Bromwich concerned budget cuts may reverse hard-won reforms

Michael R. Bromwich prepares to finish 17 months at the US Department of the Interior satisfied that necessary reforms were beginning to be made at a troubled agency there, but concerned that their permanence may be threatened by funding cuts, he said 2 days before stepping down as head of what formerly was the US Minerals Management Service.

“I never thought I’d do anything like this. It’s been the biggest challenge of my career,” he told reporters during a Nov. 28 briefing at Interior’s headquarters. “It’s a huge accomplishment that’s a tribute to the hard-working and dedicated employees of an agency that was vilified as immoral and corrupt, particularly since we began reorganizing it in a crisis environment.”

But Bromwich also expressed deep concern that members of Congress and the White House might slash DOI’s offshore resources management budget to reduce the federal budget deficit. “People have short memories,” he observed. “We’ve tried to institutionalize these reforms, but there are people who believe that this spill was an anomaly and the changes are too onerous. This agency fought a losing battle for resources over 28 years, and I think these budget gains need to be sustained. I’m worried that the larger budget climate, particularly after the congressional super-committee failed to reach an agreement, may undermine the progress we’ve made.”

He said the change he made in MMS’s relationship with the industry it was supposed to regulate to one where “we are expecting more and yielding less” was necessary to implement badly needed safety and environmental reforms. “The amount I knew about offshore oil and gas issues you could fit in a thimble,” Bromwich said. Despite a steep learning curve, he said he quickly recognized that stronger safety rules would be needed. “These couldn’t just be paper standards,” he maintained. “Fairly quickly, we set the tone with industry that this was not the same agency it had been dealing with.”

Came at critical time

Bromwich became director of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement—the former MMS—on June 21, 2010, as federal, state, local and oil and gas industry responders tried to contain a massive oil spill from BP PLC’s deepwater Macondo well. He arrived after US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar announced he was moving MMS’s royalty and revenue responsibilities to a new Office of Natural Resources Revenue under Asst. Interior Sec. for Policy, Management, and Budget Rhea Suh.

The move ended one of MMS’s mission conflicts, but Salazar and Bromwich concluded that BOEMRE itself would need to be divided to separate leasing and resource management from enforcement of safety and environmental regulations. The separation occurred on Oct. 1 with the creation of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, with Tommy L. Beaudreau as director, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which Bromwich agreed to lead on an interim basis until a permanent director could take over.

US Coast Guard Rear Adm. James A. Watson IV, who coordinated the joint response to the spill, will take BSEE’s helm on Dec. 1, and Bromwich will stay on for 30 days as a counselor to Salazar, to assist in the transition, and to attend to other matters including continuing to build an international offshore regulatory alliance. “I can’t count the number of foreign regulators who have come to us asking what we have learned and how to implement it,” he said.

He said that the next critical phase for BSEE will be reviewing safety and environmental management systems in December which offshore operators and contractors are supposed to have developed and implemented. “We will initially put our composites of our most common findings,” he said. “Ultimately, we will want to specifically identify violators, but in the short term publicly identifying the most prevalent problems while providing immediate feedback to specific operators is the best approach.”

Shuns revolving door

After Dec. 31, Bromwich said he would like to continue working on offshore resource issues, but not as a representative of any group having dealings with BOEM or BSEE. “There’s been too much of a revolving door with former directors returning in new capacities with outside organizations. I refuse to do this,” he declared, adding that he might join a law firm or start one of his own.

Bromwich said that he thought his relationships with individual oil and gas producers were better than those he had with trade associations which represented them and some members of Congress. “The operators knew who they were dealing with from the beginning,” he said. “I wasn’t a member of their team…I didn’t have any conceptions, let alone preconceptions, of the issues. I made the industry and environmental groups unhappy, but I called matters as I saw them.”

He suggested that his lack of oil and gas experience may have worked to his advantage by making him question long-standing practices, such as MMS’s limiting its regulation and penalties to offshore well operators and letting producers sort out penalties with drilling contractors and service and supply companies. Referring to his effort to begin citing other well drilling participants, Bromwich said: “I didn’t believe we should give across-the-board immunity to a contractor who had committed a major violation.”

He said that he was more successful recruiting new inspectors and environmental engineers to come work at BOEM and BSEE than he was at hiring senior petroleum engineers. “We need to pay them more, and recruit them more,” he said. “I’ve heard from some industry executives that they’re having trouble too, and it’s more urgent for them because they need to design the kind of wells that meet our new requirements.”

