News / USA

Head of US Agency that Regulates Offshore Drilling Resigns

The head of the U.S. agency that regulates offshore drilling has resigned as the Obama administration attempts to address the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico more aggressively.

The departure of U.S. Minerals Management Service Director Elizabeth Birnbaum was announced Thursday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar during a Congressional hearing.

The mineral management service became embroiled in controversy earlier this month when a report was made public showing agency employees accepted meals, tickets to sports events and other gifts from oil companies.

Among the charges detailed in the report, one worker with the agency's Louisiana office admitted to using crystal methamphetamine, and may have been under the influence of the illegal drug while at work.

Interior Secretary Salazar called the report "deeply disturbing," and said some implicated workers have resigned, been fired or were referred for prosecution.

The investigation covers a period before Secretary Salazar took office.  He ordered the inspector general to expand the inquiry to see if any violations occurred after the Interior Department issued new ethics rules in 2009.

Earlier this month, Salazar announced a plan to break up the agency and reassign its duties to other branches of the Department.

The agency official in charge of offshore drilling, Chris Oynes, resigned earlier this month.

A previous inspector general investigation of the Mineral Management Service focused on ethical violations at the agency's office in Denver, Colorado.  In that case, officials were accused of rigging drilling contracts and having sex with employees of energy companies.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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