One year ago, the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers and resulting in the dumping of an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to the short and long-term economic losses to various industries of the gulf (including tourism and fishing), the long-term ecological damage to the region is unknown and potentially irreversible. As a result, issues and potential solutions that could result from the disaster have been debated vigorously within the hall of Congress, with no resolution in sight
As the House Natural Resources committee began the 112th session of Congress, the effects and solutions of last year’s Gulf oil spill continued to dominate the committee’s agenda. Late January saw a full committee oversight hearing on “The Final report from the President’s national Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil spill and Offshore Drilling.” During the hearing’s opening statements, Chairman Hastings stated that “Our economic competitiveness, American jobs, and national security are on the line.” framing the spill and its subsequent consequences on an economic landscape. During their testimony to the committee, commission co-chairs Senator Bob Graham and William Reilly addressed the chairman’s statements and further elaborated on the environmental impacts and recovery needs as a result of the disaster.
The co-chairs highlighted the need for sustained funding to the region for a complete and total restoration of the gulf. Citing that testimony given before the Commission stated that fully restoring the Gulf would require $15 billion–$20 billion. Graham and Reilly acknowledged that even with the funding sources that are currently going toward restoration, none of these sources provides funds for Gulf-wide coastal and marine restoration, and none is sufficient to support the sustained effort required.
In order to have a restoration effort this is rooted in science, the co-chairs articulated that the Commission recommended the establishment of a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Science and Technology Program. The proposed program would address these issues in three ways: (1) by creating a scientific research and analysis program, supported by the restoration fund, that is designed to support the design of scientifically sound restoration projects; (2) by creating a science panel to evaluate individual projects for technical effectiveness and consistency with the comprehensive strategy; and (3) by supporting adaptive management plans based on monitoring of outcomes scaled both to the strategy itself and to the individual projects or categories of projects included in it.
The testimony of the oil spill commission’s co-chairs highlighted the introduction of legislation to provide for the implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (H.R. 501). If passed, the bill would implement into law many of the recommendations of the commission including:
- Reorganizing the Department of Interior and strengthening the Department’s offshore oil safety agency.
- Dedicating 80% of the fines from the oil spill to Gulf restoration efforts.
- Increasing the role of scientific experts from the US Coast Guard and NOAA in the decision-making process for where new oil drilling can occur.
- Requiring extensive study of the potential effects of dispersants use on aquatic life and the environment.
The legislation was introduced by Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts and was referred to both the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committees on Science, Space, and Technology, Energy and Commerce, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Education and the Workforce.
Even with the testimony of the commission’s co-chairs, the publishing of the commission’s report, and the introduction of bills like H.R. 501, eleven deepwater drilling permits have been issued since the disaster with no major policy changes. With a commissioned report from the Department of Interior citing that the blowout preventers used in all deep water drilling are fundamentally flawed by design, will it take another disaster for our government to enact real change? Or will our addiction to oil and constant assertions for drilling in the name of national security doom us to a future where our coastline is nothing but black and desolate wasteland?