House approves deepwater-drilling safety, oil-spill cleanup bills


The House passed legislation Wednesday that promotes new ways to clean up oil spills and aims to make deepwater drilling safer.

The two measures responding to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico cleared the House by voice votes and now go to the Senate.

The first bill would increase from $22 million to $48 million the amount of federal money spent on research and development of new cleanup methods and technologies.

The second bill promotes research on devices designed to prevent accidents, such as the blowout preventer that failed in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. It also deals with backup systems intended to shut off wells in an accident.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the bills urgent and noted that the response to the BP spill has relied on the same methods and technologies used 21 years ago to clean up the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska. Skimmers, surface burns, boom and chemical dispersants have all been used for decades.

“In the wake of the disastrous BP oil spill, it is the responsibility of this Congress to act to hold BP accountable, support the families and businesses of the Gulf, and prepare for unforeseen disasters,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, said the increased funding and focus on research should ensure that the federal government, industry and academia are all better equipped to prevent oil spills and respond more effectively when they occur.

The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to take up a similar bill on Thursday.

“The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has revealed a huge disparity between our nation’s ability to extract oil versus our ability to respond to an oil spill,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. “It is up to us to ensure that America’s waters and shores are protected with the best technology available.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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