivan ruptured them have discharged far more oil than official Coast Guard estimates, according to an environmental group.

A report Skytruth, a nonprofit that monitors environmental pollution using satellite images, says the cluster of wells has gushed between 20 and 100 times more oil since 2004 than an estimate of 12,720 gallons given by the Coast Guard last week.

The Press-Register reports ( ) that the Coast Guard said its number is based on "daily reports" on the oil spill submitted by the wells' owner, New Orleans-based Taylor Energy Co. LLC.

Environmentalists argue the company's self-reporting is incomplete. Federal records show Taylor Energy filed just 714 reports on the oil spill, which has been ongoing for more than 2,660 days, said Paul Woods, chief technology officer for Skytruth.

Woods said his group filled in the gaps using satellite images of the oil slick to calculate average daily flow rates for each year since the spill started. Skytruth estimated the wells have leaked somewhere between 250,000 and 1.2 million gallons of oil.

"We think this points to a systematic underreporting by the Coast Guard of small and medium spills," Woods said. "It also shows the problem with allowing the polluter to report how much they've spilled."

The wells started leaking when Hurricane Ivan caused a mudslide to destroy the platform they were connected to. Coast Guard officials say Taylor Energy has stemmed some of the flow using containment domes, which are sucked out by a ship on the surface every few days. The company has also sealed some wells by drilling relief wells and packing them with cement.

Regardless of the actual size of the leak, Woods said it's tiny compared to the BP oil spill from 2010.

The newspaper reported Taylor Energy officials did not return calls seeking comment. No one answered the phone at the company's New Orleans headquarters Saturday when an Associated Press reporter called, and there was no voicemail for leaving a message.

Coast Guard officials said their estimate also used data from additional overflights made by Taylor Energy that are not available to the public. The agency couldn't say how many flights the company had made overall, but officials said they have occurred almost daily since 2008. The Coast Guard said many of those flights resulted in reports of "no observable oil" and it calculated the amount of oil leaked on those days as zero.

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Information from: Press-Register,

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