Columbus Dispatch: Group says Kasich evading records request

The Columbus Dispatch | Your Right to Know: Public records, open meetings and free-speech issues: Group says Kasich evading records request, by: Randy Ludlow – August 13, 2014 11:34 AM

Toledo Blade Guest Editorial: On energy bill, Kasich owes Ohioans an explanation

http://www.toledoblade.com/Opinion/2014/07/20/On-energy-bill-Kasich-owes-Ohioans-an-explanation.html

(This is cross-posted from my guest editorial for the Toledo Blade on 7/20/14.)

BY SCOTT PETERSON

Gov. John Kasich has signed a measure that freezes Ohio’s popular renewable-energy standards. Although the freeze attracted most of the attention, the new law also calls for a two-year study of the standards’ impact on the state.

While the General Assembly conducts this review, the process that led Governor Kasich to suspend the standards deserves scrutiny as well. That’s why I have filed a request for information about communications Mr. Kasich and his senior staff may have had with fossil-fuel interests before he decided to repeal clean-energy expansion in Ohio.

My organization, a government watchdog group called the Checks and Balances Project, seeks documentation of written and email communications from the governor and his staff to representatives of Koch Industries Inc., and the lobbying organizations they are known to support financially, as well as communications between the governor’s office and Ohio’s investor-owned utilities.

NYT

NYT

We made this request in light of a recent $12,155 donation — the maximum contribution allowed by Ohio campaign finance law — by David Koch to Governor Kasich’s 2014 re-election campaign. We’re also curious about the significant donations the governor has received from Ohio utilities, such as FirstEnergy.

Ohioans deserve to know why Mr. Kasich signed Senate Bill 310 even though it could cost Ohio consumers $1.1 billion, could put 25,000 Ohio jobs at risk, and was overwhelmingly opposed by Ohioans, a significant number of major businesses, and the state’s leading newspapers. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, a nonpartisan agency, concluded that the state’s renewables policy would save consumers tens of millions of dollars.

This would not be the first time that the fossil-fuel industry and the Kasich administration have been closely intertwined. In 2012, a records request revealed that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources worked with fossil-fuel industry players, including Halliburton and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, to promote hydraulic fracturing in state parks.

Ohio DNR is charged with ensuring that companies operate in a safe and responsible manner. Instead, under Governor Kasich, it performed public-relations services for fracking companies on Ohio taxpayers’ dime.

Ohioans deserve an honest accounting of what freezing the clean-energy and energy-efficiency standards will mean to the state. But this may be difficult, given Mr. Kasich’s ties to the fossil-fuel industry and utilities that have a vested interest in repeal of the standards. An open and transparent process would ensure all parties a say in how the legislative review committee measures the benefits of the state’s renewable-energy policy.

Governor Kasich is frequently mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016. David Koch and his brother Charles are well-known power brokers in the GOP.

They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars contributing to election campaigns and creating a network of shadowy advocacy groups that work to undercut clean energy and protect the fossil-fuel industry that has provided their wealth. I would hate to think that Governor Kasich is applying for his next job in part by putting at risk the jobs of thousands of Ohioans.

Our records request is an opportunity for Mr. Kasich to explain not just to Ohio voters, but also to folks around the country, how he makes decisions that affect the lives and jobs of his constituents. Unfortunately, Ohio law does not specify a time limit for responding to requests such as ours.

But I hope that the significant public concern created by the enactment of the renewable-energy standards freeze will encourage the Kasich administration to respond promptly. If Governor Kasich and the General Assembly think that Ohio needs to review its policy on renewable energy, Ohioans deserve a review of why politicians are threatening that successful policy.

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that examines how government officials, lobbyists, and corporate executives affect energy and environmental policy.

Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/Opinion/2014/07/20/On-energy-bill-Kasich-owes-Ohioans-an-explanation.html#DixTsqYdU6kk1pR7.99

Updated: Sec. Jewell brings home a trophy from Senate committee hearing

One of the oil industry’s best friends in Congress imploded a standard GOP/industry talking point yesterday when, in the face of Sec. Sally Jewell’s facts, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) admitted that oil production is up on public lands. Watch the exchange!

# # #

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell showed up at today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing loaded for bear, and she bagged an Alaskan grizzly.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski started her time by regurgitating often-repeated – and totally flawed – oil and gas industry talking points about oil and gas production on public lands. Sec. Jewell fired back, using actual statistics to point out the truth: onshore oil production on federal lands is at its highest level in more than a decade.

And when Sen. Murkowski, a true politician, tried to change the topic to offshore production, her colleague Sen. Al Franken, and Deputy Secretary of Interior David Hays pointed out that offshore numbers had (appropriately) dipped in the wake of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf – but that offshore oil production, and offshore drilling and exploratory activity are now back at pre-spill levels and growing.

Unable to dispute cold, hard facts, Sen. Murkowski was forced to acknowledge the truth. And her admission that oil production is up on federal lands demonstrates the need for a more balanced approach between energy development and conservation.

With onshore oil production at its highest level in 10 years, the Obama Administration should adopt an equal ground policy – conserving an acre of land for every acre they lease, consistent with the balanced approach achieved by Presidents such as Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

Sec. Jewell pointed out in her testimony that in 2011, recreational visits contributed an estimated $49 billion in economic benefits to local communities. Balancing appropriate energy production with protecting our treasured lands also attracts high-wage businesses and entrepreneurs to Western states – strengthening our economy for future generations.

As oil- and gas-funded politicians in the House and Senate get ready for yet another summer of pushing the same failed giveaways to oil and gas companies they’ve tried before, they’re going to have to deal with the same facts that stopped Sen. Murkowski in her tracks today. It’s tough to lose a top talking point.

A few other facts from Sec. Jewell’s testimony:

  • The amount of producing acreage continues to increase, and was up by about 200,000 acres between 2011-2012.
  • The 2010 onshore leasing reforms resulted in the lowest number of protests in 10 years – fewer than 18 percent of parcels offered in FY 2012 were protested.
  • BLM field offices’ processing and approval time for drilling applications fell by 40 percent between FY 2006 and FY 2012.
  • The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, released in December 2012, estimates the number of people that rely on water from the Colorado River Basin could double to nearly 76 million people by 2060.

TRANSCRIPT OF THE EXCHANGE

Sen. Murkowski, opening statement:  “A related concern is the rate of falling production on federal lands. It’s true that our nation is in the midst of an historic oil and gas boom, but it’s also true that production on federal lands is in trouble. Contrary to some of the statements of the rhetoric we’ve heard, oil production from the federal estate actually fell 5% last year after falling by even more than that in 2011. Natural gas production from the same federal areas meanwhile is in virtual free fall, down 8% last year and down 23% since 2009. The fact of the matter is that America’s energy boom is happening in spite of federal policies that stymie our production. We should be opening new lands to development, making sure the permits are approved on time, and preventing regulation and litigation from locking down our lands, and if anyone’s looking for a place to start, I’ll invite you to look to Alaska.”

Sec. Sally Jewel, responding in her testimony and opening statement said: “I want to start with energy, energy onshore. Onshore oil production on federal lands is actually at its highest level in over a decade, the amount of producing acreage continues to increase and I’m very happy, Ranking Member Murkowski, to provide you with some statistics that are a little different than the comments that you just referenced in terms of oil production. I have looked at the leasing reforms that the BLM have put in place, they changed them in 2010. They’ve actually had the lowest number of protests on lease sales in ten years, so we are making progress there, and I know the team is working hard on the time for permitting approval of new projects. That will be facilitated by automation. Sequestration has impacted that a bit but we’re still committed to getting that done….and now there are more deepwater rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico than there were prior to the deepwater horizon spill.”

