Interior Department officials Wednesday announced the structures and duties of two new independent agencies that will separately manage offshore resources and enforce safety and environmental regulations -- functions that were once assigned to the former Minerals Management Service (MMS). The restructuring is aimed at avoiding future conflicts of interest between the agency and oil and natural gas producers.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Michael Bromwich, director of of the Bureau of Ocean Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM), said they also plan to establish a permanent advisory committee to provide input on improving offshore drilling safety, well containment and spill response. It would have 13 members, including leading scientific, engineering and technical experts.

The final report of the commission on the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which was released last week, recommended that Interior establish a safety agency within the department that would have enforcement authority to oversee all aspects of offshore drilling safety. The agency should be headed by someone with a background in science and management, the report suggested (see Daily GPI, Jan. 12). Interior selected Tom Hunter, former director of the Sandia National Laboratory, to head the advisory committee.

"We are moving ahead quickly and responsibly to establish the strong, independent oversight of offshore oil and gas drilling that is needed to ensure that companies are operating safety and in compliance with the law," Salazar said.

"With Director Bromwich's leadership, the recommendations of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and other outside guidance, we are making swift progress in implementing the reorganization plan we put in motion last year."

In May 2010 Salazar signed a secretarial order that divided the three conflicting missions of MMS -- enforcement, energy development and revenue collection -- into separate entities with independent missions. The embattled MMS was renamed BOEM, with Bromwich as its director (see Daily GPI, May 21, 2010). In October 2010 the revenue collection arm of the former MMS became the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

On Wednesday Salazar and Bromwich spelled out the structures and duties of the two other bureaus within the BOEM -- the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

The BOEM will be responsible for managing the development of the nation's offshore resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way, according to Interior. Its functions will include leasing; plan administration; environmental studies; national environmental policy act analysis; resource evaluation; economic analysis; and the renewable energy program.

The BSEE will enforce safety and environmental regulations, the department said. Its functions will include all field operations, including permitting and research; inspections; offshore regulatory programs; oil spill response; and newly enacted training and environmental compliance requirements.

The reforms announced Wednesday include:

Interior said it plans to have the reorganization fully implemented by Oct. 1.

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