Secretary Salazar to Create OCS Safety Board

As part of the federal government's coordinated oversight and support of BP's response to its spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Department of the Interior will establish a new Outer Continental Shelf Safety Board, conduct a full review of offshore drilling safety and technology issues, and further tighten oversight of industry equipment testing, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced last week.

"In this eleventh day of the massive, coordinated response to the Deepwater Horizon incident, we must continue to do everything we can to oversee and support BP's efforts to stop and clean up the oil that is spilling from the well head," said Salazar, during a visit to command centers in Houma and Robert, Louisiana, with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. "At the same time, we must take aggressive action to verify the safety of other offshore oil and gas operations, further tighten our oversight of industry's practices, and take a careful look at all the questions that this disaster is raising."

The Department of the Interior's Outer Continental Shelf Safety Oversight Board, established by Secretarial Order, will provide recommendations regarding interim measures that may enhance OCS safety and recommendations for improving and strengthening the Department's overall management, regulation and oversight of OCS operations. The Oversight Board, on which Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Wilma Lewis, DOI Inspector General Mary Kendall, and Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget Rhea Suh will serve, will also provide oversight of the MMS regarding the Joint Investigation that MMS and the United States Coast Guard have undertaken into the Deepwater Horizon incident. Secretary Salazar will provide a report to President Obama within 30 days on what, if any, immediate additional precautions and technologies should be required.

Salazar also said that MMS will continue rigorous oversight of industry operations to ensure compliance with all drilling laws and regulations. At Secretary Salazar's direction, MMS is conducting immediate inspections of all 30 deepwater drilling rigs and 47 deepwater production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. This operation is underway and consists of targeted inspections ensuring that tests of BOP (blowout preventer) stacks have been completed, related records are available for inspection, and that emergency well control exercises are taking place. MMS inspectors should complete inspections of deepwater drilling rigs within seven days, whereupon they will immediately start inspecting all deepwater production platforms.

Salazar urged oil and gas leaders and technical experts yesterday evening to do everything possible to assist BP with its response to its spill and to take every available precaution as they conduct their own operations. At Salazar's direction, MMS has issued a special safety alert to operators emphasizing that all safety procedures and testing must be conducted fully and that operators should verify that BOP stacks are properly tested and configured.

The findings of the Joint Investigation and the recommendations of the Oversight Board will help inform the implementation of the Obama Administration's comprehensive energy strategy for the Outer Continental Shelf, said Salazar. "As we evaluate new areas for potential exploration and development in the OCS, we will conduct thorough environmental analysis and scientific study, gather public input and comment, and carefully examine the potential safety and spill risk considerations, including the findings of the Joint Investigation and the recommendations of the new oversight board."

Interior agencies with responsibility for public lands and natural resources are working with federal and state officials to place boom barriers around sensitive areas of the Gulf Coast. This effort has already deployed about 100,000 feet of boom along sensitive Louisiana sites, including 23,000 feet of boom to protect pelican nesting colonies at North and New Harbor Islands (behind Chandeleur Islands) and 23,000 feet deployed around the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, where additional boom is being deployed.

Booms are being placed to protect coastal marshes in southeast Louisiana and ecologically sensitive areas in Florida. In Alabama and Mississippi, the placement of booms to protect priority areas has been initiated and will continue through the next few days. Priority areas include ecologically sensitive areas identified by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service as part of the Area Contingency Plan and Environmental Sensitivity Index Map planning processes.