Democratic News

May 19 2016

Cantwell: Oil and Gas Leasing Program Should Reflect Changing Energy Landscape and Environmental Priorities

Interior Should Consider Science and Risks in Decision-Making

Watch Sen. Cantwell’s opening statement here.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) highlighted the importance of planning leasing activities that will contribute in a meaningful way to the future of energy production, implementing reforms to oil spill and pollution protections, and ensuring the ability to safely drill in ecologically-sensitive areas.

The 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, establishes a schedule of proposed oil and gas lease sales that allow for the exploration and production of potential energy sources.

“As we have this discussion today, we have to keep in mind that the potential oil and gas resulting from this leasing program will not contribute to the energy market in a meaningful way for a decade or more. But, during this time we will see major changes in our energy landscape. So, we need to plan leasing activities in the context of what the future energy economy will look like.”

Last month marked the sixth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, which was a human, economic and ecological disaster. In addition to the damage caused by the oil, response activities during the cleanup process caused further ecological harm.

We must incorporate new science about those damages into the decision-making process for oil spill response and into decisions about where we are going to allow oil and gas exploration and production,” Sen. Cantwell said.

The final version of the offshore drilling safety regulations published in April addressed some of the primary causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster by codifying advances made by industry experts and regulators since then.

“But we cannot stop there. Other recommendations by the Oil Spill Commission still need to be implemented by Congress – and action be taken,” Sen. Cantwell said.

The United States Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and oil spill experts have repeatedly testified that the United States is not prepared to handle a large oil spill like the Macondo or Exxon Valdez spills. Yet, oil spill tools and techniques have not been updated in decades. Despite outdated practices, oil and gas exploration and production is moving into deeper, more ecologically-sensitive regions, such as the Arctic.

“The Coast Guard has repeatedly stated that we do not have the ability to clean up oil in ice,” Sen Cantwell said. “A spill in an ecologically-sensitive area can have dramatic consequences. I urge the Interior Department to consider the greater risk posed while operating in dynamic and challenging offshore environments.”

The Arctic is a particularly challenging location to consider oil and gas activities. Unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, limited weather forecasting and incomplete navigation charting all pose a significant risk to oil exploration and should be considered before making leasing decisions.

Lastly, I believe the Atlantic region was rightfully removed from the program due to strong local opposition, conflicts with other ocean uses and market dynamics,” Sen. Cantwell said. “Interior should also work to prevent harmful seismic air gun testing in the area, which impacts marine mammals, sea turtles, birds and valuable fish species.”

With Atlantic drilling off the table, marine species should not be subjected to seismic air gun testing which can cause hearing loss, habitat avoidance, beaching and potentially death.

Read Sen. Cantwell’s full statement below:

“Thank you, Madam Chairman, for scheduling this hearing to examine the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. And I thank the witnesses for being here today.

“Offshore oil and gas production is an important part of our domestic energy portfolio today. And I acknowledge its role in the regional and local economies where production takes place.

“As we have this discussion today, we have to keep in mind that the potential oil and gas resulting from this leasing program will not contribute to the energy market in a meaningful way for a decade or more. But, during this time, we will see major changes in our energy landscape. So, we need to plan leasing activities in the context of what the future energy economy will look like.

“Last month was the sixth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, which was an epic human, economic and ecological disaster. Eleven members of the crew were killed in the explosion, and 17 others were injured.

“Oil spewed into the ocean for nearly three months, a mile below the surface, resulting in the largest offshore oil spill in the history of the United States.

“The 134 million gallons of oil released is about 12 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill.

“What we’re learning about the damages from the final Natural Resource Damage Assessment released just last month, are the following things.

“First, the Deepwater Horizon spill caused the public to lose more than 16 million user days of boating, fishing and beach-going experiences. Total recreational use damages due to the oil spill are estimated at $693.2 million.

“The deep-sea corals killed by the spill were hundreds of years old.

“Third, in some species of dolphins, the oil spill caused a 35 percent increase in death, a 46 percent increase in failed reproduction and a 37 percent increase in adverse health effects.

“Tens of thousands of sea turtles were killed by the spill, including three of the most critically endangered species of sea turtles in the Gulf.

“And there were many examples of response activities causing more damage than just the oil spill.

“We must incorporate new science about those damages into the decision-making process for oil spill response and into decisions about where we are going to allow oil and gas exploration and production.

“It’s clear that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill 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.

“The final version of the offshore drilling safety regulations published last month addressed some of the primary causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It codifies the advances made by industry experts and regulators over the last five years.

“And the Department of the Interior is continuing its work to finalize the Arctic drilling rule.

“But we cannot stop there. Other recommendations by the Oil Spill Commission still need to be implemented by Congress – and action be taken.

“After all, the Coast Guard, NOAA and oil spill experts have testified time and time again that the United States is not prepared to handle a large oil spill.

“And yet, our oil spill response plans and infrastructure have not been updated. 

“Nevertheless, we’re moving into deeper and deeper water and going after oil in increasingly challenging environments.  

“The Coast Guard has repeatedly stated that we do not have the ability to clean up oil in ice. A spill in an ecologically-sensitive area can have dramatic consequences.

“We also have not completed basic navigation charting nor do we have many forecasting capabilities in the Arctic, despite unpredictable and severe weather conditions that contribute to the possibility of a spill. 

“All of this poses a significant risk for exploration activities, which should be considered when making decisions about the final leasing program.

“The question must be asked: can we afford the risk at this stage? We need to ensure that we can drill safely and respond to spills before exploration moves forward in ecologically sensitive areas.

“I urge Interior to consider the greater risk posed while operating in dynamic and challenging offshore environments.

“Lastly, I believe the Atlantic region was rightfully removed from the program due to strong local opposition, conflicts with other ocean uses and market dynamics.

“The Department of the Interior recognized the potential environmental and economic impacts and competing ocean uses. For example, the economic value of commercial fishing in just the mid-Atlantic area is worth more than $1.5 billion, and ocean-dependent tourism accounts for more than $10 billion of economic activity. 

“For these reasons, it is not surprising that there was significant opposition from the citizens and local officials that responded in those communities.

“Interior should also work to prevent harmful seismic air gun testing in the area, which impacts marine mammals, sea turtles, birds and valuable fish species. With Atlantic drilling off the table, we should not subject marine mammals to negative impacts such as those that have occurred.

“So once again, I thank the Chair for holding this hearing. And I look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses.

“Thank you.”