WASHINGTON — Inspectors with the Minerals Management Service — charged with enforcing safety and environmental rules on offshore rigs — routinely took gifts from the companies they were supposed to be policing, including hunting trips, college football tickets and meals.
A new report, released Tuesday by the Interior Department's inspector general, does not directly relate to the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which exploded April 20 and set off a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It details misconduct in the service's Lake Charles, La., office, which oversaw a different region of the gulf, and only covers the period up to 2008, before the problem well was approved.
But the report adds to a growing portrait of the MMS as corrupted by industry: Many inspectors, the inspector general found, were already friends with industry officials. Some had worked in the oil and gas business before their stint in government, and would again. One official inspected four platforms owned by one company at the same time he was negotiating for a job at that firm.
The result, the report found, was regulation often looked less than rigorous. One source, it said, told investigators that service inspectors let the oil and gas companies fill out their own inspection forms — in pencil. Then a government inspector would trace over their writing in ink.
"Of greatest concern to me is the environment in which these inspectors operate — particularly the ease with which they move between industry and government," Mary Kendall, the Interior Department's acting inspector general, said in a cover letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The inspector general's report was slated to be released later in the year, but Kendall moved up its release because of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. In that case, officials have questioned whether the service could have done more to prevent the explosion, or to prevent the resulting spill from spewing for more than a month.