A peer-reviewed study “Harnessing a decade of data to inform future decisions: Insights into the ongoing hydrocarbon release at Taylor Energy’s Mississippi Canyon 20 site,” was published in Marine Pollution Bulletin on May 11, 2020. The paper was authored by a team of eight scientists who have been studying the MC-20 site for over a decade.
The release of oil and gas at Mississippi Canyon Block 20 into the Gulf of Mexico has vexed response officials since 2004 when a regional seafloor failure toppled the Taylor Energy Company platform. Despite the completion of nine intervention wells, releases continue from the seafloor, mostly captured by a recently installed containment system. Toward informing resolution, this work applies chemical forensic and statistical analyses to surface sheens, sediments, and reservoir oil samples. Our results indicate sheens are chemically heterogeneous, contain remnant synthetic hydrocarbons likely discharged from well interventions prior to 2012, and require mixing of multiple chemically-distinct oil groups to explain observed variability in diagnostic ratios. Given the respite and opportunity afforded by containment we suggest leveraging ongoing collection activities to assess release dynamics, as well as engaging the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, to evaluate potential solutions, associated risks, and to consider policy ramifications.