Tulane donor’s oil spill verges on becoming largest in US history

Michael Chen, Staff Writer

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The Deepwater Horizon oil spill on April 2010 was recorded as one of the largest oil spills in the country, discharging approximately 200 million gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico.

Another oil spill, however, is verging on surpassing the Deepwater Horizon spill to become the largest in U.S. history. The Taylor Energy oil spill, resulting from a mudslide prompted by Hurricane Ivan, has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico daily since 2004.

According to junior John Alexander, director of Sustainability for the Undergraduate Student Government for the 2017-18 academic year and a fellow at the Taylor Center, the spill caused roughly as much environmental harm as the BP spill even though it received less publicity.

“I’ve lived in gulf states my entire life, Texas and now Louisiana, and the environmental harm speaks for itself,” Alexander said. “Growing up and going to the beach from Houston it was next to impossible to find a stretch without tar balls.”

Based in New Orleans, Taylor Energy Company LLC was founded in 1979 by Patrick F. Taylor. While Taylor’s oil company has harmed the marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico through the oil spill, Taylor himself was an ardent philanthropist for educational and humanitarian causes. The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, spearheaded by his wife Phyllis M. Taylor after his death in 2004, continues to implement his main initiatives to this day.

Tulane has been on the receiving end of the Taylor Foundation’s contributions. In 2014, Taylor, also a member of the Board of Tulane, donated $14.5 million to the university, which went towards creating the Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking.

Designed to direct attention to social entrepreneurship and social innovation, the Taylor Center provides an interdisciplinary community of students, faculty and staff who wish to pursue a more equitable society.

“[Tulane is] already involved post-Katrina with the community service aspect, and they’ve developed this entrepreneurship,” Taylor said. “So as we go forward, I think this center can help. It’ll not only have solutions to programs and projects and products, but it will also develop leadership.”

Taylor’s gift comes in the form of an endowment, which the Taylor Center’s director Kenneth Schwartz hopes will “creates positive social change.” One such example, according to Schwartz, is the center’s sustainability environment initiatives, which include many “collaborative efforts with students and faculty from across the entire university … [an] example [being] the Climate Action Day during the spring of this year.”

The connection to the oil spill, however, has drawn some attention on campus. According to Alexander, the oil spill, though harmful, is only loosely connected to Tulane, and has no bearing on the Taylor Center’s mission.

“I was aware of the connection to Taylor Oil and that was one of the main struggles I faced within myself in working there,” Alexander said. “The Taylor Center in and of itself has one sole connection to Taylor Oil and that is funding through Ms. Taylor. Other than that, the two could not be further apart.”

Alexander said he believes the Taylor Center can only overcome its financial connection by addressing the issue head-on.

“Personally I feel the Taylor Center should create a greater sense of owning where its funding comes from, facing that challenge, and moving forward not weakened through that, but strengthened through addressing its own issues since inception,” Alexander said.