The U.S. Coast Guard appreciates the opportunity to provide this “Statement for the Record” on the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon incident to provide detail on how the Coast Guard has implemented the lessons learned and the accomplishments that have strengthened the federal government’s ability to prevent, prepare for, and respond to oil spills across the nation. Organizationally, the Deepwater Horizon response was the most effective ever seen for a spill of its magnitude. Only a small percentage of the oil was recovered, however, which emphasizes the importance of prevention.
The Macondo well blowout and associated explosion of the Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010, resulted in human tragedy and an ensuing environmental disaster that gripped the nation. We must always pause to remember the 11 crewmembers onboard the drilling platform that lost their lives in the incident. The explosion and fire set off a chain of events that led to the sinking of the drilling unit and a catastrophic oil spill. The massive cleanup effort, that even today continues with a contingent of responders to address discrete residual oil issues that arise from the incident, has been financed in large part by British Petroleum (BP), a Responsible Party for the incident. The U.S. Coast Guard played a lead role in the federal government’s response to the disaster since the initial notification. From leading search and rescue efforts to launching a marine casualty investigation and initiating spill response actions as the Federal On Scene Coordinator (FOSC), the Coast Guard focused immediately on protecting life and preserving the environment and property from the impact of the accident. In accordance with the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP), the Coast Guard FOSC coordinated with state and local government officials as well as other federal agencies. The FOSC also established direct oversight of BP’s response actions and directed all aspects of the multi-faceted, public and private response operations.
Nine days after the incident, the Secretary of Homeland Security designated the event a Spill of National Significance (SONS), the first in U.S. history. A SONS is a spill that, due to its severity, size, location, actual or potential impact on the public health and welfare of the environment, or the response effort, is so complex that it requires extraordinary coordination of federal, state, local, tribal, and responsible party resources to contain and clean up the discharge. The Secretary also appointed a National Incident Commander (NIC) to enhance operational and executive coordination at the national level.
The response was extraordinarily complex due to the lack of human access to the Macondo wellhead, which was located 5,000 feet below the ocean surface and 45 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Response crews worked hard to attack the spill at the source through on-scene containment, on-water skimming, in situ burning, and dispersant use, techniques employed to minimize the environmental harm posed by the oil. Due to the unprecedented scope and scale of the discharge, certain novel applications of response techniques were employed, including subsea application of dispersants. The Coast Guard also directed the mobilization of response equipment both nationally and internationally, and initiated a ramp-up of production lines for additional equipment, most notably to meet the demand for containment boom. The coordinated response actions, both at sea and along the Gulf Coast, were critical in reducing the impact to the coastlines and natural resources of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
At the height of the response, the Coast Guard-led unified command organized and directed a fleet of over 6,000 vessels, including skimmers, vessels of opportunity, research vessels, Coast Guard cutters, and other specialized vessels. Additionally, the Unified Command established an Aviation Coordination Center that provided command and control for over 120 aircraft vital to real time verification and assessment of oil trajectory modeling, and effective allocation of resources. In an effort to ensure the flow of commerce in the impacted area, a Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit was established. The combined efforts involved approximately 48,000 personnel responding to the millions of barrels of oil discharged into the Gulf.1
1 For purposes of calculating the maximum civil penalty under the Clean Water Act, the district court determined that 3.19 million barrels of oil discharged into the Gulf. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Phase 2 Trial, In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, MDL No. 2179 (E.D. La. Jan. 15, 2015), ECF No. 14021.
The Spill Response Efforts Ongoing Today
From April 2010 through April 2014, the Coast Guard FOSC led a unified Gulf Coast Incident Management Team (GCIMT) to clean and evaluate shoreline segments across the Gulf of Mexico. In 2012, and again in 2013, the GCIMT collected between six and seven million pounds of oily material across the region. By the summer of 2013, removal actions were deemed complete throughout Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. In 2014, the GCIMT collected less than 32,000 pounds of oily material, approximately 1% of the previous year’s total. By 2014, the bulk of oily material discovered consisted mainly of small (pea-sized to half-dollar sized) tar balls, dispersed along shorelines, significantly weathered, and consisting mostly of sand and other non-hydrocarbon material. Additionally, distinguishing between the oil from the Deepwater Horizon incident and other oil found in the shoreline environment became increasingly difficult.
