Shocker! Gulf drilling agency makes the “High Risk List”
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) made this year’s list of the worst-run government agencies. The “High Risk List” helps the feds keep track of their problem children, and MMS has long suffered problems of corruption and coziness with the drilling industry. The BP oil spill exposed even more problems—remember the Gulf walrus?—and forced the agency (renamed the “Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) to make some long-overdue reforms including stricter regulation of offshore rigs.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was a critic of the agency long before the Gulf debacle and didn’t waste this opportunity to pile on: “It’s better late than never,” Issa said at a press conference, “but it shouldn’t have taken the worst ecological disaster in history for GAO to place this program onto the high risk list.”
He’s right, of course: the agency looked the other way while BP and other companies spat on the rulebook. National Wildlife Federation sent a letter thanking Congressman Issa for his comments and his push for greater oversight. We also noted that reform cuts both ways and pointed out that BOEM has been under attack by oil companies and lawmakers who have accused the agency of slowing down drilling in the Gulf.
The government issued its first new deepwater permit yesterday, saying the company, Noble Energy, proved it can contain a blowout if one occurs. But don’t assume that things are under control—for all of their protests, Big Oil knows that drilling is an inherently dangerous business that has resulted in hundreds of deaths, explosions, spills and accidents over the last decade.
Rep. Issa isn’t an environmentalist (and he’d probably thank us for saying so) but we hope he takes on a constructive role in the reform process. Because when it’s all said and done, this is about protecting things all Americans care about: the safety of our workers, healthy ecosystems, and the fish and wildlife that form the backbone of the Gulf economy. If we want to make sure BOEM doesn’t wind up on next year’s Risk List, we have to keep pushing for meaningful change—and even though the federal government has begun to step up its oversight, we still have a long way to go.