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Conflict of Interest That Led to the Gulf Oil Disaster

May 2011

Citation: 41 ELR 10414

Issue: 5

Author: Peter Jan Honigsberg

In 1982, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary James G. Watt merged the responsibilities for revenue collection and regulatory oversight of offshore oil and gas industries under the Minerals Management Services (MMS). This created a dangerous conflict of interest within the MMS. In the days and weeks that followed the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, the media pointed to the MMS as being complicit with BP. The MMS issued permits for deepwater drilling in violation of its regulations, provided hundreds of exemptions to the regulations, and had allowed the companies to draft the regulations that suited their interests and objectives. The Deepwater Horizon disaster brought attention to the danger created by conflicts of interest within federal agencies.

Peter Jan Honigsberg is a Professor of Law, University of San Francisco.

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