Gulf of Mexico
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Gulf of Mexico - GAO: Drillers left behind 18,000 miles of old pipelines

Federal regulators have allowed the oil and gas industry to leave more than 97 percent of all decommissioned pipelines on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor since the 1960s, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office.

A federal government watchdog today said the oil and gas industry has been allowed to leave behind more than 18,000 miles of abandoned pipelines on the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico since the 1960s.

That's more than 97% of all of the decommissioned pipelines in the Gulf, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released by the House Natural Resources Committee.

The report urged the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to step up its oversight of all offshore pipelines.

"BSEE does not generally conduct or require any subsea inspections of active pipelines. Instead, the bureau relies on monthly surface observations and pressure sensors to detect leaks," the GAO said. "However, officials told us that these methods and technologies are not always reliable for detecting ruptures."

In addition, the old pipelines can also shift location due to hurricanes and erosion, creating new hazards for fishing and navigation while disrupting fish habitat, the report said.

Top Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee were quick to weigh in. "The business model of drilling our oceans for a quick buck and sticking the public with the cleanup bill is coming to an end," Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the panel's chairman, said in a statement this morning.

"Our oceans are there for all of us, not just oil and gas companies," said Grijalva, "and if they can't behave responsibly on their own, this Congress will be happy to step in and set some overdue boundaries." Grijalva said the committee will address the issue "in a timely way."

The report said that BSSE and its parent, the Department of the Interior, need to ensure the integrity of active pipelines and address the environmental risks linked to obsolete pipelines left behind.

"Interior agreed with this recommendation," said the report, called "Offshore Oil and Gas: Updated Regulations Needed to Improve Pipeline Oversight and Decommissioning."

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