OFFSHORE DRILLING:

MMS lacks sufficient rules for blowout prevention -- Salazar

The Minerals Management Service did not adequately regulate safety devices and procedures for offshore drilling before the massive Gulf of Mexico disaster, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said today.

In his first testimony on the spill, Salazar said MMS, which is part of Interior, did not have sufficient rules in place for blowout preventers, the fail-safe device on the Deepwater Horizon rig that failed.

"The answer is no," Salazar responded when asked if MMS had adequately regulated the devices. "I think there is additional work that should have been done with respect to blowout prevention mechanisms."

Salazar added that on the larger question of whether additional federal efforts can be made to enhance the safety of blowout preventers, cementing and other safety procedures on the rig, "the answer to that is absolutely yes."

He told the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that recommendations for such improvements will be included in a report to President Obama that the department is currently preparing.

Since taking office, Salazar said he has been working to reform MMS, which he noted was the subject of a sex, drugs and illegal gifts scandal. President Obama last week said there has been a "cozy relationship" between the agency and industry for more than a decade and vowed to reform the agency.

Salazar has proposed creating an environmental and safety office within MMS that would be separate from its leasing and royalty division.

But the Interior chief defended the environmental reviews required by MMS for the well, saying there are "huge efforts" the agency took with respect to such reviews concerning this particular lease, the lease sales and planning for the area. He also said, compared with the rest of the world, the United States has some of the most robust offshore regulations.

"It is a very highly regulated industry," Salazar said. "That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. ... But the fact is there are significant regulations in place."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) responded, "There are regulations, but they aren't adequate, and my sense is they aren't being enforced."

Salazar also defended the administration's response to the spill and cleanup efforts. "I cannot think of anything more that could be done," he said. "It is perhaps the world's largest response ever to any oil spill."

The secretary vowed a vigorous investigation. "We are not afraid of the truth, and we will get to the bottom of it," he said.

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