Aug 25, 2017

Ex-offshore drilling regulator "baffled" by Interior plans

Gerald Herbert / AP

Michael Bromwich, who led the overhaul of federal offshore drilling oversight after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, is speaking publicly for the first time about the Trump administration's potential reversal of a key regulatory change.

  • "I am frankly baffled by what the rationale would be for doing it, and what the analysis is that supports it," Bromwich tells Axios.
  • "[T]he risks have been significantly lowered over the last six years. Why you would want to tinker with something that has been successful is not something that I can readily understand."
  • Trump's Interior Department is weighing the idea of re-combining offshore leasing and drilling safety branches that were separated after the fatal 2010 Gulf of Mexico blowout and spill.

Why it matters: Bromwich said the post-spill overhaul is among the factors that has increased the safety of offshore development in the years since the disaster.

In 2010 Bromwich led the yearlong breakup of the Interior's troubled Minerals Management Service into three separate branches to end what Obama officials and others called conflicts inherent in having a single agency promote offshore development, collect revenues, and oversee safety.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is believed to be weighing the re-combination of two of the successor agencies: The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

  • Here's Zinke told Axios in a short interview in late June: "We are looking at that. We are walking through a process to make sure there are no unintended consequences. . . . They were together, we had an oil spill, there is many that say it was an overreaction, and over a period of time BSEE and BOEM are not working as well jointly as they should."
  • Interior did not provide details on the status of the plan on Thursday. "Secretary Zinke is reviewing ways to make the Department of the Interior as efficient and effective as possible to best serve the American people. No decisions have been announced yet," said Russell Newell, an Interior spokesman.

Bromwich said that Interior should be public about the thinking and analysis behind the potential reversal, a process he argues should include testimony before Congress.

  • "If they are serious about it, let's hear what the reasons are, what the rationale is, what the arguments are, whether they have lined up what the costs and benefits will be," he said.
  • Bromwich noted that he discussed the overhaul in hearings before Congress and the independent commission that investigated the spill, as well as speeches before industry groups, think tanks and other audiences.
  • "All that was done in a very careful and deliberate way," he said.

Bromwich is an attorney, former federal prosecutor and former Justice Department official who specializes in monitoring and reform of organizations and companies. He said Interior has not contacted him about the idea of merging BOEM and BSEE. "I am happy to share my experiences with them. I think they know where to find me," he said.

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