Former drilling regulators have a history of job security

By Laurie Bennett

June 3, 2010 at 10:43am

One measure (among many) of the coziness between federal regulators and offshore drilling companies can be seen in the regulators’ job paths.

Two recent directors of the Minerals Management Service - the federal agency that is supposed to oversee the drilling - have headed the National Ocean Industries Association, the trade group representing the energy companies.

Randall Luthi became president of the association in March, after leaving MMS at the beginning of the Obama administration.

Luthi headed the MMS from July 2007 to January 2009. As the association proclaimed in the announcement of his appointment (which preceded the Gulf oil spill): “Under his leadership, MMS conducted the largest Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease sale in history.”

Luthi’s predecessor at the trade group was Tom Fry, another former MMS director. Fry is now a director of one of the oil companies, Plains Exploration & Production.

One of the reforms proposed by the Obama administration is the restructuring of MMS, to separate inspection and enforcement from leasing and revenue collection. Obama’s appointee to head the agency, Liz Burnbaum, stepped down last month.

For an interesting analysis of the lopsided role of Wyoming politics in the agency, traceable to former VP Dick Cheney, see this report from the nonprofit news service WyoFile.

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