Senior Interior Department officials a major report reviewing offshore oil and gas natural gas oversight, which made 59 recommendations on improving offshore safety, to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last Wednesday, but fortunately for producers not all of of the recommendations must be met before the deepwater moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico is lifted.

"I don't think anybody has suggested that all the reforms or recommendations either in this report either in this report or any other report would need to be met for the moratorium to be lifted," said Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) during a teleconference Wednesday.

The report of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Safety Oversight Board, which Salazar established immediately following the April 20 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig off the coast of Louisiana, recommended strengthening the permitting process, inspections, enforcement and environmental stewardship. Bromwich said implementation of the recommendations already is under way or planned.

The final report "doesn't sugarcoat challenges we know are there; it provides a blueprint for solving them; and it shows that we are on precisely the right track with our reform agenda," the secretary said.

But the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a Washington, DC-based watchdog group, disagreed with Salazar. The "board has found that Interior's oversight of offshore drilling has been crippled by a bullying industry and that [BOEM lacks] the resources they need to their jobs. The reforms proposed in [BOEM's] implementation plan do not go far enough to address the depth and serious nature of the Safety Oversight Boarding's finding," said POGO Executive director Danielle Brian.

"My mandate from the president and secretary was explicit -- reform the way the agency does business in managing and regulating offshore energy development on the nation's Outer Continental Shelf," Bromwich said.

Absent reforms at BOEM, the agency will be "frozen in the past and will not keep up with the reform efforts that are currently in full swing," he told Salazar in a recent letter. The agency continues to be "stigmatized by the outrageous and unforgivable behavior of a few employees many years ago," Bromwich said.

"The world has changed since April 20 in all sorts of ways. One of the ways it's changed is that new safety requirements have already been imposed on industry," he said. "In addition to that, we have an interim final rule that's scheduled to come out this month, which will raise the bar further on [the] industry to meet those regulations."

Salazar also told reporters that he plans to file a supplement to the 2011 budget that would provide funding for additional inspectors and technical support staff at the BOEM.

Salazar met with BP officials last Wednesday to discuss the company's findings of its report on the Gulf blowout. No single factor caused the Macondo well tragedy in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM), BP plc said last Wednesday (see related story). "Rather, a sequence of failures involving a number of different parties led to the explosion and fire which killed 11 people and caused widespread pollution" in the GOM this year.

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