More than 1 million gallons of oil have flowed into Gulf of Mexico waters following a pipeline leak first reported Friday, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Although the situation is still developing, here are five things to know so far about the leak, as well as the history of similar accidents in the region.
It seems to have started near New Orleans
Coast Guard officials say the origin of the leak appears to be near the Main Pass Oil Gathering company’s pipeline system, which is located around Plaquemines Parish, La., southeast of New Orleans.
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It’s unclear exactly when the leak started, but it was initially reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Thursday morning around 9:10 a.m. The NOAA’s initial report involved a three- to four-mile wide slick.
“Remotely operated vehicles, deployed Friday morning, continue to survey the pipeline with no findings of a source area at this time,” the Coast Guard wrote Tuesday.
It’s much bigger than the average oil spill in U.S. waters
In the last 50 years, at least 44 oil spills that discharged more than 420,000 gallons each have occurred in U.S. waters, according to NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. Initial assessments indicate the latest Gulf spill is at least 1.1 million gallons, more than three times that amount.
Thousands of smaller oil spills, a single barrel or less, occur in U.S. waters every year, although the NOAA notes that even small amounts can have severe impacts on local wildlife and ecosystems.
… But it’s still far short of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster
The Deepwater Horizon disaster, which began on April 20, 2010, is the largest known aquatic oil spill in U.S. history. It began with an explosion on a marine platform, injuring 17 and causing the disappearance of 11 workers whose bodies were never recovered.
It took nearly five months to fully seal the well, although leaks were reported as late as 2012, and some 134 million gallons spilled into the Gulf as a result of the disaster.
The disaster also killed up to 105,400 sea birds and resulted in a record $20.8 billion settlement with BP, Anadarko, Transocean and Halliburton, the operators of the platform.
Gulf waters have seen several multimillion-gallon spills
In addition to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Gulf region has a history of major oil spills, including a 5 million-gallon spill in 1990 near Galveston, Texas.
The worst disaster in the Gulf before the Deepwater Horizon disaster was the Ixtoc I oil spill, which occurred in 1979 in Mexican waters near Campeche. After a wellhead failed during drilling in the southwestern Gulf by state-owned oil company Pemex, about 126 million barrels spilled into the Gulf over nearly 10 months.
It comes amid ongoing controversy over oil leasing in the Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf region has long been associated with both the oil industry and with the continual threat of ecological catastrophe.
In January 2021, President Biden signed an executive order freezing all new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters, but amid a series of unfavorable court rulings, the administration eventually ended the pause and resumed leasing.
Under the terms of a deal to pass the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, the administration was required to hold a series of lease sales in the Gulf, originally scheduled for September but currently pushed back to December. The administration also auctioned off 1.6 million acres for leasing in March.
In August, the state of Louisiana joined Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute in suing the administration for shrinking the acreage being auctioned off, which the administration did in an effort to protect the endangered Rice’s whale. A federal court dismissed the administration’s efforts last week.