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Press Releases :: June 9, 2010

Members, Witnesses Discuss Oil Spill Research, Cleanup Technologies, and the Environment

(Washington, DC) – Today, House Committee on Science and Technology’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing to explore the research, development, and technology needs for the recovery of oil and effective cleanup of oil spills.

The first panel consisted of the following witnesses from federal agencies: Mr. Douglas Helton from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Captain Anthony Lloyd from the U.S. Coast Guard, Ms. Sharon Buffington from Minerals Management Service, and Dr. Albert Venosa from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Additional testimony was given by a second panel of witnesses representing scientists and engineers from private industry, academia, and the non-profit sector. These witnesses were Dr. Jeffery Short from Oceana, Dr. Samantha Joye from the University of Georgia, Dr. Richard Haut from the Houston Advanced Research Center, Dr. Nancy Kinner from the Coastal Response Research Center, and Mr. Kevin Costner from Ocean Therapy Solutions.
On April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire occurred on the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. This resulted in the death of eleven workers, a massive oil release, and a national response effort in the Gulf of Mexico by the federal state, and local governments as well as BP. The response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the largest operation of its kind in U.S. history; however, our current response tools have limited effectiveness in a spill of this magnitude.
“Like most Americans, I’m frustrated. We have a massive response effort going on right now with tens of thousands of people working in the Gulf to clean up this oil. Unfortunately, our response tools need improving. We are essentially using the same tools in the Gulf as we were using in 1989 with the Exxon Valdez spill, and those tools were lacking, even back them,” said Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA)
“The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented tragedy, but oil spills happen in this country and around the world every day. We must push the envelope of research and technology to learn how to better respond to these incidents. The lack of an effective response to this spill highlights the need for a more reliable and standardized approach to response and remediation. We need to eliminate the guesswork, and go into spills knowing which tools are most effective in certain conditions,” said Full Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN)
Members and witnesses examined federal agency roles in oil spill response research; the activities and programs federal agencies have pursued since the passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990; the gaps in spill response research and technology development; and what is needed to improve the coordinated federal response going forward.
“We need a better understanding of how oil spills affect the environment and we need better tools to clean them up.  There is a big need here for targeted scientific research, development and technology,” said Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA)
An important topic of discussion was the interaction of oil with the natural environment. The structure and function of marine ecosystems, including food webs, are directly impacted by spilled oil or spill response efforts, such as dispersants.  
Members and witnesses discussed lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. Oil from that spill left a lasting impact on Prince William Sound, and oil recovery and clean up techniques have changed little since.
Additionally, concern was expressed about the effectiveness of currently deployed technologies such as booms, skimmers, and in situ burns. Members consulted witnesses about the barriers to the development and use of transformational technologies for oil spill cleanup.
For more information, please see the Committee’s website.

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