WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In response to the BP oil spill, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will announce on Tuesday that the Minerals Management Service will be divided so collection of oil royalties and safety inspection of offshore drilling are separated, a department official told Reuters.
The MMS currently carries out both roles, drawing criticism from some U.S. lawmakers and environmental groups.
Critics argue the MMS is faced with a conflict of interest because it is responsible for regulating and shutting down offshore oil production over safety concerns, if necessary, and also charged with keeping the oil flowing so the government can collect royalties.
Critics say that conflict was highlighted with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig last month that killed 11 workers and set off what is likely to become the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
Senator Jeff Bingaman, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said on Tuesday that regulators were partly to blame for the rig accident and oil spill.
Salazar does not need congressional approval to split up the responsibilities of the MMS and can implement them administratively, the department official said.
When Salazar arrived at Interior, the department already had a questionable history of whether it was able to properly regulate the oil industry.
The department’s inspector general found in 2008 there was “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” among a dozen department employees who accepted gifts, had sex and used illegal drugs with workers at oil and gas companies drilling on federal lands.
Reporting by Tom Doggett, editing by Rebekah Kebede; article appearing courtesy Reuters.