Sen. Murkowski, following Wyden’s first round of questions: “but I did just want to put a statement on the record, that, you had noted in your opening statement that oil production from federal onshore lands is at its highest level in over a decade, you had noted that perhaps our commentaries differed, I had noted that oil production from the federal estate actually fell 5% and the reference there, and I think it is important to just give some of the numbers here very briefly because I think it can be confusing. Federal onshore production was at 89.5 million barrels back in 2003, its gone up to 108.7 million in 2012, so you do have a substantial increase there, but it’s not the full picture, and that was my point. Because on federal offshore production we’ve seen that fall from 532.7 million barrels in ’03, to 438.6 million barrels in 2012, so what we’ve got is federal onshore production which rose by about 20 million barrels, and federal offshore production fell by 100 million barrels, more than five times the onshore increase. So I think that it’s important that when we’re talking about this we look at the full picture so if your numbers are different than mine, I’d be happy to share them.”

Sen. Franken, rebuttal: “Can I ask, did the moratorium after the BP oil spill… isn’t that really what caused that dip? I mean, (with laughter) we had a huge thing happen, and so there was a moratorium after that. Is that ok if I ask that of Mr. Hays?”

Deputy Sec. Hays: “Yes, Senator. It is true that oil production in the Gulf did decline because of the safety issues that arose and the need to upgrade our safety standards. The good news is that EIA recently reported a very strong upward trend now, in the Gulf. The Secretary mentioned a major discovery, there have been ten major new discoveries. There are now more than fifty rigs drilling in the offshore, lease sales are very strong that we’ve had and are having in the central Gulf and the western Gulf, so we expect to be back to where we were and further, but there certainly was a time that we did a pause, and increase the safety standard and change the way we did business and that did effect we believe temporarily in the offshore.

Sen. Franken: “I just wanted to clarify that.”

Western Energy Alliance spokesperson wins this week’s Pinocchio Award

The oil industry is once again trying to re-write history. Kathleen Sgamma, spokesperson for industry mouthpiece Western Energy Alliance, claimed in a news story that more lands were put under protection than drilled, during President George W. Bush’s Administration.

A quick review of the amount of lands leased for drilling compared to the amount of lands permanently protected under President George W. Bush’s Administration shows that Sgamma’s claim is false. The Bush administration opened roughly 29 million acres, an area the size of Ohio, to the oil and gas industry for lease. On the other hand, the administration only permanently protected 746,373 acres from drilling.

Kathleen – If you do the math, that means nearly 39 times more land was opened to oil and gas drilling than was protected, during the protected by the Bush (43) Administration. Even if you add in land protected by Congress during this time, his administration still opened up 7.5 times more land to oil and gas drilling than it protected.

Source: Center for American Progress

Colorado oil production up nearly 50 percent since 2010

According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) oil production exceeded 48 million barrels in 2012, a 49 percent increase over 2010 levels.

The 2012 oil production levels are the highest since 1961 and are in increase of 24 percent over 2011 levels.

cogcc_oil_production_graph

According to COGCC gas production reached its highest level since 1952.

cogcc_gas_production_graph

Industry and allies twist facts on U.S. oil and gas production report

Price and geology have incentivized oil and gas companies to drill on nonfederal lands in recent years.  Yet this fact hasn’t stopped industry group Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and Congressmen Ed Whitfield (R-KY.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, from mischaracterizing a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on fuel production.

“Once again, House Republicans are spinning tall tales about oil and gas production. Technology, geology and price are the big drivers that determine where and how much industry drills. The industry is following the oil and no amount of rhetoric changes that fact.” said the Checks and Balances Project’s Ellynne Bannon.

