Bromwich, GOP spar over expansion of drilling rule enforcement

Landry’s attack comes amid wider GOP pushback against what Interior vows will be a selective expansion of the reach of its drilling rules. Interior Department spending legislation moving through the GOP-controlled House seeks to limit the expansion, at least for now.

Interior’s decision to widen enforcement follows the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that raised questions about the conduct of not only BP, but also 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.

But Landry said regulators should hold only the oil companies accountable, who in turn hold their contractors accountable.

“If a subcontractor, a service contactor fails to do its job according to the specifications that the operator gives it, then that service contractor will more than likely go out of business,” said Landry, who represents a coastal district where the oil industry is active.

Bromwich in May said BOEMRE had concluded it has the authority to hold contractors accountable for drilling rules that have traditionally been enforced only against oil-and-gas producers.

Bromwich — in response to Landry and later in remarks to reporters — reiterated Friday that BOEMRE will be judicious in extending the reach of its enforcement, while defending it as necessary in some cases.

For instance, he noted that there could be cases in which a contractor on a drilling project conceals things from the oil-and-gas company responsible for a lease.

“We intend in most cases to go directly against the operator,” Bromwich told reporters. “It is simpler, it is clearer, and so it has those virtues for us,”

“We will [go after contractors] in a select number of cases when the behavior by the contractor or the service company strikes us as extremely egregious and where going just against the operators strikes us as silly and misguided,” Bromwich said.

In remarks to reporters, Bromwich said the House GOP’s Interior Department fiscal 2012 spending bill, which has cleared the Appropriations Committee, would hinder ongoing expansion of BOEMRE’s offshore inspection team.

He noted a significant number of new inspectors have already been hired, including an additional eight last month, but added:

“But we need to continue to push forward and continue hiring and I am concerned the Appropriations Committee’s action, in holding us close to $35 million short of president’s request, will prevent us from hiring all the inspectors that I think we truly need.”

Elsewhere, Bromwich said BOEMRE is on track to hold a western Gulf of Mexico lease sale in December and a sale of tracts in the central Gulf by mid-2012.