Behind the Scenes: American Petroleum Institute’s Commercial Shoot

Recently, the Checks and Balances Project responded to an open casting call from the American Petroleum Institute (API) to be a part of their multi-million dollar ad campaign targeting the 2012 elections.  API’s Energy Citizens campaign sent an email asking for “all ages and races to express their views in a Commercial Spot on American Made Energy!” Deputy Director Gabe Elsner answered the casting call and got an inside look at how the oil and gas industry communicates with the American public through the creation of public-facing materials. Read about our experience and listen to audio of Mr. Elsner on the set of API’s ‘Vote 4 Energy’ commercial shoot.

The Checks and Balances Project’s look behind the scenes at API’s commercial shoot was covered by the Washington Post. Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin write:

Elsner shows up as instructed with three wardrobe options, ranging from a suit to weekend wear. The API and Edelman staffers pick the suit and steam it, pick out a tie, usher him into the makeup room, then send him for the audition. One says he has “a nice, young professional’s look.” Elsner hears Edelman executive Robert McKernan say, “I think we’re done with people in suits after this.”

After being ushered onto the set, Mr. Elsner was asked to repeat a script “written by the agency” instead of “go[ing] on camera and stat[ing] [his] beliefs,” as the casting email described. The Washington Post quoted Mr. Elsner:

“They’re using deception to talk to Americans about the oil and gas industry,” he says. “These multi-million dollar campaigns are clearly being crafted to give the appearance that it’s ordinary people talking. What we experienced was that it was well scripted and totally set up to be the perfect commercial.”

Mr. Elsner’s experience was also covered by National Journal’s Influence Alley, which is a blog covering money, politics and policy, as well as CEO Update (subscription), a publication for association news and executive careers.

The Checks and Balances Project experience at API’s commercial shoot calls into question the credibility of the oil and gas industry’s other advertising that supposedly demonstrates grassroots support.  In August 2009, activists leaked the launch of API’s astroturf campaign “Energy Citizens” and uncovered that oil industry lobbyists organized most of the rallies.

It appears that API’s ‘Vote 4 Energy’ campaign is a continuation of a carefully crafted multi-million dollar public relations plan to convince the American public that ordinary people support the oil and gas industry.

The transition to clean energy is one of the most important challenges facing our nation and millions of dollars in advertising and deceitful commercials from the American Petroleum Institute is spreading misinformation and preventing the American public from having an honest debate.

More drilling happening under Obama than last three administrations

It’s official. There is now more oil and gas drilling occurring under the Obama administration than under the administrations of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and the second half of the Reagan administration.

Salem Gebrekidan at Reuters has the story:

“The number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States this week reached a record high in at least 24 years as producers scrambled to tap resources in unconventional oil fields in North Dakota, Texas and other states, data from an oil services firm showed on Friday.

“U.S. oil rigs rose to 1,080, the highest number on Baker Hughes’ data, which goes back to 1987. The oil-directed rig count this week is 55.4 percent higher than a year ago, when 695 rigs were operating.”

Read the full story.

Advisory: Udall and Grijalva Ask for a Price Check on Behalf of American Families

Update: Read Rep. Grijalva and Sen. Udall’s letter to the Comptroller General.

Rep. Raùl Grijalva and Sen. Tom Udall are announcing proactive steps they’ve taken to determine if American families are receiving what they deserve from the oil and gas companies that lease public lands. Grijalva and Udall have officially requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an, “investigation of corporate profits and public financial benefits from mineral and oil extraction on federal lands.”

At a time when the five largest oil and gas companies are reporting $67 billion in profits over six months, while collecting $15 billion per year in government handouts, it’s fair to ask whether or not the industry owes their landlords – the American people – a little more rent.

“A GAO report is a great step in finding out how much the American public is losing in fair returns on the lands they’ve lent to oil and gas and mining companies,” said Checks and Balances Project Deputy Director Matt Garrington. “Americans are already paying oil companies near-record high prices at the pump, and then paying again through billions in taxpayer-funded corporate welfare. I commend Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Raùl Grijalva for working to protect the American taxpayer by making sure some of the wealthiest corporations are paying their fair share.”

Thursday morning, Grijalva and Udall will hold a press conference to publicly release their request and explain why they’re concerned that Americans aren’t being fairly compensated for the billions in resources that oil and gas companies pull out of publicly owned land.

The Checks and Balances Project will continue to cover this story. For now, here’s the press conference information:

Grijalva Press Conference Details

Where: 1629 Longworth House Office Building

When: Thursday, Sept. 22, 9:00 a.m.

What: Public release of Grijalva/Udall GAO study request letter and media Q & A

Click to read Rep. Grijalva’s media advisory.

