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Sen. Landrieu's Senate speech defending oil drilling

For Immediate Release April 29, 2010Contact: In Senate Floor Speech, Landrieu Discusses Gulf Rig Explosion, Oil Spill in Speech

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., today gave a speech on the Senate floor to discuss last week’s tragic oil rig accident and the ensuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sen. Landrieu addressed the current situation on the ground; what is being done to address the problems caused by the spill; and the importance of moving forward with plans to make the U.S. more energy independent.

Sen. Landrieu’s remarks, as delivered, are below:

“I rise today to speak on a serious subject -- a tragedy and a disaster that is occurring right now off the coast of my home state in Louisiana. On Tuesday, April 20, as we all now know, at approximately 10:00 p.m., a tremendous and terrible explosion occurred aboard a state-of-the-art drill ship, the Deepwater Horizon.

“There were 126 men and women on board that rig. It was drilling in almost 6,000 feet of water, a real technological feat some 50 miles off Louisiana's coast. The explosion, unfortunately and sadly, killed 11 men. Seventeen others were injured, three of them critically, and today one remains in the hospital.

“We don't know what precisely caused this accident, but at present it appears that the blowout preventer failed. We do not know why. The blowout preventer is a very large piece of equipment. It is a standard piece of equipment on all wells, and it is a huge piece of equipment on a well like this. It would weigh up to 500 tons, and it is about 18 feet in length. At some point, this piece of equipment, which is standard, this piece of equipment, which is tested every 14 days, as required by law, failed. This actual piece of equipment -- this blowout preventer on this rig was actually tested 10 days before this tragic incident, and it passed the inspection.

“So the investigation that is fully under way now and will continue for weeks and months will tell us more, but what we know today is that the blowout preventer failed. The explosion that occurred ignited the oil and gas that flowed from a riser pipe that was connected to the well at the seabed. This riser pipe is a very thick and strong pipe. Right now, today as we speak, it’s curled on the bottom of the ocean floor, much like a garden hose would be, twisted in many places. But the well is not closed, and so today there are anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 barrels of oil leaking from this well.

“Despite heroic efforts that have been under way now for days, this has not been closed, and this will continue to leach and leak until it is. The rig burned as did the oil and gas that issued forth for some 36 hours, and then the rig began to take on water and ultimately sank to the sea floor. As I said, we know what the leak rate is, and it is headed to shore.

“These are the facts. Everyone agrees this accident was and is an unmitigated disaster. I know the hearts and prayers of everyone in the United States are with the families that lost their lives, those that are injured, and we continue to pray for them as they recover.

“But the issue for us is to acknowledge this, to understand it, and to make decisions about how to move forward. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard reports are that a rainbow sheen can be seen in the water -- about 33 miles by 42 miles in length.

“What's important about this sheen is that 97 percent of it is a rainbow sheen. Only 3 percent contains emulsified crude. Emulsified crude is a thicker oil clotted in water, but even in the area where the crude has beaded or gathered on the water's surface, it is a very thin layer. In fact, as I was told in a briefing with the Coast Guard yesterday, the oil slick in its thickest point is about a millimeter or two in thickness – approximately the thickness of a couple of strands of hair. So it is important to understand that, while this is an unprecedented disaster – the oil slick is wide and covers a large section our ocean – 97 percent of it is an extremely thin sheen of relatively light oil on the surface.

“I do not say that to diminish the tragedy, but to accurately convey to the American people what we're dealing with. This is not the heavy, thick oil that stained Santa Barbara's coast, nor does it look like the Prudhoe crude from a tanker in 1989. But what is of immediate concern to the people of my state is that the oil sheen is approaching our shores. The edge of the sheen is approximately 123 miles off the coast of Plaquemines Parish. This could change in a few days. We don't know. But it looks as though the spill will move to the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Bayou La Loutre Pass.

