House Natural Resources Committee takes yet another action promoting same oil and gas giveaways, mandates leasing quotas for oil companies

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee meets on Wednesday to mark up a slew of bills, and sandwiched in among them are a familiar series of giveaways to the multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry. In fact, the legislation would mandate leasing quotas for oil companies and increase speculation on public lands.

“The oil and gas giveaway bills being considered in the House today mandate leasing quotas, a policy that is dramatically out of step with public opinion in the West,” said Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Greg Zimmerman. “Westerners acknowledge there is room for energy development, but polling shows that recreation and conservation are their highest priorities for public lands. Moreover, 90 percent of western voters say protected lands were vital to their local economies.”

Wednesday’s hearing continues the determination by House Republicans, over the last five years, to put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of conservation and the future of America’s public lands. This, despite the fact that a majority of Westerners in oil and gas producing states want to see a balance struck between energy development and protection of public lands.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND

About H.R. 1965 – Sponsor Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) 

  • The Lamborn bill blocks the public from participating in leasing decisions by creating “entrance fees” of up to $5,000 to join the conversation. It also mandates leasing quotas for oil and gas companies, encourages speculation, and bars the public, local officials and others from protesting potentially dangerous leasing decisions.
  • The Lamborn bill prevents the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from protecting water, air and land from the impacts of drilling. It also rolls back the Obama Administration’s common sense approach to the failed “rock that burns,” oil shale, and in doing so endangers western water supplies and local economies.
  • The Lamborn bill continues to promote oil shale speculation despite the fact a Congressional Budget Office analysis of his proposal during the previous Congress found that opening up public lands to oil shale speculation would have zero effect on revenue.

About H.R. 1394 – Sponsored by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.)

Attitudes of Westerns about energy development and conservation (Hart Research)

  • About two in three (65%) voters say that permanently protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is very important to them personally, and another 63% say that ensuring access to public lands for recreation activities is personally important to them (as indicated by a rating of “9” or “10” on a zero-to-10 scale). By comparison, only half as many voters (30%) say the same about making sure oil and gas resources on public lands are available for development.
  • Voters reject the idea that there must be a single-minded, “either/or” approach to public lands. When explicitly given the opportunity to choose a third option, a majority (55%) instead say the government should put conservation on equal ground with drilling for oil and gas. This is the case among independents (59%), Republicans (64%), hunters and anglers (57%), and even among people who rate oil and gas as very important to them personally (57%). Democrats, in contrast, are divided between putting drilling and conservation on equal ground (44%) and focusing more on conservation and protection (47%).

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Conflict of interest: State Department contractor on Keystone XL study lied about ties to TransCanada & oil industry

ERM employee tried to cover up deceit online

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The company hired by the State Department to review the environmental impact of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline lied on its conflict of interest disclosure form about its work for pipeline builder TransCanada and other oil companies, according to research released today by Friends of the Earth and The Checks & Balances Project.

Friends of the Earth’s investigation of the business connections of Environmental Resources  Management — the London-based international consulting firm that conducted a study for the State Department claiming the pipeline will not cause significant environmental harm — uncovered an extensive dossier of publicly available documents that show:

  • On its conflict of interest disclosure forms, ERM lied to the State Department about not working with TransCanada. In fact, ERM and TransCanada have worked together at least since 2011 on another pipeline project in Alaska.
  • ERM lied again when it said it had no relationship with any business that would be affected by construction of the Keystone XL, which would carry tar sands oil from northern Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. In fact, ERM’s own publicly available documents show that the firm has business with over a dozen companies with operating stakes in the Alberta tar sands.
  • In recent weeks, as calls grew louder for an investigation of the numerous conflicts of interest tainting the State Department’s handling of the Keystone proposal, an ERM employee tried to cover up his work for the Alaska Pipeline Project, a partnership between ExxonMobil and TransCanada.

“From the beginning, the State Department’s review of Keystone has been plagued by influence peddling and conflicts of interest,” said Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “This is more serious: If ERM lied about its relationship with TransCanada, how can Secretary Kerry, President Obama or the American people believe anything the company says about the pipeline’s environmental impact?”

