Federal energy chief seeks drilling answers on Coast

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The federal government's top man at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement met with South Mississippians Friday in Biloxi to discuss oil spill response and deepwater drilling.

Michael R. Bromwich, Director of the BOEM is leading a series of public meetings to collect information and views about drilling safety reforms, blowout containment, and oil spill response.

BOEM, formerly known as the Minerals Management Service, came under strong criticism of government regulators being to cozy with the oil and gas industry.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced it will reinforce and expand reforms being carried out by the beleaguered agency that oversees offshore drilling. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says a report issued this week provides a blueprint to solve problems at the agency the former MMS.

The report recommends that BOEM should increase the number and training of inspectors; conduct more surprise inspections; and stiffen fines and civil penalties on companies found to violate federal rules.  Salazar and Bromwich said the report builds on efforts already under way - including ethics and structural changes they said will transform the agency.

At Friday's meeting in Biloxi, Bromwich solicited input from the general public, state and local leaders, and experts from academia, the environmental community, and the oil and gas industry.

"We will engage the public and experts on these issues to determine what additional measures are needed so that deepwater drilling can proceed in a manner that is safe for crews, the environment, and coastal communities," Bromwich said.

"It's important that we hear from those who have been directly affected by the BP Oil Spill, as well as from other stakeholders, including the conservation community and the oil and gas industry itself," he said.

"We need to know that industry got the message," Bromwich continued, "and that they are quickly taking steps to ensure deepwater drilling operations are safe. They also have to demonstrate to us that they can contain a catastrophic blowout similar to BP oil spill as well as respond appropriately in the event of another oil spill."

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