(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology held a markup and approved two bills to enhance U.S. preparedness for future oil spills. These two pieces of legislation will prioritize research into oil spill cleanup and prevention and provide the research for safer, cleaner oil and gas drilling technologies. These bills represent a comprehensive research agenda to preventing and responding to accidents such as Deepwater Horizon.
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig resulted in a massive oil release and a national response effort in the Gulf of Mexico. While an investigation into the exact cause of the accident is ongoing, it is understood to be a combination of critical human errors and the failure of certain equipment designed to stop an incident.
Last summer, the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment passed H.R. 2693, the Federal Oil Pollution Research Program Act, authored by Representative Lynn Woolsey. Today, the full Committee approved the bill.
“Ms. Woolsey’s foresight in writing this legislation last year put us one step closer towards advancing a more robust federal research and development program on oil spill response. This bill provides for a more streamlined federal management structure, prioritized research and development, and more oversight and accountability,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).
The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was signed into law in August 1990, largely in response to rising public concern following the Exxon Valdez oil spill. OPA established an Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research made up of fourteen federal partners. This Committee coordinates a program which provides research, development, and demonstration of effective technologies that clean up oil pollution. Today’s bill streamlines the management structure of this Committee, provides better oversight, ensures support of extramural research grants, and strengthens the research roles of the participating federal agencies.
“My amendment better aligns and streamlines the Interagency Committee to provide for an effective research program,” said Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA).
The Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute to H.R. 2693 prioritizes research efforts by modifying the research, development, and demonstration program authorized under OPA. This will ensure the ongoing development of methods and technologies to prevent, recover, and mitigate oil spills.
“We have been slow to develop new technologies to prevent, mitigate and clean up oil spills,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). “The fact that we are responding to the BP oil spill with basically the same technology that we used with the Exxon Valdez spill 20 years ago pretty much says it all. Our legislation will change this.”
The ANS also establishes an Oil Pollution Research Advisory Committee consisting of at least 25 representatives from non-governmental entities. The Advisory Committee is directed to review, advise, and comment on Interagency Committee activities. By working together, federal agencies and private industry can leverage expertise to deliver the best solutions available.
The Committee adopted amendments from both sides of the aisle to H.R. 2693, which clarify language, enhance oversight, and strengthen research capacity.
The Committee also reported favorably H.R. 5716, The Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development Act, which amends Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
“It is our hope that with passage of this bill, activities conducted under Section 999 will better serve the nation’s needs for development of advanced environmental and worker safety technologies and practices, while also providing a federal resource for technical expertise in this field,” said Gordon.
Deepwater drilling presents a unique set of technological challenges, including safety and accident prevention and mitigation. Many contend that the industry has not devoted adequate resources to the development of technologies and methods for accident prevention and mitigation. Witnesses at the June 23 Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing testified about the need for research into Blowout Preventers and a range of other accident prevention and mitigation technologies and practices.
Research under Section 999 is conducted by both the Department of Energy and a public-private research consortium known as the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA). RPSEA currently has members from across industry, academia, NGOs, and government laboratories and programs. H.R. 5716 shifts the focus and funding of the program to research and development of technologies for safety and accident prevention.
The Committee approved all of the amendments that were offered to H.R. 5716 from both the Republican and Democratic Members.
“The Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster has proven that our tools for responding to oil spills are tragically outdated. While we do need to ultimately work towards reducing our dependence on petroleum, we know that oil and gas drilling will continue in U.S. waters. We must ensure safer drilling technologies and practices to prevent an accident like this from ever happening again, and we have to make sure good government practices are in place for the clean-up and environmental recovery,” said Baird.
“The two bills we passed today help to ensure that all stakeholders – including the federal government, industry, and academia – are better equipped to prevent and respond to such accidents in the future,” stated Gordon.
For more information on the Committee’s work on the oil spill, please visit our website.