Wednesday, May 19, 2010

House T&I Hearing On BP Gulf Spill & Latest Updates

May 19: The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Chaired by Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) held an all-day hearing to examine the circumstances surrounding the ongoing spill of crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon, including potential environmental effects, ongoing response actions, long-term cleanup challenges, and potential natural resource damages. Among other issues, the Committee examined the regulatory framework governing the safety functions of mobile offshore drilling units, the preparations made by the owners and operators of MODUs to respond to potential oil spills, and the liability responsibilities incurred by the owners and operators in the event of an oil spill. The Committee also looked at the Coast Guard's work with the Mineral Management Service and other federal agencies to implement regulations governing the management of offshore oil production facilities, as well as federal oversight and management of the ongoing oil recovery and cleanup actions of the responsible parties.

    Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: BP President Lamar McKay; Transocean Ltd. President Steven Newman; EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson; Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator; S. Elizabeth Birnbaum, Director of Minerals Management Service; as well as representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard; National Geographic Society; National Wildlife Federation; Gerica Seafood of New Orleans; University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; and the Coastal Response Research Center University of New Hampshire.

    Representative Oberstar said, "The magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is unknown, but it appears to be a massive environmental disaster that is causing serious damage to the U.S. economy and the natural resources of the Gulf Coast region. Because this oil spill could jeopardize the livelihoods and environment of thousands of Americans who live in the region, we must closely examine what caused the disaster, the effectiveness of response of the companies responsible for the spill and the Federal government, and what steps must be taken to avoid a similar catastrophe in the future. This hearing will be a comprehensive, in-depth examination of the circumstances surrounding this oil spill, and we will hear testimony from representatives of the Federal government, industry executives, the scientific community, fishermen, and nongovernmental stakeholders."

    Oberstar continued saying, "In recent years, the T&I Committee has found several examples of an inappropriate coziness between industry and the entity that bears the responsibility of regulating that industry. The MMS has long been criticized of being too cozy with the oil drilling industry, and evidence is emerging that indicates MMS was aware of the potential failures of blowout preventers. Because the spill occurred in coastal waters, the Coast Guard is serving as the federal On-Scene Coordinator and is responsible for overseeing clean up efforts. We will examine how well MMS and the Coast Guard are addressing their joint responsibilities for oil discharge planning, preparedness, and response for offshore oil and gas."

    In other Gulf Oil developments, President Obama expressed his disappointment in the failure of the Senate to pass legislation to raise the liability limits for oil spills. The President said, "I am disappointed that an effort to ensure that oil companies pay fully for disasters they cause has stalled in the United States Senate on a partisan basis. This maneuver threatens to leave taxpayers, rather than the oil companies, on the hook for future disasters like the BP oil spill. I urge the Senate Republicans to stop playing special interest politics and join in a bipartisan effort to protect taxpayers and demand accountability from the oil companies." [See WIMS 5/14/10]. In its testimony before the T&I Committee, BP testified that it would not be using the Oil Liability Trust Fund and would pay all legitimate claims and would not in any way limit it liability to $75 million.

    Also, the American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Jack Gerard issued a statement of support for President Obama's decision to form a presidential commission to investigate the Gulf oil spill [See WIMS 5/18/10]. "We support the president's decision to set up an independent commission to investigate the Gulf oil spill. Finding out what exactly happened in the tragic Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill is of paramount importance. While many Americans are understandably concerned about safety and the environmental risk associated with offshore drilling, we hope policymakers use the valuable independent insights that will result from the commission's work to inform the legislative and regulatory process to ensure that decisions made do not have the unintended consequence of reducing domestic energy supplies, weakening our energy security and costing some of the 9.2 million American jobs supported by the U.S. oil and natural gas industry." [Note: The President is expected to officially call for the independent commission soon].

    Access a release from the T&I Committee (click here). Access the hearing website and link to all testimony, a summary of the subject matter and a webcast (click here). Access an AP report on the hearing and latest events (click here). Access a statement from the President (click here). Access the API statement (click here). Access the White House website on the BP spill which contains links to all Federal agency response websites (click here). Access the BP response website (click here). Access the Unified Command website for the latest updates (click here).