Along with the thick, gooey oil that gushed out of the British Petroleum oil well in the Gulf of Mexico this year came sticky, dark, unpleasant reports about the federal government's oversight of undersea drillers. Now, with Washington preparing to lift its moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf, members of Congress should be asking whether a cap has been placed on the basic flaw in the old system.
Since news of inadequate - sometimes criminal - oversight by the old Minerals Management Service surfaced, dramatic changes have been made. The MMS has been eliminated and drilling oversight has been handed to three new agencies. One will handle drilling leases, another will collect royalties and a third will monitor drilling operations for safety and compliance with environmental rules.
As various investigations have noted, the MMS, in handling all three, was involved in a basic conflict of interest. Not the least of the conflicts was that offshore drilling sent enormous royalties to the federal government. In just one round of leasing in 1997, the government received $824 million.
In some cases, the MMS simply ignored warnings about the danger of deep-water drilling, including the likelihood that blowout preventers would malfunction.
America needs the oil produced in the Gulf - and it can be produced safely. Clearly, that will require basic changes in government oversight.