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February 2011 Issue

Salazar, Bromwich Announce Next Steps In Offshore Energy Oversight Overhaul Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) director Michael R. Bromwich announced in January the structures and responsibilities of two new independent agencies that will carry out the offshore energy management and enforcement functions once assigned to the former Minerals Management Service (MMS).

The new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will be responsible for managing development of the nation's offshore resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way, officials said. The new Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) will enforce safety and environmental regulations.

"We are moving ahead quickly and responsibly to establish the strong, independent oversight of offshore oil and gas drilling that is needed to ensure that companies are operating safely and in compliance with the law," Salazar said.

"The former MMS was saddled with the conflicting missions of promoting resource development, enforcing safety regulations and maximizing revenues from offshore operations," Bromwich said. "Those conflicts, combined with a chronic lack of resources, prevented the agency from fully meeting the challenges of overseeing industry operating in U.S. waters. The reorganization is designed to remove those conflicts by clarifying and separating missions across the three agencies and providing each of the new agencies with clear missions and new resources necessary to fulfill those missions."

On May 19, Salazar signed a secretarial order that divided the three conflicting missions of MMS into separate entities with independent missions. On October 1, the revenue collection arm became the Office of Natural Resources Revenue. Now Salazar and Bromwich have detailed the structure of the two bureaus that will separately house the resource development and energy management functions of BOEMRE and the safety and enforcement functions of BOEMRE. The Department of the Interior plans to have the reorganization fully implemented by October 1.

Salazar and Bromwich have also established a permanent advisory body through which the nation's leading scientific, engineering and technical experts will provide input on improving offshore drilling safety, well containment and spill response. Salazar has asked former Sandia National Laboratories director Tom Hunter to lead the body, the Offshore Energy Safety Advisory Committee.


In Final Report, Oil Spill Commission Finds 'Systemic' Problems
Systemic problems with industry management—its risk assessment, planning, decision making, communication and testing—combined with government regulatory failures were the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, according to the National Oil Spill Commission's Final Report.

The report, released in early January, said the Macondo well blowout was caused by a number of problems, including failures to: adequately evaluate and manage risk in late-stage well-design decisions, recognize problems with cement tests, respond to early-warning signs of a kick and respond appropriately to the blowout once it began. According to the commission, the blowout, explosion and three-month spill were not caused by "rogue industry or government officials," but instead were rooted in problems across the industry.

"The root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur," the report said.

"This disaster was almost the inevitable result of years of industry and government complacency and lack of attention to safety," said commission co-chair William K. Reilly, a former administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "This was indisputably the case with BP, Transocean and Halliburton, as well as the government agency charged with regulating offshore drilling—the former Minerals Management Service."

The report includes a number of recommendations. Among them are suggestions for Congress to create an independent safety agency to oversee offshore drilling safety, significantly increase the Oil Pollution Act's liability cap, and dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties from the spill to long-term, region-wide restoration of the Gulf of Mexico.

National Ocean Industries Association president Randall Luthi, calling the report "required reading for the offshore industry for years to come," said its recommendations should be "vetted, aired and in some cases possibly implemented." Despite some of the findings being critical of industry, Luthi said the report itself was not an indictment of offshore oil. He added that it seemed all of the problems the commission found could be corrected.

Luthi did question a number of the commissions findings, among them the conclusion that there were systemic problems in industry. He cited the 43,000 wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico without incident, 14,000 of which were drilled in deepwater areas, as evidence of the industry's ability to drill safely. He also said he was concerned about the recommendation to include NOAA in the Department of the Interior's five-year leasing plan development process, saying that this would be a case where "too many cooks spoil the broth."

Committee on Science, Space and Technology Names Subcommittee Chairs
The Republican members of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology chose subcommittee chairs and assignments on January 20.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) was elected chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment; Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) was elected chairman of the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation; Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) was elected chairman of the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education; Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) was elected chairman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics; and Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) was elected chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.



2012:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC
2011:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC

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