Udall bill would refocus resources on preventing spills

DENVER– Talking at a Silco gas station in the SoBro or South Broadway neighborhood here Monday, Sen Mark Udall announced he was introducing new legislation that would refocus attention and redirect tax-payer cash toward preventing oil spills. Referencing the Colorado-based Department of Interior scandal that broke in 2008, where regulators cavorted with industry players and traded influence for drugs and sex, Udall said the government has a long history of corruption in its dealings with the oil industry and the result has been that increasing oil and gas production has been the main priority and that citizens have suffered as a result.

He said that the Obama administration had mishandled the British Petroleum spill in Gulf, even though the lion’s share of the blame falls to BP. Udall and his co-sponsors are calling for BP to set aside $20 billion to cover the cost of Gulf catastrophe.

“I think there is some legitimate criticisms about the way this has been handled [by the Government] in interacting with people in the Gulf and letting people know what types of services were available and letting people know what was happening down there. The ultimate responsibility lies with BP,” he said. “We have to learn some tough lesson here. There were some steps that were taken to fast-track these drilling permits– the use of categorical exclusions needs to be stopped. There is plenty of responsibility to go around.”

Udall’s bill would rework the Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources research and development program. The program is funded by industry dollars and Udall said it has been focused on production. The new law would refocus the program toward security and spill prevention, looking at new types of cementing techniques, for example, and how the deep water bore holes and casing systems themselves are maintained. He said 30-year-old technology is being used today.

“There has to be better technology,” he said and the reason it using it should be a new and constant high priority.

Although he was sympathetic to concerns about investments made in deepwater drilling, he said the ban on offshore drilling should not be lifted until the causes of the Gulf accident are understood.

Udall also said legislation would likely be soon introduced mandating oil companies always drill relief wells in case of a blow out suffered at the Transocean site. Udall said that it has been widely accepted that such a well could have prevented the Gulf spill. He said the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that do not already have such a requirement in place

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is currently splitting the Mineral Management Service into three sections, ending what he has referred to as the agency’s “conflicting missions.” The agency regulates offshore drilling but it also collects billions from the oil and gas industry in leasing bids and production royalties. Udall said he hoped those efforts would reduce corruption and mismanagement, “most notably in Denver,” he said.

Udall said that over the last 17 months there have been 900 reported oil spills.

“It is not just a problem offshore but onshore too.” He said any spill can be consequential.

“We have been relying on a 20th century fuel regime. We have to trigger a new-energy revolution. We do that by making… investments into research and development.”

Udall said the country must begin to follow Colorado’s lead by increasing its national renewable standard to 30 percent and to do that by pricing carbon. He quoted an industry official to underline his point. As Dick Kelly , chief executive officer of Xcel, would say: “Once you put a price on carbon we are going to profit by creating the new energy technologies for the 21st century.”

Udall and other members of the Senate Democratic caucus sent a letter Monday calling on BP to set aside $20 million in a privately managed account for spill relief efforts.

“These funds would be used to protect the businesses, the fishermen and the clean and marvelous waters of the Gulf of Mexico,” Udall said.

Colorado Seventh District Congressman Ed Perlmutter is co-sponsoring similar legislation in the House that would increase the liability of oil companies to $20 billion dollars in the case of catastrophic spills.

Udall reportedly chose the SoBro Silco to speak at because it offers E85 ethanol gas– ethanol being one of the avenues Udall believes should be further explored to break our nation’s reliance on oil.

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