Over the past year, the Coast Guard’s response posture has continued to evolve to best accommodate changing oiling conditions and seasonal shifts. On February 28, 2015, operational oversight of the response shifted from the GCIMT to the local Coast Guard field commanders across the Gulf Coast. Now, these commanders respond to all subsequent reports of oil, related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or not, found in their respective areas of responsibility. Each response is conducted in coordination with the National Pollution Funds Center to ensure the Responsible Party is held accountable. The GCIMT still remains heavily involved in documentation of the response and cost recovery processes, including the final archiving of response data, finalization of documentation regarding historic properties, an assessment of impacts on endangered species, and a final Federal On Scene Coordinator (FOSC) report.
As the Coast Guard continues to address the impacts of residual oil from the Deepwater Horizon incident, other federal agencies, states and tribal government entities – collectively known as natural resource trustees - have initiated the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. Under the Oil Pollution Act, the NRDA Trustee Council, acting on behalf of the public and in consultation and coordination with scientists and other experts, evaluates the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to determine injuries to natural resources and lost human uses. The goal of the short-term and long-term recovery projects implemented by the trustees is to restore, replace, rehabilitate, or acquire the equivalent of the impacted resources.
In addition to the NRDA process, restoration efforts also include implementation of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act). This act supports Gulf Coast communities by directing the majority of civil penalties and/or settlements assessed against the Responsible Parties to restore and protect the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast region. The Coast Guard represents the Department of Homeland Security on the RESTORE Act Council, along with the governors of five impacted Gulf states and five other federal departments and agencies.
Implementation of Lessons Learned
The Coast Guard thoroughly documented all aspects of the initial and on-going response to the Deepwater Horizon incident. In addition, oil spill response and industry experts, and the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling published seven after-action reports pertaining to the incident. The reports contained a total of 549 recommendations covering topics ranging from facilitating communications among spill response stakeholders to establishing or improving prevention and response policies and procedures. The Coast Guard consolidated these recommendations into a list of 250 strategic lessons learned via a tiered analysis. The Coast Guard then chartered a senior-level workgroup to further prioritize the list of recommendations leading to the identification of the 50 most viable areas for targeted action.
The Coast Guard also identified strategic lessons learned to improve the Marine Environmental Response (MER) program performance and its leadership in the National Response System. These strategic lessons learned were categorized into three areas of emphasis: People, Policy, and Equipment and became the framework of the MER Mission Performance Plan Report provided to members of Congress on July 16, 2012. This intensive and comprehensive process significantly enhanced national marine environmental response preparedness and information management during complex interagency responses in the maritime domain.
Over the past five years, the Coast Guard has applied many vital lessons learned to strengthen our people, policy, and equipment in response to oil spills. Some examples of this include:
- Established a capstone professional specialty based on marine environmental response expertise – The Coast Guard created a Warrant Officer grade (Marine Safety Specialist Response) that provides a leadership and capstone position for high performing enlisted MER professionals in the Marine Science Technician rating. This specialty is an important step toward mitigating the past gaps observed in experience, technical knowledge, and proficiency in the MER field.
- Formed Permanent Regional Response Team Co-Chairs - The Coast Guard instituted permanent civilian Regional Response Team (RRT) Co-chairs through the creation of Incident Management Preparedness Advisors located in each Coast Guard District to advise the District Commander on spill response, and serve as the RRT co-chair alongside EPA. These advisors provide long-term expertise associated with the National Contingency Plan (NCP) and the National Response Framework (NRF).
- Created a deployable, national Incident Management Assistance Team – The national Incident Management Team, known as the IMAT, consists of a contingent of highly-specialized, deployable Coast Guard personnel who mobilize quickly to major incidents to provide Incident Command System (ICS) expertise in support of the FOSC. This team provides the Coast Guard a cadre of knowledgeable and experienced individuals in the use of ICS, the common incident management system adopted nationwide after the 9/11 attacks. In addition to employment in major incidents and planned events, the team provides essential ICS training and qualification to Coast Guard field personnel.
- Created a Director of Incident Management and Preparedness Policy (CG-5RI) - The Director of Incident Management and Preparedness Policy was created in 2013. This senior executive position ensures Coast Guard expertise and continuity to establish, develop, and implement all hazards incident management goals, strategies, policies, and doctrine in incident preparedness and response. The Director coordinates and implements incident management protocols and policy with other government agencies, industry, non-government organizations, and other associated entities.
