Lawmakers give Salazar grilling over oil drilling

WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar caught sharp criticism from lawmakers today over the government’s failures in overseeing offshore oil drilling, and he acknowledged his department had been lax in holding industry accountable.

Salazar, in his first appearance before Congress since the April 20 accident that unleashed a massive Gulf oil spill, promised an overhaul of the agency that regulates offshore oil drilling to give it “more tools, more resources, more independence and greater authority.”

Even as legislators in Washington debated what went wrong, evidence of the dimensions of the problem only grew. Federal regulators nearly tripled the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico where fishing is shut down because of the spill. And government scientists were studying aerial photos to see if oil from the spill had entered a powerful current that could take it to Florida.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., in opening a congressional hearing into the spill, said Congress wanted to explore “the role of regulatory failure” in the accident and what President Barack Obama has acknowledged for years has been a “cozy relationship” between government regulators and the oil and gas industry.

While the cause of the accident at the BP PLC well and spill has yet to be pinpointed, information uncovered so far raises the question of where the Minerals Management Service, the Interior agency that oversees offshore drilling, was in ensuring that wells are drilled safely, said Bingaman.

Salazar promised an overhaul of federal regulations and said blame for the BP spill rests with both industry and the government.

“There will be tremendous lessons to be learned here,” he told legislators, adding that changes in federal law were surely needed.


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