NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement say they plan to split the bureau's employees into two new agencies - the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the bureau was known as the Minerals Management Service.
Salazar and Ocean Energy Management Director Michael Bromwich said that in overhauling offshore energy management they will create "two new, independent agencies that will carry out the offshore energy management and enforcement functions once assigned to the Minerals Management Service."
The Minerals Management Service came under withering criticism for alleged laxity under the Bush administration; then came the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will house resource development and energy management functions, while the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement will focus on safety and enforcement.
Salazar and Bromwich also said Wednesday that they are establishing a permanent advisory body, the Offshore Energy Safety Advisory Committee, "through which the nation's leading scientific, engineering, and technical experts will provide input on improving offshore drilling safety, well containment, and spill response."
The Committee will be made up of 13 members representing federal agencies, industry, academia, national labs and research organizations. Former Sandia National Laboratory Director Tom Hunter, whom Salazar asked to serve as Chairman of the Advisory Committee, was a critical member of the scientific team deployed to assist with the containment and capping of the Macondo well in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"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 safely and in compliance of the law," Salazar said in a statement.
"The former MMS was saddled with the conflicting missions of promoting resource development, enforcing safety regulations, and maximizing revenues from offshore regulations," Bromwich said.
"Those conflicts, combined with a chronic lack of resources, prevented the agency from fully meeting the challenges of overseeing industry operating in U.S. waters. The reorganization is designed to remove those conflicts by clarifying and separating missions across the three agencies and providing each of the new agencies with clear missions and new resources necessary to fulfill those missions."
On May 19, 2010, Salazar signed an order that divided the three conflicting missions of MMS into separate entities with independent missions. MMS was renamed BOEMRE in mid-June, with Bromwich as director. On Oct. 1, 2010, the revenue-collection arm of the former MMS became the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.
During his speech Wednesday, Salazar said his "vision and hopes for the future as a consequence of the Macondo well tragedy are simple but achievable: First, that we as a nation develop the gold standard for safe oil and gas production from our world's oceans;
"Second, that we as a nation recognize the real need, as well as the limits, for oil and gas production from America's oceans;
"Third, that we as a nation embrace a broad, comprehensive energy agenda to power our economy that makes sustainable and renewable energy a pressing priority; and
"Fourth, that we as a nation embark on an urgent path to restore the Gulf Coast and its environment, including the Mississippi Delta, which has been so degraded by humankind for more than a century."
The department plans to have the reorganization completed by Oct. 1.
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