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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Highlighted Actions and Issues

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 more extensive discussions in various CRS reports, identified at the end of this report.

Members in the 112
th Congress continue to express concerns regarding various oil spill-related policy matters. At least three committees in both the House and the Senate have held hearings on issues associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Members have introduced multiple proposals that would address various issues, including: 
  • 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. 
However, some argue that, in response to the Deepwater Horizon incident, the Administration has adopted less than optimal policies toward offshore oil exploration and development. Expressing this viewpoint, some Members have offered proposals that seek to spur offshore oil exploration and development. In recent days, the House passed three such bills: H.R. 1230 (May 5, 2011), H.R. 1229 (May 11, 2011), and H.R. 1231 (May 12, 2011).

Future congressional activity may be influenced by several factors, including conditions in the Gulf region, independent inquiries, judicial actions, and the availability of data for further study.

Multiple executive branch agencies continue to respond to the incident 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), initiated internal procedures for safety inspections and other regulatory functions for offshore operations.

As a responsible party for the spill, BP worked to control the well and the spill and continues to perform cleanup measures at the direction of the federal government. According to BP’s recent financial statements, the total costs of the 2010 Gulf spill are projected to dwarf those of the Exxon Valdez. In its 2010 financial statement, BP estimated the combined oil spill costs— cleanup, natural resource and economic damages, potential Clean Water Act (CWA) penalties, and other obligations—will be approximately $41 billion.

Date of Report: May 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: R41407
Price: $29.95

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