Gulf Oil Spill Puts An End To Conflict-Ridden Federal Agency

Salazar divides MMS into three bureaus

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Exposed by the Gulf oil spill disaster as a conflict-ridden friend of oil companies it was supposed to regulate, the federal Minerals Management Service died today—dismantled by Interior Sec. Ken Salazar, who’s obviously feeling the heat of eight congressional hearings and an angry president.

The MMS, corrupted by the sum of its dual roles to collect royalties from oil companies it oversees, was split into three separate agencies: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

Unfortunately, the split comes too late for the Gulf of Mexico, which is reeling from millions of gallons of oil loosed into it by a British Petroleum offshore drilling scheme that MMS approved on assurances from BP that the chances of a big spill were insignificant and that, at any rate, BP could handle anything that happened.

It still isn’t too late for the Arctic Ocean, however, whose sensitive offshore waters are to be drilled this summer by Shell Oil under an inadequate plan also approved by the MMS. At this point, only President Obama and/or Sec. Salazar can keep this from happening.

As for the breakup of the MMS, here’s what E&E News is reporting:

The ocean energy bureau will be responsible for conventional and renewable offshore energy development, including resource evaluation, planning and leasing. About 700 of the current 1,700 MMS employees will shift to this agency, Salazar said.

The safety and enforcement bureau, with roughly 300 employees, will carry out oversight, inspections, safety and environmental protection in all offshore energy activities. "This will be the police of offshore oil and gas operations," Salazar said. "We will make sure that we are holding energy companies accountable for their responsibilities."

Both bureaus will be led by a director and supervised by the Interior assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Wilma Lewis.

The third office, with about 700 employees, will be housed in a different Interior division that handles budget matters. It will handle both onshore and offshore royalty and revenue functions, including the collection and distribution of revenue, auditing and compliance, and asset management. It will be headed by a director and supervised by the Interior assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, Rhea Suh.

Although Salazar did his MMS reorganization by directive, he said he will ask Congress to enshrine the decision with legislation.

From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.