Senate Seeks To Punish Gulf Oil Rig Safety Inspectors


June23,20103:54p.m.EST

TomRamstack-AHNNewsCorrespondent
Washington,DC,UnitedStates(AHN)-MembersoftheSenateWednesdayhintedatcriminalprosecutionsagainstgovernmentsafetyinspectorswhofailedtopreventmistakesthatledtotheBPoilwellleakintheGulfofMexico.

Recentgovernmentinvestigationsshowedtheinspectorsfailedtodetectsafetyshortcutsbytheoilcompanyintendedtosavemoney.

Inaddition,theDeepwaterHorizonoilrigthatexplodedApril20missedinspectionsrequiredbygovernmentregulations.

“Ithinkthepunishmentshouldbesevere,”saidSen.JonTester(D-MT)duringahearingoftheSenateAppropriationssubcommitteeoninteriorandenvironment.

Thesubcommitteecalledthehearingtoassessthegovernment’srevisedplanforregulatingoffshoreoilandgasdrilling.

Sofar,theInteriorDepartmenthaseliminatedtheMineralsManagementServiceandreorganizeditastheBureauofOceanEnergyManagement,RegulationandEnforcement.

Thenewagencyisdividedintothreedivisions,onethatmanagesgovernmentlicensestodrillforoilandgas,asecondthatenforcessafetyandenvironmentalregulationsandathirdthatcollectsrevenuefromoilcompanylicenses,feesandfines.

AproblemwiththeMineralsManagementServicewasthefactthatoilcompaniespaidtheirfeestoasingledivisionthatenforcedregulationsagainstthem,resultinginwhatmembersoftheSenatedescribedasa“cozyrelationship”thatwaslaxonsafetyenforcement.

TheInteriorDepartmentalsohiredMichaelBromwichasthenewdirectoroftheagency.Bromwichmadehisreputationinvestigatingpoorjobperformanceamonglawenforcementagencies.

OneofBromwich’sfirstactionswastoannounceplansforateamhecallsthe“investigationsandreviewunit”oftheBureauofOceanEnergyManagement,RegulationandEnforcement.

Theteamwillbechargedwithrootingoutcorruptionandpoorperformanceamongtheagency’sstaff.

InitialinvestigationsoftheBPoilspillshowedgovernmentsafetyinspectorsreceivedgiftsoffoodandotherperksfromoilcompanies.

Atleastonesafetyinspectordiscussedajobofferfromoilcompanyexecutivesasheinvestigatedtheiroilrig.

“Ithinkit’samatterofmakingsurecozyrelationshipswillnotbetolerated,”Bromwichsaid.

Iffurtherinvestigationproveswrongdoingbyinspectors,“theyshouldlosetheirjobs,”hesaid.

MembersoftheSenatepanelsaidtheinvestigationshouldalsodeterminewhethersafetyinspectorsengagedin“willful”misconduct,whichmeanstheycouldbecriminallyprosecuted.

Theinvestigationcannotbecompleteduntiltheoilleakisstopped,whichcouldtakeaslongastwomonths,accordingtoInteriorDepartmentestimates.

Onlythencaninvestigatorsretrievethe“blow-outpreventer”fromtheoceanfloorandexamineit.Theblow-outpreventerisasafetydevicedesignedtopreventgasandoilfromleakingfromopenwells.

AfailureintheequipmentissuspectedofallowinggastorisetothesurfaceonApril20,thenexplodingandkilling11crewmembersbeforetheDeepwaterHorizonoilrigsank.

PresidentObamarespondedbyorderingabanonmoreoffshoreoildrilling.

OnTuesday,afederaljudgeoverturnedtheban,sayingthegreaterdangertothepublicwastheeconomiclossthatwouldfollowiftheoilrigsareshutdown.

Sen.LamarAlexander(R-TN)saidduringtheSenatehearingthatstoppingoffshoreoildrillingwouldbelikeshuttingdowntheairlineindustrybecauseofasingleplanecrash.

“AthirdoftheoiltheUnitedStatesgetscomesfromtheGulfofMexico,”Alexandersaid.

Nevertheless,theObamaadministrationsaiditwouldappealthejudge’sdecision.

Sen.DianneFeinstein(D-CA)saidoneoftheproblemsappearstobethatsafetyinspectorsarespreadtoothin.Thegovernmentuses60inspectorstocheckabout3,800offshoreoilfacilities,shesaid.

“Thatclearlyiswoefullyinadequate,”Feinsteinsaid.


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