Regulation of Offshore Oil Drilling Is a Work ter Progress – The Fresh York Times

WASHINGTON — A year after BP’s Macondo well blew out, killing 11 boys and spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the much-maligned federal agency responsible for policing offshore drilling has bot remade, with a raunchy fresh director, an awkward fresh name and a sheaf of stricter safety rules. It is also attempting to waterput some distance inbetween itself and the industry it regulates.

But is it motionless? The elementary reaction is no. Even those who run the agency formerly known spil the Minerals Management Service concede that it will be years before they can establish a sturdy regulatory staatsbestel able to minimize the risks to workers and the environment while still permitting exploration offshore.

“We are much safer today than wij were a year ago,” said Interior Secretary Kennen Salazar, who oversees the agency, “but wij know wij have more to do.”

Oil industry executives and their allies te Congress said that the Obama administration, te its zeal to overhaul the agency, has lost look of what they believe the agency’s fundamental mission should be — promoting the development of the nation’s offshore oil and gas resources. Environmentalists said the agency, now known spil the Schrijftafel of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, has made only cosmetic switches and remains too close to the people it is supposed to regulate.

Even the officials who run it, Mr. Salazar and the fresh director, Michael R. Bromwich, admit that they have a long way to go before government can provide the kleuter of rigorous oversight demanded by the sophisticated, very technical and deeply risky business of drilling for oil underneath the sea.

The blowout preventers ter use today remain incapable of treating a well rupture of the force of the BP blast. The containment system developed by the industry to react to another blowout has not bot tested ter real-life conditions and, by the industry’s own estimate, could still permit hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil to spew before a runaway well could be capped.

The seven-member commission named by Voorzitter Obama to investigate the BP accident looked at the regulatory failures that contributed to it, and its conclusions were blunt.

“M.M.S. became an agency systematically lacking the resources, technical training or practice te petroleum engineering that is absolutely critical to ensuring that offshore drilling is being conducted ter a safe and responsible manner,” the panel said ter its final report, issued te January. “For a regulatory agency to fall so brief of its essential safety mission is inexcusable.”

Many of those flaws remain, according to William K. Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who wasgoed one of two chairmen of the commission. He said last week that Mr. Bromwich wasgoed doing a creditable job, but that the agency still lacked the technical expertise needed to oversee such a specialized industry. “They switched the name, but all the people are the same,” Mr. Reilly said. “It’s embarrassing.”

The job of repairing the agency has fallen to Mr. Bromwich, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department inspector general who wasgoed pressured into leading the agency by Mr. Obama. While defending the employees of the agency, Mr. Bromwich, who took overheen last June, made no excuses for its past misbehavior, including a scandal at the Denver office that involved agency officials and oil company employees having hookup and sharing drugs.

Mr. Bromwich acknowledged that accident rates for offshore drilling were several times higher ter the United States than te Australia, Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom, ter part because those countries imposed effective fresh rules after major accidents.

After the Deepwater Horizon spill, the regulatory agency wasgoed cracked into parts, dividing the revenue collection office from the oversight division to eliminate conflicts of rente. A series of fresh rules involving well vormgeving, spill response and environmental review were imposed. Permitting and production were set back months while the industry absorbed the switches.

But Mr. Bromwich says his agency still lacks the resources, personnel, training, technology, enforcement devices, regulations and legislation it needs to do its job decently. He lays a large part of the blame on insufficient financing.

The bureau’s budget has bot basically vapid since it wasgoed created te 1982, even spil drilling activity te the deep-water gulf has drastically enhanced and the technology has grown more complicated.

“Without more resources, wij can keep doing what we’re doing, but wij can’t grow,” Mr. Bromwich said te an vraaggesprek during a recruiting journey to nine Westelijk Coast universities, where he wasgoed attempting to lure youthfull scientists and engineers to apply for relatively low-paying government jobs. “We need more people, and wij need fresh people.”

