U.S. finds lax oil rig inspection

WASHINGTON, May 25 (UPI) -- U.S. Interior Department safety and environment inspectors routinely took gifts from companies operating offshore oil rigs, federal investigators say.

The Interior Department inspector general issued a report Tuesday concluding that inspectors with the Minerals Management Service accepted hunting and fishing trips, tickets to football games and meals, The Washington Post reported.

The report -- which covers a time frame ending in 2008 -- does not include direct findings relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which sank April 22 after an explosion set off an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the newspaper said. However, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement he has asked acting Inspector General Mary Kendall to determine whether any of the behavior described within the MMS occurred during the administration of President Barack Obama.

"The inspector general report describes reprehensible activities of employees of MMS," Salazar said. "This deeply disturbing report is further evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry. That is why during the first 10 days of becoming secretary of the interior I directed a strong ethics reform agenda to clean house of these ethical lapses at MMS."

The inspector general's report concluded that many MMS inspectors were personal friends with oil industry officials and had come to the Interior Department after working in the industry. One inspector evaluated four drilling platforms owned by a company even while he was negotiating to become employed by the company.

Investigators also found instances in which an inspector allowed oil and gas companies to fill out their own inspection forms, using pencil, after which the inspector would write over the entries in ink.

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