Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, has introduced the Oil Spill Research and Technology Act of 2012, to create grants to support research and development of technologies to better contain and clean up all types of oil spills.
The bill also requires the US Coast Guard to establish a program to evaluate and implement “best available technology” to effectively respond to and clean up oil spills, Cantwell said.
Senate Bill 3298, would reorganize and streamline the Federal Oil Spill Research Committee, whose members include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, and Interior Department, as recommended last year by the Government Accountability Office.
The committee would spearhead a comprehensive oil spill research and development program and distribute competitive grants to universities and other institutions to research new methods and technologies to clean up oil spills. Notably, the bill would require research into methods to clean up oil spills in icy conditions and into the unique properties of tar sands oil.
Cantwell said according to some reports Canadian companies are poised to increase by 300 percent traffic of supertankers carrying tar sands oil through the waters around the San Juan Islands and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Oil from tar sands is uniquely difficult to remove after a spill, because it’s more corrosive than other types of oil and contains heavy metals. Tar sands oil also sinks, which renders ineffective conventional techniques to contain and remove oil from the water’s surface.
Cantwell’s bill would authorize the Coast Guard to thoroughly review and evaluate new oil spill response technology, and review regional oil spill response plans every five years to ensure the best available technology is in place.
The senator said the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 demonstrated the chronic underinvestment in oil spill research and development. The industry currently lacks incentives and requirements to research, develop and adopt new cleanup technologies, even those that are proven effective, she said. Among the new oil spill response technologies are oil solidifiers, blowout preventers, new techniques to break down spilled oil, fiber membranes to strain oil from water and software to ensure equipment works properly during clean up.