Senator Feinstein pushes Interior Secretary Salazar on deepwater drilling ban

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U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar testifies during a Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on Minerals Management Service reorganization June 23, 2010 in Washington, DC.

Federal Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a U.S. Senate panel today that he needs additional inspectors to monitor domestic oil production. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein told the secretary he’d need a lot more than that to prevent another spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico.

Senator Feinstein asked whether Ken Salazar knew of any fail-safe technology that would prevent another deepwater oil spill. He replied that the blowout preventer and other redundancies were supposed to avert a blowout like that in the Gulf of Mexico, but he admitted there are no 100 percent guarantees.

Feinstein advised Salazar to stick to the administration’s temporary ban on deepwater drilling – even as a federal judge has blocked that ban. "There are very powerful interests that want to proceed at all costs," she said. "And I don’t think we should."

She told Salazar that technology must be in place before oil companies resume drilling – and that it’s up to the government to ensure that inspectors are well trained and truly independent. "And I think you’re going to have to be very strong to really change that because I think for all intents and purposes, the pressure is going to enormous to go back to business as usual."

Salazar asked Congress to fund an additional 250 inspectors. Right now, 60 government inspectors supervise the nation’s 3,800 offshore oil drilling platforms.

Joining Salazar on Capitol Hill was Michael Bromwich, the new head of the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Senator Feinstein asked whether the new agency will change the culture of coziness with the oil industry. She noted the example of government inspectors in Louisiana accepting meals and gifts from oil companies.

"One inspector was even negotiating a job with an oil service company," she said. "How do you change the culture and where do you get people who are fiercely independent and able to carry out their job of inspection and regulation?"

Bromwich asked the senators for time to put reforms in place. The former inspector general of the Washington, D.C. Police Department said he'll create an investigations unit to examine internal misconduct and oil company lease violations.

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