Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan in New Orleans denied motions by Taylor Energy Inc to dismiss a lawsuit by the Apalachicola Riverkeeper for oil leaking 11 miles off the southeast Louisiana coast since 2004.
A date for a bench trial for Apalachicola Riverkeeper et al. v. Taylor Energy Co. will be set on August 16, Morgan said.
The suit, claiming violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, was filed in February of last year by Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Louisiana Environmental Action Network on behalf of Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, and the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance.
Plaintiffs have asked the court to order Taylor to pay the U.S. Treasury $37,500 a day until the company shuts its leaking wells, plus an award of other civil penalties and attorney's fees. Plaintiffs are represented by Adam Babich and Machelle Lee Hall at Tulane Environmental Law Clinic. Taylor Energy is represented by Bret Sumner and Michael Beatty of Beatty & Wozniak PC and Paul Goodwine and Taylor Mouledoux of Slattery, Marino and Roberts.
Why, some people are asking, is the Apalachicola Riverkeeper involved in litigation over a spill located more than 250 miles west of Apalachicola?
Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire said the Riverkeepers joined the suit by the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance because they have a standing witness who will testify in the proceedings. This is a person who can demonstrate he or she has been specifically impacted by an event, in this case, the oil spill, which has been ongoing since Taylorís Gulf of Mexico oilrig, was damaged during Hurricane Ivan in Sept. 2004.
Tonsmeireís brother, Skipper, fishes for sport fish including cobia. He maintains that, since some of these fish, migrate through the area of the Gulf impacted by the Taylor spill; the leaking oil has had a negative effect on him.
On March 5, the Waterkeeper Alliance and Gulf of Mexico Waterkeeper groups filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit in federal court in the District of Columbia against the U.S. Coast Guard for its denial of two FOIA requests regarding Taylor's leak.
Taylor Energy has also refused to answer questions about measures they say they are taking to end the ongoing oil spill. Taylor claims they have spent millions of dollars to end the leak and have created a process that is a trade secret they plan to market to other companies who need to stop spills.
The Waterkeepers and other parties to the suit maintain Taylor has not effectively capped the well and has consistently underestimated the amount of oil the well is leaking.
Taylor claims the well is only leaking about three gallons of water a day.
Observers for the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper say the sheen associated with the leak, which varies in size, is frequently 15 to 20 miles long and hundreds of feet wide. They estimate 37 to 174 gallons a day are oozing into the Gulf.
Tonsmeire said the litigants against Taylor have joined forces with Sky Truth of Sheperdstown, West Virginia, a volunteer organization of pilots who document environmental damage using aerial photography. He said samples of the sheen associated with the Taylor spill are currently being analyzed by Florida State University to determine the thickness of the surface oil and enable expert witnesses to better estimate the amount of oil that has been released over the last eight years.