WASHINGTON — A former federal prosecutor took over Monday as director of a new government agency that oversees offshore drilling and other oil and gas development.
Michael R. Bromwich, 56, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, will lead a reorganization of the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service.
Bromwich's arrival as head of the 1,700-employee agency came as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed an order renaming the agency the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The agency, which both regulates the oil and gas industry and collects billions in royalties from it, will be known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy or BOE for short, Salazar said.
Under its previous name, the drilling agency was criticized for a cozy relationship with oil companies and lax oversight.
The drilling agency has come under repeated fire for inadequate review of BP's plans for deepwater drilling at the well now spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Counting what's there before it's gone
THERIOT, La. — The dozen biologists on Point au Fer Island were on an 11th-hour mission to count what is there before it is gone.
Nearly two months into the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, they were counting birds guarding chicks and eggs, hastily. The biologists strode across the island's remote beaches and sandbars for two days last week to take stock of avian life before oil comes ashore.
Essentially, they wanted to estimate the populations of American oystercatchers, common nighthawks, least terns, Wilson's plovers and other species for use in charting what they fear could be a drastically downward trend over the next several decades.
Environmentalists are wary that a shift in weather and ocean currents will bring oil and toxic chemicals from the breakdown of petroleum into Atchafalaya Bay, about 75 miles southwest of New Orleans.
The data collected during the two-day survey may help answer critical questions at the heart of the disaster: What effect will oil and dispersants have on one of the nation's biggest breeding grounds for birds?
"There is a sense of urgency to get remote places like this thoroughly surveyed before the oil hits," said Steven Cardiff, collections manager of birds and mammals at Louisiana State University's Museum of Natural Science. "A high tide with oil and a strong wind, and it's all gone."
The oil slick has already despoiled coastal estuaries a few miles east of this 20-mile-long island, killing untold numbers of birds, fish, turtles and mammals, and ruining their delicate bayou habitat, perhaps for years to come. Compounding problems, cleanup crews using booms, earth movers and shovels have inadvertently crushed nests, eggs and newly hatched chicks.
Drilling relief well is daunting task
The best hope of ending the oil disaster rests on teams drilling two relief wells meant to stop the seafloor gusher, a daunting task: Their drills have to hit a target roughly the size of a salad plate about 3 miles below the water's surface. If the workers aboard Transocean's Development Driller II or its sister rig DDIII miss or move too slowly, oil will keep pouring into the sea. As much as 125 million gallons of oil has gushed into the gulf. No one on the rig has done this before because these deep sea interventions are so rare. But rig workers brushed off worries and the pressure to succeed. "It's really not a tough thing to do," says Mickey Fruge, the well site leader aboard the DDII for BP.
Judge considers lifting drill ban
Several oil service companies are asking a federal judge to block the Interior Department from enforcing a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling projects in the gulf. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman heard arguments Monday in New Orleans on Hornbeck Offshore Services' bid for lifting the moratorium. A lawsuit filed by the company claims the government arbitrarily imposed the moratorium and suspended drilling at 33 existing exploratory wells without any proof that the operations posed a threat. In a two-hour hearing, Feldman weighed those arguments as well as rebuttals from environmental groups. He is expected to decide whether to issue an injunction overturning the moratorium by Wednesday.