Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Reponse Efforts to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill

May 18, 2010

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.—On April 20th, an explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon, a Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers, injuring 17 and setting into motion an environmental disaster of unprecedented proportions. It is estimated that millions of gallons of oil have leaked to date, causing irreparable harm to our economy, coastal communities, fragile wetlands, and workers’ livelihoods.

Our goal at today’s hearing is to learn more about why BP, Transocean and federal regulators were so unprepared for this accident. Why did they rely on a single type of technology to prevent the blowout and, once the blowout happened, why weren’t they ready to respond? Unfortunately, it seems to me that the drilling came first, and the disaster planning came only in distant second.

It’s been four weeks since the accident, and BP has finally figured out how to capture just a very small portion of the thousands of barrels of oil that continue to pour from the well into the Gulf each day. It will be many more days, or weeks or even months, before the devastation can be brought fully to a halt. Safety and responsibility are enormously important in every industry – and when workers’ lives, entire regional economies, and vast fragile ecosystems are at stake, safety must never ever come second to production or profit. Under the Coast Guard’s exceptional leadership and coordination, a widespread search and rescue response involved numerous helicopters, airplanes and ships, saving crew members after the explosion.

Everyday the damage grows worse. BP has been working under the direction of the National Incident Command to try to stop the leak. They are using innovative methods never before attempted in water this deep – the so-called “dome,” “junk shot,” “top hat” and “top kill.” But most have failed, due in large part to the unprecedented challenge of working at roughly 5,000 feet below the surface of the water. More than 19,000 personnel are responding to the spill, deploying miles upon miles of oil booms to protect vulnerable areas. In some cases they are working to dilute the oil, in others they are burning it off the surface of the water.

A joint investigation from the Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service (MMS) into the cause of the explosion and subsequent spill, is underway. Yesterday, President Obama announced that he was establishing an independent Presidential Commission by Executive Order on the oil spill and offshore drilling. The president clearly understands that a disaster of this magnitude warrants a formal Commission, and I stand ready to assist him in any way possible.

I want to be very clear about my views on this oil spill—the people who created this terrible mess must be fully responsible for cleaning it up, and the American taxpayer should not be asked to foot the bill. We deserve a complete and transparent accounting of exactly what went wrong and why. Today and in the days and months ahead, the American people will expect full and honest answers from BP, Transocean, and Halliburton.

I want to close by saying, it is no secret that drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf has been the subject of heated debate for several decades. Today, there are approximately 248 active offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf. The administration’s proposal to increase energy exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf will likely lead to more offshore drilling units in the future, and that concerns me. If left unchecked and uncorrected, we may very well see another terrible disaster of this magnitude. Until we can fully investigate this incident, I will have a hard time supporting any future offshore drilling.

Thank you and welcome to today’s witnesses: Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard and the National Incident Commander for the Gulf Oil Spill. With only one week left as Commandant, you’re facing this challenge with the same strength and vision that have been a hallmark of your service to our nation. Dr. Jane Lubchenko, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Mr. Lamar McKay, Chairman and President of BP America; Mr. Steven Newman, President and CEO of Transocean; and Dr. Deborah French McCay, a zoologist and biological oceanographer by training with extensive expertise on the effects of oil and other pollutants on open ocean and coastal ecosystems.

Thank you all for sharing your expertise with the Committee today.