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Hearing of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the House Committee on Science and Technology - Deluge of Oil Highlights Research and Technology Needs for Effective Cleanup of Oil Spills


Location: Washington, DC

Good morning and welcome to today's hearing.

Today is the 51st day of a national tragedy that is still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout and catastrophic explosion took the lives of eleven men and resulted in an ongoing, massive oil spill. It devastated commercial fisheries and it is threatening coastal wetlands throughout the region.

According to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill is now 2 to 4 times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. This is the largest oil spill ever to originate in U.S. waters. And it is growing in size every day.

A little over a year ago, I chaired a hearing entitled, "A new direction for federal oil spill research and development". The hearing was spurred by the Cosco Busan spill in San Francisco Bay in 2007 and Ms. Woolsey's subsequent legislation. I want to thank Ms. Woolsey for her leadership on that legislation and for her continual dedication to this important issue.

I, like most Americans, am frustrated. We have a massive ongoing response effort with tens of thousands of people working in the Gulf to clean up this oil. Response workers are deploying boom, conducting in situ burns, skimming oil from the surface of the water, dispensing chemical dispersants, and picking up tar balls from beaches. Responders are working to protect the Gulf, its wetlands, beaches, fisheries, and industries. They are working to protect our way of life.

Unfortunately, our response tools need improving. We are using essentially the same tools in the Gulf as we were using in 1989 in Prince William Sound, Alaska. These tools did not work well then.

In Alaskan coastal zones that were fouled by the Exxon Valdez spill, scientists discovered oil that has scarcely changed 16 years later. Beaches still ooze oil and scientists expect the oil to remain--perhaps even for centuries. It takes years to recover and cleanup from oil spills.

According to the Committee on the Marine Transportation of Heavy Oils, most oil spills experience a 10 to 15 percent rate of recovery. More research and development is necessary to reach acceptable levels of mitigation.

Oil spills occur every day in America. 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.

Exxon Valdez served as a catalyst for the passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90). This legislation expanded the federal government and industry's capacity for oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response. The goal of Title VII of OPA 90 was to coordinate federal research to encourage the development of new technologies to address oil spills. Despite the Interagency Committee's detailed research plan, there have been modest technological advances in oil spill cleanup technology since the law was enacted.

In 2007 the Cosco Busan spill highlighted our need for better oil spill response tools. And today, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill highlights the research and technology needs of oil spill cleanup again.

The purpose of this hearing is to focus on how to better prepare ourselves for these incidents through scientific research and better federal coordination.

However, we face new challenges that require resources and our brightest minds to push the envelope of research and technology development. We face a future of oil exploration and transport at depths and in regions never before imagined. Spills will happen and we need proper tools to respond--to protect our economy, our environment, and our way of life. It is undeniable that the United States needs a more robust research and development strategy to reduce the environmental and economic impacts of oil spills.

I think that I speak for us all when I say that watching the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on TV and in the paper is frustrating and discouraging. The challenges before us are great. And the time to act is now.

Today we will hear from our expert panels of witnesses on how we can fill these gaps and move forward with an effective response to oil spills.

We have two excellent panels of witnesses who will discuss what is needed for an effective and coordinated federal oil spill response as well as the research and technology needs for oil spill cleanup.

I thank all of you for being here with us today and now I recognize our Ranking Member, Mr. Inglis, for his opening statement.

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