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Politico Pro: Hastings floats drilling oversight plan
Posted by Committee Staff on July 25, 2011

Hastings floats drilling oversight plan

By Darren Goode
Politico Pro
7/25/11 1:36 PM EDT

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings on Monday released his own draft plan to abolish the former Minerals Management Service and restructure federal offshore drilling oversight.

The Hastings proposal, similar to a reorganization effort the Interior Department is already engaged in, would create three new agencies to separate out oversight of offshore drilling lease approval, environmental and safety oversight and the collection of federal royalties and revenues from that production.

“While the department has made progress, I believe Congress should pass legislation building on the reforms and write into law the structure of these agencies,” Hastings said in a three-minute video posted on YouTube.

Hastings’s plan does differ in some key aspects.

Hastings would create a new under secretary of Energy, Land and Minerals to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. This official would oversee all offshore and onshore energy operations. This proposal better mirrors a recommendation by President Barack Obama’s bipartisan national commission that investigated last year’s Gulf of Mexico spill than what the department is doing.

“Establishing this new position would increase accountability to the American people and help ensure all the separate agencies work together towards a common goal,” Hastings said.

The seven-member spill commission recommended creating an independent agency within Interior “with enforcement authority to oversee all aspects of offshore drilling safety,” as well as oil, gas and renewable energy production facilities. The commission recommended that it be headed by a presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed official for a fixed term of years, in a similar setup as the office of the FBI director.

Interior officials have said that recommendation would distract from the overall reorganization effort the department is doing.

“The changes we are making right now are enormous and will stress the agency as is,” BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich told reporters back in January.

The Hastings plan would split the former MMS thusly: The Bureau of Ocean Energy would be responsible for planning, leasing and environmental work; The Ocean Energy Safety Service would handle permitting, safety and inspections; and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue would collect royalties and revenue.

Hastings would also establish an assistant secretary for Ocean Energy and Safety to oversee BOE and OESS, with the current assistant secretary for Policy, Management and Budget overseeing the new revenue office.

Other details of his draft plan includes a new National Offshore Energy Health and Safety Academy to train government offshore inspectors; requires employees conducting safety inspections to have at least three years experience in the oil and natural gas field and a degree in an appropriate field; annual performance reviews of inspectors; and requires the Interior secretary to annually certify that all departmental employees are in compliance with federal ethics laws and partake in random drug testing.

Bromwich is heading a reorganization effort he expects to be completed by Oct. 1 that would create a new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management responsible for overseeing leasing and a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

These two new agencies would join the Office of Natural Resources Revenue that was created Oct. 1 of last year to replace the revenue collection arm of the former MMS.

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