Udall, Shaheen introduce companion oil spill prevention, cleanup bills

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Thursday introduced a pair of bills that would mandate the use of federal oil and gas royalties for research and development on better technology for preventing and cleaning up future oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Udall’s Safer Oil and Gas Production Research and Development Act, which Shaheen co-sponsors, would reformat a U.S. Department of Energy program funded with oil and gas royalties so that the money would go toward safety and accident prevention instead of production.

The bill would fund the development of cements that are more flexible, set quicker and can withstand higher pressures than cement currently used in deepwater drilling. The bill also would fund research on better blowout-prevention devices. Failure of the cement job and the blowout prevention device reportedly both contributed to the worst oil spill American history.

For obvious reasons, Udall’s bill is focused more on the disaster du jour in the Gulf of Mexico. But drilling issues in his landlocked home state would be more directly impacted by Shaheen’s companion Department of the Interior Research and Technologies for Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act dealing directly with onshore spill prevention and response.

The bill, which Udall co-sponsored, would create a new oil spill research and development program within the Interior Department, paid for by oil and gas royalties from leased federal lands (both onshore and offshore), that would focus on spill prevention and response technologies. The bill would set up an independent Science and Technology Advisory Board partnered with the National Academies of Science to back up the R&D program.

“The oil and gas industry has poured money into researching and developing technologies to find and produce oil and gas, but have spent little to nothing on responding to and cleaning up after an oil spill,” Shaheen said in a release. “We need to have updated, innovative, and effective technologies at the ready to clean up after any oil spill – large or small.”

Compared to the Gulf disaster, onshore spills, especially in Colorado, are relatively small. But conservationists and landowners around the United States are becoming increasingly alarmed by cumulative effects of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells, and Colorado regulators have vowed to make enforcement a top priority this summer.

Pennsylvania has seen a number of recent high-profile spills in rivers and streams, prompting drilling shutdowns in some areas, and New York lawmakers and regulators are moving cautiously ahead of the Marcellus Shale drilling boom in that state.

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