Drilling Chief Wants Higher Fines for Offenses

January 13, 2011 - 5:58 PM

Washington (AP) - The Obama administration is considering ways to increase civil penalties for companies that violate rules for offshore drilling, a senior regulator said Thursday.

Michael Bromwich, director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said current fines of up to $35,000 per incident per day are "patently inadequate to deter violations."

In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bromwich said legislation likely would be required to make meaningful changes.

Bromwich praised a report this week by a presidential panel investigating the BP oil spill, and said his agency has already begun many of the reforms the report urges.

"The Deepwater Horizon tragedy has shaken government _ and I hope industry _ out of a complacency and overconfidence that had developed over the past several decades," Bromwich said. Increased dangers of ultra-deep water drilling "were not matched by increased vigilance and concern for the safety of those operations."

Bromwich said he understands the frustration of the oil and gas industry and its supporters, who accuse the Obama administration of moving too slowly to allow new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. But he said new rules were needed to keep pace with technological advances and industry ambitions to drill in ever deeper waters.

"A retreat on drilling safety is simply not an option," he said.

Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's chief trade group, said industry and the government have worked hard to improve offshore safety since the BP spill last April.

"While continued vigilance on safety is essential, the time has come to get back to work producing the energy the nation needs," Carroll said. "Too many people remain out of work, and too much future energy and revenue production are at risk should delay continue."

Bromwich said new permits for deepwater drilling are likely to be issued in the first half of the year, but probably at a slower rate than before the spill.

"I would be stunned if we wait until the third or fourth quarter" of 2011 to issue a new deepwater permit, he said.