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Hearing of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce - Safe Deepwater Drilling


Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Brian Baird (WA-03) today led a Congressional hearing to investigate what technologies, standards, and practices should be in place to ensure safe deepwater drilling and prevent tragedies like the current environmental disaster at BP's Deepwater Horizon. Congressman Baird is the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

The panel consisted of the following witnesses: Dr. Benton Baugh, President of Radoil, Inc.; Greg McCormack, Director of Petroleum Extension Service at the University of Texas at Austin; Erik Milito, Group Director of Upstream and Industry Operations for the American Petroleum Institute; and James Pappas, Vice President of Technical Programs at Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America.

See Congressman Baird's opening statement below.

I want to welcome everyone to today's hearing to discuss technologies, standards, and practices to ensure safer deepwater and ultra-deepwater drilling. A wide range of technological innovations have allowed the industry to venture into ever deeper waters to produce the massive reserves of oil and gas found there. Admittedly, the payoff of pushing the technology envelope is enormous, and for the foreseeable future the world will be highly-reliant on these fossil fuels.

But the Deepwater Horizon tragedy proved that, in this high-stakes game, poor judgment and faulty equipment can bring unimaginable consequences. It is precisely because this incident occurred in 5,000 feet of water that we are discussing an ongoing oil spill 64 days after it began.

Committee staff and I just returned from visiting the Deepwater Horizon response efforts in the Gulf. While the coordination and scale of the federal effort is truly impressive and should be commended, witnessing it firsthand only strengthened my resolve to ensure that we never find ourselves in this situation again.

Whether the moratorium on drilling activities in the Gulf is lifted in 30 days or 30 years, we must accept that the hydrocarbon reserves in these fields will be produced someday. And if not there, it will certainly be done somewhere else in the world. Our charge is to understand the technological advances and best practices to further ensure that drilling in the deepwater can be done with minimal risk to workers and the environment.

For good reason, drilling at these depths is often compared to space exploration. Operating safely in such extreme environments entails immense engineering and technological challenges, the complexity of which is encountered in few other human endeavors.

However, unlike space exploration, the technological expertise for drilling at these depths appears to reside almost solely within the private sector. In the hyper-competitive field of energy, the industry is rightfully guarded about sharing information and collaborating on proprietary technology development. But safety is universal. We must now ask ourselves if the Deepwater Horizon tragedy calls for us to reevaluate the government role in the development of accident prevention and mitigation technologies and industry best practices.

At the least, we must identify the critical gaps in safety technology and practices, identify the resources already in place in government-sponsored research programs and laboratories, and push to coordinate these resources to meet both the needs of the taxpayers and the safety requirements of the industry. It's time we push the technological envelope of environmental and worker safety in offshore operations.

My goal is to shed light on these important questions through today's hearing.

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