JULY 20, 2010: MARKEY OPENING STATEMENT AT HEARING WITH LAST THREE INTERIOR DEPT. SECRETARIES

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued the following opening statement at a joint hearing with the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee on the Role of the Interior Department in the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.

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July 20, 2010

Oil is not the result of spontaneous generation. The conditions for its creation are set millions of years before. Organisms die and decay.  Heat, pressure and time do the rest.

Just as with the slow creation of fossil fuels, the conditions that created the BP disaster in the Gulf were put in motion many years ago. Increasing pressure from the oil industry to relax regulations, and the willingness of regulators to take the heat off companies, did the rest.

Ten years before the BP oil spill, in January of 2000, a directive issued by the Interior Department under the Clinton Administration stated that the methods used to model spills “are not adequate to predict the behavior of spills in deepwater” and that a new model would be required. Unfortunately, this never happened -- the Bush Administration never followed through.

Nine years and three months before the BP oil spill, just two weeks after taking office, President Bush created the Cheney energy task force. The task force met in secret, largely with representatives of the oil, gas and other energy industries.  

A little less than 9 years before this spill, on May 16, 2001, the Cheney Energy Task Force submitted its report.

The report asserts that “exploration and production from the [Outer Continental Shelf] has an impressive environmental record.”

The report further states that existing laws and regulations were creating “delays and uncertainties [that] can hinder proper energy exploration and production projects.”

We are warned that “substantial economic risks remain to investment in deep water” and that the Interior Department must therefore be directed to “consider economic incentives for environmentally sound offshore oil and gas development.”

With the Cheney task force report, the first condition for this disaster – rewriting the offshore drilling policies to prioritize speed rather than safety – was set in motion.

Eight years before the spill, the Interior Department began issuing regulations that would extend and ultimately expand the royalty free drilling given to oil companies for offshore oil and gas production.

But financial incentives weren’t enough. So the Bush administration’s Interior Department made the choice to assert that a catastrophic spill could not occur.

Seven years before this spill, the Bush Administration exempted most Gulf of Mexico leaseholders from having to include blowout scenarios in their oil and gas exploration or production plans. Oil companies were also no longer required to say how long it would take to drill a relief well, and how a blowout could be contained by capping the well. BP therefore included no such information in its plans for the Deepwater Horizon well.

Three years to the month before this spill, in April of 2007, the environmental impact statement approved by the Bush administration for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico said that since blowouts are “rare events and of short duration,” the potential impacts to marine water quality “are not expected to be significant.”

The analysis concluded that the most likely size of a large oil spill would be a total of four thousand six hundred barrels and that “a subsurface blowout would have a negligible effect on Gulf of Mexico fish resources or commercial fishing.”

A few months later in October of 2007, the Bush administration’s Interior Department completed another environmental review and issued a “Finding of No New Significant Impact.” No further environmental review was needed, according to the Bush Administration.

On April 20, 2010, the regulatory house of cards erected over an eight year period by the Bush-Cheney Administration collapsed with the explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon rig.

Today, we will hear from the nation’s last three Secretaries of the Interior, who have presided over our nation’s leasing of offshore oil and gas since January 2001. I welcome the Secretaries and we look forward to their testimony.

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U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, testifies at the hearing.

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