April 29 2010
Senator seeks freeze on offshore drilling expansion
Today, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that he is filing legislation that would for the time being prohibit the Interior Department from acting on administration plans to expand offshore drilling.
Senator Nelson released the text of a letter he wrote President Obama:
Dear Mr. President:
Each day the Deepwater Horizon test well gushes oil into the Gulf ofMexico, the oil industry's claims about modern, safe and environmentally friendly technology become more and more unbelievable.
Even as I write this letter, I'm informed that new oil has been found leaking at the rig disaster site and that, at this rate, if the spill continues for a month it may be nearly as large as the Exxon Valdez. If the crude leaking from the well starts washing ashore in the coming days, it may be an environmental and economic disaster that wreaks havoc for commercial fishing and tourism along the Gulf of Mexico coast.
Your focus rightly is on containing and responding to this spill. But until we learn what happened, I'm asking that you also call for an immediate halt to test wells and all other exploratory operations in coastal waters. Such a pause should remain in effect pending the outcome of federal investigations into the cause of this incident and the identification of ways to prevent something similar from happening again. Meantime, I am filing legislation that would for the time being prohibit the Interior Department from acting on your administration's plans to expand offshore drilling, including seismic testing and other exploratory operations. This, of course, isn't intended to affect producing wells.
Mr. President, the Interior Department in 2000 issued an alert insisting oil companies have "reliable backup systems" in the event of a rig blowout. But a decision reportedly was made in 2003 not to call for an additional line of defense - a move that will almost certainly be among the matters to come under scrutiny in the congressional investigation I and others have initiated. Today I am asking the Interior Department's inspector general to look specifically into this decision not to require the aforementioned backup system aimed at preventing rig disasters.
It' s unclear whether any additional well shut-off controls would have made a difference in this case. But the questions about the practices of the oil industry raised in the wake of this still-unfolding incident require that you postpone indefinitely plans for expanded offshore drilling operations.
As I have argued for decades, drilling too close to the coast poses too great a threat to the economy and environment of Florida and other coastal states. Sincerely,
On Monday Senator Nelson, along with Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who represent states that could be affected by spills at current or future oil drilling sites, formally requested a joint hearing to examine the Deepwater Horizon disaster and whether similar incidents can be prevented in the future. They wrote the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to request the hearing.
Today, Senator Lautenberg called the Deepwater Horizon incident "more than a spill of national significance, this is an absolute catastrophe."
"This spill is proof positive that oil drilling is a clear and present danger to our health, our environment, and our economy," said Senator Lautenberg. "That's why I will not support any energy legislation that does not include protections against irresponsible drilling in the mid-Atlantic."