Markey, others offer bills redirecting royalties to spill R&D

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 28 -- US Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill on June 25 that would redirect $50 million/year of oil and gas royalty payments now being used to subsidize development of deepwater drilling technologies into new oil spill prevention and response technologies.

“This legislation would divert money from Big Oil subsidies to scientists and spill response experts, to ensure that our country’s best and brightest minds can develop the technology that is sorely lacking when it comes to oil spill prevention and response,” said Markey, who chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

Markey’s bill came more than a week after US Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who are members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced bills that also would redirect federal oil and gas royalties to address problems made apparent by the Gulf of Mexico well blowout, rig explosion, and crude oil spill. Shaheen’s measure concentrates on spill prevention, detection and response while Udall’s focuses on rig safety.

“The oil and gas industry has poured money into researching and developing technologies to find and produce oil and gas, but have spent little to nothing on responding to and cleaning up after an oil spill,” Shaheen said as she introduced her bill on June 17. “We need to have updated, innovative, and effective technologies at the ready to clean up after any oil spill—large or small. This legislation would create a new research and development program to respond to, contain and clean up oil spills, and the oil companies would pay for it.”

“It's unacceptable that the spill prevention and response technology we're using today dates back to the era when cell phones were the size of shoe boxes. It has barely changed since the Exxon Valdez crash,” Udall said as he offered his legislation the same day. “Eleven people died on Deepwater Horizon, and we don't yet know the full extent of the damage the accident has caused to the gulf.”

Bills’ provisions
Markey proposed redirecting the royalties to a US Department of Energy grant program to develop next-generation technologies to prevent or stop spills from offshore oil wells. It would require the US Energy secretary, in consultation with the US Interior secretary, to establish a program within six months to support development, demonstration, and commercialization of new technologies to prevent, stop, or capture large-scale discharges.

Shaheen’s bill would create a new oil spill research and development program within DOI which would be paid for by onshore as well as offshore royalties, rents, and bonuses. It also would establish an independent science and advisory board which would work with the National Academies of Science to provide scientific and technical advice.

The measure also would direct the advisory board and Interior secretary to identify research needs and opportunities, proposed areas of focus, and establish priorities for the DOI spill R&D program. It also would establish three research centers dealing with deepwater response technologies, ultradeepwater and extreme environment oil spills, and spill response and restoration.

Udall’s measure would refocus a program at DOE so that it would directly address issues arising from the Apr. 20 Macondo well blowout, rig explosion, and subsequent spill. These issues include the need to develop more advanced cements which are more flexible, set quickly, and can withstand higher pressures, the senator said. Developing better blowout prevention devices, increasing the understanding of how different technologies operate deep beneath the ocean’s surface and in other harsh environments, and developing stewardship guidelines for shutting down wells also would be addressed, he indicated.

He said his bill would increase DOE oversight of the research, ensure that peer review occurs during consideration of projects to fund, and require that the research results are made available to the public. It also would require an NAS study to help direct the development of new technology for problems which have been identified as well those in the future. And it would also broaden the program advisory committee to include other federal agencies and state regulators to ensure that no stakeholder group dominates the program, Udall said.

The two senators’ proposals will be considered as the Energy and Natural Resources Committee marks up legislation to reform the former US Minerals Management Service and other aspects of federal offshore resources management on June 30, Chairman Jeff Bingaman said at a June 24 hearing. The House Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing the same day to consider a new version of chairman Nick J. Rahall’s (D-W.Va.) bill dealing with the same subjects.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.



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