NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An environmental group is threatening to sue over seepage from a Gulf of Mexico oil well that was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, but first officials must determine who owns the well.
At issue is seepage at the lease site about 11 miles off the Louisiana coast.
No one is claiming a massive leak such as the BP well that was buried in mud in April 2010 about 70 miles to the northeast. But the group claims there is something leaking from the site and it should be fixed.
Waterkeeper Alliance, a watchdog group, filed notice last week that it intends to sue under the federal Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation Recovery Act “for ongoing discharge violations that pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment.”
The law requires 60 days of notice of intent to file suit to allow disputing parties to reach a settlement, said Adam Babich, director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, which is handling the action.
Satellite images and on-site monitoring show leaks have been occurring since at least October 2006 at a rate the group estimates as 100 to 400 gallons of oil per day, said Justin Bloom of the Waterkeeper Alliance.
The demand letter was sent to three companies: Taylor Energy Co., Korea National Oil Corp. and Samsung C&T Corp. In 2008, New Orleans-based Taylor Energy sold most of its energy assets for an undisclosed price to the other two companies, which formed a joint venture to operate them.
But Korea National and Samsung on Thursday said they do not own either a production platform or wells that are the target of the potential lawsuit. The companies said ownership of those properties was retained by Taylor Energy.
“Neither KNOC nor Samsung have any liability for any wells or platforms referenced in this potential lawsuit,” the companies said in a statement. “Consequently, we believe the allegations and potential legal action against KNOC and Samsung are misguided.”
Taylor Energy did not return repeated calls seeking comment. However, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said the platform — knocked down by a mudslide during Ivan — is owned by Taylor Energy. The agency also said it and the Coast Guard are monitoring continuing efforts to shut down and abandon the site.
In June 2010, Taylor Energy said the site has three oil containment domes below the surface. The company said at the time that it had been engaged in long-running, government-approved work to plug and abandon the wells. It said domes had substantially reduced seepage of oil since the platform collapsed during the hurricane and the site was buried in mud.
Babich said the 60-day negotiating period would allow a determination of ownership and potential liability.
“This is not a lawsuit. This is a notice. The letter is intended to resolve any issues, if they can be resolved.” he said. “Basically, the Waterkeepers will follow up with this company and make sure everyone is one the same page on who owns what.”
In a liability action, it is typical for a plaintiff to name multiple potential defendants to determine responsibility.
Hundreds of platforms and wells dot the Gulf, and releases of oil are not uncommon.
The site in dispute is in about 500 feet of water — relatively shallow when compared with the BP Macondo well, which blew out about a mile below the surface of the Gulf.
The BP blowout last year killed 11 workers, resulted in the destruction of the platform Deepwater Horizon and led to the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.