Hastings, Interior IG square off over drilling report

But on Wednesday Hastings questioned whether Kendall, who is Interior's acting IG, had conducted an impartial probe. He circulated internal Interior emails showing that Kendall was involved with meetings about the development of the report that she later investigated.

“Your apparent involvement ... raises new questions about the IG's independence and impartiality in conducting the investigation of the Drilling Moratorium Report and whether it was appropriate for you to oversee this investigation in the first place or whether you should have disclosed your involvement and recused yourself from all matters concerning the investigation,” Hastings said in a May 22 letter to Kendall that seeks an array of documents.

The emails show Kendall on the invite list for a May 2010 meeting on a draft of the report — which called for a range of drilling-safety improvements — shortly before it was issued. A separate May 2010 message from Steve Black, a counselor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, thanks Kendall for her participation in “meetings and interviews” leading up to the drilling safety report.

Hastings’s letter released Wednesday – available here – also says there are “questions” about the accuracy of Kendall’s June 2010 testimony before the committee, in which Kendall said she was “not involved in the process of developing the report.”

But Kendall told E2 Wednesday that she was not involved in writing the report, taking part to get up to speed on deepwater drilling issues — a decision she said has proven useful. “My testimony was accurate,” Kendall said.

“I did not participate in the drafting of the report,” Kendall told E2. “I attended a number of the information-gathering meetings but did not actively participate in them. I was an active listener.”

Kendall was named to the Outer Continental Shelf Safety Board that Salazar launched in late April of 2010, shortly after the BP oil spill began, and her office has been involved in probing problems with offshore oversight.

Hastings and other Republicans have bashed the deepwater drilling freeze, calling it an overreaction to the BP spill that ultimately dumped more than four million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The ban was formally lifted in October of 2010, but deepwater permit issuance did not begin again until February of 2011 under beefed-up safety rules.

The Interior Department has been critical of Hastings’s probe of the 2010 drilling-safety report, which included two subpoenas. Interior officials note that Salazar apologized to the outside engineers over the mistaken impression in the report, and say that the department has been cooperative with Hastings’s inquiries and provided reams of documents.

“This investigation, made up of an ever-changing and unsettled set of requests from the Committee, continues to spend taxpayer resources to re-litigate an issue that was resolved two years ago. The American people would be best served by passage of the legislative changes we've recommended to further enhance offshore oil and gas enforcement and safety,” said Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher in a statement Wednesday.