Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Louisiana MMS: 'A Culture of Corruption'

Buried on page A-16 of today's Times is an investigative news item by Ian Urbina claiming that an inspector general's report into misconduct by Minerals Management Service (MMS) had been transmitted to the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. The report focuses on employees at the Lake Charles, Louisiana, MMS regional office -- the one which would have had the most direct conduct with BP oil industry officials and the Deepwater Horizon well.

As Urbina wrote, the report initially was "provided to The New York Times by a person familiar with the investigation who is not authorized to speak to reporters." And, it's a humdinger. What it describes is a culture of corruption, favoritism for the oil industry, and thorough incompetence.

As introductory materials in the report explain, "all of the conduct chronicled in this report occurred prior to 2007." The investigation had its origins in a whistle-blower's letter sent to the U.S. Attorney's office in Louisiana. The U.S.A. referred the matter to the I.G. for investigation.

Times reporter Ian Urbina describes one of the many deeply disturbing findings: "Federal regulators responsible for oversight of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico allowed industry officials several years ago to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil — and then turned them over to the regulators, who traced over them in pen before submitting the reports to the agency." (emphasis added)

Other activities of MMS personnel at Lake Charles included:
  • Inspectors accepting "meals, tickets to sporting events and gifts" from "at least one oil company while they were overseeing the industry."
  • In mid-2008, "a minerals agency employee conducted four inspections on drilling platforms when he was also negotiating a job with the drilling company, a cover letter to the report said."
  • An MMS inspector from the Lake Charles office "admitted to investigators that he had used crystal methamphetamine, an illegal drug..." and is believed to have been under the influence of drugs while conducting an oil rig inspection.
  • Employees from the Lake Charles office "repeatedly accepted gifts, including hunting and fishing trips from the Island Operating Company, an oil and gas company working on oil platforms... ."
  • At least two Lake Charles MMS employees "admitted... using illegal drugs during their employment."
  • Seven or more inspectors who are "cited in the report as having been involved in inappropriate or illegal activities were still employed by the agency when the report was completed in March."
The full IG report now has gone viral. It's available on Scribd and ABC-News and probably elsewhere.
minor edit 5-25 pm

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