May 31, 2010
On May 27, Elizabeth Birnbaum resigned as head of the MMS (Minerals Management Service), which oversees oil and gas operations on federal lands and the outer continental shelf.
From the time it was created in 1982, the MMS has functioned not as a watchdog over the offshore oil and gas industry, but as a cover for it. MMS doesn’t write its own safety regulations. It quickly delegated this authority to the American Petroleum Institute – an oil industry trade group! Safety training for oil rig workers was turned over to another industry group about a decade ago.
The results of having the oil industry oversee itself behind the cover of the MMS have been deadly: MMS’s own records show that from 2001 to 2007, there were 1,443 serious offshore oil drilling accidents that caused 41 deaths, 302 injuries and 356 oil spills.
This situation is not unique to the oil industry. Most of the top officials who have led the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration have been former mining company managers, executives, lawyers or lobbyists. In the banking industry, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are headed by the bankers they are supposed to oversee.
Government “oversight” of the oil and gas industry, like government oversight of other industries, is only a smoke and mirrors illusion.