The Obama administration said Tuesday it would overhaul the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which critics say has become too cozy with the offshore oil industry it regulates.
In the wake of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the move would root out an untenable internal conflict, as the agency tries to enforce safety and environmental standards while managing the huge U.S. oil leasing operation.
The MMS reaps in billions of dollars each year, garnering more revenue for the U.S. government than any other federal agency except the income tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service, but Salazar said safety must be paramount.
"The job of ensuring energy companies are following the law and protecting the safety of their workers and the environment is a big one, and should be independent from other missions of the agency," said Salazar.
"We will responsibly and thoughtfully move to establish independence and separation for this critical mission so that the American people know they have a strong and independent organization holding energy companies accountable and in compliance with the law of the land."
The overhaul was prompted by the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Deepwater Horizon platform sank after a massive fire, and where an enormous oil spill threatens both the ecology and economy of the region.
Salazar said he had enlisted the National Academy of Engineering to provide and independent assessment of how and why the disaster occurred.
"The tragedy aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the massive spill for which BP is responsible has made the importance and urgency of our reform agenda even clearer," said Salazar.
"We have been, and will continue to be, aggressive in our response to BP's spill, but we must also aggressively expand the activities, resources, and independence of federal inspectors so they can ensure that offshore oil and gas operations are following the law, protecting their workers, and guarding against the type of disaster that happened on the Deepwater Horizon," he said.
Congressional hearings also were under way on Tuesday were to examine the April 20 drilling rig accident, when the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded, caught fire and sank sparking an environmental disaster as millions of gallons of oil gushed into the ecologically fragile Gulf.
Among those who testified at two Senate oversight hearings Tuesday were top executives of BP, which owned the well, Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig, and Halliburton, a contractor on the rig.
The reforms announced by Salazar announced are the first of several possible changes at the troubled MMS following the disaster, and comes as the Interior Department undertakes a 30-day safety review to improve management and oversight of the U.S. outer continental shelf.
He also announced that no applications for permits to drill will go forward until the Interior Department conducts a 30-day safety review of the applicants.
Salazar also said the Obama administration would ask Congress for an additional $29 million to enhance MMS's enforcement abilities and would seek $20 million for increased oil platform inspections and engineering studies.
© AFP 2017