The Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will convene on April 29, 2015, at 9:30 a.m. for a hearing entitled, “Five Years After Deepwater Horizon: Improvements and Challenges in Prevention and Response.”
On April 20, 2010, an explosion occurred on the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon. Eleven men perished in the explosion. Two days later, the Deepwater Horizon collapsed and sank in approximately 5,000 feet of water, located 42 miles from shore. On April 29, 2010, the resulting oil spill was officially designated a “Spill of National Significance” – a distinction established in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Not until September 19, 2010, was the well permanently sealed by the injection of cement.
In the five years since the oil spill, the largest ever in U.S. waters, there have been numerous studies on the causes of the spill and how to prevent future disasters. This hearing, coming after a request from the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), will hear testimony from expert witnesses on the improvements in prevention and response that have occurred following the oil spill, as well as ongoing challenges and opportunities. This hearing will review the lessons learned in the wake of the spill and the steps taken to make offshore oil and gas exploration safer. It will also explore advances in response technology.
The Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which were both involved in the response and remediation efforts.
- Mr. Charlie Williams, Executive Director, Center for Offshore Safety, Houston, Texas
- Dr. Nancy Kinner, Director, The Coastal Response Center and The Center for Spills in the Environment at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire
- Dr. Christopher Reddy, Senior Scientist Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
- Dr. Samantha Joye, Professor of Marine Science, University of Georgia- Marine Science Department, Athens, Georgia
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Full Committee hearing entitled, “Five Years After Deepwater Horizon: Improvements and Challenges in Prevention and Response”
This hearing will take place in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available at this page.
For reporters interested in reserving a seat, please contact the press gallery:
• Periodical Press Gallery – 202-224-0265
• Radio/Television Gallery – 202-224-6421
• Press Photographers Gallery – 202-224-6548
• Daily Press Gallery – 202-224-0241
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Ranking Member Bill Nelson
Thank you, Chairman Thune, for agreeing to this hearing. Exactly five years ago today, the Coast Guard designated the Deepwater Horizon disaster as a “Spill of National Significance” and Governor Jindal declared a state of emergency in Louisiana —at a time when we thought that only 5,000 barrels a day were escaping.
As it turns out, we eventually learned that over 62,000 barrels of oil a day were gushing into the Gulf of Mexico—one of the most productive ecosystems in the world.
At the height of that prime summer beach season nearly 37 percent of Gulf waters were closed to fishing.
And, for a full 87 days after the explosion, BP and its contractors had no control of the runaway well until July 15, 2010, when the oil finally stopped.
My heart still goes out to the families of the eleven men whose lives were cut short. I won’t forget.
And if we do not learn from the past, it will come back to haunt us.
In some ways, it already has.
If you start at the bottom of the foodweb, there are impacts to the Gulf environment.
Bull minnows—or killifish—in oiled Louisiana marshes show grotesquely deformed gill tissue.
And when killifish embryos were exposed to oiled sediment, they showed heart defects and many failed to hatch.
But even top predators face threats from BP oil. Scientists found unusual lung damage, hormone abnormalities, and low blood cell counts in dolphins in a heavily oiled bay.
And we will not know the full extent of the impacts for years—or even decades—to come. That’s why we have a responsibility to learn from the past so that we do not repeat it.
Today, the risk of another Deepwater Horizon remains. Oil companies are exploring in deeper and deeper waters. Yet, we are not still adequately prepared for another oil spill.
In fact, we are still trying to learn about the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon five years later.
After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, it took four years for the Pacific herring population in Prince William Sound to collapse. So what will be the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon?
And how do we make sure that the lessons from our past inform our future?
For starters, I intend to file legislation that would, among other things, ensure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard have the tools to prepare for and respond to the next marine oil spill.
I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panelists on ways to improve our oil spill response capabilities.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Charlie WilliamsExecutive DirectorCenter for Offshore Safety, Houston, Texas
Dr. Nancy KinnerDirectorThe Coastal Response Center and The Center for Spills in the Environment at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire
Dr. Christopher ReddySenior ScientistDepartment of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Dr. Samantha JoyeProfessor of Marine ScienceUniversity of Georgia-Marine Science Department, Athens, Georgia