Bromwich sounds cautious note on new industry-backed drilling watchdog

Reilly cited the nuclear industry’s Institute of Nuclear Power Operations created in 1979 after the Three Mile Island accident.

Reilly said a new industry-funded group is needed in part because the Interior Department is unlikely to ever have enough resources to police the offshore drilling industry alone.

But Bromwich noted there are important differences between the nuclear industry and the oil industry, noting the latter is more competitive. “We would have to look at these differences squarely in the face,” Bromwich said.

He said officials from one company might be reluctant to allow others within the industry to inspect their operations. “There would issues about technological and proprietary and confidential information that companies would be reluctant to share with one another,” he said, testifying on the second day of the spill commission’s two-day session in Washington, D.C.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Bromwich said he was open to looking at any “reasonable proposal.”

“It depends on what it looks like,” he said. “The devil is always in the details.”

Interior is already seeking to enhance collaboration with the industry, even as it beefs up safety rules. The department announced earlier this month that it is planning to create an “Ocean Energy Safety Institute” to facilitate R&D, training and implementation around drilling, blowout containment and spill response.

“The Institute would be a collaborative initiative involving government — in particular, the Department of Energy and the United States Coast Guard — industry, academia and scientific experts,” states an Interior summary.

“Because of the Department’s regulatory responsibilities in this area, the Institute would be housed at Interior, but would seek to coordinate and prioritize research dollars from a variety of governmental and non-governmental sources to create a center of excellence that would ensure that the United States remains on the cutting-edge of offshore energy safety,” it adds.