February 11, 2011

Subcommittee Panels Examine BP National Commission Report

Washington, D.C. – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment today held a joint oversight hearing to examine the recommendations from the members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (Commission) to improve oil spill prevention and response.  The Subcommittees received testimony from the spill’s former National Incident Commander, United States Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen (Ret.), and Commission members Dr. Donald F. Boesch and Terry D. Garcia, on lessons learned from the spill.

Below are the opening statements of U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), Democratic Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation; and U.S. Representative Timothy H. Bishop (D-NY), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, as prepared for delivery:


Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Subcommittees on Water Resources and Environment
And Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Joint Hearing on “Improving Oil Spill Prevention and Response, Restoring
Jobs, and Ensuring our Energy Security: Recommendations from the National
Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling”

February 11, 2011

This morning we hear from the Presidential Commission examining the Deepwater Horizon disaster and retired Admiral Thad Allen regarding their recommendations for ensuring that offshore oil and gas development  in the United States is far safer now and in the future, and that the devastation of the Deepwater Horizon is not repeated.

While the round-the-clock television coverage of oil spewing into the Gulf has long-since faded to black, the urgency we once felt to identify the causes of the disaster and take the steps necessary to minimize the likelihood that it happen again should not fade with it.  This truly cannot become a case of out of sight, out of mind.

We cannot forget that 11 good men lost their lives and countless families lost their incomes when fishing grounds were shut down, and tourists cancelled their visits to the Gulf. 

We cannot forget the environmental and economic impacts of the spill that will last long after the oil can be seen floating on the surface of the sea.

Yet, in the weeks since the Commission released its broad range of recommendations for reforms in business practices, regulatory oversight, and broader policy concerns, we have heard an outcry of indignation from those who claim it is too soon to take action, that we must wait until every aspect of every investigation has been completed.

But we do not need to wait to know that we were not prepared for this type of blowout, that our ability to clean up oil spills is woefully inadequate, that regulators were too cozy with the industry, and that a $75 million cap on liability is too small. That is why  I, in my former capacity as the Natural Resources Committee chairman, led the House in writing and passing the CLEAR Act last summer. That legislation would have provided for a major overhaul of offshore drilling regulations, decreasing the chances that another blowout would happen in the future, and making sure that we could do a better job containing one if it did.

Many of my friends who voted against that bill argued that we should not act until the Presidential Commission had completed its work.  Well, their recommendations are now before us, and again and again they urge us to do the exact same things we did in the CLEAR Act.

Recently we introduced a new bill to implement all of the Commission recommendations, but again we are told by some that we need to wait. But we cannot wait.

The Commission itself said, “Inaction…runs the risk of real costs, too: in more lost lives, in broad damage to the regional economy and its long-term viability, and in further tens of billions of dollars of avoidable clean-up costs.”

We should not wait to reform the ranks of the inspectors who were supposed to be keeping an eye on, not playing around with, industry operators in the Gulf.  We cannot wait to reform the laws that govern containment, response, and clean-up of spills, or to improve the technologies that these activities rely upon.  Nor should we wait to improve safety and environmental protection provisions that will ensure the long-term sustainability of this industry as well as the other industries that co-exist in the Gulf and other areas of the country where offshore energy development continues.  We have a responsibility to the families who lost loved ones in the Gulf, or who lost businesses in the aftermath of this disaster. 

We need to act on these recommendations, restore the economy and ecosystems of the Gulf, and make sure offshore drilling is done in an efficient and safe manner.  No one should have to risk their life to secure their livelihood.


Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on
Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Joint Hearing on “Improving Oil Spill Prevention and Response, Restoring
Jobs, and Ensuring our Energy Security: Recommendations from the National
Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling”

February 11, 2011

Mr. Chairman, thank you for conducting this joint subcommittee hearing.  I welcome the opportunity to discuss the recommendations of the National Commission on the BP Oil Spill.  The message today is clear: undertaking deepwater drilling requires a deeper understanding of the risks that accompany the clear benefits of deepwater drilling.

