June 17, 2010

(Washington, D.C.) - As BP continues to struggle to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon accident, U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Jeanne Shaheen today introduced companion bills to improve our ability to prevent and respond to domestic oil spills.  Their bills would immediately ramp up research and development to help prevent an oil spill of this magnitude from ever happening again.  Both Senators are members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the departments of Energy and the Interior.

"It's unacceptable that the spill prevention and response technology we're using today dates back to the era when cell phones were the size of shoe boxes.  It has barely changed since the Exxon Valdez crash," Senator Udall said.  "Eleven people died on Deepwater Horizon, and we don't yet know the full extent of the damage the accident has caused to the Gulf.  Senator Shaheen and I agree we have an urgent need to develop cutting-edge technology to ensure this kind of disaster can never happen again, and I'm pleased to join her in introducing these bills."

"The oil and gas industry has poured money into researching and developing technologies to find and produce oil and gas, but have spent little to nothing on responding to and cleaning up after an oil spill," Senator Shaheen said. "We need to have updated, innovative, and effective technologies at the ready to clean up after any oil spill - large or small.  This legislation would create a new research and development program to respond to, contain and clean up oil spills, and the oil companies would pay for it.  I am so pleased to work with Senator Udall on this important legislation so that we never again face a catastrophe like Deepwater Horizon again."

The bills focus on spill safety prevention and response respectively.  Senator Udall's Safer Oil and Gas Production Research and Development Act, which Senator Shaheen has joined as an original co-sponsor, would reformat a program at the U.S. Department of Energy.  The program is already paid for with oil and gas royalties, so Senator Udall's bill would not add to the deficit.  The bill would target the royalty funds to safety and accident prevention - rather than production. 

Among the issues the bill targets are the need to develop more advanced cements that are more flexible, set quickly and can withstand higher pressures.  The program also would focus on developing better blowout-prevention devices, increasing our understanding how different technologies operate in harsh environments, such as deep below the ocean's surface, and developing stewardship guidelines for shutting down wells. 

To ensure that there is appropriate oversight and transparency over the program, the bill would increase DOE oversight over the research, ensure that peer review occurs during consideration of projects to fund, and require that the research results are made available to the public.  It would require a National Academies study to help direct the development of new technology for problems we know about now and those that may come up in the future.  It would also broaden the program advisory committee to include other federal agencies and state regulators and ensure that no stakeholder group dominates it. 

Senator Shaheen's Department of the Interior Research and Technologies for Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act, which Senator Udall has co-sponsored, would create a new Oil Spill R&D Program within the Interior Department, paid for by royalties, rents and bonuses from oil and gas development on federal lands (onshore and offshore).  The program would be focused on research development, technology demonstration, and risk assessment to address issues associated with the prevention, detection, and response to oil spills occurring on federal lands.

The bill establishes an independent Science and Technology Advisory Board to partner with the National Academies of Science to provide scientific and technical advice to the R&D program.  And it directs the Advisory Board and the Secretary to create a Research and Technology Plan to identify research needs and opportunities, propose areas of focus for the R&D program and establish program priorities.

The bill would also establish Research Centers of Excellence: the Center for Response Technologies for Deepwater, Ultra Deepwater and Extreme Environment Oil Spills, and Center for Oil Spill Response and Restoration.  And it would authorize university research grants for related projects.

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