Nearly two weeks after a pipeline ruptured and 131,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean, environmental policy experts will testify before Congress on Thursday calling for more federal monitoring of aging and abandoned offshore oil platforms and pipelines from lawmakers .
The recent spill off the Orange County coast has brought the nation’s oil and gas infrastructure under new scrutiny. Some California lawmakers and environmental advocates have called for a ban on all future offshore drilling, while others want to ban companies already operating in state and federal waters.
Experts testifying before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources are expected to ask Congress to create financial incentives for energy companies to plug their old wells and dismantle existing platforms and pipelines so that Don’t get stuck with the taxpayer bill.
Of the 23 platforms installed in the federal waters of Southern California in the late 1960s and early 1990s, the Interior Department has scheduled eight to be decommissioned in the coming years. But there are no plans to address the rest, including Ally, a decades-old platform recently linked to the spill and operated by the Long Beach-based beta operating company.
Advocates and lawmakers fear that if this fossil fuel infrastructure is left unattended for years, the big oil companies will sell their old assets to smaller companies that have little choice but to invest in upgrades or remove platforms and pipelines. There is no money or inclination to pay for it. Some companies have already filed for bankruptcy. The owner of the broken pipeline, Memorial Production Partners, filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 in early 2017. It emerged several months later as Amplify Energy.
“Abandoning oil and gas infrastructure could be a ticking time bomb, with the potential for damage from hurricanes, accidents, and corrosion high,” Rob Schwerk, executive director of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, wrote in prepared testimony. . The non-profit think tank studies clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuel industry.
Declining oil production and the tendency of aging or abandoned infrastructure are also a major problem in the Gulf of Mexico, where the government estimates that known oil reserves are likely to be exhausted by the middle of this century. According to a 2018 study by researchers at Louisiana State University, about 1,000 existing platforms and other structures may need to be removed from the bay by 2027.
Federal regulations require companies to remove pipelines that are no longer in use from sea level. Nevertheless, for unclear reasons, the Bureau of Internal Security and Environmental Enforcement has allowed the industry to leave the vast majority in place. In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office estimated that there are 18,000 miles of inactive pipelines in the Gulf. The federal government doesn’t know where all of them are or which companies are responsible for them.
Donald Bosch, president emeritus of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, and a commissioner on the presidential panel set up to study the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill are also expected to testify at Thursday’s hearing. In his prepared remarks, he wrote that this month’s pipeline leak in California raised questions about the bureau’s policy to rely on monthly surface observations and pressure sensors to detect leaks. About 15 hours passed when the sensor detected a drop in pressure before the spill was reported.
“The nation needs a smart strategy for this final game, one that limits climate change and minimizes the harmful effects and risks of residual infrastructure,” Bosch wrote.