Chair Grijalva and Reps. Lowenthal, Porter, and Levin Call on Interior to Implement Offshore Drilling Reforms in Wake of Southern California Oil Spill

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.); Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources; Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; and Mike Levin (D-Calif.) sent a letter today to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland calling on the Department of the Interior (DOI) to strengthen offshore oil and gas regulations to protect coastal communities and taxpayers and reduce the likelihood of future pipeline disasters.

The letter, available at https://bit.ly/3EIEjwj, calls on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)—the two agencies responsible for managing federal offshore oil and gas resources—to finalize new offshore pipeline regulations, strengthen financial assurance requirements, and curtail its use of “royalty relief.”

Each of these issues has been a blind spot for DOI that past administrations have failed to address adequately. The recent 25,000-gallon leak of crude oil from a ruptured pipeline off the coast of Southern California underscores the dangers of aging infrastructure and the need to ensure that companies operating on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are financially secure enough to cover decommissioning costs.

The Committee has focused closely in recent months on the environmental and economic hazards of continued fossil fuel reliance. Rep. Lowenthal led an Oct. 14 subcommittee hearing on the risks posed by abandoned offshore oil and gas infrastructure. He and Rep. Porter led a joint Oct. 18 hearing in Irvine, Calif., where they and other lawmakers heard firsthand from business owners and experts about the leak’s impacts on local communities and the environment.

The authors of today’s letter stress that taxpayers could be exposed to paying for the cleanup of fossil fuel infrastructure as more companies take advantage of the bankruptcy process:

“Fieldwood [Energy] is one of more than 260 oil and gas companies that has filed for bankruptcy in the past six years (including 27 operating on the OCS), and its latest restructuring is a clear sign that companies will use all available legal tactics to skirt decommissioning responsibilities and offload their liabilities onto other parties – including American taxpayers…according to [congressional testimony] BSEE holds financial assurances worth less than 10 percent of estimated clean-up costs. Yet, even this may still be a significant overestimation, since DOI’s decommissioning cost estimates are likely low, and total well-plugging and platform removal costs on the OCS could be as high as $50 billion.” 

The California oil spill highlights how weak BSEE pipeline regulations are and underscores the risk that companies like Fieldwood and Amplify Energy—which receive taxpayer handouts via royalty cuts—escape financial responsibility for their foreseeable cleanup costs. With BOEM planning to offer millions of acres of the Gulf of Mexico for lease in the coming weeks, DOI must take action to strengthen regulation of offshore oil and gas operations and hold the fossil fuel industry accountable at every turn.

Press Contact

Media Contact: David Shen

(202) 225-6065 or (202) 860-6494 mobile