As Senate Takes Up Oil Spill Response, Cantwell to Introduce Bill to Protect Puget Sound and U.S. Coast from Catastrophic Oil Spills

Before Senate action, Cantwell will chair hearing on oil spill prevention and response technology; legislation addresses industry failure to fully utilize best available methods

SEATTLE, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said she will introduce legislation to require the oil drilling industry to continually integrate the latest technologies into oil spill prevention and response plans. Speaking at a press conference on Seattle’s waterfront, Cantwell said the oil industry has failed to update its response plans with the best technology available because of weak regulations. Had the latest technologies been in place this spring, Cantwell said, the ongoing spill in the Gulf of Mexico might have been prevented, or its impact limited. After Congress reconvenes, Cantwell will chair a hearing of the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard to address shortcomings and vulnerabilities in oil industry prevention and response technology.
“We have learned a painful lesson from the Deepwater Horizon disaster: America cannot rely on big oil companies and their CEOs to utilize the best available prevention and response technology,” Senator Cantwell said. “We’ve seen over the past 20 years that the industry will not do it on its own – from Exxon Valdez to Deepwater Horizon, Congress has had to intervene and respond. The sad truth is that if BP had the latest technologies in place this spring, the Deepwater Horizon disaster might not have occurred, or, if it did, a great deal of the damage could have been mitigated. These companies prepare fully for how to best extract resources and maximize their profits – they use technology to the fullest there. But because they refuse to prepare for these disasters, it is time for Congress to do what is necessary to bring this entire industry into the 21st century for spill prevention and response – not just extractions and profits."
Cantwell pointed out that even areas where offshore drilling is prohibited, such as the Pacific Northwest, are vulnerable to spills because of the huge quantities of oil passing through often treacherous waters on tankers. Approximately 600 oil tankers and 3,000 oil barges travel through Puget Sound’s fragile ecosystem annually, carrying about 15 billion gallons of oil to Washington’s five refineries. Investigations in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill have shown that a lack of incentives and strong legal mandates has resulted in little action by the oil industry to research and develop improved spill prevention and response technologies.  
While Cantwell’s latest efforts focus on developing and fielding the latest prevention and response technologies, Cantwell has been playing a key role in spill prevention and coastal protection legislation since long before the Deepwater Horizon spill. For more than three years, Cantwell has been working on a U.S. Coast Guard authorization bill that passed the Senate May 7 without opposition. The bill, which is awaiting final House-Senate approval, would significantly enhance oil spill response and prevention, improve offshore oil drilling safety, and protect coastal communities. The legislation expands federal oil spill response requirements west to Cape Flattery ensuring that Puget Sound and the entire Strait of Juan de Fuca have spill response teams and equipment in place. The bill further reduces traffic in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary; enhances spill prevention efforts on vessels transporting oil; and establishes a stronger role for tribes. Previously, Cantwell championed legislation requiring a year-round Neah Bay rescue tug near the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Cantwell has also introduced legislation that would permanently ban oil drilling off the Pacific Coast, and she has an amendment to the Outer Continental Shelf Reform Act of 2010 that significantly improves oversight and safety of offshore oil drilling rigs by filling a gap in current regulatory policy. Cantwell’s amendment would require by law a full, top-to-bottom third-party certification of drilling systems. Under current regulations, a full, top-to-bottom third-party certification of drilling systems is not mandated, meaning problems with critical drilling and safety technology such as blowout preventers are going undetected.