SkyTruth testified at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on November 19. The general subject of the hearing was Federal stewardship of offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters. We were invited to give our perspective on several significant oil spill incidents we’ve investigated over the past few years: the recent Montara platform blowout and spill in the Timor Sea off Western Australia; this summer’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the Eugene Island Pipeline operated by Shell; and the spills from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and Ike in 2008, that exposed the achilles heel of offshore production: the vulnerability and severe spill risk posed by the coastal infrastructure – especially pipelines and storage facilities – that is necessary to support offshore drilling.
Louisiana’s Senator Landrieu, a staunch supporter of drilling, accused us of lying to the American public and scaring them with our tales of disaster. She doesn’t seem to trust the American people to be able to make up their own minds about the pros and cons of offshore drilling if they are presented with the information. All we did was testify about real things that have really happened, to make the point that despite advances in technology, mistakes are still made and accidents still happen – and with offshore oil production, the consequences still can be severe.
The senator tried to downplay the Montara spill, claiming it was only about 800,000 gallons and would only fill 1/3 of the Reflecting Pool out in front of the Capitol. Now I have no idea how she came up with that number, or how big the reflecting pool is, but I do know that the U.S. Coast Guard categorizes oil spills into three size classes: minor, medium and major. And a “major” spill is anything larger than 100,000 gallons.
Near the end of the hearing, Sen. Landrieu stood in front of a large poster of the flaming Montara oil platform, waved her hand at it, and said “These things happen.”
Which is exactly the point.