Improve federal oil spill research coordination, GAO urges

By nicksinwashdc
The federal Inter-Agency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research should establish a more systematic process to identify and consult with key non-federal stakeholders about oil pollution risks and research needs on an ongoing basis, the Government Accountability Office recommended.

The committee, which the 1990 Oil Pollution Act established, should also evaluate contributions from its completed research and provide an update of efforts to revise its plans in its 2012 biennial report to Congress, GAO said in a report it publicly released on Apr. 25.

It said that the committee’s member agencies, which include the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement; the US Coast Guard; the US Environmental Protection Agency; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the US Navy; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, have spent $163 million on oil pollution research.

About $145 million of this amount came from the Oil Spill Liability Trust fund which OPA established and which was funded primarily from a tax collected on domestically produced and imported crude oil, the report said. The tax was 5¢/bbl when OPA became law, but expired in 1994. It was reinstated in 2005 and increased to 8¢/bbl.

GAO said that federal agencies have conducted at least 144 research oil pollution prevention and research projects since 2003, “but the inter-agency committee had a limited role in facilitating the coordination of agency efforts.” It established a joint research plan in 1997 which identified oil pollution risks and research priorities, but has not updated it in light of oil production and transportation changes, the report added.

It said that the committee also submitted biennial reports to Congress but did not identify member agencies’ progress addressing gaps which the 1997 research plan identified. “Until recently, it also had not revisited the plan, as the National Research Council recommended,” GAO said. The committee’s efforts to foster communication and coordinate its members’ research, and to reach out to the oil and gas industry, states’ organizations, and other stakeholders, also was limited until recently, according to the report.

In a March 4 response to an early draft of the report, the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Coast Guard, said that it generally concurred with the recommendations and is addressing them. It noted that DHS’s fiscal 2012 budget request includes a full-time position as executive director of the inter-agency oil pollution research coordinating committee, and the position is a key step in the Coast Guard’s efforts to revitalize the program.
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