Texas looks to take the lead on protection from future oil spills and energy safety

Texas Governor Rick Perry announced the formation of a coalition of energy and environmental scientists, policy experts, academic researchers and state officials called the Gulf Project. The coalition will be tasked with making recommendations on designing safeguards to ensure that the state can respond effectively to the current spill and will never be vulnerable to a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill again.

During the early stages, the coalition will be joined by several universities including the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, the University of Houston, Rice University, Texas Tech University, and Southern Methodist University. Other universities may join as the Gulf Project gets up and running. Researchers from the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), Texas General Land Office and Texas Railroad Commission are also participating.

Currently, the energy industry cannot test full drilling systems to determine their safety or create road-tested response plans for disasters like Deepwater Horizon. Determining ways to address and overcome these challenges are going to be some of the first focus areas of the Gulf Project. Right now, other nations including the United Kingdom, Norway, and Brazil are competing to develop a seafloor testing facility.

The universities and organizations included in the first stage of the Gulf Project have established track records in oil and gas drilling research, some even have their own dedicated facilities. However, none of them have the ability to test a full drilling system in deep sea conditions. The Johnson Space Center, however, does have the ability to test current and next generation equipment and the Gulf Project will be looking at ways they might be able to use their researchers and facilities.

In Texas, the energy industry is responsible for 20% of the nation’s oil production, a quarter of natural gas production and refining capacity as well as more than half of the nation’s chemical manufacturing. Governor Perry says that Texas is critical to providing reliable energy to the country and in order to maintain that role these critical safety questions must be addressed.

“To keep our status as the energy capital of the nation and preserve our environment, jobs and economy, Texas must become the world leader in developing the next generation in offshore oil exploration safety and response,” Gov. Perry said. “The Gulf Project is an unprecedented collaboration of the state’s top scientists, engineers and researchers, focused on protecting our residents, environment and economy, and solving the unique challenges presented by the next generation of domestic energy exploration and production.”

Critics have had harsh words for those tasked with preparing the nation for disasters like Deepwater Horizon. Now, as states and federal agencies look for ways to fill the gaps, remove corruption and reform procedures some are saying it may be too little too late. Reports emerged yesterday of the high numbers of abandoned oil wells that litter the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico, which may pose a significant environmental threat. Additionally, no consensus can be found within the Gulf states or at the federal level about what to do in terms of regulation or environmental procedures.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal included the creation of sand berms as part of his protection plan, a measure which many scientists say may cause more harm then good. As CivSource reported in June, Florida is trying to acquire more skimmers to respond to the current spill while also looking at ways to protect the Florida Keys should the weather conditions or sea currents change. Further up the east coast, states like Maryland are also revisiting their disaster response plans.

In his announcement speech, Governor Perry sought to position Texas as the leader in this conversation via the Gulf Project, “we’re perfectly suited to lead the effort into improving safety and reliability in our continued quest for new and better sources of energy.”

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