The company responsible for a decade-old oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico will hold a public meeting next month to disclose details of its efforts to stop chronic slicks from forming off Louisiana's coast.
The Jan. 20 forum in Baton Rouge was a requirement of Taylor Energy Co.'s court settlement in September with environmental groups, which accused the company of withholding information about the leak and its efforts to end it.
In 2004, waves whipped up by Hurricane Ivan triggered an underwater mudslide that toppled a Taylor Energy-owned platform and buried a cluster of its oil wells under mounds of sediment. Oil is still leaking at the site more than 11 years later, with slicks often stretching for miles.
Federal regulators estimate the leak could last a century or more if left unchecked.
An Associated Press investigation in April revealed evidence that the leak is worse than the company, or government, have publicly reported during their secretive response. Presented with AP's findings, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that is about 20 times greater than one touted by the company in a court filing earlier this year.
Environmental groups led by the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance sued Taylor Energy in 2012, accusing the company of withholding information from the public about the leak's extent and potential impact on the Gulf's ecosystem.
In May, a federal magistrate rejected the company's bid to preserve the confidentiality of numerous emails and reports about its work. But those documents haven't been made public yet.
The September settlement that resolved the Waterkeeper Alliance's federal lawsuit called for the company to donate $300,000 to a Louisiana marine research consortium and pay an additional $100,000 to fund an environmental research project.
Taylor Energy recently posted an agenda for next month's daylong meeting on Louisiana State University's campus. On a website, the company also posted documents summarizing the presentations planned for the forum.
Taylor Energy President William Pecue, the company's sole remaining full-time employee, is scheduled to make most of the presentations at the meeting. A few experts and industry consultants hired by the company also are expected to present their findings.
Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, said she hopes the meeting "will finally begin to bring transparency to an event that has been kept out of the public knowledge for more than a decade."
"It is important that regulators, the public and even those within the industry have a complete knowledge of the risks of offshore drilling in order to avoid similar problems in the future," said Orr, whose group was a plaintiff in the Waterkeeper Alliance's suit.
Patrick Taylor, the company's founder, died in 2004. Taylor Energy sold all its offshore leases and oil and gas interests in 2008. What's left of the company only exists to continue working on the leak.
The company deposited more than $666 million in a trust to pay for its leak response work. As of May 2014, nearly $433 million remained in the trust.
Taylor Energy lobbied to recover at least a portion of the remaining money, but federal authorities rebuffed the company's settlement overtures earlier this year and ordered it to perform more work at the site.
Using satellite images and Coast Guard pollution reports, West Virginia-based watchdog group SkyTruth has estimated that between 300,000 and 1.4 million gallons of oil have spilled from the site since 2004.