Key facts from the recent CRS report that refute claims made by House Republicans and Western Energy Alliance:

  • “Any increase in production of natural gas on federal lands is likely to be easily outpaced by increases on non-federal lands, particularly because shale plays are primarily situated on nonfederal lands and is where most of the growth in production is projected to occur.”
  • “The big shale gas plays are primarily on non-federal lands and are attracting a significant portion of investment for natural gas development.” – pg. 1
  • “But having more lands accessible may not translate into higher levels of production on federal lands, as industry seeks out the most promising prospects and highest returns.” – Pg. 3
  • “After a lease has been obtained, either competitively or non-competitively, an application for a permit to drill (APD) must be approved for each oil and gas well…in 2006 it took the BLM an average of 127 days to process an APD, while in 2011 it took BLM 71 days. In 2006, the industry took an average of 91 days to complete an APD, but in 2011, industry took 236 days.  – Pg. 8

#NYFrackingScandal Hits Cuomo Administration: Newly Disclosed Documents Show Conflicts of Interest

Photo from NYPost.com

With only two days before the expected release of New York’s Environmental Impact Assessment on fracking (also known by the industry term hydraulic fracturing), Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration is at the center of a new conflict of interest scandal regarding two of his top aides.  Today, seven groups requested the Albany County District Attorney General David Soares investigate the Cuomo Administration’s conflicts of interest surrounding two staffers that hold “key positions in New York’s decision over whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing.”

There are looming questions on the impartiality of Lawrence Schwartz and Robert Hallman, two top Cuomo Administration officials, who have significant influence on the Governor’s fracking decision. New documents obtained by DeSmogBlog through New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) show that Mr. Schwartz has significant stock holdings in companies that stand to benefit from fracking in New York state, and that Mr. Hallman failed to make specific financial disclosures, raising questions about his objectivity on the issue.

The two top aides, Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, and Robert Hallman, Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment, have significant oversight within the Cuomo Administration on the issue of hydraulic fracturing. According to the groups’ letter, Mr. Schwartz supervises all state deputies and commissioners, including Mr. Hallman and the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation – the agency that is tasked with studying high-volume hydraulic fracturing and developing the state’s policy regarding this extraction technique. Mr. Hallman is the state’s highest gubernatorial staff member who has oversight over the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

According to financial disclosure documents, Schwartz has substantial holdings in companies engaged in shale gas development, including ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum and ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil alone holds 43,000 acres of leases for fracking in New York under its subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. Schwartz also identified “Williams Co.,” apparently a reference to “The Williams Companies Inc.,” a pipeline company that plans to build a $750 million pipeline through the southern portion of New York.

Mr. Hallman failed to specify his stock holdings in his financial disclosure forms, which seems to violate (at the very least) the spirit of N.Y. Pub. Off. § 73-a. The law states that “Public officials are required to list “EACH SOURCE” of income greater than $1,000 and “the type and market value of securities… from each issuing entity” greater than $1,000,” according to the letter from seven groups to District Attorney General Soares. Instead of disclosing each source, Mr. Hallman listed “various common stock” and “various corporate bonds.” His lack of disclosure should serve as a red flag and calls into question his impartiality on the state’s fracking decision.

Furthermore, records obtained via the FOIL request indicate that fracking companies have recently worked directly with Cuomo Administration officials.  XTO Energy Inc, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, wrote to Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Hallman requesting changes to the state’s draft regulations on fracking in August 2012. And, The Williams Companies communicated with Mr. Hallman regarding natural gas pipelines twice in the summer of 2012.

New York state law states that public officials should avoid personal investments that could “create substantial conflict between his duty in the public interest and his private interest.” Both Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Hallman may have conflicts of interest that violate this standard.

Today during a press conference in Albany, Alex Beauchamp, Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director, said, “We are outraged to discover that Governor Cuomo’s top aide is so heavily invested in oil and gas companies. And further, that he made these investments during the very timeframe this administration has been considering whether to allow fracking in New York. Clearly, this administration must not allow fracking to move forward under this cloud of scandal.”

Learn more at NYFrackingScandal.com.

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