House Dems press oil CEOs on spill response planning

The letters note that the companies rely on the Marine Spill Response Corporation to respond to potential spills, the same company using its equipment to respond to the BP spill.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) question whether the four companies have other equipment and resources available not currently being used to address the BP spill, and whether and when they plan to revise their oil spill response plans.

“Each of the oil companies' oil spill response plans are practically identical to the tragically flawed BP oil spill response plan,” the three Democrats wrote.

Echoing a line Waxman used in a June 15 hearing with the oil executives, they added, “These oil spill response plans for the Gulf of Mexico even included references to protecting walruses and other animals that don't inhabit the Gulf and listed a deceased scientist as an emergency resource.”

In addition to the letter, Waxman is now putting his stamp on the legislative response to the BP spill that’s brewing in both chambers.

Waxman floated a draft 34-page bill to other panelists Friday that would impose new drilling safeguards.

Beginning in one year, it would prevent new “high-risk” onshore and offshore oil-and-gas drilling unless the drilling company has a plan ensuring a blowout could be prevented or promptly stopped. Companies must also be able to drill a relief well within 15 days of a blowout and complete that well within 90 days.

The draft sets minimum federal standards for blowout preventers and the casing and cementing of wells — areas that are subject to intense scrutiny in probes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

One provision that may ruffle some feathers allows for citizen suits to “compel compliance” with the bill’s requirements.

It also requires minimum standards for work stoppage “when there are conditions indicating an immediate risk of a blowout at a high-risk well,” and establishes an independent panel to review well-control technology and assess the adequacy of regulations.

Other requirements in the draft include unannounced inspections of rigs and the banning of retaliation against whistleblowers.

A Waxman spokeswoman called it a “straightforward” plan that will be the subject of a hearing Wednesday in the panel’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee. Democratic aides have invited an Interior Department representative to appear before the panel, as well as an engineer and a senior official from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Waxman’s plan is one of many taking shape on both sides of the Capitol. On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will mark up legislation that would greatly increase oil companies’ liability for damages from offshore spills. The current limit is $75 million, and Democrats hope to remove the liability cap entirely.

The same day, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will mark up a bill that requires a suite of new offshore drilling safety precautions and overhauls federal oversight. The measure is sponsored by Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the panel's top Republican.

Also, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on legislation introduced by Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) that seeks to bolster safeguards and improve environmental reviews, among other provisions.

— Ben Geman contributed. This post was updated at 7 p.m.