Hammond said ERM’s lies call into question the entire Keystone XL environmental review process. Friends of the Earth and The Checks & Balances Project have called for an investigation by the State Department’s Inspector General into how ERM was hired given these conflicts of interest. In the wake of the new evidence that ERM lied on State Department disclosure forms, the groups are asking Secretary of State John Kerry to throw out the ERM study and not allow it to determine the Obama Administration’s decision on whether to issue a pipeline permit.

In papers filed with the State Department in June 2012, ERM certified that it had “no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada” for at least three years. But public records show that TransCanada, ERM and an ERM subsidiary, Oasis Environmental, have worked together at least since 2011 on the Alaska pipeline project.

On its conflict of interest form, ERM also certified that it had no “direct or indirect relationship … with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.” But ERM’s own publicly available documents show that in the period 2009-2012 the firm was working for over a dozen of the largest energy companies involved in the Canadian tar sands which stand to benefit if Keystone is built, including Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Total and Syncrude.

More recently, on May 14 the LinkedIn profile for Mark Jennings listed him as Socioeconomic Advisor for ERM. Among his roles for the company were since 2011, “Consultant to ExxonMobil Development Company for the Alaska Pipeline Project,” for which Exxon and TransCanada are partners. But less than a month later, his LinkedIn profile made no mention of his work for ERM.

The State Department’s review of Keystone XL has been sharply criticized by the EPA and the scientific community for failing to consider the climate and other impacts of the pipeline. The Checks and Balances Project and Friends of the Earth said it is impossible for the State Department to fairly evaluate whether the pipeline is in the national interest when its environmental review was conducted by a company with deep ties to the oil industry.

“Secretary Kerry must halt this flawed review process and direct the State Department to conduct a full, unbiased review of the Keystone XL pipeline’s impact,” said Gabe Elsner, director of the Checks and Balances Project. “In addition, the State Department Inspector General should pursue a full investigation into how a contractor with clear conflicts of interest was allowed to write the U.S. government’s assessment of Keystone XL and why the State Department failed to bring those conflicts of interest to light. Finally, the State Department should determine appropriate disciplinary actions for ERM to discourage contractors from lying to the federal government in the future.”

Bipartisan Poll: Garfield County Commissioners’ actions on drilling, oil shale dividing voters

Plurality of voters disagree with the county commissioners’ closed-door meeting in Utah

According to a new bipartisan poll, Garfield County voters are deeply divided over their county commissioners’ recent actions on several oil and gas drilling and oil shale issues.

The poll examined three controversial decisions made by the county commissioners, whether voters believe the oil and gas industry has too much influence with the county commissioners, and whether voters approved of the county commissioners’ job performance.

One of the topics polled – a closed-door meeting with oil shale lobbyists held in Vernal, Utah – has been condemned in the media. Commissioners recently rescinded a resolution that was at least partially drafted during that meeting.

“Whether it’s giving oil shale lobbyists preferred access, firing the county’s industry liaison in response to lobbyists’ complaints, or spending tens of thousands of dollars on out-of-state energy consultants with partisan ties, this poll shows a greater number of Garfield County voters disagree with the county commissioners than agree with them,” said Ellynne Bannon, spokesperson for the Checks and Balances Project.

“Far from having a mandate, Jankovsky, Martin and Samson fail to generate even a plurality of support for their decisions,” continued Bannon. “The commissioners have divided voters down the middle on oil and gas and oil shale issues.”

The county commissioners’ decision to use taxpayer funds in hiring a Texas consultant firm with ties to a partisan advocacy organization was the most controversial decision. The commissioners had hired the firm to influence the federal government’s approach to protecting land and water important to the greater sage grouse from development. Voters disagreed with the decision by a nearly 2 to 1 margin (51 percent to 27 percent).

More voters (43 percent) disagree than agree (31 percent) with the Board’s decision to fire the county’s oil and gas industry liaison. Among unaffiliated voters, even more people disagree than agree (45 percent to 29 percent) and more Republican women disagree (38 percent) than agree (33 percent) with the firing of the county’s liaison.

Overall, 46 percent of those polled disagree with the Garfield Board of County Commissioners’ decision to hold a meeting in Utah closed to the public, compared to 42 percent who agreed. More unaffiliated voters disagreed with the Board’s decision to hold the meeting than agreed (48 percent to 41 percent).

The county is evenly divided on whether the oil and gas industry has too much influence with the county commission. Among respondents, 45 percent of said the oil and gas industry has too much influence and 46 percent of voters said the county commissioners are balanced and industry. Notably, 50 percent of unaffiliated voters say that the industry has too much influence.

