Interior Secretary Salazar provides details on plan for Minerals Management Service

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
By David A. Fahrenthold and Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010; 7:03 PM

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar provided new details Wednesday about his plan to break up the Minerals Management Service, saying three new agencies would divide the duties of leasing offshore parcels for energy projects, policing safety rules, and collecting royalties.

"These three missions . . . are conflicting missions and must be separated," Salazar said, adding that subordinates were given 30 days to work out a schedule for the split.

Thursday is the one-month anniversary of the explosion at the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which has led to a massive oil spill that neither the federal government nor BP has been able to stop.

The Minerals Management Service had been criticized for its coziness with the energy industry, which provides the royalty money that partially funds it. Last week, Salazar said the service would be divided into two parts: one to handle leasing and royalty collection, and another to enforce safety and environmental rules. On Wednesday, Salazar said, there would be three new agencies.

About 700 of the agency's 1,700 employees would be shifted to the new Office of Natural Resources Revenue, which would take over the job of collecting royalties from energy projects on federal land and the ocean floor. Those royalties, from energy projects both on-shore and off, come to about $13 billion per year.

About another 700 employees would go to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which would oversee the leasing of parcels of the ocean floor for oil or gas rigs, or for renewable energy projects like wind farms. And 300 employees would go to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: "This will be the police of offshore oil and gas operations," Salazar said.

A spokeswoman for Salazar said it was unclear if the funds for this bureau would continue to come from royalties.

At a press conference in Robert, Louisiana, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said the company was now capturing 3,000 barrels of oil per day, up from 2,000, by using a tube inserted into the leaking "riser" pipe on the gulf floor. But he said it might be Sunday, or even early next week, before they attempt to plug the gushing well with an injection of heavy "kill mud." Salazar had previously said that might happen Saturday.

Suttles said that calm seas had enabled the company to have four surface burns of an hour each on Tuesday and more burns on Wednesday, including one that lasted more than two hours. He said that in addition to the oil, the company was also capturing 14 million cubic feet a day of natural gas.

More crude oil -- rust-brown and sticky -- infiltrated the grassy marshes at the tip of the Mississippi River delta Wednesday, despite efforts to increase the flow of the river and beat back the approaching oil slick.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who toured the scene by boat Wednesday morning, renewed his plea for an emergency permit from the federal government to build a new series of barrier islands, or "sand booms," to protect the coast from the oil spill.

"We know we've got cancer. We know we need treatment. We know we've already had some damage. We have to stop this cancer from spreading," Jindal said.

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