President's Oil Spill Commission Lays the Groundwork

Better preparation and technology needed to safeguard from oil spills


Patti Goldman, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340

The following is a statement from Patti Goldman, vice president for litigation at Earthjustice on today’s report from the President’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

“We applaud the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling and its staff for their work investigating the Macondo well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and in developing recommendations to help prevent disasters like this from happening in the future.

“The findings released today reinforce what became clear in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster: both industry and government failed to take seriously the likelihood of a catastrophic oil spill and adequately plan for its cleanup. Now that the commission’s investigation is complete, its recommendations should be incorporated by government and industry as agencies update rules and regulations governing offshore drilling. The commission’s recommendations must be implemented to protect both people and the environment from the devastating effects of an oil spill. Congress needs to step up and provide the funding and other support needed to put the commission’s recommendations into practice as soon as possible.

“As the commission indicated, the science and technology needed to safely drill for oil simply does not exist for some of the places the Department of Interior is considering allowing for drilling and leasing. Large information and technology gaps, as well as an inability to respond to a major oil spill in the icy and stormy conditions that prevail, mean we shouldn’t be developing oil at this time in places like the Arctic Ocean. These gaps must be addressed before offshore decisions in the Arctic Ocean are made, including pending drilling decisions for the Beaufort Sea in 2011 and pending reconsideration of leases in the Chukchi Sea. We support the commission’s call to strengthen science and interagency consultations to reduce environmental risks from drilling.

“The agency doing the environmental review, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), can begin to address the deficiencies of the review process by using the government’s own experts in other agencies, like ocean experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), when deciding where and when to drill.

“We strongly support the commission’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) recommendations, which include the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of the Interior working together to update and strengthen these policies. The commission’s proposal ‘to improve the level of environmental analysis, transparency, and consistency at all stages’ of the OCS process is a vital component of offshore drilling policy reform.

“While the commission goes on to say that the need for additional research should not be used as a de facto moratorium, what it insists is needed to make informed decisions cries out for slowing the rush to drill until safety and preparedness can be assured.

“Also, the commission calls for toxicity testing and more limits on where, how much, and when dispersants can be used in oil spills. We have petitioned and notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its obligations to take these steps. We urge the EPA to use the authority it already has to make sure we do not dump 1.8 million gallons of dispersants into U.S. waters as we did in the Gulf, without first knowing the consequences and ensuring that the dispersants will be less harmful than the spill itself.

“In the unfortunate event that there is another spill, responsible parties must be in a position to adequately respond. Unlike in the Gulf, plans must accurately assess a worst-case scenario so the appropriate response capacity is available. The commission’s call for a ‘meaningful oil spill risk analysis’ is crucial to accomplish this.

“Earthjustice endorses the commission’s calls for creation of new safety authority to report directly to Secretary of Interior. We also agree with the call to reduce area-wide leasing, strengthen NOAA consultation and give greater force to NOAA recommendations on areas to avoid.”

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