Ranking Members Waxman and Markey Release GAO Report on Subsea Well Containment Capabilities After Deepwater Horizon

WASHINGTON, DC — Today Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward J. Markey released a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluating the oil industry’s capabilities for containing subsea wells and the federal government’s oversight in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil explosion and subsequent spill.
 
“The Department of Interior needs to act aggressively to establish an effective program to prevent blowouts,” said Rep. Waxman.  “GAO found we currently have just ‘limited assurance’ that oil companies can stop offshore well blowouts.  Two years after the disaster in the Gulf, that’s not good enough.  The risks are especially high in Alaska because of the unique environmental and logistical problems.”  
 
This report shows that ultra-deep oil drilling is not yet ultra-safe, especially in the environmentally sensitive Alaskan waters,” said Rep. Markey.  “The Department of Interior needs to do more than accept industry’s assurances that blowout containment technology will be available, and I call on the Department to beef up its oversight and enforcement of these activities.”
 
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded, killing 11 crew members and leaking 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days.  In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident and subsequent spill, the oil industry and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) sought to develop new ways to prevent and address subsea well blowouts.  
 
The new GAO report, “Interior Has Strengthened Its Oversight of Subsea Well Containment, but Should Improve Its Documentation,” provides information on the status of BOEMRE’s efforts to oversee industry’s subsea well containment capabilities in the Gulf of Mexico.  GAO found that industry had improved its capabilities to respond to a subsea blowout, and BOEMRE had strengthened review plans to contain a subsea well blowout.  However, BOEMRE still needs to fully document its internal oversight processes and also to document a timeline for incorporating well containment response tests into its unplanned oil spill drills for private companies.
 
GAO also found that while the industry-developed well containment capabilities are likely to be effective in the Gulf of Mexico, lack of infrastructure and equipment and other logistical challenges may limit the effectiveness of well response capabilities in the Alaskan waters.
 
In the 111th Congress, the Committee on Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and the Energy and the Environment Subcommittee held ten hearings on the Deepwater Horizon incident.  During that same period, the House Natural Resources Committee held six hearings on the incident.
 
The GAO report is available online here.
 
Further information on the Energy and Commerce Committee hearings is available online here