Government Workers Tasked With Gulf Oil Industry Oversight Accepted Gifts

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Environment News Service

Government Workers Tasked With Gulf Oil Industry Oversight Accepted Gifts

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Sunlight illuminates the Deepwater Horizon oil slick near the Mississippi Delta. May 24, 2010. (Photo courtesy NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC - Staffers in the the Lake
Charles, Louisiana district office of the Minerals Management Service
accepted sport event tickets, lunches, and other gifts from oil and gas
production companies and used government computers to view pornography,
finds a report by the Department of the Interior Inspector General
released today.

Some of these same staffers were tasked with inspections of offshore
drilling platforms located in the Gulf of Mexico, states the report on
ethical lapses at the MMS between 2000 and 2008 written by Acting
Inspector General Mary Kendall.

Several of the people mentioned in the Inspector General's report have
resigned, been terminated, or referred for prosecution. Those mentioned
in the Inspector General's report for questionable behavior who are
still with MMS will be placed on administrative leave pending the
outcome of a personnel review, said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"The Inspector General report describes reprehensible activities of
employees of MMS between 2000 and 2008," said Secretary Salazar. "This
deeply disturbing report is further evidence of the cozy relationship
between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry."

"That is why during the first 10 days of becoming Secretary of the
Interior I directed a strong ethics reform agenda to clean house of
these ethical lapses at MMS," Salazar said.

"I appreciate and fully support the Inspector General's strong work to
root out the bad apples in MMS and we will follow through on her
recommendations, including taking any and all appropriate personnel
actions including termination, discipline, and referrals of any
wrongdoing for criminal prosecution," he said.

"In addition," Salazar said, "I have asked the Inspector General to
expand her investigation to determine whether any of this reprehensible
behavior persisted after the new ethics rules I implemented in 2009."

Salazar has also asked the Inspector General to investigate whether
there was a failure of MMS personnel to adequately enforce standards or
inspect the Deepwater Horizon offshore facility and look into whether
there are deficiencies in MMS policies or practices that need to be
addressed to ensure that operations on the Outer Continental Shelf are
conducted in a safe and environmentally sensitive manner.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, which represents government workers in natural resource
agencies questions whether anyone in a responsible capacity even read
BP's official response plan for oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.

The plan is "studded with patently inaccurate and inapplicable
information but was nonetheless approved by the federal government,"
PEER said today, suggesting that no regulator ever read it.

The "BP Regional Oil Spill Response Plan - Gulf of Mexico"
dated June 30, 2009 covers all of the company's operations in the Gulf,
not just the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon, which exploded and caught
fire April 20 and sank two days later, leaving the well it had been
drilling open and gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The plan lists "Sea Lions, Seals, Sea Otters" and "Walruses" and "Otter,
Beaver" and "Mink" as "Sensitive Biological Resources" in the Gulf of
Mexico. While none of these animals live in the gulf, they do live in
the Arctic, so PEER suggests that this portion of the BP plan was
"cribbed from previous Arctic exploratory planning."

In fact, according to Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
600 animal species are at risk from the massive Deepwater Horizon oil
spill - 445 species of fish, 45 mammals, 32 reptiles and amphibians, and
134 bird species.

BP's oil spill response plan gives a website for a Japanese home
shopping site
as the link to one of its "primary equipment providers for BP in the
Gulf of Mexico Region rapid deployment of spill response resources on a
24 hour, seven days a week basis."

The BP plan directs its media spokespeople not to make "promises that
property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal."

The plan does not contain information about tracking sub-surface oil
plumes from deepwater blowouts. It lacks any oceanographic or
meteorological information, despite the relevance of this data to spill
response.

"This response plan is not worth the paper it is written on," said PEER
Board Member Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska marine
professor and conservationist who tracked the Exxon Valdez spill.

In 2009, Steiner lost a $10,000 grant from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration for being an outspoken critic of the oil
industry's activities in the Bristol Bay region. Steiner filed a
grievance and, in October, lost. He then resigned from the university.

Steiner observes that the BP plan is almost 600 pages largely consisting
of lists, phone numbers and blank forms. "Incredibly, this voluminous
document never once discusses how to stop a deep water blowout even
though BP has significant deep water operations in the Gulf," he said.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Monday declared a "fishery disaster" in
the Gulf of Mexico as oil continues to leak from the wellhead.

Political anger is rising over consequences of the oil spill. Louisiana
Governor Bobby Jindal calls the response effort "disjointed" and says
Deepwater Horizon oil is damaging his state while he pleads for the
resources to fight it.

"Yesterday, we went out on a boat to Cat Island in Plaquemines Parish
and we saw islands covered in oil where our brown pelicans nest. Many of
the birds we could see were oiled, some to the point where they could
not fly," governor Jindal said.

"The brown pelican, of course, is our Louisiana state bird - and it was
just recently removed from the Endangered Species List. The oil on those
islands yesterday may kill off much of the island in addition to
damaging the bird population."

"Just a few days ago, we took a boat out to Pass a L'Outre and saw thick
black and brown colored oil covering much of the perimeter of the marsh
out there. Again, wildlife experts tell us this marsh may die in five
to seven days after the oil hits it."

"It is clear that the resources needed to protect our coast are not
here," Governor Jindal said. "Boom, skimmers, vacuums, and jack up
barges are all in short supply. Every day oil sits and waits for clean
up more of our marsh dies."

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