- Instituted new training and career guidance for spill responder and incident management professionals – The Coast Guard instituted a Federal On Scene Coordinator Representative (FOSCR) Course and updated FOSCR performance qualifications standard to ensure field expertise for smaller spills, while enhancing the Coast Guard’s overall ability to respond to major all hazard emergency and disaster incidents. The Coast Guard further developed targeted career guidance to ensure job enhancement opportunities exist for marine environmental response and incident management personnel. This guidance added requirements for different tiers of experience and professional mastery, and ensured personnel systems for better tracking and assignment of requirements and to enable quick identification of qualified personnel to surge during a national crisis.
- Revised Spills of National Significance / National Incident Commander Policy - The Coast Guard revised its Spill of National Significance (SONS) / National Incident Commander policy to address lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon incident and strengthen its interagency partnerships and coordination. Specifically, the Coast Guard is conducting senior-level policy and strategic seminars and tabletop exercises to test and optimize coordination and communications, and strategic planning. We recently completed a 3-year series of SONS training events and executive seminars focused on the challenges associated with an offshore spill response in the Arctic. The Coast Guard gathered lessons learned from these events and established comprehensive guidance and policy for future spills of national significance. The SONS program continues to coordinate with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who is planning for a future inland event focused on emerging threats from the domestic energy renaissance and rail transportation challenges. Executives will engage in discussion on the challenges associated with a train derailment that results in a catastrophic spill of Bakken crude oil into sensitive environments.
- Updated National Incident Management System (NIMS) protocols - The Coast Guard updated National Incident Management System (NIMS) protocols and the Coast Guard Incident Management Handbook (IMH) to capture and institutionalize lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon. The IMH, which is a Coast Guard mandated policy document for Coast Guard incident management personnel, specifically includes updates to management procedures associated with source control type events that are directly related to lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon incident. In coordination with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the Coast Guard added several new positions like the Source Control Support Coordinator, Source Control Branch Director, and Subsea Dispersant Group Supervisor to address gaps identified during review of the response to the Deepwater Horizon incident.
- Strengthened Engagements with BSEE – The Coast Guard and BSEE have enhanced collaboration to improve governance of the offshore environment. Monthly engagements occur through response and prevention work groups, which coordinate to optimize policy, operations, and research endeavors. Furthermore, the Coast Guard and BSEE have adopted an overarching memorandum of understanding, supported by several memoranda of agreement, which range from Oil Spill Response Planning and Oil Spill Removal Organization oversight to Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit responsibilities and policy. The Coast Guard and BSEE continuously engage at the headquarters level as well as at the regional level and in the field. These engagements include joint training and exercises, and highly collaborative field operations to facilitate the concept of “One Rig/One Record” through sensible offshore inspection procedures and a more comprehensive and unified regulatory approach in the offshore environment.
- Improving the Offshore Culture of Safety – A primary area of prevention focus has been improving the offshore culture of safety, and particularly in bolstering company Safety Management Systems (SMS). The Coast Guard’s intent is to turn documents sitting on a shelf into a usable/understood SMS that the crew can adhere to and embrace and employ. When a viable SMS is imbued within the operating culture of a company, “red flags” indicating a problem are more likely to be identified and addressed before a crisis occurs. The Coast Guard and BSEE have worked closely to emphasize the importance of Safety Management and Safety and Environmental Management systems in offshore operations.
- Improving Coast Guard Standards and Personnel Technical Competencies – The Coast Guard has taken proactive steps to publish strong, sensible standards for offshore operations. The Coast Guard has reorganized our internal structure to facilitate one Officer in Charge Marine Inspection for the Gulf of Mexico, to ensure consistency and due diligence. The Coast Guard has also improved our marine safety technical competence in the field to better regulate the industry and partner with BSEE. Through the Coast Guard’s Outer Continental Shelf National Center for Expertise, we have reestablished and renewed offshore training in areas of Dynamic Positioning, Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODU), and completely overhauled the qualification requirements for MODU and Offshore Supply Vessel inspectors.
- Updated Regional & Area Contingency Plans - Coast Guard and BSEE jointly conducted a gap analysis of regional and area contingency plans regarding offshore oil spills from outer continental shelf facilities. Based on the analysis, the Coast Guard released contingency plan guidance and continues to work with the multi-agency, multi-level Regional Response Teams and Area Committees to update their respective plans to address worst case discharge scenarios.