Now that we have these recommendations in hand, Congress should act to ensure that our policies for offshore drilling are rigorous, safeguard workers, benefit the economy and protect the environment.  Too many lives are at stake, and too many jobs are at risk, for the Congress to fail to act.  If we cannot tap our offshore resources in a way that protects lives and the environment, there will be pressure to restrict the use of those resources.  That would be devastating to the maritime industry, the jobs they support, and our economy as a whole. 

We also need to provide Federal agencies with adequate resources to prevent another such tragedy from happening again, and to respond should we have to. 

I welcome Admiral Allen to the subcommittees today.  I appreciated your willingness to serve the United States as commander of the response effort, even following your retirement.  I look forward to hearing your observations and recommendations. 

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a major human and environmental disaster of potentially unprecedented proportions. 

As a representative from the Puget Sound, I understand how devastating an oil spill would be to a coastal region.  I want to do everything possible to prevent an oil spills from any sources occurring in my area of the country and other areas of the country.

The oil spill commission report clearly demonstrates that we have a long way to go to prevent similar disasters from occurring again. 

Unfortunately, Congress is proposing budget cuts into the muscle and bone of investments needed for economic growth and to protect our environment.  If nothing else, the BP spill showed the need for a more robust public capacity to respond quickly and safely to oil spills. 

The public depends on federal agencies to ensure the safety of deepwater drilling and the safety of the men and women who work on those platforms.  Diminishing this capacity through budget cuts is irresponsible, especially considering the Commission’s call for increased investment. 

Some of the voices in Washington, D.C. argue that we must reduce or eliminate regulatory burdens.  Once again, the BP spill demonstrated that the oil and gas industry was subject to too little regulation, not too much.  Improved regulation is necessary both in how BP implemented safety measures during drilling, and in ensuring effective, meaningful response plans once the spill occurred. 

No one is suggesting that we eliminate deepwater drilling off our coasts.  Given what we now know about the risks of deepwater drilling, we should put the pieces in place to ensure the highest level of safety. 

The National Commission’s report revealed what many of us expected to learn about the Deepwater Horizon spill. 

First, the Federal government’s oversight of offshore oil and gas drilling was too lax.  Second, that Federal agencies and the oil and gas industry were inadequately prepared to effectively stop, track, contain and clean up a spill of this magnitude. 

And third, we learned that the Jones Act — the law which protects and supports our domestic maritime industry — was absolutely no hindrance to the Federal government’s response to this environmental calamity.  And as we will hear later, Admiral Allen concurs entirely with this finding

I proposed last year during the Committee’s May 19th hearing on the spill that the country take a step back to ensure that any future offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico lives up to claims of safety and reliability. 

If anything, the National Commission’s report only reaffirms my convictions, especially on the following points:

•           Future offshore drilling must occur within a transparent and accountable legal framework that clearly assigns responsibility for any spills to the industry.

•           Congress must act to raise the liability caps in the Oil Pollution Act. 

•           The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund must be replenished, and the Fund’s fee structure revised to match the increased hazards of deep sea drilling.

•           More investments must be made to develop field tested and government certified response and clean-up technologies that more than match the industry’s ability to drill in frontier areas. 

I look forward to evaluating the Commission’s recommendations and expect that our witnesses this morning will provide additional insights on these points, and more. 

When the EXXON VALDEZ ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska in 1989, Congress responded with the Oil Pollution Act.  Now, 22 years later, the BP spill demonstrated the need to amend and strengthen that Act. 

I stand ready to work with Chairman LoBiondo and with Chairman Gibbs, with the ranking Democrat member, Congressman Rahall, with Mr. Bishop, and the other members of the Committee in shaping legislation to strengthen our nation’s oil spill response and prevention laws. 

