If an oil well erupts in the ocean and nobody talks about it, does anyone hear anything? This is the dispiriting thought that crossed my mind as I waited, day after day, following the Oct. 22 front-page exposé of the catastrophic Taylor Energy oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, “For gulf oil spill, no end in sight.”
Reading about the massive leak — seemingly as much as 700 barrels per day, every day, for 14 years — was jaw-droppingly depressing. Worse, the leak was hushed up by governmental officials who should have informed us — and by the company itself.
A much smaller oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969 caused such an outcry that it is now considered one of the factors that led to Earth Day and the launching of the environmental movement.
The revelations were outstandingly reported, but questions about responsibility and cleanup remain.
We hear a lot about “fake news.” What about “fake response” to real news?
Peter Harnik, Arlington
The Oct. 22 front-page article “For gulf oil spill, no end in sight” relied on analysis used by the Interior Department as part of litigation that had not been used to guide the response. I know because I am the environmental unit leader on this response. Now publicized, this information is misleading the public and may well be used to rationalize ill-advised actions.
If the government position is that “millions of barrels” have been leaking, why does it refuse to share data that supports this position — which would be crucial to the response? A better question yet is “Where’s the oil?”
Following Coast Guard protocols, the observed volume is consistently less than 100 gallons. The estimates of 12,600 to 25,200 gallons per day “spewing” are based on fundamentally flawed analyses and are contrary to the production history of the platform. Any implication that the incident was “kept secret” is contrary to the record. Taylor Energy reported that the platform was missing the day after the hurricane, and continues to work cooperatively on this response. Before my retirement from federal service, I worked with a team of dozens of subject-matter experts. Our scientific consensuses for response actions were based on the fundamental principle that no actions should be undertaken that would likely do more harm than good. Now, though, Interior’s analyses have opened Pandora’s box in the form of public outcry demanding action, a reasonable response given the erroneous information.
Wade Bryant, Baton Rouge
The writer is a senior environmental scientist with CK Associates, an environmental consultancy paid by Taylor Energy Company LLC.