Nelson files bill to protect oil drilling safety rules

Apr 19 • 97 Views • View Comments

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Friday marks eight years since 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and others filed legislation today to codify two key offshore drilling safety rules put in place after the 2010 BP oil spill.

Specifically, the legislation would codify the “Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule” and the “Arctic Drilling Rule,” both of which were finalized and put in place under the Obama administration in 2016 to address key safety recommendations made after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The move to make the regulations law comes as the Trump administration, at the behest of the oil industry, seeks to roll back many of the safety requirements put in place after the 2010 spill.

“Today, from 2010 to 2018 – eight years later – the oil industry is trying to roll back those safety requirements that were put in place in the aftermath of spilling five-million barrels of oil into the Gulf,” Nelson said on the Senate floor today. “We can’t allow the Department of Interior to take us backwards in time and expose our beautiful beaches and our tourism-based local economies,  as well as our military, to another Deepwater Horizon-type catastrophe.”

Each rule contains several safety regulations aimed at preventing another massive oil spill from occurring. For example, the “Outer Continental Shelf Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule” increased design and maintenance standards for blowout preventers, required real-time monitoring of deep-water wells and high-pressure drilling activities, and improved safety standards by requiring drillers to have a mechanism that allows the drill pipe to be properly sheared.

The “Arctic Drilling Rule” sets safety and emergency response standards for offshore drilling in arctic environments. For example, the rule requires operators to have a specialized response plan and containment equipment specifically tailored to the icy weather conditions in the arctic.

If approved, the legislation Nelson and Cantwell filed today would make the regulations law and prevent the administration from rolling them back without Congressional approval.

A copy of the legislation is available here.

Video of Nelson’s speech on the Senate floor earlier today is available here.

Following is a transcript of his remarks:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
April 19, 2018

Sen. Nelson: Tomorrow marks another somber occasion, as well, because eight years ago the news ticker came across our television saying that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was on fire. The Coast Guard was on the scene and workers were missing.

It was a Tuesday night. It was nearly midnight on April 20, 2010. By morning light we knew that 11 men would not be going home again. For 87 days oil gushed into one of the most productive marine environments in the world.

The study showed that the oil impacted the deep water corals and the fish at the bottom of the food chain, all the way from the bottom up to the dolphins and sea turtles at the top. Here is just one example, Madam President – this is in one of the bayous. You can see the marsh grasses in the distance. You can see the oil as it’s coming up, and it’s just literally covering everything.

They did studies on fish that would be in a bayou like this. A little fish that’s about as big as this, it’s called the killi fish. LSU professors did this study and they compared them to the bayous where there was not this kind of oil. Compared it to similar killi fish. What they found over time is the little fish in bayous like this, they were stunted. They didn’t reproduce. They mutated. It’s because of this, nearly five million barrels of oil gushed for three months. And a lot of it is still out there. Some of it’s down at the bottom where that well was in that well head on the sea floor below the rig. It’s a mile deep. We worked as one Gulf community, in a bipartisan way.

We passed legislation – it was called the Restore Act – to send a message that there were going to be fines and penalties. Under the Clean Water Act, so many barrels of oil, a figure and then the culpability of the oil company that allowed it to happen. A federal judge did and extended a trial over several years and came up with that fine and that penalty.

And that Restore Act said that that money that was going to be assessed against the oil company, it was going back to the Gulf of Mexico region. And it was going to aid in the economy and in the environment. And when you have this kind of impact, you can’t imagine, but there was another impact. The winds caught that oil slick and started sending it east from Louisiana. And it got over to the white sugary sands of Pensacola Beach and Destin and tar balls as far east as Panama City Beach. But the photographs of Pensacola Beach completely covered in tar and oil. And those photographs went around the world. And what was the result? Our guests, our visitors, our tourists for an entire season thought the beaches of all of the Gulf of Mexico beaches on Florida were covered like Pensacola Beach was, and they didn’t come for an entire year.

So, not only did you have an environmental effect like this, you had an economic effect like the loss of tourist revenue and the hotels and the motels and the restaurants and the dry cleaners, and the little newspapers, and all the ancillary businesses that depend upon a $60 billion a year tourism industry in Florida. And still I’m afraid that the oil industry hopes that we have all forgotten all of this.

This month, the media released documents from 2016 in which BP claims that an oil spill can be a welcome boost to local economies. Can you believe that? This oil spill was in 2010. And in 2016 we have just uncovered documents that BP claimed that an oil spill can be, quote, “a welcome boost to local economies.” End of quote. How outrageous and how arrogant a statement.

I can assure you that the coastal communities of Florida vigorously disagree, and I bet you the coastal communities that had to put up with that in their bayous would disagree vigorously as well. All that progress, and yet the industry is relentless in wanting to take us backwards. They still want to open up Florida’s beaches and offshore to drilling.

And we have to fight it every day.

One thing that we also have going for us is the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida is the largest testing and training area for the United States Military in the world.

This senator just climbed into an Air Force jet to fly part of the training profile for young pilots knowing that they have restricted airspace. That was out of Tyndall, out of Eglin Air Force Base – the testing and training designee for all of the Department of Defense. We have a range that goes from the panhandle of Florida all the way south in the Gulf of Mexico off of Key West. In one angle shot, they can shoot sophisticated long-range weapons 600 miles to do the testing.

And Big Oil is trying to roll back now some of the basic safety rules that were put in place after the disaster to prevent another tragedy. It’s happening in front of our eyes.

So, two years ago they say that an oil spill can be a welcome boost to the local economies, and today they are rolling back safety environments that were put in place in the aftermath of 11 people being killed on the Deepwater oil rig.

Today, they are rolling that back – in this administration’s agencies. That’s why I’m joining Senator Cantwell and other colleagues today in filing legislation to codify these sensible safety measures, like those designed to update the standards for blowout preventers and a requirement for a third party to certify the safety mechanisms.

Let me explain what a blowout preventer is. It didn’t work in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A mile below the surface, the wellhead where it comes out of the Earth, there is a thing called a blowout preventer. So a blowout in this Deepwater Horizon, there is a blowout that was supposed to safely cut the oil line, pinch it, and stop it from flowing. It was faulty. It did not work. And so there have been new standards for blowout preventers.

And today, from 2010 to 2018, eight years later the oil industry is trying to roll back those safety requirements that were put in place in the aftermath of spilling five million barrels of oil into the Gulf.
You see, the fight that we have almost every week. We can’t allow the Department of Interior to take us backwards in time and expose our beautiful beaches and our tourism-based local economies as well as our military to another Deepwater Horizon-type catastrophe. And if we don’t watch it and if they keep pushing back these safety rules, and that’s the purpose of filing this legislation today with Senator Cantwell.
If we don’t watch it, we’re going to be right back in the same place we were eight years ago. Eight years ago, to the day tomorrow, that we had that all of experience.

Madam president, I yield the floor.


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