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    Ocean Energy Safety and Technology Improvement Act of 2013

    by Former Representative Rush Holt

    Posted on 2013-12-16

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    HOLT of new jersey in the house of representatives Monday, December 16, 2013 Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to introduce the Ocean Energy Safety and Technology Improvement Act of 2013, a bill to facilitate the development and use of technology to make offshore drilling safer for workers and the environment.



    A little more than three and a half years ago, the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana, killing eleven workers, and allowing its unfinished well to pour millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico until it was finally capped several months later. This event--the greatest single environmental disaster in American history--exposed as a myth the idea that such tragic offshore events, such as the Montara explosion in Australia, the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, or the Ixtoc blowout in Mexico, could not happen in the United States.

    There was no question that the industry had gotten complacent. And the regulators had gotten complacent. And even Congress had gotten complacent. The only debate before the Deepwater Horizon tragedy was where drilling should occur, not how safe it would be. Those of us whose states depend on clean beaches and clear water to fuel a multi- billion dollar tourism industry were assured that technology had reached the point that there was no risk whatsoever: that offshore drilling could coexist with clean beaches, that vacationers and merchants would never have to fear oil-soaked seabirds dying on their shores, or tarballs staining the coasts for years to come.

    Those assurances, we learned in April 2010, were completely false. The technology the industry boasted of was about drilling deeper and faster, not about being cleaner or safer. And while there is a requirement in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act for companies to use the ``best available and safest technology,'' in reality companies were allowed to simply meet regulatory minimums. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE, recently proposed to close that loophole and ensure that companies really are using the best and safest technology; naturally that proposal was met with the predictable wails from industry.

    But despite those complaints, this is clearly an idea whose time has come. In October, the National Academy of Sciences released a report with recommendations on how to implement a true requirement for using the best available and safest technology available in the offshore industry. The Academy endorsed BSEE's formation of an Ocean Energy Safety Institute, but said that the institute needed more funding, more stability, and more authority.

    That is what my legislation does. It adopts the National Academy's recommendations by giving BSEE the authority to stand up a robust, permanent Ocean Energy Safety Institute with a steady source of funding. The Institute will facilitate collaboration between academia, regulators, and industry, serve as a center of excellence for offshore safety research and education, and most importantly, help BSEE identify the best available and safest technologies currently in use, and facilitate the development of better and safer technologies.

    This legislation also implements other recommendations from the Academy, including providing the authority for the review of drilling plans and permits to be prioritized if they would use particularly innovative safety technologies, and promoting safety research by small businesses, where many of the best innovations arise.

    [[Page E1878]] Let me be clear: I do not believe that offshore drilling can ever be made safe enough to put the beaches and tourist economy of New Jersey at risk. There will always be the chance of equipment failure or human error that produces a catastrophic result, regardless of the level of technology employed. No amount of oil or gas is worth the potential destruction of the state's lifeblood. I also believe that a continued dependence on offshore oil and gas, from any part of the country, keeps us from addressing the real issue that we should be focusing on: how to move to a renewable energy economy and ensure long-lasting energy and climate security.

    However, I acknowledge that we cannot get there overnight, and offshore drilling will continue in places like the Gulf of Mexico, at least for the time being. But while it is happening, we should ensure that it is being done with the absolute best safety and environmentally responsible technology available, and I urge my colleagues to join me in getting to that point by supporting the Offshore Drilling Safety Technology Improvement Act of 2013.

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