WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee hearing titled Turning Ideas into Action: Ensuring Effective Clean Up and Restoration in the Gulf.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Good morning. I want to thank our witnesses for joining us today. You are at the forefront of developing systems to prevent and respond to oil spills, and we thank you for offering your ideas today. The Gulf oil spill has been a terrible disaster, painfully upending the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans. I want all of us to do all that we can to make sure something like this never happens again.
To say that the Deepwater Horizon highlighted the need for better oversight and accountability of oil and gas permitting decisions is an understatement. To put it simply, but in no uncertain terms: the challenges we face are great and there is much work to do.
First and foremost, we need to use the best science, and rely on the input of agencies with the relevant expertise, to be part of the decision-making process. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is our premier oceans science agency. The U.S. Coast Guard is the lead agency in charge of responding to offshore oil spills once they occur. These two agencies simply must be at the table when the Department of Interior (DOI) is deciding whether or not to allow drilling in the ocean.
I’ve recently introduced a bill, the Securing Health for Ocean Resources and Environment, or SHORE Act, to require greater consultation between the Department of Interior, NOAA and the Coast Guard in permitting decisions. My bill would require DOI to respond, in writing, to any concerns these agencies have before they finalize a permitting decision.
It’s also become clear that Coast Guard and NOAA need more resources, and more support, to do all that’s asked of them. My bill would improve the ability of NOAA, the Coast Guard, and the coastal States to prevent and respond to oil spills by giving them the resources, authority, and expertise they need.
Specifically, my bill will:
- Increase the Coast Guard’s funding for research, development, and evaluation of oil spill response and removal technologies.
- Improve the Coast Guard’s ability to effectively respond to the oil spill threats by revamping integral spill response tools, action plans and interagency coordination efforts.
After months of bad news about oil spewing and spilling into the sea, and tar balls washing ashore, we have a hopeful note. It appears BP has capped the well. While everyone is monitoring the situation closely, we all hope and pray that the cap placed over the well continues to hold.
But I don’t want to sugar coat the situation: for the families of the Deepwater Horizon victims, and for the coastal communities along the Gulf, the devastation is far from over, and the national recovery will take generations. Federal and state governments must come together with the Gulf communities, and rely on solid, credible scientific information to support the decisions guiding recovery efforts.
Our witnesses are going to talk about the science, and why it’s so critical. They are going to talk about how knowledge can help us clean up the Gulf, keep safe Gulf seafood on our plates, and keep fishermen at work. And they will talk about how science can help prevent a terrible tragedy like this from ever happening again.
So with that, I want to thank our witnesses again for being here to share their ideas. I look forward to hearing from them.
Senator Maria CantwellChairwomanU.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard
WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the single largest marine oil spill in our nation’s history, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is both an environmental and human tragedy of monumental proportions.
Virtually no part of the Gulf region’s economy has gone unscathed, and the devastation facing the environment is unprecedented in scale.
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez showed us just how unprepared we were when the massive oil tanker ran aground at Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, spilling over 11 million gallons of crude oil.
And today, the BP oil spill is showing us just how unprepared we still are in 2010.
Since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, there has been very little investment in research and development of clean-up technologies by industry, academia or government agencies.
Private companies, in their pollution response plans, must cite the technology and equipment that they will use to respond to a spill. To save on research time, however, they often outsource to non-profit groups known as Oil Spill Recovery Organizations, or OSROs, that provide contract services during oil spill cleanups, and simply list that contract in their response plan.
OSROs are responsible for incorporating their own technology and equipment, but typically only conduct R&D at small scales, if at all. For example, the Marine Spill Response Corp. – an OSRO contracted by BP – had only $88 million in spending in 2008, with no budget for research.
Our primary response technologies – skimmers, in situ burns, boom and chemical dispersants – were all developed decades ago.
