Hastings unveils draft offshore drilling legislation

The bill would split the former Minerals Management Service (MMS) into three separate branches: the Bureau of Ocean Energy, which oversees leasing and environmental reviews, the Ocean Energy Safety Service, which is responsible for permitting and safety, and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, which collects revenue.

The legislation echoes a plan unveiled by Secretary Ken Salazar last year to restructure MMS in order to separate its conflicting missions of regulation and revenue collection.

Salazar created the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), which is in charge of offshore drilling-regulation. And he separated out Interior’s revenue-collection functions into a separate bureau.

Interior officials are now working on the second stage of the restructuring — a plan to subdivide BOEMRE into one bureau that focuses on offshore development and another that focuses on environmental and safety oversight. BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich has said he hopes the second stage of the restructuring will be finished in October.

Salazar and Bromwich have long called on Congress to pass “organic” legislation formally establishing the department’s new offshore drilling bureaus.

Under the Hastings legislation, the assistant secretary of ocean energy and safety would oversee the Interior Department’s offshore leasing and safety functions. The assistant secretary of policy, management and budget would oversee the revenue-collection functions.

The bill also establishes an under secretary of energy, land and minerals, who will be charged with overseeing all of the department’s offshore and onshore energy operations.

In addition, the legislation creates a National Ocean Energy Health and Safety Academy to train offshore-drilling inspectors. The bill also requires that all inspectors have at least three years of experience in the oil-and-gas sector as well as a related degree.

Lastly, the bill requires beefed-up oversight of the department’s inspectors, including annual performance reviews, certification that employees comply with ethics rules and drug testing.

The rules come after a 2008 ethics investigation found that some MMS employees had accepted gifts from and had sex with employees of oil-and-gas companies, among other things.

Hastings spokesman Spencer Pederson said the lawmaker has no immediate plans to consider the bill in committee.

“Right now Chairman Hastings wants to get feedback, suggestions, etc, so there is no immediate timeline for Committee consideration, which is one of the reasons he wanted to float this in draft form,” Pederson said in an email.