The Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) needs to expand the number of inspectors on its payroll and strengthen regulations in order to avoid a repeat of the deepwater Macondo well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, according to BOEM Director Michael Bromwich.

"That explosion almost six months ago took the lives of 11 people and will have lasting consequences on the entire Gulf region. It exposed some fundamental shortcomings in drilling safety practices and the inability of the oil and gas industry to contain a deepwater blowout in a timely and reliable manner," Bromwich said at the International Regulators Forum Conference in Vancouver, BC, Monday.

"For 30 years oil companies have ventured into deeper and deeper waters in the Gulf of Mexico and developed more sophisticated drilling technologies, while safety practices and equipment have lagged behind. This is unacceptable to us as regulators and to the public we serve."

Spills like the Macondo "raise fundamental questions about the appropriate regulatory framework we need to reduce the risk of such events in the future," Bromwich said.

Last week the Obama administration lifted its moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico -- but only for those operators that can show that they have complied with existing and the tougher new safety and drilling regulations (see Daily GPI, Oct. 13).

Bromwich, who has said the higher bar the administration set for deepwater operators could delay BOEM approval of the first permits to resume drilling, on Monday said BOEM anticipates adding "scores of inspectors and engineers" to its staff.

"My hope is that we can add as many as 200 new inspectors, engineers, environmental scientists and other key staff to support our agency in carrying out its important oversight functions. We are also strengthening standards for equipment, safety, environmental safeguards, and we are going to dramatically strengthen oversight."

Last month Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he plans to file a supplement to the 2011 budget that would provide funding for additional inspectors and technical support staff at BOEM (see Daily GPI, Sept. 9).

BOEM and other federal agencies are conducting comprehensive environmental analyses of the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic that will inform future leasing and development decisions, Bromwich said.

In addition to two new rules recently formalized by the Department of the Interior to improve offshore drilling safety and spill prevention (see Daily GPI, Oct. 1), BOEM has imposed more stringent requirements that companies must meet in applying for drilling permits, Bromwich said.

"Operators must now meet new standards for well design, casing and cementing. Their plans must be certified by a professional engineer. Operators must also provide additional information regarding their ability to respond to a blowout and to a worst-case oil spill scenario when they request new drilling permits. And responsibility will flow directly from the individuals responsible for making decisions on behalf of these companies. From now on, energy company CEOs must certify that their operations comply with all safety regulations."

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