Containment System Complete at MC20 Oil Release Site

Diver works to install the containment system at the MC20 site, with oil plume in the foreground (USCG)

Published May 17, 2019 2:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard and contractor Couvillion Group have successfully installed a containment system to capture oil leaking from Taylor Energy's Mississippi Canyon 20 well, despite a lawsuit brought by Taylor to halt the intervention. The installation marks a major milestone in the USCG's efforts to address the spill, which has been ongoing for 14 years. 

“After monitoring the system for several weeks we have determined that the system is meeting federal containment standards,” said Capt. Kristi Luttrell, the Coast Guard’s federal on-scene coordinator for the spill. “At this time the system is working and the once predominately large surface sheen has been reduced to barely visible. We will continue to monitor the containment system’s performance and make necessary adjustments to maximize containment of the spill."

Oil has been escaping from the site of Taylor's MC20 well some 15 miles off the southeast coast of Louisiana since 2004, when the well platform at the field toppled over during Hurricane Ivan. Taylor conducted capping operations for nine out of 25 wells at the site, but a sheen at the surface continued. In October 2018, the USCG ordered Taylor to immediately contain the release. Taylor did not comply, so the USCG took over the spill response effort and contracted with salvage firm Couvillion Group to install a containment system. 

Taylor denies that the well is leaking, and it says that the oily sheen visible at the site is residue from the previous well containment effort - not newly-escaped oil from the wellhead. It also denies that the visible oil pollution poses a problem: "The sheen is so thin and dispersed that it is impossible to collect," Taylor asserts on its response site. "And there has been no impact on marine life nor has any oil from the MC-20 site come ashore."

In late 2018, after the Coast Guard took over the response, Taylor Energy sued the Coast Guard and Couvillion Group to prevent them from intervening at the well, alleging that they were conducting "potentially environmentally hazardous actions at the MC-20 site." Taylor asserted that the USCG abruptly changed its response strategy in response to negative publicity, not based on legitimate scientific evidence demonstrating a need for intervention.

Court documents filed by the Coast Guard and the Department of Justice claim that the new containment system has been emptied three times over the several weeks since it was installed, and it has collected over 30,000 gallons of crude. The agencies will now move to dismiss Taylor's lawsuit, as (they assert) the evidence from the containment effort renders Taylor's legal action moot. 

“After 14 years, we are glad the Coast Guard is taking action to contain this runaway oil spill,” said Dustin Renaud, communications director for advocacy group Healthy Gulf. “Now we must make sure that they follow through on a permanent solution and ensure a spill like this never goes unchecked again. Rather than relying on industry self-reporting in the future, we must employ independent science and hold companies accountable to the law."

In 2016, Taylor filed a second suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior in an attempt to recover $432 million remaining in a well decommissioning trust account, arguing that it had already completed the scope of the required work at the site. That suit was dismissed by a federal court in April.

The cost charged to the account for the Coast Guard's well containment effort is expected to be in the range of $7 million.