AUSTIN — When the Deepwater Horizon undersea oil rig blew out in the Gulf of Mexico last year, adjacent Texas had an advantage no other coastal state can claim - an oil spill response program with prepositioned equipment, expertise and most importantly, well-rehearsed plans for protecting our state's waters.
On Monday, March 28, the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program will celebrate 20 years of readiness. Other states could learn a few lessons from Texas when it comes to planning ahead and preparing for oil spills. We've learned a few things the hard way so the rest of the nation doesn't have to.
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez discharged 10.8 million gallons of oil onto the shoreline of a state without an adequate response plan at the time. Then in 1990, Texas got its own hard lesson when the Mega Borg released 5.1 million gallons of oil 57 miles southeast of Galveston while offloading crude onto another tanker. That same year, the Apex Barge Spill in the Houston Ship Channel released 700,000 gallons of fuel oil.
Then Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, used these events to spur lawmakers into action. In 1991, he convinced the Texas Legislature to create the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program here at the Texas General Land Office. Mauro and the Legislature knew a quick and effective spill response takes cooperation between industry, local, state and federal responders.
Today, our Land Office oil spill team quickly connects with its federal and industry counterparts when there's an emergency, because they drill and practice together constantly. As illustrated by the early days of the Deepwater Horizon response, a crisis is no time to be meeting your partners for the first time or figuring out who's in charge.
The Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program of the Texas General Land Office is funded with a 1.3 cent per barrel fee assessed on oil passing through Texas ports. That fund pays for prepositioned equipment such as skimmers, air boats and oil boom at five offices along the Texas coast. The cost to the consumer for this fund is negligible: about 7/1,000 of a penny per gallon of gasoline refined in Texas.
The Texas oil spill team is recognized worldwide for its ability to respond quickly with a preplanned effort anywhere oil is spilled in Texas waters. It stands in a state of constant readiness, so the next spill doesn't become The Big Spill.
So join me in wishing our Texas Oil Spill Prevention and Response team a happy anniversary and saying thanks for 20 years of an oil-free Texas coast and pristine Texas beaches.
Learn more about our Oil Spill program and how to report a spill at our website at glo.texas.gov.
JERRY PATTERSON was elected Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office in 2002 and again in 2006. A former Marine and Vietnam Veteran, Patterson is the author of Senate Bill 60, the Concealed Handgun Law.