Judge Refuses To Toss Lawsuit Over Decade-Old Taylor Energy Gulf Oil Leak

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A federal judge refused on Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit that environmental groups filed against a New Orleans-based company responsible for a decade-old oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

         U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan ruled that a trial is necessary to determine whether several plaintiffs led by the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance have a right to sue Taylor Energy Company.

         The company has claimed federal regulators agree nothing more can be done to stop its leak off Louisiana's coast. But Morgan concluded there is a "genuine factual dispute" over whether Taylor can and should do more to mitigate its impacts.

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         Since 2004, oil has been leaking at the site where a Taylor-owned platform toppled during Hurricane Ivan. A mudslide triggered by Ivan's waves also buried a cluster of oil wells under mounds of sediment.

         Authorities estimate the leak could last a century or more if left unchecked. The Coast Guard has ordered the company to design and install a better system for collecting oil before it reaches the water's surface.

         In April, an investigation by The Associated Press revealed evidence that the leak is worse than Taylor, or the government, have publicly reported. Presented with AP's findings, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that is about 20 times greater than one recently touted by the company in a court filing.

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         Taylor Energy sold all its offshore leases and oil and gas interests in 2008, four years after founder Patrick Taylor died. The company says it is no longer active in the offshore industry and it only exists to continue addressing the leak.

         Morgan, however, said that position isn't consistent with the company's argument that many leak-related documents must remain under wraps to protect valuable trade secrets.

         "If Taylor has ceased to operate as an oil producer, the Court questions whether information related to oil production should remain confidential," she wrote.

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         A biologist, a tour guide and a fisherman are named as plaintiffs in the suit. The company claims they lack the legal "standing" to sue over alleged Clean Water Act violations.

         A trial for the case is scheduled to start on Oct. 5, with Morgan hearing testimony and deciding the case without a jury.

         – by AP Reporter Michael Kunzelman




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