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Experts Testify Before House Committee in Favor of Stronger Offshore Drilling Regulations

The committee introduced a plethora of legislation focused on beefing up regulation of offshore drilling and restricting federal leases for more projects.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A professional surfer who doubles as a marine scientist told lawmakers that bacteria and molecular signatures near coastal populations would be disrupted if offshore drilling came to empty shore breaks.

Cliff Kapono, who testified before a House Natural Resources subcommittee Thursday, said rarely considered when extending offshore drilling leases to oil companies were those microbial communities. Those within close proximity and even further away from offshore drilling could be affected, he said.

“I have no evidence to suggest that these alterations will be detrimental or beneficial, but I do have evidence to suggest that they will be modified,” Kapono said. “This modification of our microbial and molecular composition as humans should be considered in decisions like these.”

Alongside Kapono Thursday, the House Natural Resources subcommittee responsible for energy and mineral resources oversight heard from a slew of experts — the majority of whom testified to the detriment of further investment in offshore drilling. A panel of lawmakers also gave testimony in support of six bills that were introduced by the committee.

Two of those bills would require further regulation and the implementation of safeguards for current offshore drilling project operators. The Offshore Accountability Act would require oil and natural gas facilities to report critical failures to the Interior Secretary. The Offshore Pipeline Safety Act, would require the same companies to have more responsibility when assessing environmental risk associated with decommissioning those facilities.  

Another four bills introduced by the committee would effectively prohibit the federal government from granting offshore drilling for a large swath of American coasts. The group of bills individually amend the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act in portions of the country — including blocking off large sections of the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean.

Terra Lawson-Remer, San Diego County’s District 3 supervisor, told lawmakers California was leading the way in retraining workers who worked in the oil and gas industry, creating new jobs for those workers and by providing technical and financial support to younger workers.

“California’s economy is highly diversified and dynamic,” Lawson-Remer said. “We will not only achieve the transition to 100% renewable, we will use our early adoption to our advantage; to get ahead in the race to a green economy. By stopping oil drilling and investing instead in the vibrant and dynamic renewable energy sector we are building new industries to adapt and thrive in a global economy where renewable energy is in increasing demand and oil and gas are facing inevitable obsolescence.”

Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission Cutoff, disagreed with Lawson-Remer’s, and other witnesses’ assessment of oil and natural gas utility. Foreign dependence on these resources made America weaker, he said, and abrupt policy changes could destabilize hundreds of thousands who rely on drilling work to support their families.

“Our community in South Louisiana and similar communities along the Gulf Coast thrive on offshore energy development,” Chiasson testified. “It would be a tragic mistake by the federal government to precipitously restrict offshore development and bring with it certain economic decline to our region, and the loss of potential economic gains in communities elsewhere in the country.”

Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf, a research organization that helps inform coastal communities about the exploitation of the Gulf of Mexico’s natural resources, told lawmakers 53,000 wells had been drilled in the estuary from 1947 to 2014. About 26,000 of them have been abandoned.

Those wells are required to be plugged before they’re abandoned — although the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement rarely monitor the state of the wells. Many leak oil and harmful methane, benzene or nitrogen gases, she testified.

Sarthou testified that since the 1960s, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has done the opposite of ensure safety of the gulf. Since that time, the agency has authorized members of the industry to leave, rather than remove, 97% of some 18,000 miles of inactive pipeline on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

“There is simply no justification to avoid the inevitable transition that faces the economies and communities of the gulf,” she testified. “To ensure a just transition for all, we must begin now.”

Categories:Energy, Government, Law, National

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