On Tuesday, the anniversary of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., introduced the Offshore Accountability Act of 2020. This bipartisan legislation would require operators of offshore drilling facilities to report failures of critical safety systems directly to the secretary of the Interior Department, who would then be required to publicly disclose these incident reports.
Currently, legally required reporting of critical offshore drilling safety equipment failure is sent anonymously to the Department of Transportation's SafeOCS, a third-party confidential reporting system, rather than directly to the secretary of the Interior. As a result, this information is not accessible to the public or members of Congress.
“The lack of transparency in the confidential reporting system used today fosters a deeply concerning culture of secrecy around the offshore oil and gas industry,” said Rep. McEachin. “I introduced this legislation because I believe all Americans, especially those in coastal communities dependent on critical ecosystems, deserve transparency from the industries currently operating in our oceans, particularly when equipment failures can result in significant devastation for coastal economies, wildlife and the environment.
The Offshore Accountability Act of 2020 is co-sponsored by Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.; Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.; Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif.; and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla.
The bill is endorsed by a number of environmental groups including Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Wilderness Society, Earthworks, Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Healthy Gulf, and Hands Across the Sand.
“The public deserves to know what is happening on public lands and waters, especially when it involves failures of equipment that prevent blowouts and other offshore tragedies,” said Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer and Arctic Program Director for The Wilderness Society. “Passage of this bill will improve offshore safety and environmental protection, and we applaud Congressman McEachin for leading the charge.”
“Congressman McEachin’s Offshore Accountability Act marks a positive step toward greater transparency and holding the offshore oil industry responsible for safety failures,” said Diane Hoskins, offshore drilling campaign director at OCEANA. “Too many oil spills continue to pollute our waters and too many workers are dying or getting injured on the job because of systemic safety problems. This bill would pull back the curtain on equipment failures and make their details readily available to the public. Given the grossly inadequate nature of current offshore drilling safeguards, this is not an industry that should be allowed to wreak havoc on any new areas, [including] Virginia’s coastline.”
“This legislation recognizes that even as we transition to a clean energy future, we can’t avoid the risks of our dirty energy past,” said Marissa Knodel, legislative counsel for Earthjustice. “By identifying and confronting potential system failures at offshore drilling facilities before they become emergencies, we can save lives and prevent the wanton destruction of vital ocean ecosystems. Earthjustice is proud to endorse this bill and will work with our allies in Congress to secure its passage.”
“To ensure appropriate accountability and oversight of existing offshore drilling facilities, failures of essential safety equipment must be made public,” added McEachin. “We must do everything in our power to learn from the past and to prevent tragedies like the Santa Barbara oil spill from occurring again.”