“In the mean time, I do know that there are 56,000 feet of flexible barrier that has been deployed to contain the spill. That's about 15 miles of barrier. An additional 31 miles are available to be deployed, and 72 miles of barrier and buffer have been ordered. I also know that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people working. I've been on the phone with the Commandant of the Coast Guard. I’ve been on the phone with the Admiral of the Coast Guard in Louisiana, Mary Landry. I have spoken to the Department of the Interior. I kept in touch with local and parish officials. I do know there are hundreds and thousands of people at work in Houma, Louisiana, outside of Hammond, Louisiana, and hundreds along the coast doing everything they can to minimize the potential damage to the shore.

“We're investigating every hour what more can be done. There are 70 response vessels in place. They're being used as skimmers, tugs, barges and recovery vessels. A thousand government and industry response personnel are on the site responding to the incident. Sixty-five thousand gallons of dispersant has been deployed and an additional 110,000 gallons are available. And today, a controlled burn began.

“There are different views about how this oil can be eliminated. Some of it is disbursed naturally. Some of it can be burned. It has to be corralled and burned, and, of course, controlled. This has not happened in this depth of water, so the industry and our government officials are using everything known at our disposal now to take care of it. Some of it will be trial and error.

“I want to spend a minute talking about what our options should be. We have seen disasters like this before. We've seen them in the oil industry when tankers explode or hit ground. We've seen them in shipping when ships, for no apparent reason, sink in the middle of an ocean. We've seen them in the nuclear power industry and, in fact, we've seen them in our space program.

“We must react to this disaster in a measured, but right way. We must apply the lessons of past tragedies to this one, so we can make the best and wisest decisions that will instruct us about how to move forward. I don't believe we can react in fear. I don't believe that we should retreat.

“One option would be the way we dealt with -- and I think it was a poor choice – the aftermath of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant disaster. There were no deaths or injuries, but the disaster was so frightening to people, there was so much concern, that basically we brought all new nuclear power plant applications to a screeching halt.

“In hindsight, that was not the right decision. Today, we are 30 years behind the French in nuclear technology. France gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. We get less than 20 percent. France is the largest net exporter of electric power. It's exporting its 18 percent of its total production to Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, and Germany. And its electricity cost is the lowest in Europe. Today Areva, a French company, is the world's leading nuclear company. That could have been a U.S. company, but it's not because we ran. We retreated out of fear. We did not, in my view, respond the way we should have.

“For those of us who are interested in reducing carbon emissions, and I'm one of them, consider that France’s carbon emission per kilowatt hour is less than one-tenth than Germany’s and one-thirteenth of Denmark’s. France’s emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide have been reduced by 70 percent over 20 years, even though their total output of power has tripled. This is because they moved forward with nuclear power – found a way and fine tuned their technology. But because of our poor, and really inappropriate and wrong reaction, the United States has largely sat out of the nuclear renaissance at great expense to our country. We've allowed foreign companies to step in as global leaders, and 30 years later, we're trying to make up that ground. So retreat is not an option.

“By contrast, we can look at how we, the United States, responded to the 1986 disaster of the Space Shuttle Challenger. I can remember exactly where I was, as many Americans can remember, when that incident happened. And we all remember the joy of the takeoff and of the launch and then the unbelievable visual of that space shuttle exploding into a billion pieces in space. Losing all seven lives and, remember, there was a teacher on board -- Christa McAuliffe. The horror of that disaster shocked us all and it haunts us to this day.

“However, what we did not do was end the space program. We didn't stop launching. We didn't stop exploring. And as we go through with this disaster and we handle it, whether it takes us a week, or several weeks, or a month or several months, we have to find a way to make sure it never happens again, strengthen our resolve, strengthen our technology and continue to be the world leader in clean technologies.

“We did not declare the risks were too great and the benefits of the program were too few. We moved forward. As a result, the United States remains a global leader in the space race, and we must continue to remain a leader in energy production even as we transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar and other offshore opportunities.

“No one has ever claimed, including myself, who's an unabashed proponent of the industry that drilling is risk free. The people of my home state of Louisiana know these risks better than anyone, both to the safety of the rig workers and to the environment itself. But we also know that America needs 20 million barrels of oil a day to keep this economy moving. Twenty million barrels of oil a day are necessary for this economy. This well is leaching right now 5,000. That is less than one-fourth of 1 percent of the oil that is necessary. So we must continue to drill.