- Facilitated Marine Environmental Research and Development - Since the Deepwater Horizon incident, the Coast Guard, as the Chair for the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research (ICCOPR), has employed a full time staff member to reinvigorate this critical interagency committee, and research and development efforts across the federal government. The research and development efforts include coordinating with a $500M, 30-year National Academy of Sciences program from a post-Deepwater Horizon settlement to encourage productive oil pollution research that addresses priority research needs in the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The Committee will soon publish its Research & Technology plan setting federal pollution research priorities for the next 6 years.
- Reinvigorated international agreements and joint pollution contingency plans - The Coast Guard renewed joint maritime pollution contingency plans with Canada and the Russian Federation in 2013, and is in the final steps of a renewed agreement with Mexico. These joint plans provide for a coordinated response to a spill from any source which threatens a transboundary area. Other transboundary efforts include multilateral procedures along the northern Caribbean as a result of potential offshore drilling in Cuban waters. Finally, through the the Emergency Prevention Preparedness and Response Working Group, eight Arctic Nations established the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. The Coast Guard actively worked with other Arctic nations in the development and exercise of operational guidelines for this agreement.
- Modernized Incident Management and Crisis Response Doctrine - The Coast Guard also released new Incident Management and Crisis Response doctrine to clearly enumerate Coast Guard responsibilities during a crisis response and emphasize incident management best practices throughout Coast Guard doctrine.
- Assessed and Consolidated Coast Guard Prepositioned Response Equipment - Recognizing the substantial growth of the private sector Oil Spill Response Organizations since a privatized response capability was mandated by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the Coast Guard assessed and consolidated spill response equipment located in the continental United States. The consolidation permitted the Coast Guard to capitalize on the existing spill response equipment, more efficiently monitor maintenance and condition needs, and surge equipment to a large response to supplement private oil spill response equipment, if needed.
- Enhancing the national Response Resource Inventory System - The Coast Guard is working to enhance the Response Resource Inventory System – the database that lists all pollution response equipment in the U.S. Enhancements include the addition of critical non-floating oil response resources to better prepare for emerging trends in products that may sink, and evaluating how to provide strategic, real time assessments of oil spill and hazardous substance response equipment to strengthen the preparedness of our communities.
- Institutionalized common operational picture technologies - The Coast Guard has promoted and facilitated the development and adoption of tools for monitoring, reporting, organizing, and disseminating oil spill and response operations information, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA). These tools support operational decision-making by the FOSC and the stakeholders.
The Coast Guard continues to implement these and other program enhancements to address gaps and lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon incident. New challenges to our Nation and National Response System continue to emerge. Offshore and inland domestic oil and gas production has hit record levels and will continue to grow through future decades. The corresponding increased demand on the U. S. Maritime Transportation System (MTS) to support the production and transportation of oil and gas, refined products and chemicals, and related manufactured goods will challenge the Coast Guard’s capacity to ensure safety, security and environmental stewardship.
Many of the lessons learned and enhancements implemented within the Coast Guard’s prevention, preparedness and response programs will help us faced these increasing demands. The same holds true for expanding operations in the Arctic. There are growing opportunities for offshore oil exploration and drilling in this remote region where logistical challenges and severe weather will add complexity to any incident response. Our three-year focus on the Arctic through the SONS exercise program yielded critical insight on response gaps that we are working to address today.
These emerging challenges will require the Coast Guard to continue to leverage our multi-mission workforce and operationally flexible assets to mitigate risk by actively patrolling and managing waterways, conducting inspections of vessels, cargo and port facilities for compliance with safety, security and environmental standards, and preparing for and responding to incidents and conducting investigations. Working with our interagency and international partners and stakeholders, the Coast Guard must ensure that our governance, oversight, and operational approach to prevention, preparedness, and response remain effective, efficient, and relevant to the state of technology and level of activity.
Deepwater Horizon incident was a watershed event for our service, the Nation and the National Response System. It tested our capabilities, challenged our policies, and reinforced our efforts to develop more effective response techniques and planning scenarios. This event led to a renewed emphasis on Coast Guard and national incident management procedures.
Over the past five years, the Coast Guard has applied many vital lessons learned to strengthen our people, policy, and equipment in response to spills. However, we still face many new challenges associated with the recent developments in how and where our nation is producing and transporting oil. Offshore and inland domestic oil and gas production has reached new levels and operations in the Arctic are predicted to continue to grow over the next several decades. By leveraging existing relationships under the National Response System and the National Response Framework, our multi-mission workforce, and operationally flexible assets, the Coast Guard will continue to aggressively bolster its prevention and marine environmental response programs to enhance public safety and protect the environment.