Salazar formally announces BOEMRE split, new advisory panel

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 19 -- US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar formally announced the division of the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement into two separate agencies, pledging to not let this interfere with existing operations. He also announced the formation of a scientific advisory board for the two new agencies.

Salazar told reporters at a press conference he and BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich hope to complete division of what remains of the former US Minerals Management Service by Oct. 1 into a new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSSE).

The idea will be to maintain a structure that continues to meet short-term requirements while reconfiguring BOEMRE to meet long-term needs, he emphasized. “Operations must not be brought to a stand-still,” Salazar declared.

Bromwich, who also participated in the briefing, said he continues to meet daily with oil and gas producers and industry leaders to bring them up to speed on regulations imposed following the Macondo well accident and subsequent massive crude oil spill. “I would be very surprised if new deepwater drilling permits aren’t issued by the third quarter,” he said.

Former Sandia National Laboratory Director Tom Hunter will lead the new Offshore Energy Safety Advisory Committee, Salazar said. The group will be a permanent advisory board through which the nation’s leading scientific, engineering, and technical experts will provide ideas to improve offshore oil and gas drilling safety, he indicated.

Committee’s makeup
The safety advisory committee, which replaces the offshore safety institute he has proposed, will include oil and gas industry representatives as well as participants from environmental and other non-government organizations, according to the secretary. “I don’t want things to be done under the cloak of darkness, including technology,” he said. “The one lesson we learned as we responded to the Macondo well blowout and spill was that while technology to drill in deeper water developed very quickly, other important technologies did not.”

He specifically mentioned the Macondo well’s blowout preventer, which he said did not have the kind of instrumentation to prevent or minimize leaks from a blowout. “That is the kind of technical information we will require,” Salazar said.

He said that he is considering recommendations from US President Obama’s oil spill investigation commission, including one that BSSE’s director have enforcement authority similar to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Salazar said he is studying that idea, but added that he wants BOEMRE to move forward in a way that makes organizational sense.

He also said he is considering the commission’s recommendation to have the oil and gas industry form its own agency to promote operating safety that would be similar to the nuclear power industry’s Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. But he and Bromwich emphasized such an entity, if it were formed in addition to the American Petroleum Institute’s existing standards and practices committees, would not be an acceptable substitute to more aggressive safety and environmental enforcement by BSSE.

Asked if he might consider a similar division at the US Bureau of Land Management if it works at BOEMRE, Salazar was noncommittal but said he already has asked BLM Director Robert V. Abbey to look at how that DOI agency collects revenue. “It’s important to protect the environment. It’s also important to make sure that the American public gets its fair share of revenue from these resources,” the secretary said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.



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