Curry L. Hagerty
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy
Jonathan L. Ramseur
Specialist in Environmental Policy
This report highlights actions taken and issues raised as a result of the April 20, 2010, explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Readers can access a more extensive discussion in CRS Report R41262, Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Selected Issues for Congress.
Congressional responses to the oil spill include at least 32 hearings in 10 committees in the House of Representatives and at least 27 hearings in 8 committees in the Senate. Members have introduced over 150 legislative proposals that would affect policies related to oil spills. As of the date of this report, one bill has been enacted into law (P.L. 111-191), which allows the Coast Guard to advance additional funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for response efforts.
Executive branch actions involve multiple agencies working within the framework of the National Contingency Plan. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard plays a key role in response efforts, because the spill occurred in the coastal zone. In addition, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE), formerly known as the Minerals Management Service (MMS), has initiated an internal review of agency regulatory parameters for safety inspections of deepwater rigs and platforms.
As a responsible party for the spill, BP has worked to control the well and perform cleanup measures at the direction of the federal government. According to BP, the company’s spill-related costs amount to approximately $6.1 billion, including spill response and containment actions, and economic damage claims. In addition, BP is financing a $20 billion fund, managed by an independent claims facility, to award further claims. However, it is uncertain how the scope of the voluntary fund interacts with the existing legal obligations to a claims process.
Some Members of Congress and stakeholders have raised a range of issues after observing the Gulf oil spill and response efforts. Selected areas of concern include:
• the regulatory regime for outer continental shelf (OCS) oil exploration and development activities;
• the liability and compensation framework created by the 1990 Oil Pollution Act;
• technological challenges involved with deepwater activities;
• response activities (e.g., the use of chemical dispersants) and decision-making.
Future congressional activity may be influenced by several factors, including evolving conditions in the Gulf region, independent inquiries, judicial review of Administrative actions, and the availability of data for further study.
Date of Report: September 13, 2010
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: R41407
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