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Oil Rig Inspections Tighter in Pacific, Report Says

Times Staff Writer

Federal inspections of offshore oil equipment fail at times to meet legal requirements, although California’s rigs now get better scrutiny because of public concern since the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, according to a congressional study to be released today.

A report by the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said that the 1978 Outer Continental Shelf Act requires the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service and the Coast Guard to conduct annual inspections and periodic unannounced inspections of offshore oil rigs and production platforms in federal waters. But only in the Pacific Ocean are surprise inspections routinely performed, the report said.

More Violations Found

Offshore exploratory drilling has occurred off Alaska and in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, with the gulf and the Pacific being the chief producers of oil or natural gas. The report said that substantially more safety and environmental violations were found in 1983 during inspections in the Gulf of Mexico than in the Pacific because of more frequent inspections in the West.

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“This difference between the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico regions is due to the relative difference in the regions’ workload and resources and more stringent environmental considerations in the Pacific,” the report said. ". . . Officials indicated that inspections are conducted more frequently in the Pacific region because of public environmental concerns resulting from the 1969 Santa Barbara blowout.”

More than 235,000 gallons of oil spread an 800-square-mile slick on the Pacific Ocean during that accident and killed birds, seals and other marine life.

More Inspectors in Pacific

The congressional report--requested by the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations and the Government Operations subcommittee on environment, energy and natural resources--said that each inspection in 1983 uncovered an average of 1.2 violations, ranging from faulty valves for monitoring oil and gas pressure to improper record maintenance. Because of limited staffing, inspectors in the Gulf of Mexico often failed to make follow-up visits to ensure that corrections were made, the report said.

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In 1983, the Gulf of Mexico had 25 inspectors for 2,551 rigs and platforms, compared to the Pacific’s five inspectors for 19 facilities, the report said. Each drilling rig in the Pacific was inspected about 46 times that year, compared to 8 inspections on each in the Gulf of Mexico. Rigs in state waters--those within three miles of shore--do not come under federal jurisdiction.

Reps. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Mike Synar (D-Okla.), chairmen of the subcommittees that requested the report, complained that “such an uneven approach to safety” violates the legal obligations of the Interior Department and the Coast Guard.

‘Greatly Disturbed’

“We are thankful that the glare of publicity associated with such a ‘blowout’ ” in Santa Barbara causes the Minerals Management Service to show a greater concern for inspections in the Pacific region, the congressmen said in a letter to Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel and Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole.

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“But we are greatly disturbed that the MMS and the Coast Guard apparently are treating the regions unevenly from an inspection and enforcement standpoint,” the congressmen wrote.

But Thomas DeRocco, a spokesman for the Minerals Management Service, said inspections in the gulf are “adequate as evidenced by the fact we’ve had a very, very small number of accidents” in the outer continental shelf.


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