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Tue Apr 14, 2020, 07:48 AM

"Broken" Department Of Interior Agency Oversees GOM Oil Production; Morale Cratering, Staff Leaving

en years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Interior Department agency that regulates offshore energy development is fractious, demoralized and riddled with staff distrust toward its leadership, according to multiple accounts from current and former employees. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement was created to correct shortcomings revealed by the explosion that killed 11 men and spilled nearly 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The agency's leadership says it has charted a new, more aggressive course in the Trump era with greater compliance from industry and more efficient regulations. But some regulators say BSEE is gripped by a few dominant personalities and poor management, while the effectiveness of the organization falters.

With oil prices falling and operations in the Gulf evolving, they say now isn't the time to let protections slip. The stakes are too high. "I've never seen anything this broken," said a current employee and seven-year veteran of the bureau, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Interviews with nine current and former BSEE employees and industry officials, along with a review of public records, consistently depict an unhappy agency of about 770 employees struggling with a crucial task. Most, though not all, spoke on the condition they not be identified.

"The management that was hired in the wake of the Gulf oil spill was mostly based on favors and hookups of the already-in-place leadership," said Christopher Barry, a former BSEE training director. "This created an environment where there was no accountability, with [people who have] the wrong skills making important decisions that plague the agency even today." Though Barry left BSEE in 2012, he remains in touch with agency employees. And since the start of the Trump administration, concerns have centered on BSEE Director Scott Angelle. Some career employees say the Louisiana native's loyalty to the Gulf has weakened BSEE's national voice. "There was a time when people thought he's here to put power back in the Gulf, because he was a political animal down there," one employee said. "But ... he hasn't really empowered them to make decisions on their own. Everyone is looking over their shoulders constantly.



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