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Oil in the Family


  Louisiana's strong ties to the oil industry were exposed to the nation last week when the Associated Press uncovered documents showing just how cozy a relationship the state has with the industry it regulates. The AP found one of every five employees involved with offshore inspections in the Gulf of Mexico were recused from duties because of potential interactions with a friend or family member.

  It raises the question: Where else would an agency turn to find employees familiar with the industry?

  Matt Ross, communications director for the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, told Gambit there are little or no alternatives to recruiting from within the same stock. No institutions can provide the same type of on-the-ground experience and familiarity that offshore workers bring to regulatory agencies. "Usually their experience comes from being on the ground and being a part of the industry and understanding proper protocols the industry does in the private sector," he said.

  Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (or BOEMRE, formerly the Minerals Management Service), told the AP those conflicts of interest exist "because of close-knit communities in which much offshore activity takes place. The issue is not with the conflicts themselves, which have existed for decades, but whether they are identified, addressed and managed."

  For example, in Lafayette 35 percent of inspectors were recused; in Lake Charles, 30 percent were recused. Inspectors' relationships with offshore companies also extended to informal lunches, hunting and fishing trips and football games, the report said. But Ross said the report is a sign that the "system is working," despite signs of dysfunction within the state's regulatory agencies.

  "As an industry we certainly support the recusals of individuals that have relationships with companies previously that may somewhere down the line end up regulating those companies," Ross said. "There's a similar protocol in a lot of other industries, a lot of other sectors, where individuals have to sit on the sidelines because of the ethical nature of a previous job and what they do currently." — Alex Woodward

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