Chairman Feinstein Blasts Shoddy Oversight of Offshore Drilling at Minerals Management Service

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—May 25, 2010. In response to a new Interior Department Inspector General report about the Minerals Management Service (MMS), Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Feinstein today blasted the agency’s shoddy oversight of offshore drilling and criticized reports of overly cozy relationships revealed between MMS regulators and oil industry officials.

Chairman Feinstein also announced that the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Administration’s proposed restructuring of MMS on Wednesday, June 16 at 10:00 a.m. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies has jurisdiction over MMS. Secretary Salazar will appear as the primary witness. The hearing will examine the concerns that have been raised about the agency’s conflicting missions. MMS is currently responsible for three primary oversight tasks:  revenue collection, safety and environmental oversight, and the processing of drilling permits.

According to the New York Times, a new report from the Interior Department’s Inspector General revealed serious problems with MMS oversight of offshore drilling. The article states that several MMS employees failed to properly conduct safety inspections and instead relied upon industry employees to pencil in evaluations. It also says that employees regularly violated ethics standards and accepted gifts, meals and tickets to sporting events from oil and natural gas companies. One employee, in particular, purportedly conducted safety inspections of an oil company at the same time he was interviewing for a position with the firm. The report also revealed several incidents of drug use.

“This new Inspector General report is yet another black eye for the Minerals Management Service. Once again, MMS employees have been found culpable of performing shoddy oversight of offshore drilling. The report reveals an overly cozy culture between MMS regulators and the oil industry. There are allegations of drug use, improper gifts, and faulty safety inspections. This is not the first time we’ve heard these stories.

The agency clearly falls short of providing effective oversight of the safety of deepwater drilling or the ethical collection of drilling royalties. It’s time to clean up MMS and determine how best to divide the agency’s current conflicting missions of revenue collection, safety and environmental oversight, and the processing of permits.

At the same time, we have to ask whether deep sea drilling is worth the risk. The past few decades have demonstrated the enormous downside of offshore oil drilling. First, there was the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, which desecrated 40 miles of the California coastline. Today, the entire Gulf faces a catastrophe of unknown proportions.

It is clear to me that, at the very least, drilling should not take place at depths where there is not a strong assurance that any accident, any leak, can be immediately stopped and that failsafe stops are, in fact, failsafe. We know now that at this depth that there is no such thing. More than four weeks after the leak, there remains no failsafe method of stopping the leak.

The lesson is clear: it’s time to take stock of our nation’s energy policy, and make the shift to a 21st century portfolio that includes cleaner, renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal and biodiesel.  And we’ve got to act soon.”