Report: Interior has ‘limited’ ability to gauge offshore drilling risks

Interior, after the April 2010 spill began, announced it was dismantling its troubled Minerals Management Service and created what last year became separate agencies: The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The GAO report credits Interior with safety reforms but concludes, “the ultimate effectiveness of Interior’s reorganization and recent policy changes remains uncertain.”

The report lists a number of areas of concern. For instance it alleges that environmental analyses of companies’ exploration and development plans have occurred “without the most current, potentially relevant information.”

The report also lays out concerns with offshore regulators’ information management system and inspections program.

“Interior’s inspections routinely identify violations, but Interior’s [Technical Information Management System] IT system is missing some data, such as the date that violations were found or corrected. As a result, Interior does not know on a real-time basis whether or when all violations were identified and corrected, potentially allowing unsafe conditions to continue for extended periods,” the report states.

It contains a series of recommendations on environmental analyses, inspections, risk evaluation for offshore projects and other issues.

A senior Interior official, in a response included with the report, says the department agrees with most of the recommendations.

But the letter from Marcilynn Burke, the acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, says GAO didn’t provide an “up-to-date picture” of Interior’s progress in implementing major reforms after the spill.