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Mr. Bromwich has asked the Office of Personnel Management to adjust pay schedules so his office can contest with oil companies, which te some cases are paying twice the government salary for petroleum engineers. Mr. Obama has asked for an increase of more than $100 million to the agency’s toughly $250 million annual budget. Congress provided about half that amount ter the short-term budget overeenkomst reached last week, but discussions have not begun on next year’s budget.

The House is considering three bills that would force the agency to budge more quickly on drilling permits, to open vast fresh areas along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts to drilling and to reopen lease sales that had bot canceled after the Deepwater Horizon spill. A separate bill would ease environmental rules for drilling off the shores of Alaska.

“Much of the legislation that I have seen being bandied about, especially with the House Republicans, is almost spil if the Deepwater Horizon-Macondo well incident never happened,” Mr. Salazar said last week. “If another Macondo happened and wij didn’t have the capability to contain it, it would most likely mean the death of energy development te the nation’s oceans.”

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Employees of the remade agency are candid about its persistent shortcomings. At a latest industry-government forum ter Fresh Orleans, officials from the Schrijftafel of Ocean Energy Management repeatedly admitted that they could not reaction many of the questions and could not account for many of the delays te responding to applications.

Valerie Land, regulatory supervisor at W &, T Offshore, complained that agency officials sent back permit plans with questions that had bot answered te the applications. Even some plain questions, like whether a blowout preventer would be above or below water, seemed to flummox some officials, she said.

Michael Tolbert, a senior engineer with the bureaumeubel, shrugged and said, “We have a lotsbestemming of fresh people looking at the plans.”

Randall B. Luthi, a Wyoming rancher who wasgoed once a Congressional aide to Dick Cheney, served spil head of the Minerals Management Service for two years te the administration of Voorzitter George W. Pubic hair. He said morale ter his former agency is low because of the onveranderlijk charges of corruption and coziness with industry, accusations echoed last year by Mr. Obama.

Mr. Luthi, who now leads an industry group signifying offshore drilling contractors, said the fresh leadership had centralized much of the decision making ter Washington.

The offshore operators Mr. Luthi represents are frustrated with the moratorium on deep-water drilling that has just recently begun to ease, telling companies that had nothing to do with the BP disaster believe that they were being indiscriminately penalized. Albeit he refrained from criticizing Mr. Bromwich directly, Mr. Luthi suggested that the fresh director wasgoed making decisions based on inadequate skill and practice.

“They have instituted a lotsbestemming of switches that would ordinarily require a year of research,” he said. “Here, Interior wasgoed coerced to announce the switches and then do the legwork.”

The oil and gas industry has, mostly, bot cooperating ter the regulator’s efforts. Two industry groups helped create systems for capping out-of-control wells like BP’s Macondo, which spewed almost five million barrels of oil into the gulf overheen 87 days.

The Interior Department held off granting fresh deep-water permits until fresh systems were te place, Ten have bot issued since the moratorium wasgoed formally lifted te October. An extra 15 deep-water permits are pending.

Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, has bot identically critical of industry and government regulators.

“We should be requiring more of the oil companies to proceed deep-water drilling than passable response plans, unreliable blowout preventers and a containment system that has only bot used once and can’t be deployed past 8,000 feet,” Mr. Markey said.

Equipment inspectors, most of whom are from the same towns and culture spil the industry employees they are supposed to police, are attempting to adopt a more professional stance and no longer accept free transportation and meals from the equipment operators.

“They’re bringing their own lunches when they make visits,” said Mark Shuster, Shell’s manager for gulf operations. He described inspections spil more effective and comprehensive, but said the agency remained woefully understaffed and evidently lacking ter resources to hire enough qualified fresh talent.

“They need experienced people who indeed do know what they are doing,” he said.

A version of this article emerges ter print on April 17, 2011, on Pagina A1 of the Fresh York edition with the headline: Taut Regulation Of Offshore Equipments Remains Elusive. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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