BOEMRE division completes DOI offshore resources restructuring

The US Department of the Interior will complete restructuring of its federal offshore resources management with the division of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement into two separate agencies on Oct. 1. The smaller agencies will be more nimble and better able to concentrate on solving problems, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar said.

The need to restructure the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service was apparent before the Macondo well accident and crude oil spill in 2010, Salazar told reporters during a Sept. 30 briefing at DOI headquarters. Moving its revenue and royalty-collection responsibilities to the newly formed Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) under DOI’s assistant secretary for policy, management, and budget on Oct. 1, 2010, was only the first step in separating MMS’s conflicting missions, he said.

Completing the restructuring will be BOEMRE’s division into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which will be directed by Tommy P. Beaudreau, a BOEMRE senior advisor, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich will lead until a permanent director can be appointed, Salazar noted.

Bromwich, who joined Beaudreau and Salazar at the briefing, said the 15 months since his appointment as BOEMRE director has been “packed with activity with a real-world consequence: improving offshore oil and gas safety.” He added, “This will continue. We’ve reinvigorated a focus on ethics. We’ve developed recusal mechanisms to avoid conflicts of interest with our inspectors. Most important, we’ve shown that this agency—and, starting tomorrow, pair of agencies—must have adequate resources to do the job, something that has been missing for 28 years.”

‘Like never before’

Bromwich noted that BSEE, which will be responsible for the safety and environmental oversight of offshore energy operations, will pursue a mixture of performance-based and prescriptive requirements. “We are focusing on the substance and structure of these rules like never before,” he told reporters. “We’ve made several reforms already and have announced others, but I don’t think we’re at a safety case yet, or that we’ll be there in six months or a year.” Offshore operators have responded well to the new requirements, and most should meet the first set of rules’ Nov. 1 compliance deadline, Bromwich said.

Beaudreau said BOEM will pursue more-thorough environmental assessments of proposed offshore projects as it moves forward with renewable energy resource development. “After the Macondo accident and spill, we were caught in a political environment that was very intense, and rightly so because it involved energy, which is so vital to our nation’s well-being,” he said. BOEMRE’s successful final restructuring is “an incredible testament” to its career employees who completed it while meeting their daily responsibilities, he maintained.

Bromwich said BOEM will have 500 employees and BSEE 750, with some employees at the second agency providing information technology and similar shared services to both. He said that the current funding request before Congress seeks money to hire another 120 people, and the administration’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget will probably include money for another 200 employees, mostly to help BSEE more effectively meet its safety responsibilities.

Salazar said he recognizes BSEE’s permanent director will need to be someone who can withstand strong congressional criticism. “There are some people there who unfortunately play politics with very serious issues,” he said. “It’s important to have someone who can stand up to that kind of questioning.”

Career employees will generally need to continue to be insulated from recklessly political criticism, he and the other DOI officials agreed. “These are proud professionals who take their missions seriously,” Beaudreau observed. “Criticism affects them. We need to protect them so they can do their jobs.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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