“For advocates that say we can't afford to drill off of our coast, then what coast should we drill off of? Should we have all of our oil coming 100 percent from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela or Honduras or West Africa? We have to take responsibility to drill where we can safely, out away from our shores, and be as safe as we can be. We obviously have to improve our technology, and that we will. Retreat, we won't. Let me give just a few more facts, and then I'll wrap-up my comments. It is more risky to import our oil in tankers than it is to drill for it offshore, even considering this disaster that we're dealing with today. According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, spills from tankers bringing oil in from overseas accounts for four times as much oil spilled as does offshore drilling.

“Compared to how much oil we use in this country, the industry spill rate is quite low. Minerals Management Service reports offshore operators have a spill rate of only .001 percent since 1980. That means 99.99 percent of all oil is produced, transported and consumed safely. Again, I'm not saying that to minimize this disaster. We know the blowout preventer failed. There may be other safeguards that need to be put in place- the investigation will show that. There may be those who will need to be held accountable. The investigation will show that as well. But the fact of the matter is: natural seeps introduce as much as 150 times more oil into our oceans than does offshore drilling.

“I agree that we don’t want to drill everywhere. I don’t think we should drill in Yosemite National Park. I agree that there are places like the Great Lakes and other places, potentially off the Atlantic Coast, that we shouldn’t drill. But using the right amount of buffer zone -- whether it’s 50 miles or 35 miles or 100 miles -- using up-to-date technologies, backup blowout preventers, something that I'm learning about that actually goes on in Norway and other countries, might also reduce these risks even further.

“But let me say one more word before I close, a word about revenue sharing. I’ve been probably the most outspoken advocate in this Senate, and will continue to be. I am proud of my advocacy on part of coastal states, particularly the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, who have been hosts to this industry for the better part of 75 years. We've lived through its ups and downs. We've lived through disasters like this and periods of relative calm. We've benefited from the millions of dollars that have come to our state and the jobs that have been created here.

“But, with all that we've done -- generating almost $5 billion in taxes off of the Gulf Coast, $5 billion a year come to the Federal Treasury – the fishermen in Plaquemines Parish, the fishermen in St. Bernard, the school children in Orleans Parish and in Jefferson Parish have not received one penny, even though many people along the coast are standing watch to keep this oil spill from our shores. We have come here time and time again and said, ‘we are proud to be partners in this industry even today, in the midst of this disaster, we still are.’ But you must understand the risk. We do and we'd like to have a portion of that funding to help us either have the kind of technology in place to invest in our wetlands, to fill up some of these canals that have been left, even as we make the industry reach to higher and better standards. I hope that as people watch this disaster unfold they will hear again the call of the Gulf Coast Senators and House Members to allow us to share these revenues in a fair way, so we can all benefit from the upside, and most certainly share the down side, as we will do in the next weeks and months ahead.

“So we're going to continue to monitor, to react, to do everything we can to save the environment, to investigate the accident, to continue to nurture and care for those that are still injured. We will comfort those who have lost members of their family, like a young mother I spoke to who’s lost her 21-year-old husband and will be raising a 3-month-old and 3-year-old by herself, at least for the foreseeable future. And there are many stories like that.

“But we are proud to be part of producing the resources that this country needs as we work on technologies to prevent these kinds of disasters in the future. And we don't believe that moving this production completely off of our shore is the answer. We don't believe in burying our head in the sand and pretending that the country does not need 20 million barrels of oil a day, or pretending that we can get this energy tomorrow from somewhere else. We may get it somewhere else in 20 or 30 years, but not next week, and not the month after, and not the year after.

“So let's be careful in the way we move forward. Let's be measured. Let's be open to hear the facts. Let's hold people accountable for what happened, understand what happened and prevent it from happening again. And in the mean time, I know the Coast Guard, the military, Louisiana's agencies and our local officials are going to do everything we can to protect our people and our environment.”