Mr. Chairman, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill exposed the real risks and costs of energy production on the Outer Continental Shelf.  We have before us the opportunity to make a necessary course correction in our production of offshore energy.  I urge that we not let the current debate on the Federal budget or regulations deter us from making necessary investments to ensure that offshore drilling can be done safely, efficiently and with minimal harm to the environment. 


Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on
Water Resources and Environment
Joint Hearing on “Improving Oil Spill Prevention and Response, Restoring
Jobs, and Ensuring our Energy Security: Recommendations from the National
Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling”

February 11, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing to review the recommendations of the National Commission on BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

Mr. Chairman, as you know, in the last Congress, this Committee held a series of hearings in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster to investigate what went wrong, what actions were being undertaken by BP and other responsible parties to stop the ongoing flow of oil and to restore the lives and livelihoods of those impacted by the spill, and what measures were necessary to restore the Gulf Coast ecosystem.

These hearings also focused on what efforts needed to be undertaken by the Federal agencies and the Congress to ensure that a similar, preventable disaster could not occur in the future. 

Last year, members of the Subcommittees on Water Resources and the Coast Guard recalled a similar joint hearing of these Subcommittees on the 10th Anniversary of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 – and the warnings given by Federal agencies and other stakeholders that our nation was rapidly becoming unprepared to address future oil spills. 

Specifically, witnesses testified about the then-growing concern that the technologies to extract, process, and transport oil were well outpacing the development of technologies to quickly and safely control and cleanup potential oil spills. 

Over the intervening years, our Subcommittees also received testimony from representatives of the Coast Guard that currently liability limits for both vessels and facilities, such as the Deepwater Horizon, were falling desperately behind the levels necessary to adequately address a “worst case” release of oil.

Unfortunately, this Committee did not heed the warnings given to it over a decade ago, and this nation grew complacent that a future oil disaster was unlikely to occur again.

Fast forward 10 years, and, unfortunately, our complacency proved wrong. 

In the summer of 2010, our nation was again faced with a massive oil spill – although this time, the release was not from the grounding of a ship, but from the seemingly limitless release of oil directly from the seafloor. 

Again, the questions arose on how this could happen, why was it taking so long to stop the flow of oil, and whether this tragedy that resulted in 19 lives lost, and impacted countless families along the Gulf coast should have been prevented.

Mr. Chairman, in the days following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, this Committee took aggressive action to understand what happened, and what changes are needed to take to prevent a similar disaster in the future. 

This Committee drafted and moved legislation to address many of the shortcomings identified in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  This legislation, reported from this Committee by voice vote, was later combined with proposals from our colleagues on the Natural Resources Committee, under the then leadership of our new Ranking Member, Mr. Rahall, and was passed by the House in the early summer.  Unfortunately, no further action was taken on that bill.

However, with the beginning of a new Congress, we have the opportunity to start anew.  Today, Mr. Chairman, we will hear testimony from two distinguished representatives from President Obama’s National Commission.

In my opinion, we should not be surprised by the findings of the Commission into the likely causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, or on the systemic failures of the oil industry that contributed to this incident.  Many of these findings are consistent to what we heard during hearings before this Committee in the last Congress.

Similarly, many of the statutory and administrative changes recommended by the Commission are consistent with those included in both this Committee’s bill, and the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2010, or CLEAR Act, that was approved by the House last year.

Mr. Chairman, in my view, the prudent choice is for this Committee to, again, move legislation to address the warnings raised by this Commission and other stakeholders on the very-real threat of a future oil spill disaster.  While some of the recommendations of the Commission can be addressed administratively, we all know that several critical issues, such as the currently inadequate liability and financial responsibility limits and issues related to maritime safety, can only be addressed by Congress.

Preventing the next Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon is far too important to allow complacency to take over again.  As noted by one of the witnesses last Congress, we cannot let the months that have passed without a massive oil spill give us the false sense of security that everything is fine.  We must recognize that vulnerabilities remain and take decisive action to address the recommendations made by this Commission this year.

Again, thank you, Mr. Chairman, for yielding me time.