Retraining engineers from other specialties may be one way to address this problem, and Bromwich noted that the Colorado School of Mines has such a program under way. “Every option needs to be explored so neither industry nor the agencies that regulate it experience a bottleneck,” he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

Related Articles

EPA delays proposal to regulate methane emissions until 2015

12/19/2014 The US Environmental Protection Agency is delaying plans to issue proposals to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas operations until 2015, O...

BLM starts process to consider new Nevada lease nominations

12/19/2014 The US Bureau of Land Management’s Battle Mountain, Nev., field office is seeking public comment on 197 parcels of public land, totaling 415,921 ac...

California Bay Area advances plan for enhanced refinery regulations

12/19/2014 California’s Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the public agency responsible for regulating stationary sources of air pollution in...

IEA finds US energy policy improved in latest in-depth review

12/19/2014 US energy policies have come into sharper focus in the last six years, the International Energy Agency said in its latest periodic review. It speci...

Comstock to suspend 2015 oil drilling in Eagle Ford, TMS

12/19/2014 Due to low crude oil prices, Comstock Resources Inc., Frisco, Tex., plans to suspend its 2015 oil-directed drilling activity on properties in the E...

Mexico uses PSCs in first Round One step

12/19/2014 Mexico is offering production-sharing contracts to companies incorporated in the country for exploration of 14 shallow-water areas in Round One bid...

BASF, Gazprom cancel asset swap

12/19/2014

BASF and OAO Gazprom have agreed not to complete an asset swap that was scheduled for yearend.

AWE pulls out of Otway permit

12/19/2014 AWE Ltd., Sydbey, has decided to pull out of Perth-based junior WHL Energy Ltd.’s offshore Otway Basin permit Vic-P67 after a series of time extens...

Jewell names Maryland energy administrator BOEM’s new director

12/18/2014 US Interior Sec. Sally Jewell appointed Abigail Ross Hopper, who currently directs the Maryland Energy Administration, as the new director of the U...

White Papers

AVEVA NET Accesses and Manages the Digital Asset

Global demand for new process plants, power plants and infrastructure is increasing steadily with the ...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Approach for the Digital Asset

To meet the requirements for leaner project execution and more efficient operations while transferring...
Sponsored by

Diversification - the technology aspects

In tough times, businesses seek to diversify into adjacent markets or to apply their skills and resour...
Sponsored by

Engineering & Design for Lean Construction

Modern marketing rhetoric claims that, in order to cut out expensive costs and reduce risks during the...
Sponsored by

Object Lessons - Why control of engineering design at the object level is essential for efficient project execution

Whatever the task, there is usually only one way to do it right and many more to do it wrong. In the c...
Sponsored by

Plant Design for Lean Construction - at your fingertips

One area which can provide improvements to the adoption of Lean principles is the application of mobil...
Sponsored by

How to Keep Your Mud System Vibrator Hose from Getting Hammered to Death

To prevent the vibrating hoses on your oilfield mud circulation systems from failing, you must examine...
Sponsored by

Duty of Care

Good corporate social responsibility means implementing effective workplace health and safety measures...
Sponsored by

Available Webcasts


On Demand

Optimizing your asset management practices to mitigate the effects of a down market

Thu, Dec 11, 2014

The oil and gas market is in constant flux, and as the price of BOE (Barrel of Oil Equivalent) goes down it is increasingly important to optimize your asset management strategy to stay afloat.  Attend this webinar to learn how developing a solid asset management plan can help your company mitigate costs in any market.

register:WEBCAST


Parylene Conformal Coatings for the Oil & Gas Industry

Thu, Nov 20, 2014

In this concise 30-minute webinar, participants have an opportunity to learn more about how Parylene coatings are applied, their features, and the value they add to devices and components.

register:WEBCAST


Utilizing Predictive Analytics to Optimize Productivity in Oil & Gas Operations

Tue, Nov 18, 2014

Join IBM on Tuesday, November 18 @ 1pm CST to explore how Predictive Analytics can help your organization maximize productivity, operational performance & associated processes to drive enterprise wide productivity and profitability.

register:WEBCAST


US HYDROCARBON EXPORTS Part 3 — LNG

Fri, Nov 14, 2014

US LNG Exports, the third in a trilogy of webcasts focusing on the broad topic of US Hydrocarbon Exports.

A discussion of the problems and potential for the export of US-produced liquefied natural gas.

These and other topics will be discussed, with the latest thoughts on U.S. LNG export policy.

register:WEBCAST


Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected