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Hearing of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife of the House Committee on Natural Resources - Ocean Science and Data Limits in a Time of Crisis: Do NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have the Resources to Respond


Location: Washington, DC

Today, Day 57 of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Subcommittee continues its inquiry into the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Last week we heard from distinguished panelists about the short and long-term impacts of the oil spill on trust resources, including fisheries, birds and other wildlife, marine mammals, tribal resources, protected fish and wildlife habitat, beaches, our coasts, and other natural areas. It was abundantly clear from that hearing that the communities that depend on these resources, from fishermen and hunters to the tourism industry, will be reeling from the impacts of this oil spill for decades.

Today's hearing will investigate both what we know and what we do not know about the environment to guide the oil spill response and recovery activities in the Gulf of Mexico. Clearly, there is so much that we do not know because of the unprecedented scale and complexity of this oil spill, but some of these unknowns can be illuminated through transparent access to data and information and adequate deployment of assets to measure and monitor the spill.

We need to know how much oil has spilled and continues to spill into the Gulf. We need to know the trajectory and fate of this oil and dispersant at the surface and in the water column. We need to collect and integrate baseline environmental data to properly assess natural resource damages. This information is critical to our response and recovery activities because what gets measured gets managed.

Sadly, there is so much that will not be managed because of the gaps and limits in our understanding of the complex estuarine, coastal, and marine environments in the Gulf. We have made such limited investments in coastal science programs and ocean observation systems that it has proven difficult to provide timely and accurate scientific information to target response activities and to assess damages to natural resources.

Whether we know enough to mitigate the impacts of this oil spill, to properly compensate the public for damages to natural resources, and to prevent catastrophic oil spills in the future remains to be seen, but we must strive to make the public whole and to take every precaution to never let a disaster like this happen again.

I thank all the witnesses for being here today during this very challenging and busy time, and look forward to hearing your testimony.

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