Joint Hearing of the EPW Committee and Subcommittee on Oversight
"Oversight Hearing on the Use of Oil Dispersants in
the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill"
August 4, 2010
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
This hearing is part of the Environment and Public Works Committee's oversight of the federal government response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Today we will be examining the issues surrounding the use of chemical dispersants in dealing with the Deepwater spill, which we now know is the largest of its kind in history, totaling an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil - more than 200 million gallons.
As of August 3, 2010, the Unified Command reports that BP has used an extraordinary quantity of dispersants in dealing with the Gulf spill -- 1.8 million gallons all together, including 1.1 million gallons applied on the surface and almost 780,000 gallons beneath the surface of the sea.
Dispersants work like detergents, breaking up oil into smaller droplets, which may end up suspended in the water column beneath the surface. While this massive application of dispersants was carried out in hopes of protecting the shoreline from oil slicks, it also raises serious questions about short and long term impacts on the environment, and about unintended consequences.
For example, while dispersants may have been applied in the hope of reducing the effects of heavy oil slicks on shorelines and wildlife, more needs to be done to fully understand the impact the dispersant and dispersed oil are having beneath the surface.
These decisions have very real consequences, not just for fish and wildlife that inhabit the gulf, but for the fishermen and oystermen and others whose livelihoods and families depend on the long-term health of the Gulf of Mexico.
Questions have also been raised about the process the incident command and federal agencies used for approving dispersant use.
Our witnesses today will address what we know about dispersants, and what we have learned over the past three months since the start of the disaster in the Gulf. Just as important, they will speak to what we do not yet know about dispersants and oil, and what we need to do to find the answers. This Committee has already approved important legislation, sponsored by Senator Shaheen, to support greater investments in research on oil spills and spill response, and more remains to be done.
Today's hearing is an important step in getting answers to the questions raised by this unprecedented disaster.