BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill

On April 20, 2010, the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned and operated by Transocean Ltd., and contracted by BP to drill in the Gulf of Mexico, unexpectedly caught fire, exploded and sank roughly 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. This explosion not only cost 11 crewmembers their lives, it left oil flowing from an uncapped, damaged pipe located 5,000 feet below the ocean surface.

I am outraged by the behavior of BP and Transocean and their apparent lack of oversight by the federal regulators that led to this crisis.  I am demanding answers from BP, Transocean and the Obama Administration on this entire situation.  I am working with my colleagues to force BP to pay for all the clean up and whatever damages they caused.

Protecting Taxpayers from cleaning up BP’s mess:

  • I am a cosponsor of S. 3472, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010. This bill would eliminate the liability cap, which is the maximum amount oil companies are required to pay for economic losses related to the spill. Currently, the responsible party in an oil spill must cover all costs related to clean up. However, there is a $75 million cap on liability for economic damages, such as lost business revenues from fishing and tourism, natural resources damages or lost local tax revenues.

  • I am a cosponsor of S. 3306, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Trust Fund Act of 2010. The trust fund is an industry-funded safeguard for economic damages after the responsible parties reach their caps. This bill would abolish the current $1 billion per incident cap on claims against the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and allow community responders to use the fund for preparation and relief up front, versus waiting for reimbursement at a later date.

  • I am a cosponsor of S. 3358, the West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2010. This bill would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to prohibit leases for exploration, development, or production of oil and natural gas in any area on the Outer Continental Shelf near the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.

Committee Hearings:

I have participated in several hearings as we work towards understanding the circumstances surrounding this devastating event:

  • On June 10, 2010, I chaired an Employment and Workplace Safety subcommittee hearing where we reviewed the practices of oil and gas company tragedies including the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and the Tesoro refinery accident in Washington state. I questioned witnesses on the lessons learned from past disasters, as well as what changes and safety measures are needed to better protect workers in the oil and gas industry. - Video

  • On June 15, 2010, as a senior member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I participated in a hearing where I questioned officials from the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Health and Human Services on their efforts to monitor and respond to both short and long-term health effects of the oil spill on workers conducting the clean-up, families living in the region, and our food supply from the Gulf.  - Video
  • On May 19, 2010, I signed a letter with several of my Senate colleagues to President Obama outlining our concerns with the “cozy” relationship between federal mineral regulators and the oil industry. I believe it is critical this relationship be transformed. The public must feel confident that our safety comes first, before the oil industry’s profits. The first step in reestablishing this trust is immediate inspections of offshore rigs.  Until we know our offshore platforms are secure, our nation’s coastlines remain jeopardized by the possibility of more man-made catastrophes.   
  • On May 24, 2010, I signed a letter with many of my Senate colleagues to Attorney General Holder requesting the Department of Justice investigate Transocean’s recent financial transactions. This letter was sent in response to information gathered surrounding the company’s intent to distribute $1 billion to its shareholders. This information is unnerving because moving the funds could further enhance Transocean’s protection from lawsuits and may make it harder for those affected by the spill to seek claims against the company.
  • On June 15, 2010, I signed a letter  to the CEO of BP demanding the company establish a $20 billion fund, which would be administered by an independent third party, for cleanup and damage compensation resulting from their oil spill because it is too early to know the full economic and environmental impacts this spill. This fund will set aside necessary funds to ensure claims from residents are paid.

  • On June 17, 2010, I signed a letter with many of my Senate colleagues to Attorney General Holder requesting the Department of Justice open a criminal investigation. This request stems from reports that BP has withheld and falsified information surrounding the quantity of oil spilling into the Gulf. We are very concerned BP has been withholding information and hindering data collection while misrepresenting the magnitude of this spill. I believe this is a critical matter and we cannot move forward and work towards returning the Gulf to pre-spill standards without honest information.

On June 16, 2010, after a meeting with President Obama, BP announced it will contribute $20 billion to an independent accountability fund to pay claims resulting from the Gulf Coast spill. I believe this is an important step for BP to begin the long process of resolving the environmental and financial impacts of this spill. However, oil from the damaged pipe is washing ashore in marshes, wetlands and beaches along the entire Gulf Coast and there is still much work to be done.

I have heard from many Washingtonians regarding the BP Gulf oil spill, its environmental impacts and our need for clean energy legislation. Like you, I am deeply concerned about record-high energy prices and our continuing dependence on foreign oil.  As Congress continues to deal with energy and natural resource extraction issues, I will be working to ensure that we institute a sensible, comprehensive energy policy that focuses on renewable energy and decreases our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels.