On July 21st, the House passed two key R&D bills that have been written in response to what we have learned from the BP oil spill - the Oil Pollution Research and Development Program Reauthorization (H.R. 2693) and the Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development (H.R. 5716).
The Oil Pollution R&D Program Reauthorization is designed to develop new technologies to clean up oil spills. We have been slow to develop new methods and technologies to clean up oil spills. The fact that we are responding to the BP oil spill with basically the same technology that we used with the Exxon Valdez spill 20 years ago pretty much says it all. This bill will better prepare the U.S. for future responses to oil spills, no matter the size, through the strengthening of research, development, and demonstration of innovative tools, methods, and technologies for oil spill cleanup.
The Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology R&D Program is designed to shift much of the focus of a deepwater drilling R&D program from technologies to increase production to technologies for accident prevention, worker safety, and environmental impact mitigation. The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster has highlighted that, over the last couple of decades, there has been inadequate attention to research into blowout preventers and a range of other accident prevention technologies and practices, as well as worker safety. This bill is designed to develop an aggressive R&D program to develop safer drilling technologies and practices in order to prevent an accident like the BP disaster from ever happening again. Some of the areas that will be researched include enhanced well control and integrity, blowout prevention devices, secondary control systems for well shut-off, technologies for accident mitigation, and equipment testing for extreme conditions.
Summary of key provisions:
H.R. 2693, Oil Pollution Research and Development Program Reauthorization
- Builds upon Title VII of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 in order to strengthen federally-funded research, development, and demonstration of new methods and technologies for oil spill cleanup.
- Reconfigures the membership structure of the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research (ICC) - which is responsible for this federally-funded R&D - in order to strengthen the program. Specifically, it is designed to make the ICC more effective by designating four key agencies (U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, Department of Interior, and EPA) as the committee - rather than the current 14 members. (The remaining agencies are designated as collaborating agencies.) The bill also makes a number of changes to strengthen the research role of NOAA.
- In order to beef up this R&D program, requires the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research (ICC) to develop a research and implementation plan to be submitted to Congress and updated periodically.
- Also requires the ICC to solicit advice and guidance on the new research plan from the Oil Pollution Research Advisory Committee, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the public.
- Instructs ICC to coordinate and cooperate with other nations and foreign research entities in conducting research activities, including controlled field tests of oil discharges and activities to improve oil recovery and cleanup.
- Increases the authorization for the R&D program for oil spill cleanup from $22 million to $30 million, with an additional $16 million designated for NOAA and $2 million designated for demonstration projects - for a total authorization of $48 million.
H.R. 5716, Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development Program
- Renames the 999 program the “Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development Program.” The program will continue to be run by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) and the Department of Energy.
- Shifts much of the focus of Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) activities from R&D on technologies to increase production to R&D on a range of technologies and practices for accident prevention, worker safety, energy and waste reduction, and overall environmental impact mitigation - with regard to deepwater and onshore drilling activities.
- Adds a new “Safety and Accident Prevention and Mitigation, Technology Research and Development Program,” to be conducted by the Department of Energy, which will focus research on areas such as:
- Enhanced well control and integrity.
- Blowout prevention devices;
- Secondary control systems for well shut-off;
- Technologies for accident mitigation;
- Risk assessment methodologies;
- Equipment testing for extreme conditions;
- Human factors research for developing safety best practices;
- Well diagnostics; and
- Flow rate determinations.
- In addition to changing the focus areas of the program, also changes the allocation of the program's $50 million annual funding by increasing the Department of Energy's share from 25 percent to 35 percent, and decreasing the allocation for the RPSEA consortium's share from 75 percent to 65 percent.