Bingaman: Reports of MMS failing to secure endangered species permits are ‘very disturbing’

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) vowed Friday to probe allegations that the Interior Department approved offshore drilling projects that could threaten endangered species without securing the needed permits.

“It is a very disturbing set of allegations,” Bingaman said Friday morning during an appearance on C-SPAN. “I don’t know if it is all true, but we certainly need to get to the bottom of it.”

The New York Times reported Friday that Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) “gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf.”

The story said that this included approval for the BP well that is now spewing thousands of barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the April 20 accident at the Deepwater Horizon rig. MMS is the Interior branch that regulates offshore oil-and-gas drilling.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is scheduled to appear before Bingaman’s committee next week to discuss offshore drilling and the Gulf of Mexico spill.

On Thursday, an environmental group called the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue Interior over endangered species protection. The group alleges that Interior, under Salazar, has approved three offshore lease sales, over 100 seismic surveys and over 300 drilling operations without obtaining permits required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.