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Experts will ask Congress for more offshore oil oversight

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Almost two weeks after a pipeline ruptured and leaked up to 131,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, environmental policy experts will testify before Congress on Thursday, urging lawmakers to demand more federal oversight of the old and abandoned rigs and marine pipelines.

The recent spill off the coast of Orange County has put the nation’s oil and gas infrastructure under new scrutiny. Some California legislators and environmental advocates have called for a ban on all offshore drilling in the future, while others want to extend the ban to companies already operating in state and federal waters.

Experts who will testify before the House subcommittee on energy and mineral resources are expected to ask Congress to create a financial incentive for energy companies to plug their old wells and dismantle existing platforms and pipelines so that taxpayers do not. keep the bill.

Of the 23 rigs that were installed between the late 1960s and early 1990s in federal waters off Southern California, the Department of the Interior has scheduled the decommissioning of eight in the coming years. But there are no plans to tackle the rest, including Elly, the decades-old rig linked to the recent spill and operated by Long Beach-based Beta Operating Co..

Advocates and lawmakers fear that if this fossil fuel infrastructure is left for years, the larger oil companies will sell their old assets to smaller ones that don’t have the money or inclination to invest in upgrades or pay for rig removal. and pipelines. Some companies have already declared bankruptcy. The owner of the broken pipeline, Memorial Production Partners, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early 2017. It emerged several months later as Amplify Energy.

“Leaving oil and gas infrastructure in place can be a ticking time bomb, with the potential for storm damage, accidents and corrosion leading to more costly decommissioning efforts,” wrote Rob Schuwerk, CEO of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, in a prepared testimony. . The nonprofit think tank studies clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuel industry.

The declining trend in oil production and aging or abandoned infrastructure is also a major problem in the Gulf of Mexico, where government estimates suggest that known oil reserves are likely to be depleted by the middle of this century. According to a 2018 study by researchers at Louisiana State University, nearly 1,000 platforms and other existing structures may need to be removed from the Gulf by 2027.

Federal regulations require companies to remove pipes that are no longer used from the seabed. However, for reasons that are not clear, the Interior Office of Safety and Environmental Compliance 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 idle pipelines in the Gulf. The federal government does not know where everyone is or which companies are responsible for them.

Donald Boesch, president emeritus of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and commissioner of the presidential panel created to study the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, is also expected to testify at Thursday’s hearing. In his prepared comments, he wrote that this month’s pipeline leak in California raised questions about the office’s policy of relying on monthly surface observations and pressure sensors to detect leaks. It took about 15 hours after the sensors detected a pressure drop before the spill was reported.

“The nation urgently needs a smart strategy for this end game, one that limits climate change and minimizes the harmful impacts and risks of residual infrastructure,” Boesch wrote.

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