New Science Rules for Offshore Drilling Send Mixed Message

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

New Science Rules for Offshore Drilling Send Mixed Message

MMS "Transparency" Mandate Riddled with Welter of Non-Release Categories

WASHINGTON - The federal agency responsible for
approving offshore drilling, wind and other deep-water energy
developments has issued a new code of scientific conduct that appears
to promote secrecy while touting the value of transparency, according
to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The net
result is that scientists working on controversial ocean-based energy
projects will be unable to obtain independent review of industry
submittals.

The new "Integrity and Code of Conduct
for Science, Scientific Assessment, and Other Similar Technical
Activities" was unveiled by the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS)
in an all-employee e-mail on January 8, 2010.  It covers that agency's
branch for Offshore Energy and Minerals Management.  

The action seems to be a reaction to abuses under the Bush
administration which suppressed protests from MMS and other agency
scientists about how badly environmental assessments of Arctic offshore
oil plans were skewed.  The failure of MMS to openly analyze suppressed
scientific concerns - on issues ranging from the effect of oil spills
to the introduction of invasive species - resulted in court decisions
striking down agency drilling plans and schedules for sensitive Arctic
tracts.

This new scientific code of conduct, however, sends decidedly mixed
messages about what may or may not be released by scientists.  On one
hand, the code declares "Science, scientific assessment and other
similar technical activities shall be conducted with the fullest
transparency allowed by law, from the planning stages through
completion of the work."  On the other hand, the code forbids
disclosure of any information by scientists contrary to -

"agreements between MMS and its partners [i.e., oil companies] relating
to use, security, and release of sensitive, confidential, proprietary,
and administratively controlled, deliberative or personally
identifiable information and data provided to the MMS."

"This scientific code leaves the oil industry in charge of what
information the public may see about development of the Arctic," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the vast majority of
data consists of industry submittals, estimates and monitoring
reports.  "An MMS scientist would also have to be a Philadelphia lawyer
to know what he or she could publish or disclose under this new code."

The transmittal memo for the new code states that "MMS can now join the
list of other DOI Bureaus who have established and released comparable
guidelines."  Yet, the MMS code stands in stark contrast to the policy
recently promulgated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, another
Interior agency, guaranteeing its scientists the right to publish
without any prior "policy review."  The MMS code also does not
incorporate elements of President Obama's scientific integrity policy,
such as whistleblower protection for scientists.  

"Significantly, MMS compiled its new 'integrity' code in secret,
without involving the public or its own line scientists," added Ruch. 
"We need a government-wide overhaul of information access to prevent
industry-friendly agencies from shielding data the public should see."

One big difference from past efforts, however, is that the new code
applies not only to scientists but also to "decisionmakers" who engage
in "coercive manipulation" or other misconduct.  Unfortunately, the
code has no enforcement mechanism to ensure that agency managers would
be punished for improperly altering scientific reports.  

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Read the new MMS Scientific Integrity and Code of Conduct

View the transmittal memo

See pattern of political manipulation of MMS offshore drilling scientific reviews

Compare Fish & Wildlife Service scientific transparency policy
 
Look at the overdue Obama scientific integrity initiative

 

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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