Allen raises questions about Coast Guard's ability to respond to an Arctic oil spill

Republicans have accused Interior of delaying drilling in the Arctic in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill. Those frustrations were exacerbated last week when Shell Oil announced it was scrapping plans to drill this year in the Arctic, off Alaska’s northern coast.

Allen testified Friday at a House Transportation and Infrastructure hearing, one of a handful of times Allen has appeared publicly since finishing up his duties as national incident commander in October.

At the hearing, Allen endorsed a go-slow approach to oil-spill legislation. Echoing comments by Republican lawmakers, Allen said it’s important to absorb the results of other ongoing investigations into the spill before rushing to pass a legislative response.

“I think there are things they can act on now, but I think there are things that are going to come out of these investigations that are going to be very significant,” he told reporters. “What you wouldn’t want to do is pass a piece of legislation and then find out that you either have to amend it or supplant it with another piece because something came out of one of these investigations.”

But Allen stressed that some legislation can go forward immediately, including proposals to increase the current $75 million cap on economic liability from a spill.

Allen also endorsed what he called a “hybrid” approach to ensuring the safety of offshore drilling. First, a third party must verify that the mechanics of an offshore rig are sound. Second, drillers must demonstrate how they are protecting against the risks associated with a specific project. The second step is based on the so-called “Safety Case” that is has been instituted in the United Kingdom.

“Regarding the overall management of risk and how your philosophy is and how you organize to deal with the particular problems of a well site, that’s a ‘Safety Case,’ where you say, rather than inspecting that piece of equipment, this is what we think the risks are and this is how we think we’ll deal with it,” Allen told reporters.