Bingaman, Landrieu back plans to divide Interior's offshore oil agency

Two Democrats active on oil-and-gas issues are applauding Interior Department plans to divide the agency that regulates offshore drilling and collects production royalties.

"It may have the effect of building some additional independence in to the folks responsible for safety issues," Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) told The Hill.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to announce plans Tuesday to carve Interior's Minerals Management Service into separate branches.

MMS - which is under new scrutiny following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill - currently regulates drilling and production operations in federal waters, and collects billions of dollars in lease bids and royalties from U.S. energy production.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) also cheered the plan. 

"I think it's a good move on Secretary Salazar's part and probably long overdue," she told reporters in the Capitol.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday the administration's discussion of splitting up MMS in the wake of the BP spill is "a good thing."

"We have an agency that is primarily focused on the revenue side of the oil industry industry, as opposed to the safety side.  And I think there is going to be some suggestion, with which I agree, to either create another division to separate the responsibilities, so you have a vigorous agency or division to look at the safety aspects, and let somebody else look at the revenue aspects."

Creating a new offshore safety agency would not require congressional approval.