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'Blowout' hearing blowups

After weeks of oil spill hearings, it was obvious today, the issue still hits a raw nerve for many House members. At a hearing on Safety Regulations for "high risk wells." House members went head to head -- some demanding stronger safety regulations while others were vehement about protecting the oil industry.

Those supporting the bill claimed it would hold the oil industry more accountable to safety regulations, lowering the risk for future oil spills. Those opposed were convinced the oil and gas industry in America would be decimated if the bill passed, leaving Americans solely dependent on foreign energy sources and with out oil and gas related jobs. According to the opposition, a "high risk well" is ambiguous -- according to them, almost every well off shore and on shore could be considered "high risk." Opponents also argued, legislation cannot be passed on safety regulation until the investigation into the Horizon explosion was finished.

During opening statements, lawmakers were not only split down the aisle, but also by geographic location, as Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) pointed out, "There are regional differences between us; they are not partisan but regional."

Gulf coast region lawmakers also felt torn.

"It's difficult to stand in oil up to my ankle asking for more oil, but its important for our lives and our livelihood," said Rep. Melancon (R-LA).

However, partisan tensions did flare.

Rep. Scalise (R-LA) attacked the Obama administration's response to the Gulf, stating, "The oil is moving faster than the federal government; we need answers and leadership from the president and, unfortunately, we have neither."

Rep. Dingell fired back. "The reason for this mess in the gulf is the fact, for a long period of time we were, 'Drill, baby, drill." He then exclaimed that the Bush administration's Minerals Management Service "had become almost as corrupt as Sodom and Gomorrah."

Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes supported the legislation, stating new safety regulations must be put in place. When asked by Rep. Green (D-TX) about what Green feared to be a "de facto moratorium on shallow wells," since the Horizon spill, Hayes stated, in a drawn out answer, "There are a number of permits now that are mature that we are looking to process. ... We expect more shallow-water drilling APDs to be granted in the near future."

Other Witnesses were John Martinez, consulting production engineer, Production Associates; and Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning, Environmental Defense Fund.

Green: "Since a shallow well is 500 feet or less up until last week there were no permits issued ... because my fear is not only are we having a six-month moratorium on deep-water wells, but de facto moratorium on shallow wells where we do produce a lot of our natural gas. ... Do you have any personal information on any permits issued since Horizon for shallow-water drilling permits?"

Hayes: " I don't have the exact information, but I know there are a number of permits now that are mature and that we are looking to process. We had a notice to ... about 10 days ago requiring some additional information from folks on blowout scenarios. That information has been coming in and once that information is in.... APD decisions can be made, and so we talked about this with a group of industry folks at the department just about a couple of days ago. We expect more shallow-water drilling APDs to be granted in the near future. The is no moratorium on shallow water and we want to move it through, but we were requiring that operators meet the new safety requirements that were laid out in the 30-day report that has been strongly supported by industry we had folks in just a few days ago to confirm that. The there was this important gap in terms of the expiration plan -- having the description of the blow out scenarios and that's being filled now the combination of those two things will enable those permits to continue to be granted."