Interior’s reorganization after Gulf oil spill falls short

AP photo

More than two years after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill tainted the Gulf of Mexico, the Interior Department’s attempt to segregate safety monitoring from minerals management oversight in a major reorganization has produced mixed results, auditors found.

In a report on Interior’s progress released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office pointed to missing data and an inability to gauge risk in overseeing oil and gas exploration. The department’s reorganization eliminated the Minerals Management Service after the April 20, 2010, tragedy that killed 11 people, scarred the environment over hundreds of miles and dampened local economies.

The restructuring, completed on time in October 2011, transferred MMS’ gas oil and gas revenue collection functions to a new Office of Natural Resources Revenue and then created the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The GAO report, dated July 30, was addressed to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, D-W.Va., of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Because the three bureaus’ responsibilities for environmental analysis and reviews of permits and inspections of drilling rigs “are closely interconnected and will depend on effective coordination, Interior developed memoranda and standard operating procedures to define roles and responsibilities and facilitate and formalize coordination,” the study said.

Even though Interior’s inspections of rigs and platforms in the Gulf has uncovered numerous violations, the department’s “database is missing data on when violations were identified, as well as violation correction dates for about half the violations issued,” the auditors found. “As a result, Interior does not know on a real-time basis whether or when all violations were identified and corrected, potentially allowing unsafe conditions to continue for extended periods.”

The department’s efforts to seek input on proposed oil and gas exploration projects generally were well-received by government stakeholders, but industry and conservation groups were less satisfied, auditors found.

“Interior’s capacity to identify and evaluate risk remains limited, raising questions about the effectiveness with which it allocates its oversight resources,” GAO wrote. “Interior also continues to experience difficulties in implementing effective information technology systems, such as those that aid exploration and development plan reviews. It also continues to face workforce planning challenges, including hiring, retaining and training staff. Moreover, Interior does not have current strategic plans to guide its information technology or workforce planning efforts.”

Interior officials, after reviewing a draft of the report, generally accepted the criticisms.

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