Special Reports

Rep. Buchanan touts drilling legislation

LIDO BEACH — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan on Monday announced plans to introduce legislation designed to hold oil companies accountable for spills and to reform the federal government’s oversight of offshore drilling.

The Sarasota Republican said his bill would rescind liability protection for oil companies, and require that regular safety inspections occur on schedule.

“BP cut a lot of corners,” said Buchanan, whose press conference took place at postcard-perfect Lido Beach, which so far remains untouched by oil leaking from British Petroleum’s runaway Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Noting that somewhere between 92 million and 150 million gallons of oil have gushed from the damaged well, Buchanan said the federal agency overseeing offshore drilling sided with Big Oil and BP at the expense of the public.

Buchanan said he would file the “Oil Spill Prevention Act” in the U.S. House today in an effort to prevent such a disaster from recurring.

Attending the press conference were Sarasota County Commissioners Jon Thaxton, Nora Patterson, and Joe Barbetta; Mote Marine Laboratory senior scientist Barbara Kirkpatrick; Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane, and Sarasota tourism chief Virginia Haley.

“Thank you for what you’re doing to protect the community and to protect, really, the country, from such a disaster happening again,” said Patterson.

“We certainly support and hope that things can be done in the future to keep our ecosystem healthy, help our ecosystem recover from this disaster,” said Kirkpatrick.

Under the current structure of the federal Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore oil and gas drilling, there is an inherent conflict of interest, according to a fact sheet issued by Buchanan’s office.

The bill would separate the agency’s leasing, inspection and revenue offices to reduce the possibility of such conflicts.

“It makes me sick to think the way they operated the MMS,” Buchanan said Monday. “And in my mind, they’ve been incapable because they’ve sold us down the river; basically, they’ve sided with big oil, BP and others at the expense of our communities.”

“And so, this needs to be clearly broken out and separated. That’s one of the biggest parts of my bill,” he said.

The bill also calls for:

n Removal of the current liability cap in order to hold oil companies responsible for catastrophic oil spills.

n Prohibition of “categorical exemptions” of environmental evaluations for deepwater oil drilling rigs.

n Mandatory rescheduling of missed monthly safety inspections for wells like Deepwater Horizon.

n Drug testing of agency employees and a two-year waiting period for agency inspectors leaving their jobs who want to work for an oil company.

“We can’t be aggressive enough to protect our shores, and that’s what this bill does,” Buchanan said. “And I think we’ll get bipartisan support as it relates to that.”