Meanwhile, exploration and drilling technology has advanced at a meteoric pace due to heavy investment by the oil and gas industry in the drive to drill in deeper waters with extremely sophisticated equipment.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has revealed a huge disparity between our nation’s ability to extract oil versus our ability to respond to an oil spill.
There are several promising technologies and techniques, such as solidifiers, remediation techniques, and absorbent fiber membranes. But these innovations have not yet been developed, assessed or made operational as part of an oil spill response.
For example, today we will hear from Dr. Fritz Stahr of the University of Washington, who has worked to develop Sea Glider technology for sophisticated under-water scientific monitoring – a tool that could easily be used to detect underwater oil plumes in the Gulf of Mexico to figure out where the oil is, what impacts it is having, and how we might clean it up.
And we will also be hearing from Dennis Yellowhorse Jones, a geologist and entrepreneur who has developed an “organic” remediation method for breaking down oil using a unique mineral compound – a method that could be used to help clean the Gulf’s shorelines.
Today, I hope to not only hear about their technologies, but about their stories and struggles in trying to advance oil spill technologies.
As a result of the catastrophe in the Gulf, thousands of ideas and proposals have been submitted to the government and BP. The Coast Guard has received over 3,500 technology proposals so far, of which 77 have been approved and forwarded to the Incident Command for possible use in the Gulf. BP has received over 110,000 submissions, of which the company has only been able to process roughly 12,000.
We need to do everything possible to ensure this oil spill response is the best response that we can make it.
The government needs to take a serious look at every idea submitted to make sure that each good solution is brought to bear and no good idea is left behind.
Recognizing BP’s inability to respond to its inundation of proposals, the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center established the emergency Interagency Alternative Technology Assessment Program, or IATAP. And while the IATAP process is doing its best, the struggles facing the Coast Guard in the midst of this emergency show that we desperately need a permanent and long-term process for vetting and evaluating oil spill technologies. The IATAP process is only a temporary fix, and we need a similar permanent process so we aren’t back in this position again during the next big spill.
My colleagues and I have worked hard to successfully pass oil spill protections through the Senate in the Coast Guard Authorization bill, which is currently being conference with the House and awaits final passage. The Coast Guard bill includes important measures for oil spill response, like allowing NOAA to access funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
But there is more to be done, and it is essential that we take steps to:
- Jump-start oil spill technology research and development;
- Provide the incentive structure we need to turn new cleanup technologies from ideas into reality;
- And continuously add new layers of protection to our oil spill safety net.
That is why last week I introduced the Oil Spill Technology and Research Act – a bill designed to achieve those exact goals and based on the oil spill research legislation included in my Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act, which I first introduced in 2006. I hope this language will be included in legislation that will move through the Senate, and I would especially like to thank Chairman Rockefeller’s support in that effort.
Twenty-one years ago we saw the devastating costs of complacency, and we’re re-living that nightmare again today.
This oil spill is not a Louisiana tragedy, a Florida tragedy, a Mississippi tragedy, or an Alabama tragedy.
It’s an American tragedy.
And it’s up to us to ensure that America’s waters and shores are protected with the greatest rigor that we can muster. Our oceans, coasts, and citizens deserve nothing less.
So we should ask ourselves: When the history is written of this oil spill, will they say we rose to the occasion? Or will they say we fumbled and dropped the ball?
For my part, I hope they say that we rose to the occasion, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on this Committee and in the Senate to make sure that happens.
Witness Panel 1
Capt. Matthew SissonCommanding Officer, Research and Development CenterUnited States Coast Guard
Mr. Doug HeltonOperations Coordinator, Office of Response and RestorationNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Witness Panel 2
Dr. Scott PegauExecutive DirectorOil Spill Recovery Institute
Dr. Nancy KinnerCo-DirectorCoastal Response Research Center
Ms. Cynthia SarthouExecutive DirectorGulf Restoration Network
Mr. Dennis Yellowhorse JonesPresidentU-Mate International Inc.
Dr. Fritz StahrManagerSeaglider Fabrication Center