The Obama administration’s overhaul of the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling doesn’t go far enough to prevent conflicts of interest and enhance safety, according to leaders of the presidential panel studying the causes of the Gulf oil spill.
Obama's overhaul involved replacing top leadership, giving the agency a new name, and separating the offices overseeing safety from the offices collecting royalties. When the changes were announced, critics said tthe agency’s competing interests weren’t fully addressed. The spill panel seemed to take a similar view, reported the Houston Chronicle:
[Commission Co-Chairman William] Reilly said the government may need to “construct an impenetrable wall” that keeps environmental and safety regulators separated from officials who sell leases.
In a draft recommendation, the commission suggests creation of a new agency in the Interior Department to focus on safety issues and environmental analysis.
The creation of a new agency, noted the Chronicle, would require legislative action by Congress.
As the Wall Street Journal noted, the panel also said that training for offshore drilling inspectors was “inadequate and unacceptable." The Journal pointed out that seven months after the spill, flaws in the inspection program still had not been fixed:
As it has for four decades, that program sends inspectors armed with little more than checklists and pencils into the Gulf to ensure the safety of more than 3,500 oil platforms and drilling rigs.
It’s not the first time the spill panel has criticized the agency’s inspectors. Michael Bromwich, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy, said in October that the agency was moving to correct deficiencies in its training program.
The panel’s focus wasn’t just on regulators. BP, Halliburton, and Transocean had made decisions regarding the well that “turned out to add risk to the operation,” and the industry as a whole had a culture of complacency.
These statements come as the Obama administration this week announced a plan to bank offshore drilling for the next seven years in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of the Atlantic and Pacific—a reversal of its plan in March to open up these areas for drilling.
Inform our investigations: Do you have information or expertise relevant to this story? Help us and journalists around the country by sharing your stories and experiences.