U.S. may expand oversight of rig contractors

WASHINGTON Mon Apr 25, 2011 5:41pm EDT

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off Louisiana, in this handout photograph taken on April 21, 2010 and obtained on April 22. REUTERS/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off Louisiana, in this handout photograph taken on April 21, 2010 and obtained on April 22.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. offshore drilling regulator may be able to expand oversight of rig contractors without congressional action, Interior Department official Michael Bromwich said on Monday.

Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has been examining its options for regulating rig contractors after official reports on the BP oil spill blamed actions by BP's contractors, Transocean Ltd and Halliburton, for contributing to the accident.

Previously Bromwich, who heads the drilling regulator, said officials found the agency's regulators might not be able to apply regulations beyond operators unless new laws were enacted.

But, "it is actually looking more like we may not need additional authority and that we may have authority under current law," Bromwich told Reuters after an event hosted by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

Bromwich stressed his agency would not take any actions regarding contractors until it had a definitive answer regarding its authorities, however.

A report issued by the Coast Guard late last week said serious safety lapses by Transocean, which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by BP to drill its doomed Macondo well, helped to cause the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Another probe of the drilling disaster blamed Halliburton for faulty cementing on the Macondo well.

"There is no...credible reason why you shouldn't at least have the ability to proceed against contractors, without in any way having that detract from your ability to hold the operator liable," Bromwich said during the event. "You can hold multiple entities liable."

(Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)