Offshore Oil Development and the Deepwater Horizon Accident
“We are here today because of a disaster that never should have happened. The sobering reality is that, despite the losses and damage already suffered, we do not yet know what the full impact of that disaster will be.
“We should begin by remembering the 11 people who lost their lives in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and expressing deep sympathy to their families. I am pleased to be a co-sponsor, along with Sen. Murkowski, of a Senate Resolution by Sen. Landrieu that will be introduced later today, expressing our condolences.
“I would also like to express our concern for all in the Gulf region whose jobs and way of life are threatened by effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. We owe it to them to see that disasters like this never happen again.
“This hearing is the start of the Energy Committee’s oversight of issues related to offshore oil development and the catastrophic blowout that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico on the evening of April 20. It is the first of what I expect to be several hearings on these issues.
“This same time, next week, we will be receiving testimony from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on these events and issues.
“Our goal is to create a thorough factual record and an informed discussion of the very important questions presented by this disaster. The questions raised here – both technological and regulatory – are of the utmost seriousness. We have an obligation to bring that level of seriousness to this endeavor, and to determine quickly and to the best of our ability the appropriate next steps.
“As those steps become clear, through the testimony we receive and the investigative work of our Committee staff, I intend to work with the Ranking Member and the Members of this Committee on a bipartisan basis to develop, introduce and advance the necessary and appropriate legislation through the Senate.
“There are some who suggest that notwithstanding this disastrous accident we need not significantly change our current activities and plans for offshore oil and gas development. Others suggest that we should cease all offshore oil production because the risks are simply too great. Instead of embracing either of these snap judgments, I think we need to carefully investigate and understand the facts.
“At the heart of this disaster are three interrelated systems – a technological system of materials and equipment, a human system of persons who operated the technological system, and a regulatory system. These interrelated systems failed in a way that many had said was virtually impossible. We need to examine closely the extent to which each of these systems failed to do what it was supposed to do.
“I don’t believe it is enough to label this catastrophic failure as an unpredictable and unforeseeable occurrence. I don’t believe it is adequate to simply chalk what happened up to a view that accidents just happen. If this is like other catastrophic failures of technological systems in modern history – whether it was the sinking of the Titanic, Three Mile Island, or the loss of the Challenger – we will likely discover that there was a cascade of failures: technical, human and regulatory.
“So, our examination of what happened here will have the goal of putting in place improved systems to ensure that this catastrophe does not recur. We will also be looking to identify any problems or risks that might exist for operations that are ongoing, so that we can be ensure that they are addressed with quick and appropriate action to safeguard human lives and the environment.
“We begin that process today with two panels of excellent witnesses. I welcome you all here today.
“The first panel we will hear from is composed of two technical experts. One has long experience in the industry as well as an independent view as a highly regarded university professor. The other is a retired expert from the Minerals Management Service of the Department of the Interior with long experience in overseeing safety of offshore oil and gas operations.
“After our first panel has given us a baseline of information and perspective on best practices for controlling oil and gas wells and overseeing their safety, we will hear from our second panel. It will be composed of leaders of the three companies involved in this accident – British Petroleum, Transocean, and Halliburton. They will provide us the information currently at their disposal on the disaster, steps being taken to deal with its aftermath, and their future plans for continued investigation and remediation.”
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