May 25, 2010 / 5:54 PM / 7 years ago

Interior secretary requests offshore agency ethics probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday ordered an investigation of whether his agency failed to properly oversee the rig that caused the Gulf oil spill, in light of a new report revealing ethical lapses under prior administrations.

Interior’s acting Inspector General Mary Kendall released details of an investigation Monday that found it was common before 2007 for Minerals Management Service employees at a Lake Charles, Louisiana district office to accept gifts from energy company representatives.

“This deeply disturbing report is further evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry,” Salazar said in a statement.

The Interior Department has been criticized in recent weeks for not doing enough to prevent the explosion on Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig, which led to a ruptured undersea well that is spewing thousands of barrels oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

Salazar said he has asked the inspector general to look into whether MMS employees adequately inspected and enforced standards on the Deepwater Horizon rig. He also asked the inspector to determine if the improper behavior outlined in the report has continued since he took over the department.

An inspector general report released in 2008 uncovered that MMS employees at another office received gifts, as well as used illegal drugs and had sex with workers from the oil companies they were supposed to oversee.

In response to this scandal, Salazar instituted new ethics rules when he took the helm of the department in 2009.

This latest report shed more light on the extremely close relationship some MMS employees have with the companies they regulate.

“Obviously, we’re all oil industry,” Lake Charles District Manager Larry Williamson said in the report. “Almost all of our inspectors have worked for oil companies out on these same platforms. Some of these people, they’ve been friends with all their life.”

Editing by Alden Bentley

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