The Other Gulf Oil Rig Quietly Spilling Right Now: Explained and Exposed

Here's a strange one: a filing by Ben Raines at the Alabama Press-Register on Monday evening shows up online with a headline announcing "Another Gulf oil spill: Well near Deepwater Horizon has leaked since at least April 30." Some bloggers may have noted it. But why aren't we hearing anything else about it? And why -- if there are federal documents about this -- is it being rebuked in the press?

From Raines' filing:

A nearby drilling rig, the Ocean Saratoga, has been leaking since at least April 30, according to a federal document.

While the leak is decidedly smaller than the Deepwater Horizon spill, a 10-mile-long slick emanating from the Ocean Saratoga is visible from space in multiple images gathered by Skytruth.org, which monitors environmental problems using satellites.

Federal officials did not immediately respond when asked about the size of the leak, how long it had been flowing, or whether it was possible to plug it.

Meanwhile, the top Google News result right now for "Ocean Saratoga" is a website called PennEnergy, who notes today:

No oil has leaked from the Diamond Offshore rig Ocean Saratoga, the company says in response to a mistaken interpretation of operations at the site made by an unidentified aircraft. The semisubmersible is contracted to Taylor Energy Co. for P&A operations in the Gulf of Mexico following platform damage during Hurricane Ivan.

The well intervention program at Mississippi Canyon block 20 has the approval of the Unified Command organization in charge of the BP leak, also in the Mississippi Canyon area.

As it turns out, though, PennEnergy is a B2B (or "business-to-business") publication owned by PennWell, a B2B publisher whose first publication was apparently in 1910 "with Oil & Gas Journal magazine." And many of the 86 "related articles" on Google come from B2Bs or trades like it. In other words, this is a boldfaced lie.

Via Bloomberg Businessweek, the overhead sighting of the spill was originally reported by Gus Lubin at Business Insider. Finally, yesterday afternoon, Taylor Energy -- who owns the Ocean Saratoga -- responded that the leak is the result a breakage caused by 2004's Hurricane Ivan, and that the average leak of nine gallons a day in the wake of the breakage has been "significantly reduced" with six "well interventions" (read: repairs). Furthermore:

Unidentified aircraft took photos this weekend that incorrectly reported an oil leak coming from the drilling rig Ocean Saratoga. At the time of these photos, Taylor Energy was actually conducting marine operations on site with a 180 foot dynamically positioned workboat for a regularly scheduled subsea containment system drainage. The tanks mistakenly characterized as containing dispersants on the boat's deck, were actually tanks to store and transport the collected oil as it was pumped from the underwater storage system.

So, there is a leak, but it's small, though it's apparently been happening since 2004? The promised Coast Guard report on Saratoga has yet to be produced -- we'll know more then -- but the PR releases coming out of Taylor certainly aren't as nuanced an explanation as that is. Maybe that's because -- again, as reported by Bloomberg BusinessWeek -- Diamond Offshore Drilling, who was hired to cap and abandon the Taylor rig in 2009 -- saw their stock drop 3.8% yesterday. Since Business Insider was correct in that Saratoga is both technically and categorically leaking oil, neither Taylor Energy nor Diamond Offshore Drilling can sue TBI for libel, defamation, or damages. Besides which, you know, it's only nine gallons. So their stock's bouncing back.

The Other Gulf Oil Rig Quietly Spilling Right Now: Explained and Exposed

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Point:The Press, and The People. it's a score for people who don't benefit from net profits via the massive, trillion-dollar Gulf Oil Drilling economy. They obviously have the money to fix their messes, but until they're busted, they don't incur costs of fixing major messes due to a lack of strict oversight to catch them making these mistakes, the kind that hurt the everyone else in a way that's absurdly disproportionate to the benefits they reap. Small incidents like this help move the balance over -- bit by bit -- towards something the world desperately needs more of with regards to the future of the energy industry: the truth.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]


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