Big Oil cheerleader steps down

Chris Oynes, the man responsible for drilling in the Gulf, got his post by having cozy relations with corporations

Published May 17, 2010 9:01PM (EDT)

The man in charge of gas and oil drilling for the Minerals Management Service, Chris Oynes, has announced he'll retire at the end of the month, according the Washington Post. Oynes was promoted to Associate Director for Offshore Energy and Minerals Management with the Interior Department in 2007, despite being embroiled in a controversy over the friendly terms he signed for companies who leased land in the Gulf. That appointment was plenty controversial. Representative Carolyn Maloney, at the time:

It is completely ridiculous that MMS would take the person most likely responsible for the royalty rip-off and put him in charge of the whole show.

This is just one more in a long line of actions showing that MMS sides with Big Oil over the American taxpayers. If it isn't the revolving door that brings oil and gas industry folks positions of power at MMS, then it’s the promotion of an insider responsible for one of the government’s costliest and most ridiculous missteps in recent history.

Now Oynes is involved, it seems, in another "costliest and most ridiculous misstep" in history, that of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. In his role as overseer of leases and royalties, Oynes has probably touched Deepwater Horizon paperwork from the first day of its lease through the current sham reports it's issuing on the amount of oil spilling forth. More importantly, though, Oynes is a representative of a branch of government completely captured by those it should regulate. As such, his departure is both necessary and unlikely to change very much.

In 2000, the Oil & Gas Journal offered this description of Oynes:  

Chris Oynes, regional director of the Gulf of Mexico [Outer Continental Shelf] Region, recently stated when referring to the deepwater [Gulf of Mexico], "Its future looks bright, as many new geologic trends are only now seeing the first exploratory drilling."

Oynes was a cheerleader for reduced royalties for deepwater drilling throughout the Bush administration. He seems to have also been the point person for press who needed an oil-friendly quote about the "phenomenal" success of deepwater drilling the Gulf and the importance of both oil and gas field finds for those companies.

That he was promoted and promoted isn't exactly a surprise. He diligently enforced the government agenda of friendliness toward major corporations and, through his work at the Interior Department, managed to enforce policies -- not laws, but interpretations thereof -- that offered the friendliest possible conditions to those who would dare to drill the deep, dangerous waters of the Gulf. This was done in the name of money -- both corporate and government profits -- and sometimes in the name of national security, as when, under the Bush administration, many companies like BP were granted "Royalties in Kind" mark-ups for offering the government oil in place of a reasonable share of profits from leased lands.

With a history like that, you've gotta wonder: What was this guy still doing in his job? Oh, right -- he does it better than anyone else. The problem isn't so much the guy in the job, it's that the job requires that kind of corporate obsequience to begin with.

Good riddance, Chris Oynes. Enjoy your retirement. I only wish it could've happened sooner, and that perhaps your entire department could retire, immediately, with you.

By Jenn Kepka

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Gulf Oil Spill