Tip Sheet: Industry and House members push for drilling shortcuts despite legacy of pollution

**BREAKING NEWS** While testifying at Rep. Lamborn’s hearing BLM deputy director Mike Poole announces a rulemaking plan to, “set guidelines for use of categorical exclusions from detailed National Environmental Policy Act analysis for drilling certain wells.” Ben Geman at The Hill has the story  **BREAKING NEWS**

Industry groups and Washington politicians including Western Energy Alliance, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Chairman of the House Energy & Minerals Subcommittee, and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) are trying to use obscure, bureaucratic tools known as “categorical exclusions” to weaken air and water protections in an effort to hand over more public lands to oil and gas company CEOs. Earlier this year, Sen. Barrasso introduced legislation to eliminate May 2010 leasing reforms, and last month Western Energy Alliance was able to put the reform on hold when they won an initial lower federal court ruling. Today, Rep. Lamborn’s subcommittee will hold a politically charged hearing on the subject.

“It’s unfortunate that Rep. Doug Lamborn is using his power as chairman of the Energy & Minerals Subcommittee to create political theater on behalf of the oil and gas industry,” said Checks and Balances Deputy Director Matt Garrington. “We saw what happens under a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach to energy development when these same sort of shortcuts led to the BP Gulf oil spill disaster.”

The use of “categorical exclusions” – which exempt drilling permits from scientific review – has a legacy of pollution that includes the BP Gulf oil spill disaster, air pollution levels in the Rocky Mountains that rival Los Angeles and huge declines in western wildlife populations.

Oil and gas companies already receive more than $15 billion each year in special tax breaks. These efforts to rollback protections are about more taxpayer-owned public land giveaways to oil and gas company CEOs, who use the lands to drive up share prices and get bigger bonuses.


Five years ago, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law. This sweeping legislation systematically removed a number of air, water, resource and wildlife protections for oil and gas development on public lands. Specifically, Section 390 of that bill expanded the use of “categorical exclusions” allowing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to avoid scientific review when granting drilling permits to oil and gas companies.

Here are some findings in a 2009 study by the bipartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO):

  • The Bush administration applied these shortcuts with increasing frequency, using them in 28 percent of all onshore drilling permits granted from 2006 to 2008.
  • In 85 percent of the cases sampled, these shortcuts were applied illegally, and drilling permits were improperly issued.

This “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to public lands management led to unchecked pollution and development. Here are a few examples:

In May 2010, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar began cleaning up the mess by issuing a series of leasing reforms that included curtailing the abuse of “categorical exclusions” in the permitting process. The reforms have been a huge success. Drilling permits that have been subject to proper scientific review are expected to increase 40 percent this year. The Interior Department is on the right track and should stand strong in the face of Lamborn and Barrasso’s purely political attacks.



The reforms to “categorical exclusions” and oil and gas leasing reforms that were announced in May 2010 were met with sweeping support from sportsmen, conservation groups, and several editorial boards, including the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, the Grand Junction Sentinel and the Salt Lake Tribune. And just last month, former agency officials including U.S. Forest Service Chief and BLM Acting Director Mike Dombeck, U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and BLM Director Jim Baca sent a letter of support to President Obama.



The oil and gas industry is already sitting on more than 6,500 unused drilling permits and idle leases covering millions of acres. If Rep. Lamborn and Sen. Barrasso really cared about developing American energy, they would support “Use it or lose it” legislation to encourage development of drilling leases already issued to oil and gas companies.


August 2005 President George Bush signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005, weakening air, water, and wildlife protections from drilling, and expanding the use of “categorical exclusions.” These would later be illegally used under his administration to allow industry to avoid scientific review of drilling permits.
May 2010 Secretary Ken Salazar issues two critical oil and gas leasing reforms, including:

October 2010 The Government Accountability Office issues a scathing, 72-page report outlining the Bush administration’s illegal use of “categorical exclusions.”
March 2011 The Interior Department releases a report showing industry has failed to develop or even conduct exploration on 57 percent of existing onshore leases covering 21.6 million acres.
May 2011 Sen. Barrasso introduces S.1027, The American Energy and Western Jobs Act, which is intended to rescind the Salazar leasing reforms.
July 2011 Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and other Republican legislators launcha partisan attack on the “Master Leasing Plans” oil and gas leasing reform in a letter to Sec. Salazar, despite the fact that the policy will reduce conflicts on public lands and pave the way for future energy development.BLM data is released showing the industry has failed to develop over 6,500 onshore drilling permits, primarily in western states.
August 2011 The oil and gas industry wins a lower court ruling to block implementation of IM 2010-118, the “categorical exclusion” drilling reform.

