Be Careful in Raising Liability Cap on Deepwater Drilling

By January 11, 2011Briefly Legal, Energy

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling today released its final report making numerous recommendations, including an increase in the current $75 million cap on liability for offshore drilling accidents. The oil spill dommission did not recommend a specific figure for the higher cap, leaving that decision up to Congress.

Manufacturers believe that a substantial or unlimited cap increase is not the solution. Before taking any action, Congress should take a close look at the impact of any cap increase on the industry. Any substantial increase to the liability limit will inevitably lead to higher insurance rates, making operations in the U.S. waters potentially so expensive as to drive producers out of the Gulf overseas. Smaller independent operators, in particular, would suffer competitively. (See this American Petroleum Institute paper, “Impacts of Increased Liability Limits on OCS Operations.”) The result would be to continue an unofficial moratorium on offshore drilling.

Last session, there were discussions of an unlimited liability, while several Senators introduced legislation to raise the cap 13-fold, to $10 billion. Despite intense pressure to act, Congress ultimately passed very little legislation last year in response to the Deepwater Horizon spill, largely out of concern about further damaging the Gulf region’s economy. Those concerns remain valid.

As the Manufacturers have stated before, any delay in off-shore drilling will have a significant economic impact on manufacturers and other industries throughout the Gulf Coast and the nation.  The nation cannot afford increased job loss, especially during a time when the unemployment rate is as high as 9.4 percent.  Additionally, any further delay will have considerable impact on the domestic oil supply where it will drive up the cost of energy and create uncertainty in oil supply because companies will have to go abroad for drilling.

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