Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called for swift approval of the proposed Well Control Rule and for congressional action on the remaining recommendations from the commission. This rule has been in the works for 5 years, since the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers.Multiple Blue Ribbon panels have noted that the immediate cause of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of systematic failures in risk management and safety oversight. This rule would address a suite of issues that may have prevented the Deepwater Horizon disaster had it been in place. The rule also codifies the safety advances made by industry experts and regulators during the last 5 years.
Members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling note that—while improvements in spill response and containment have been made—the job is not done, especially with regards to expanding into new and harsh environments like the Arctic. The members of the commission have called for common-sense solutions, including improved operational safety and expanded liability to ensure companies have the assets they need to cover the costs when things go wrong.
Yet, since 2010, there have been 23 separate “loss of well control incidents.” In fact, the administration estimates that we experience between 6 and 8 of these incidents each year.
“We can’t afford this kind of risk. The residents, the environment, the coastal economies, the taxpayers—even the offshore oil and gas industry—cannot afford a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” Sen. Cantwell said. “Although none of the events since have been as significant as Deepwater Horizon, the fact that these keep happening only emphasizes the need for comprehensive and robust safety standards, which this rule provides.”
Sen. Cantwell has been working to improve the safety of offshore drilling operations for years. In 2010, she introduced an amendment that passed out of the committee by a vote of 14-9 to provide for improved design, inspection and performance criteria for offshore drilling operations. The provision also called for the implementation of third-party monitoring to ensure the new standards were effective. Many of these ideas have been incorporated into the proposed well control rule in a way that clarifies the standards in place for the offshore industry and codifies best practices and industry standards.
Read the full statement below:
“Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you for holding this hearing. I want to welcome to the witnesses today to share their insight on this proposed Well Control Rule. Safety and environmental protections in energy production are important, especially in fragile ocean ecosystems, so I’m glad that there is much interest in this rule today.
“I think it’s safe to say that the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill was a human, economic and ecological disaster of epic proportions. Eleven members of the crew were killed in the explosion and 17 others were injured. Oil spewed into the ocean for nearly 3 months, a mile below the surface, before the magnitude of the damage became apparent.
“It’s estimated that 171 million gallons — that is, 5 million barrels — of oil escaped the uncontrolled well.
“People and wildlife were exposed to oil and toxic chemical dispersants. And unfortunately, local economies and critical habitats in the Gulf were impacted.
“It’s clear now that this disaster could have been avoided. Multiple Blue Ribbon panels all have concluded that the immediate cause of the blowout can be traced to a series of systematic failures in risk management and a broken safety culture.
“Another contributing factor — government mismanagement — has been addressed through the reorganization of the Minerals Management Service, into separate leasing, revenue and enforcement bureaus. There have been changes to the way these new regulatory bodies interact with the industry they oversee to ensure that they avoid circumstances where we have regulators captured by the industries they regulate.
“Setting aside organizational issues, the Well Control Rule at issue today will address the other primary causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster — inadequate risk management and safety oversight — by codifying the advances made by industry experts and regulators over the last 5 years.
“We’ve made progress since Deepwater Horizon, but ‘loss of well control’ remains an issue. In fact, since 2010, there have been 23 separate ‘loss of well control’ incidents. The administration estimates that we experience between 6 and 8 of these incidents each year.
“We can’t afford this kind of risk. The residents, the environment, the coastal economies, the taxpayers — even the offshore oil and gas industry — cannot afford a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“Although none of the events since have been as significant as Deepwater Horizon, the fact that these keep happening only emphasizes the need for comprehensive and robust safety standards – which this rule provides.
“Although hindsight is 20/20 and we can’t reverse what happened at Deepwater Horizon, we can work to not repeat history. That’s what this rule is trying to help with.
“This rule has been more than 5 years in the making, with input from more than 50 companies. Its goal is to define safe drilling practices, operational expectations for drilling equipment, performance criteria for blowout preventers, and increased monitoring and verification.
“I know that performance-based requirements allow the industry experts who know these systems best to comply with the spirit of the requirement in the most efficient and safest way. But in order for these to work, industry has to hold up their end of the bargain. We must also improve transparency, through mechanisms like data sharing when things go wrong, so that regulators and industry can adapt to face these new challenges.
“I’m sure we’re going to hear more about that today.
“In summary, the administration has worked in good faith to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. They extended the comment period, hosted workshops and have engaged with third-party groups.
“I think they’ve done their due diligence on being inclusive. It’s time to move forward with the process and finalize this rule.
“I recognize that no safety standard can be 100 percent fail-safe, but we can work to make incremental improvements to oil production procedures and safety. So, I urge my colleagues to recognize that we still have serious gaps in oil spill response technology.
“The Coast Guard, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and oil spill experts have testified time and time again—the United States is not prepared to handle a large oil spill—like the big spills we’ve seen in this country.
“Our oil spill response infrastructure has not been updated in decades.
“And yet we’re moving into deeper and deeper water and going after oil in increasingly challenging settings like the Arctic.
“The Coast Guard has repeatedly stated that we do not have the ability to clean up oil in ice. That is a huge concern when not only do we have Arctic exploration occurring in U.S. waters, but also our neighboring countries are investing heavily in oil production there. And with new habitats open to oil and gas production and transportation, including the Arctic, these new technologies are sorely needed.
“That’s why we need to strengthen NOAA’s role in the Department of the Interior’s leasing and sales decisions. Currently, NOAA has essentially the same input as any member of the public in discussing these issues.
“It is clear today that we have many challenges in front of us. But I think that this rule should be finalized without further delay.
“I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today and their testimony.
“Thank you, Madam Chair.”