Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dramatic Changes at Minerals Management Service

Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Chris Oynes, the top official responsible for the supervision of offshore oil drilling for MMS, announced he would be retiring on June 30.

Subsequent to the Gulf accident, the Interior Department announced that it would realign the Minerals Management Service (MMS) by one part of the agency being charged with inspections of rigs and enforcing safety regulations, while the other would oversee leases for drilling and collection of billions of dollars in royalties. Before this reorganization, MMS had the dual duties of collecting royalties from the oil industry and enforcing regulations that could impact companies' bottom lines. The implication being that MMS would relax regulations to insure that oil company production and thus royalty collections could be maximized. Critics are now charging that such a conflict led to the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), lef, chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, is questioning why the government's leasing function under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act -- where environmental compliance would take place -- would still remain under the segment of the newly divided MMS that handles royalties rather than the new enforcement entity. Grijalva is opposed to deep-water drilling. (The Money Times, 5/19/10, Government Executive, 5/17/10)

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