October 4, 2023

Divers searching for the origin of a sizeable Gulf of Mexico oil spill – one of several discovered off the coast of Louisiana after Hurricane Ida – have discovered three damaged pipelines near the leak, despite dire conditions on the ocean floor prevented the team from finding the source.

The Gulf of Mexico is covered in a tangle of pipes, wells and other energy infrastructure that is no longer used due to the oil production that has been going on there for generations.

Oil and gas producer Talos Energy, charged with the clean-up, said late Sunday that it does not own the three damaged pipelines. The Coast Guard had previously said the leak was from an old pipeline used by Talos, the former owner of offshore leases in the area. The Houston-based company had carried out an intensive cleanup that involved a hoist boat and other ships.

The New York Times examined pipeline permits for the area and identified nine segments of pipeline operated by seven oil and gas producers within a three kilometer (1.8 mile) radius of the observed origin of the leak. Some of the pipelines were abandoned years ago.

The Times first reported on the spillage and cleanup operations on Friday. Here’s what we know about the disaster so far:

In its statement on Sunday, Talos Energy said it was not responsible for the leak off the coast of Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Instead, the company said its divers found a broken 12-inch pipeline that Talos did not own and that appeared to have been relocated from its original location. There are also two smaller disused pipelines in the area, the company said.

Talos stopped production in the region in 2017. The company said its divers and sonar scans confirmed that its wells were plugged and its pipelines were removed.

The company is moving a hoist boat closer to the leak so divers can more easily reach the location and confirm the source, said a person with direct knowledge of the cleanup but who was not authorized to speak publicly about the effort.

Lt. U.S. Coast Guard’s John Edwards said the agency had been briefed on the divers’ findings. He said the original source of the discharge was unknown.

The amount of oil reaching the surface has “slowed dramatically” over the past 48 hours and no new heavy black crude has been seen the previous day, Talos said.

Lieutenant Edwards said the area seemed to be fading. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported a flood of potential spills in a nearby area as well as over the Gulf.

The Coast Guard continued to oversee the cleanup and efforts to mitigate environmental threats after the storm, Lieutenant Edwards said.

Nine segments of pipeline, both used and abandoned, lie near the leak.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of pipeline giant Kinder Morgan, operated a 12-inch pipeline in the area, approved show. The pipeline was installed in 1966 and abandoned in 2012, according to data from the Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management.

The data also shows that oil and gas operators Cantium, Cox Oil, and Cox subsidiary Energy XXI GOM each operate 6-inch pipelines near the leak. Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, the Williams Companies subsidiary Discovery Gas Transmission and privately held Kinetica Partners also operate or operate pipelines in the area, the data shows.

The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday morning.