The House’s top oversight committee Friday announced an investigation into the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and signaled it will focus on the beleaguered government agency in charge of regulating drilling.
Rep. Ed Towns, the New York Democrat that chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, said that failures at the Mineral Management Service, the oil drilling regulatory body, “may have been exacerbated by an institutionalized conflict of interest that has resulted in an emphasis on collecting oil drilling royalty payments, rather than ensuring safety.”
The Obama administration has said it is going to revamp MMS, and the president Friday said that "for a decade or more, there's been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill.” Both Senate and House lawmakers have also expressed concerns about coziness between industry and government.
The Oversight committee is going to hold hearings on the spill, aides say, but Friday Towns began the investigation by sending a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, requesting a slew of documents, including inspection records for the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded, sending thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Towns is also requesting information on how often oil rigs are inspected, and if such visits are announced or unannounced, emergency preparedness, studies presented to the Interior department and the department’s preliminary investigations into the Gulf explosion. Towns will also look at allegations that the regulator is cozy with industry – he is asking for a list of MMS employees who have formerly worked for the oil industry.
Further, Towns will look into the theory that a last-ditch safety mechanism failed, causing the leak, requesting information on the fail-safe mechanisms on oil rigs. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak surmised in a hearing last week that the blowout preventer – the mechanism meant to stop such a leak – failed.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the committee’s top Republican who last year proposed removing the MMS from the Interior department, Friday praised the Obama administration’s proposed breaking up of the royalties-collecting agency.