Meth, Porn, Guns, Graft at Agency Overseeing Gulf Oil Companies: Interior Department Report

The Minerals Management Service, the federal agency responsible for all offshore oil and gas regulation, has dined, partied, fired off shotguns, hunted, golfed, and shared Web porn — and in a couple of cases even done cocaine and meth — with employees of the very companies they're supposed to be regulating, according to a newly released Interior Department report.

The Department of Interior investigative report (PDF) describes transportation to college football games on offshore oil company planes as well as offshore oil and gas sponsored golf outings, crawfish boils, skeet-shooting events, and hunting trips. A source also told investigators that MMS inspectors sometimes allowed oil and gas company employees onboard drilling platforms to fill out inspection forms.

The report also describes the case of a MMS clerical employee who used cocaine and meth with an inspector. The employee explained that while "she had no knowledge of the inspector’s use of drugs while at work, she said that in the past, he had used crystal methamphetamine the night prior to coming to work at MMS."

And then there's the porn problem. The report describes numerous incidences of porn being forwarded from government computers:

We found numerous instances of pornography and other inappropriate material on the e-mail accounts of 13 employees, six of whom have resigned. We specifically discovered 314 instances where the seven remaining employees received or forwarded pornographic images and links to Internet websites containing pornographic videos to other federal employees and individuals outside of the office using their government e-mail accounts.

All of these scandals can be blamed at least partially on the fact that MMS employees and oil and gas company employees overlap. From the report:

According to Williamson, many of the MMS inspectors had worked for the oil and gas industry and continued to be friends with industry representatives. “Obviously, we’re all oil industry,” he said. “We’re all from the same part of the country. Almost all of our inspectors have worked for oil companies out on these same platforms. They grew up in the same towns. Some of these people, they’ve been friends with all their life. They’ve been with these people since they were kids. They’ve hunted together. They fish together. They skeet shoot together ....They do this all the time.

The biggest offenders were fired some time ago, but despite all these transgressions, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana declined this case for prosecution in October 2009. The report explains that "This case is being referred to the Director of the Minerals Management Service for any action deemed appropriate."

The report casts a blinding light on the Mineral Management Service's tarnished record as it becomes clear that ethical and regulatory lapses are common in the agency. A regional MMS office in Alaska featured a cake with the words "Drill Baby Drill" at a recent reception, for example, and MMS officers were accused in 2008 of accepting sex and ski trips from oil company representatives.

This is all a huge embarrassment to the federal government, which is why Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently announced that he is splitting the MMS into three agencies: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue. By separating the offices responsible for safety enforcement and revenue collection, the government hopes to stop corruption. But with MMS employees and oil company employees sharing such cozy relationships — even from childhood, in many examples — it's not far-fetched to think of the agency's reorganization as the bureaucratic version of dispersant on a gushing oil spill. Contained. Reshuffled. But bound to bubble up again.

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Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by e-mail.

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