The explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 people and lead to one of the worst oil spills in the nation's history. The Interior Department is trying to take steps to ensure nothing like that happens in the future, but the new report says the agency hasn't been tracking some key information it needs to oversee safety.
An Interior Department reorganization after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill created two new bureaus to approve offshore drilling and ensure safety, but problems remain in enforcing regulations, a government watchdog warns.
In fact, the department still lacks the ability to determine in real time whether dangerous situations identified during an inspection have been corrected, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report Wednesday.
The agency split approval and regulation of drilling rigs, which previously had been handled within the same office. The goal was to fundamentally change a safety culture that was viewed as having become lax and contributing to the Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 workers and led to the worst oil spill in American history.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management now deals with resource management such as reviewing exploration and development plans, while the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement deals with safety and environmental enforcement.
One of the problems that persists, GAO found, is that the database of safety violations is missing dates on when issues were identified, reported and corrected.
“As a result, Interior does not know on a real-time basis whether or when all violations were identified and corrected, potentially allowing unsafe conditions to continue for extended periods,” the watcheddog waarned said.
The way Interior approves plans to build drilling rigs has also changed. For the decade leading up to the BP oil spill, 98 percent of all development plans in the Gulf of Mexico were given the green light.
“Because Interior had previously determined that a planned activity was not likely to significantly affect the environment, it categorically excluded the activity from a more detailed, site-specific…analysis,” the GAO said.
Reviews of any development sites were hindered by a lack of geographic information, the report said.
The department has worked to improve its oversight process to begin addressing site-specific environmental issues at various rigs, the GAO said.
Interior officials agreed with the assessment that safety improvements needed to be made, but said it is much farther along in addressing concerns than was depicted in the report.
"The department's reforms also have substantially improved the evaluation of potential environmental effects of offshore oil and gas activity and emergency response preparedness," said Marcilynn Burke, the acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management.
The Government Accountability Office, or GAO, is Congress' investigative arm charged with finding waste, fraud, and areas of improvement for government agencies.
The Interior Department is the agency in charge of regulating and developing the nation's natural resources, including gas and oil.