U.S. House of Representatives passes LWCF stateside funding

August 3, 2010

arrow On July 30, 2010 full and dedicated funding at $900 million for the Land & Water Conservation Fund passed in the US House of Representatives. The House voted 209-193 to pass the CLEAR Act, H.R. 3534, an oil spill response bill, of which LWCF funding was a significant component.


H.R. 3534, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act

On July 30, 2010, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3534, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act by a vote of 209 to 193.

The Committee on Energy and Commerce has held nine hearings into the chain of events that caused the blowout of BP’s Macondo well and its impacts on the Gulf Coast.  The hearings revealed that BP and its partners made a series of risky decisions that undermined well safety and led to the catastrophic loss of well control.  As a legislative response to the disclosures, the Committee crafted the Blowout Prevention Act of 2010 (H.R. 5626) to establish new federal regulatory requirements to prevent future spills from oil and gas wells.  This bill was reported by the Committee on Energy and Commerce by a bipartisan vote of 48 to 0, with one abstention, on July 15, 2010.

Subtitle A—Land and Water Conservation Fund
Sec. 401. Amendments to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965.
Sec. 402. Extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Sec. 403. Permanent funding.

‘‘(b) LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION FUND.— Effective for fiscal year 2011 and each fiscal year thereafter, $900,000,000 of the amounts referred to in subsection (a) shall be deposited in the Treasury of the United States and credited to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. These sums shall be available to the Secretary, without further appropriation or fiscal year limitation, for carrying out the purposes of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (16 U.S.C. 460l–4 et seq.).

Other key elements of H.R. 5626 have now been incorporated into the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act (H.R. 3534).

Increased CEO Accountability. The Committee’s investigation into the Gulf oil spill showed that BP CEO Tony Hayward and other top BP officials paid virtually no attention to the risks the company was taking.  To ensure greater accountability, section 212 of H.R. 3534 requires oil company CEOs to certify that their well designs are safe, that their blowout preventers have redundant systems for all foreseeable blowout scenarios and failure modes, and that the company can promptly control and stop a blowout if the blowout preventer and other well control measures fail.

Blowout Preventer Requirements. The Committee’s investigation revealed multiple flaws in the blowout preventer, including emergency controls that did not activate, dead batteries, leaking hydraulic systems, and disconnected rams.  To increase the reliability of this essential safety device, section 205 of H.R. 3534 sets minimum standards for blowout preventers, including the requirement that blowout preventers have two sets of blind shear rams and redundant emergency backup control systems that can activate when communications from the rig are severed.

Well Design and Cementing Requirements.  The Committee’s investigation disclosed that BP made a series of risky well design and cementing decisions.  To ensure that future wells are drilled with the highest possible safety standards, section 205 of H.R. 3534 requires the installation of at least three barriers across each hydrocarbon flow path, the installation and pressure testing of lockdown devices, adequate centralization of casing, the circulation of drilling fluids prior to cementing, and cement bond logs for all cementing programs intended to provide a barrier to hydrocarbon flow.  New standards will also require steps to minimize the risk of ignition of hydrocarbons during a blowout or well control event.

Independent Third-Party Certification. To ensure compliance with these new requirements, section 205 of H.R. 3534 requires that blowout preventers, well designs, and cementing programs and procedures be certified as safe by independent, third-party inspectors selected by the federal regulator, not the oil company.  The costs of these independent certifications will be paid for by the oil companies.

Ensuring Safety in State Waters. Under section 205 of H.R. 3534, states have the responsibility to enforce the federal safety requirements or comparable state provisions for high-risk wells drilled in near- shore waters.  If the state lacks an adequate regulatory regime, the Department of the Interior can enforce the federal requirements.

Independent Technical Advice. Section 108 of H.R. 3534 establishes an independent advisory board to provide the Secretary of the Interior with independent scientific and technical advice.  Subsection (e) specifies the advisory board’s ongoing role in periodically assessing well control technologies and practices, evaluating the Department of the Interior’s regulations, and recommending modifications to those regulations.

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