It reads like something from a sordid novel rather than the government’s dealings with the oil industry. But an extensive investigation has found an extraordinary cozy relationship between the government and the industry.

Officials in charge of collecting billions of dollars worth of royalties from oil and gas companies accepted gifts, steered contracts to favored clients and engaged in drug use and illicit sex with employees of the energy companies.

US Federal investigators examined the antics of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which last year collected more than $4 billion worth of oil and gas from companies drilling both on and offshore. Now they have published a series of damning reports, in which they “discovered a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity”, where employees accepted gratuities “with prodigious frequency.”

They found that more than a dozen employees, including the former director of the oil royalty program, took meals, ski trips, sports tickets, paint-balling trips, golf outings and “treasure hunts” from industry representatives. Two of the 19 employees cited in the report had received gifts on more than 135 occasions from four major oil and gas companies. There were also alcohol and drug-fuelled parties.

Oil companies mentioned in the report included Shell and Chrevon. One email from a government employee to a Shell executive said “you are sooo wonderful. You know how much I totally adore you.”

Comment in newspapers has been, rightly damning, with the NYT saying: “The White House can take no comfort at all. The people it brought to Washington to run the department had no interest in policing the oil, mining and agricultural interests they were sworn to regulate and every interest in promoting industry’s (and their own) good fortune.”

Not surprisingly, the Democrats have seized on the report. Senator Bill Nelson from Florida argues that the report “shows the oil industry holds shocking sway over the administration and even key federal employees. This is why we must not allow Big Oil’s agenda to be jammed through Congress.”

Getting over the sleazy allegations, the most important issue is the “culture of ethical failure” that pervaded the MMS. It begs the question about the MMS can be trusted as the guardian of America’s coasts, especially at the precise time when the oil industry is looking to drill for more oil?

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