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Interior Dept. Divides Offshore Drilling Agency

Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that he’ll be splitting the Mineral Management Service into three pieces in response to charges that officials there dropped the ball leading up to the current oil spill disaster in the Gulf.

The move is designed to eliminate conflicts of interest between the various functions of the agency amid heavy criticism that MMS officials have grown overly chummy with the companies they’re charged with monitoring.

“The Minerals Management Service has three distinct and conflicting missions that — for the benefit of effective enforcement, energy development, and revenue collection — must be divided,” Salazar said in a statement announcing the overhaul.

A more detailed breakdown of those divisions is here:

  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: A new bureau under the supervision of the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management will be responsible for the sustainable development of the Outer Continental Shelf’s conventional and renewable energy resources, including resource evaluation, planning, and other activities related to leasing.
  • Office of Natural Resources Revenue: An office under the supervision of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget that will be responsible for the royalty and revenue management function including the collection and distribution of revenue, auditing and compliance, and asset management.
  • Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: A bureau under the supervision of the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management that will be responsible for ensuring comprehensive oversight, safety, and environmental protection in all offshore energy activities.

This looks great on paper — and doing nothing was never an option in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. But there’s a precedent for such a split that should serve as a cautionary tale for federal officials aiming to prevent the next big energy disaster.

In 1977, the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration — then a branch of the Interior Department — was overhauled to become the Mine Safety and Health Administration under the Labor Department. The move was made to eliminate conflicts of interest between safety enforcement and energy development. Many would argue that it didn’t work so well.

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