This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) that would have required all oil and gas companies that were issued leases for oil drilling to outline a “worst-case scenario” oil spill stemming from the proposed oil drilling operations. The applicant would also have been required to submit a plan to contain and clean up the damage stemming from this worst-case scenario. This amendment was offered to legislation requiring the Secretary of the Interior to auction leases for oil and gas drilling in the most oil-rich regions of the Outer Continental Shelf (specifically, those areas with more than 2.5 billion barrels of oil or 7.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas).
Following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the Obama administration imposed an offshore drilling moratorium. The administration lifted that moratorium, however, in May 2010. Despite lifting the moratorium, however, Republicans argued that the administration had been too slow in approving leases for drilling, and contributed to high gasoline prices. The Obama administration (and many congressional Democrats) countered that it was seeking to improve drilling safety in order to prevent another oil spill disaster.
Tsongas urged support for her amendment: “ Last summer, we all saw the painfully disorganized and ineffective response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The frustration was palpable across our country. During that tragedy, it was clear that BP and the federal government had no plan to contain the oil spill and that BP lacked the capacity to respond to a spill of that magnitude. The amendment that I am offering today is very straightforward and simple, one that seeks to implement the lessons learned from the events of last summer. My amendment would require that all applicants for a drilling permit under a lease sold under H.R. 1231 [the underlying bill] submit a plan for containment and cleanup of a worst-case scenario oil or gas spill. This amendment does not limit drilling. It says simply and sensibly that when we drill, we should have a plan in place before an accident occurs.”
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) opposed the amendment: “The Department of the Interior already requires that applicants must calculate worst case discharge before approving a permit. On June 18, 2010, the Department of the Interior issued a notice to lessees outlining the information requirements and standards to be met before a permit would be approved. In the notice it is required that a lessee `describe the assumptions and calculations that you used to determine the volume of your worst case scenario.'…The [Democratic] minority continues to try to divert attention away from the real issue of increasing energy production, creating jobs, lowering energy costs, and improving national security by lessening our dependence on foreign oil….Republicans want to make U.S. offshore drilling the safest in the world, and it is the safest in the world, so we can produce more American energy, create American jobs and strengthen our national security.”
Tsongas responded that the Interior Department’s June 18 notice was insufficient, and that the requirement that companies plan for a worst case scenario should be codified in legislation: “The June 18 notice to lessees is a great first step toward having worst case scenario containment and cleanup plans. But a notice to lessees is not the same as legislation. It is not intended to set policy, and it is not intended to have the force of law, which is why I am offering this amendment today.”
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 195-223. Voting “yea” were 180 Democrats and 15 Republicans. 215 Republicans and 8 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have required all oil and gas companies that were issued leases for oil drilling to outline a “worst-case scenario” oil spill stemming from the proposed oil drilling operations—and submit a plan to contain and clean up the damage stemming from this worst-case scenario.