Thursday, 17th June 2010
US Oil Pollution Act 1990 – proposed amendment following “Deepwater Horizon” incident in the US Gulf
On 12 May, as a consequence of the events arising out of the explosion which occurred on the “Deepwater Horizon” oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on 20 April 2010, President Obama made a formal request to Congress to amend, inter alia, the provisions of OPA 90 relating to shipowner limits of liability, specifically to introduce unlimited liability in respect of removal costs and a new limit (unspecified) for damages claims and a new limit (unspecified) for Certificates of Financial Responsibility (Cofrs). The Group has been closely monitoring the White House proposals and subsequent progress on draft legislation. Group representatives have attended a number of meetings in Washington with Administration/Congress representatives, Majority and Minority Counsel and staffers from the House of Representatives Transport and Infrastructure Committee, the National Pollution Funds Centre, and US and international Industry Association representatives. The Group was also invited to testify at the House Transport and Infrastructure Committee hearings on 9 June where Charles Anderson gave evidence to the Committee on behalf of the Group. The Group has argued against the need for any change to the current OPA 90 limitation structure and limits emphasising the very different risk and exposure characteristics of the offshore exploration and production sector, the good historical performance of OPA 90 in terms of response to vessel related pollution incidents and the adequacy of Responsible Party limits as amended since 1990, the need to ensure a viable Cofr system and to maintain a liability structure which is insurable. The stated aim of Congress is to have draft legislation prepared by the time of the Congressional recess on 4th July. The Group’s Washington representatives Reed Smith are monitoring and reporting on pending draft legislation to amend OPA 90 which is also likely to include proposals for the repeal of the sections of the 1851 Shipowners’ Limitation of Liability Act providing for limitation of shipowners liability (to of the value of the vessel and pending freight). Copies of the Briefing and Background papers prepared on behalf of the Group and the testimony submitted to the House of Representatives Transport and Infrastructure Committee hearing can be accessed via the pdf below.