UPDATE: The presidentially appointed National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil spill co-chairs William K. Reilly and Bob Graham gave compelling testimony on the need for “systemic” changes in the oversight, regulation and culture in the offshore energy production industry at the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee hearing Jan. 26.

Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski asked Reilly and Graham noted that millions of barrels of oil have been generated around the world over the past few decades, largely without incident. “Were we just lucky?” she asked.

Reilly responded, “In a word, yes.” He said, “We absolutely must take some of these steps” to avoid another catastrophe. 

Among the changes that are needed, Reilly and Graham told committee members, are the allocation of more resources—probably through congressional appropriations--for the Dept. of Interior’s office formerly known as the Minerals Management Service, now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE.)

Reilly said that although he was pleased that Interior Secretary Salazar had taken steps to split the three functions of MMS into three separate entitites (see blog posting from Jan. 25), “we do not think they are sufficient.”

The commission would like to see a separate, autonomous office within the agency to oversee the enforcement of safety and environmental regulations with an independent chief. The chief would be presidentially appointed to serve a limited term, he said.

Graham strongly reiterated the commission’s support for allocating 80% of Clean Water Act criminal and civil penalties for the restoration of the Gulf. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said that current law does not permit that, and that she planned to introduce legislation that would allow for more of the penalties to go toward the cleanup effort.

During the last session of Congress, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously reported out a bipartisan bill that would adopt several reforms to the oil and gas industry and its oversight.

“Additional information has become available from a variety of sources since we prepared our legislation last summer that will help us make improvements to our bill,” said Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). He said he plans to introduce an improved, bipartisan bill during this session of Congress.