House Republicans seek to block wider enforcement of offshore drilling rules

The Committee is concerned with the Bureau’s stated intentions for the expansion of regulatory authority over non-lease holders under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). The authority and need for this action has not been explained or justified to the Committee, nor how this diversion of limited resources would impact the Bureau’s current mission and objectives identified in the fiscal year 2012 request. The agency is directed to use all the resources provided toward the regulatory efforts presented in the fiscal year 2012 request and that no funds be expended for other purposes until the agency has fully explained its authority, intentions and objectives to the Committee and the public.

The committee is marking up the spending plan Tuesday.

Interior's decision to widen enforcement follows the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that raised questions about the conduct of not only BP, but Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean and other contractors, including Halliburton, which handled the cement job on the ill-fated Macondo well.

Those and other contractors and service companies operate widely in the Gulf of Mexico.

Here is how Michael Bromwich, head of Interior's offshore branch, described the need to assert wider enforcement authority in a May speech:

I have mentioned several times in recent weeks my interest in exercising regulatory authority over not only offshore operators but contractors as well. It has struck me as inappropriate to limit our authority to operators if in fact we had legal authority that reached more broadly to the activities of all entities involved in developing offshore leases. We have completed our review of the issue and have concluded that in fact we have broad legal authority over all activities relating to offshore leases, whether it engaged in by lessees, operators, or contractors.

But he also said that regulators would be "careful and measured" in extending their regulatory reach.

“I am convinced that we can fully preserve the principle of holding operators fully responsible — and in most cases solely responsible — without sacrificing the ability to pursue regulatory actions against contractors for serious violations of agency rules and regulations,” he said.