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Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development Act

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BAIRD. I thank the chairman.

My earlier comments acknowledged the many people who are working so hard down in the gulf, and I want to pay particular respect and admiration to a great public servant, Admiral Thad Allen. As many of us know, Thad Allen in effect essentially retired from the Coast Guard, but recognizing the importance of this mission and the urgency of his role there he has stayed on, working many, many long hours in an incredibly complex endeavor. I have immense respect for him and hope that people appreciate the kind of contribution not only that Admiral Allen is making but that all of the coasties and other government employees are making down there, as well as the many local residents as well.

I also want to acknowledge the great work of the committee staff on both sides of the aisle in drafting this legislation, and I particularly want to speak about an aspect of this legislation that I've worked on and that I think is particularly important and often overlooked.

In many other areas of activity, the role of human factors has been recognized as playing an increasingly important role. That's the case with the nuclear power industry, which realized in the post-Three Mile Island analyses that the complex information that was being provided to the operators of the plant was easily overwhelming and contributed to that disaster.

It has been recognized for a long time by the Federal Aviation Administration. Indeed, the tragic accident in which an airliner crashed into the Potomac not far from this very building was believed strongly related to ice on the wings, but not just the ice on the wing, but how the pilot and the copilot interacted in their discussion about whether or not it would be safe to fly under those conditions.

As they looked at that analysis, it became apparent that the rules for cockpit interactions and making decisions about safety needed to be changed.

When we looked at this event that happened in the gulf and you follow the dialogue that has been reported between BP and the drilling operators, it is clear that human factors and risk analysis needs dramatic improvement. Witnesses at the committee hearing testified that we have to not only improve, as I mentioned earlier, the training of the personnel on the rigs, but I think the management needs to be addressed and the decisionmaking process.

If you can have a circumstance wherein someone says we're going to go ahead with this operation as we deem appropriate, and effectively the response was, well, that's I guess why we have the blowout prevention devices, meaning somebody thought that if we do this, we're likely to have a blowout. Now, when one looks at the history of safety and efficacy of those blowout preventers, it's pretty clear that they had a high failure rate.


Mr. BAIRD. If we have an interaction system wherein people are making decisions with a known possibility of a blowout and blowout preventers that have a fairly high probability of failure, somebody needs to intervene and say what the heck is going on here if people can make these decisions when, and I want to underscore this, when the consequence is the loss of human life. Eleven souls lost their lives on that rig that day. We talk so much about the cleanup and the environmental catastrophe that's resulted. Let us not forget those eleven lives. When people's decisionmaking leads to the loss of human life and leads to an environmental and economic tragedy of this magnitude, we've got to make sure they make those decisions in the right way, with the right information and the right communication strategy, and as important as this bill is in improving the technology for drilling and drilling safety, essential to that technology are the human elements, and I'm grateful that the committee saw fit to include those elements in the legislation.

I thank the chairman again.


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