Cantwell Introduces Bill to Protect Washington State and U.S. Coasts from Catastrophic Oil Spills

Legislation addresses industry failure to invest in oil spill response technology R&D

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced legislation requiring the oil industry to continually integrate the latest technologies into oil spill response plans. Chronic under-investment in oil spill research and development is coupled with a lack of incentives or requirements for industry to adopt new cleanup technologies – even those that are proven effective. As a result, industry lacks the advanced tools it needs when responding to major oil spill disasters like the ongoing BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The BP oil spill catastrophe has revealed the stagnant state of oil spill response technology and frightening inadequacy of our response system,” Senator Cantwell said. “Our country needs a program for comprehensive and sustained investment in oil spill research and development. My bill requires industry to be ready with the best technologies when disaster strikes, to integrate the latest and best technologies into response plans, and make sure that regular, mandated updates to those plans will employ the latest and best tools for fighting spills. We’ve seen over decades that industry will not prepare for these disasters on its own, which is why BP is using the same technologies that Exxon did in Alaska over two decades ago. Congress must act to bring this entire industry into the 21st century for spill prevention and response.”
Cantwell’s Oil Spill Technology and Research Act is designed to address the massive gap in oil spill research and development that has contributed to industry’s inability to respond to the BP oil spill. Cantwell’s bill will:
  • Put mechanisms in place that will foster continuous research and development on oil spill response methods and technologies
  • Provide an incentive structure for translating new technologies from ideas into reality; and
  • Continuously add new layers to our nation’s oil spill safety net.
Investigations and Congressional hearings into the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico have shown that a lack of incentives or strong legal mandates has resulted in little action by the oil industry to research and develop improved spill prevention and response technologies. Next Wednesday, July 21, 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.
Cantwell has been calling for spill prevention and coastal protection legislation since long before the Deepwater Horizon spill. For more than three years, Cantwell has been working to enact a U.S. Coast Guard authorization bill that passed the Senate May 7 without opposition. The bill, which is awaiting final House-Senate approval, includes Cantwell authored provisions that 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. 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.
Cantwell has also introduced legislation that would permanently ban oil drilling off the Pacific Coast. She has an amendment pending 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 can go undetected.