An oil spill that has been leaking millions of barrels since the last 14 years into the Gulf of Mexico has gone unplugged for so long that it was now poised to becoming one of the worst offshore disasters in US history.
Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill could continue through this century.
With no fix in sight, the Taylor offshore spill is threatening to overtake BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever.
“I don’t think people know that we have this ocean in the United States that’s filled with industry,” said Scott Eustis, an ecologist for the Gulf Restoration Network.
The Taylor Energy spill is largely unknown outside Louisiana because of the company’s effort to keep it secret in the hopes of protecting its reputation and proprietary information about its operations, according to a lawsuit that eventually forced the company to reveal its cleanup plan.
The spill was hidden for six years before environmental watchdog groups stumbled on oil slicks while monitoring the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster a few miles north of the Taylor site in 2010.
Last month, the Justice Department submitted an independent analysis showing that the spill was much larger than the one-to-55 barrels per day that the US Coast Guard National Response Centre (NRC) claimed, using data supplied by the oil company.
On average, 330,000 gallons of crude are spilled each year in Louisiana from offshore platforms and onshore oil tanks, according to a state agency that monitors them.
The Gulf is one of the richest and most productive oil and gas regions in the world, expected to yield more than 600 million barrels this year alone, nearly 20 per cent of the total US oil production.
Another 40 billion barrels rest underground, waiting to be recovered, according to government analysts.