Survey: Oil Companies to Blame for High Gas Prices – KREX TV 08/23/2011

KREX News Room | August 23, 2011 | Reposted from News Channel Five


People across our state are placing the blame for high gas prices solely on the backs of oil companies. In a new survey, the vast majority of people say the only way to bring prices down is to crack down on market manipulation.

79% of Coloradans say they favor a crackdown while 77% also say reducing oil consumption will help bring down prices.

Almost three-quarters surveyed say they want to stop taxpayer subsidies for oil companies.

The survey shows 70% support diversifying energy sources.


NYT Editorial: The Return of ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’

With the country again facing $4-a-gallon gasoline, the time would seem ripe for a grown-up conversation on energy. What we are getting instead is a mindless rerun of the drill-baby-drill operatics of the 2008 campaign, when gas was also at $4 a gallon. Then, as now, opportunistic politicians insisted that vastly expanded oil drilling would bring relief at the pump and reduced dependence on foreign oil. Then, as now, these arguments were bogus.

[Read more.]

Study: Oil and gas profits connected to lobbying, political expenditures – The American Independent 05/2/11

David O. Williams | May 2, 2011 | Reposted from The American Independent

The nonprofit Checks and Balances Project today released an analysis of the skyrocketing profits of the nation’s top five oil and gas companies in the wake of near-record gas prices and compared those profits to lobbying expenditures and political contributions in 2010.

ExxonMobil reported first quarter 2011 profits of $10.7 billion compared to $6.3 billion in 2010, a 69.8-percent increase. The nation’s largest oil and gas company spent $12.45 million on lobbying in 2010 and made $928,959 in political contributions to Republicans and $109,500 to Democrats.

Chevron, which reported Q1 profits of $6.2 billion in 2011 compared to $4.55 billion in 2010, spent more on lobbying in 2010 ($12.89 million) but less on political contributions ($473,000 to Republicans and $122,000 to Democrats).

[Read more.]

Study links soaring oil and gas profits to lobbying, political expenditures – The Colorado Independent 04/29/11

David O. Williams | April 29, 2011 | Reposted from The Colorado Independent

The nonprofit Checks and Balances Project today released an analysis of the skyrocketing profits of the nation’s top five oil and gas companies in the wake of near-record gas prices and compared those profits to lobbying expenditures and political contributions in 2010.

ExxonMobil reported first quarter 2011 profits of $10.7 billion compared to $6.3 billion in 2010, a 69.8-percent increase. The nation’s largest oil and gas company spent $12.45 million on lobbying in 2010 and made $928,959 in political contributions to Republicans and $109,500 to Democrats.

Chevron, which reported Q1 profits of $6.2 billion in 2011 compared to $4.55 billion in 2010, spent more on lobbying in 2010 ($12.89 million) but less on political contributions ($473,000 to Republicans and $122,000 to Democrats).

[Read more.]

Guest Commentary: One year after wakeup call in the Gulf of Mexico Read more: Guest Commentary: One year after wakeup call in the Gulf of Mexico – The Denver Post 04/20/11

Matt Garrington | April 24, 2011 | Reposted from The Denver Post

On April 20, 2010, Americans were reminded, in living color, of the dangers inherent in letting oil companies go unchecked. We sat glued to our televisions and computers, watching the Deepwater Horizon rig burn in the Gulf of Mexico. Observers and pundits immediately began to make comparisons to the last, great American oil spill, the Exxon Valdez disaster.

We learned of the 11 men who lost their lives on Horizon that day and the others burned or injured as they escaped the sinking platform. We stood by, helpless, as millions of gallons of crude oil poured into the Gulf, threatening our ocean waters, local tourism and recreation businesses, and those families who depend on the Gulf for their livelihood.

In the year since Horizon, the government has conducted investigations, industry has pointed fingers, and teams continue to work feverishly to minimize the damage. The disaster was a wake-up call for the nation that we need strong oversight of how drilling companies conduct business.

Despite spiking gas prices, Colorado oil shale years from production … if ever – The Colorado Independent 04/13/11

David O. Williams | April 13, 2011 | Reposted from The Colorado Independent

Observers of the century-long quest to extract oil from the shale rocks of Colorado’s Western Slope are fond of saying “oil shale is the fuel of the future … and always will be.” Never commercially viable because of the costs and resources needed to heat and extract the kerogen trapped in the rocks, an estimated 2 trillion barrels of shale oil remains locked up – perhaps forever.

But why then has Shell spent an estimated $200 million so far on research, development and demonstration (RD&D) at its Mahogany Research Project in western Colorado? And at what point will gas prices rise so high that the cost of producing shale oil suddenly makes sense?

“All of the major companies are doing oil shale because they think it’s an interesting and high-potential area, but they’re not in a hurry to make it productive,” said Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research (COSTAR) at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. COSTAR’s research is described on its website as “industry-driven and science-guided.”

[Read more.]


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