After millions of gallons of crude gushed into the Gulf during last yearâ€™s oil spill, the disaster triggered a continuing blame game  between BP and its many contractors. It also got regulators pondering the need for expanding oversight to such contractors . Currently, operators of off-shore rigs are subject to safety regulations, but regulators don't have direct oversight of the contractors that work for those operators.
In recent months, theÂ Interior Departmentâ€™s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management signaled that this could change .Â As we reported in April, the agency's head, Michael Bromwich, said that the limited oversight of contractors made â€œabsolutely no sense." He suggested that the agency could move to bring major offshore oil contractorsâ€”like Transocean and Halliburton â€”under the agencyâ€™s enforcement reach and impose penalties if warranted.
But the Republican-led House Appropriations committee is having nothing of it. The committee passed a bill today  thatâ€”in addition to stripping billions in funding  from the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agencyâ€”seeks to limit the offshore drilling agencyâ€™s ability to oversee contractors.
Hereâ€™s the language from the committeeâ€™s report accompanying the bill, first noted by the Hill :
The Committee is concerned with the Bureauâ€™s stated intentions for the expansion of regulatory authority over non-lease holders under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). The authority and need for this action has not been explained or justified to the Committee, nor how this diversion of limited resources would impact the Bureauâ€™s current mission and objectives identified in the fiscal year 2012 request. The agency is directed to use all the resources provided toward the regulatory efforts presented in the fiscal year 2012 request and that no funds be expended for other purposes until the agency has fully explained its authority, intentions and objectives to the Committee and the public.
The beleaguered drilling agency underwent a major overhaul after the spill. But there are still questions  about whether its inspectors have been adequately trained and are knowledgeable enough to handle their existing responsibilitiesâ€”let alone take on new ones.
With a potential 2012 budget cut on the horizon, prospects are looking even more doubtful for expanded authority. Nonetheless, the agency is still recruiting and hiring  new inspectors and this week announced it would start using teams of inspectors â€”as opposed to individualsâ€”to conduct safety reviews.