Lessons from the taylor energy oil spill: history, seasonality, and nutrient limitation
Harrison, Sarah Josephine
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In 2004, Hurricane Ivan destroyed Taylor Energy platform 23051 in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The site has leaked oil into the marine environment since the platform was destroyed, resulting in the nation’s longest ongoing offshore oil spill. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has estimated that oil is leaking from the site at a rate of 1-55 barrels of oil per day, a range that far exceeds the average oil seep in the Gulf of Mexico and may exceed the sum of oil released from all 22,000 natural seeps in the Gulf (27 barrels per day). Despite $435 million in well intervention and containment efforts, oil is expected to leak for another century. This thesis explores the site in three installments. Chapter 1 provides a detailed site history and literature review of oil degradation in surface waters. Chapter 2 documents the history of this site through pooling publicly available records from the US Coast Guard, the US Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations, revealing surprising seasonal oscillation of oil slick length and frequency at this site. Chapter 3 explores the biogeochemical implications of this seasonal variation with two transects of surface water, the first in October 2014, the second in June 2015. Chapter 4 features an amendment experiment to compare how hydrocarbon oxidation rates change upon adding inorganic nutrient and/or chemical dispersants. This initial study includes some of the first geochemical and biological measurements at the site and establishes surface waters of the Taylor Energy site as a seasonally dynamic environment with a robust and persistent hydrocarbon degrading microbial community.