The survey results show that Commissioners Tom Jankovsky, John Martin and Mike Samson have all failed to earn a majority job performance rating, though the commission as a whole received a 53 percent overall job performance approval.

Democratic polling firm Peak Campaigns and Republican polling firm Bellwether Research & Consulting conducted the bipartisan public opinion poll of 405 registered voters in Garfield County Colorado September 9-13, 2012.

“We thought it was important to get an honest assessment about how residents felt about controversial positions the Garfield County Commissioners have taken on energy,” said Bannon. “The poll questions presented strong arguments for both sides, and the poll was drafted and conducted with input from respected Democratic and Republican polling firms.”

Click to download the polling memo, topline, and crosstabs.

‘Shine a Light’ ad campaign calls for county transparency

A new ad campaign by the Checks and Balances Project calls on county commissioners in Colorado and Utah to stop closed-door meetings with oil shale lobbyists on the taxpayer dime.

“The public business should be done in public. We launched today’s ad campaign to ‘Shine a Light’ on the backroom deals with oil shale companies like Red Leaf. We’re also calling on Uintah County to stop stonewalling and release all documents related to the meeting,” said Matthew Garrington, Co-Director of the Checks and Balances Project.

On March 27th, county officials from Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and Utah state officials, participated in a closed-door meeting with oil shale lobbyists and executives in Vernal, Utah where a plan was developed to back a radical proposal to hand over two million acres of public lands to oil companies for oil shale speculation.

While Colorado Common Cause received 450 pages of documents related to the March 27th meeting via open records requests, Uintah County officials continue to refuse to release other documents associated with the meeting. In a petition accompanying the ad, the group is also calling on Uintah County to release all records related to the meeting and for Uintah and Garfield counties to rescind the resolution which was planned at the meeting.

“The county commissioners were elected to conduct county business with the people’s best interest in mind.  They need to stop meeting behind closed doors with oil shale lobbyists and, instead, meet in public to hear what the people want done,” said Sandy Hansen, a resident of Uintah County.

Clean Water Fund Colorado will also launch an on the ground petition drive in Garfield County this July. “The commissioners failed government 101. Shutting the public out of decisions about public lands isn’t how we do business in the West,” said Gary Wockner, Colorado Clean Water Fund’s Colorado Program Director.

The “Shine a Light” ad campaign will run on the websites of the following outlets:

  • Grand Junction TV stations: KREX, KKCO, and KJCT.
  • Colorado newspapers: Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Rifle Citizen Telegram, and Grand Junction Free Press.
  • Utah newspapers: Desert News, Salt Lake Tribune, and Standard-Examiner.

Participation by Garfield County, Colorado has raised ethical and legal concerns because all three commissioners – John Martin, Mike Sampson and Tom Jankovsky – participated in the meeting.

Jankovsky originally characterized Uintah County as organizing the meeting and that he and the other commissioners attended for “informational reasons.” However, the released documents demonstrate that Jankovsky also helped organize the meeting and invited the National Oil Shale Association (NOSA) to participate.

To view the 450 pages of documents Colorado Common Cause received through open records requests, go to: http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=8124135.

Coloradans welcome “Flat Earth Society” members of Congress

Groups call for energy reality check, end of excessive taxpayer handouts to Big Oil

DENVER Several Colorado groups took members of Congress to task today over their failed energy policies, political rhetoric, and ties to industry.

Clean Water Action, Colorado Fair Share Alliance, the Checks and Balances Project and local activists gathered on the steps of the state capitol early this morning in anticipation of a U.S. House Energy and Minerals Subcommittee field hearing on federal oversight of oil and gas fracking operations. Rep. Doug Lamborn chairs the committee, and Rep. Mike Coffman is also a member.

The groups greeted Lamborn and the hearing with a banner that said, “Welcome, Flat Earth Society” – a reference to a recent National Press Club speech by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar where he argued Republicans were out of touch on energy policy and the realities on the ground.

“The hearing is nothing but a Big Oil funded charade put on by Lamborn and Coffman, charter members of the Flat Earth Society,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action.  “Coloradans need to grab their air, water, public lands, and democracy because Big Oil wants to buy them all.”

The groups also called the hearing a waste of taxpayer dollars, especially given the fact that the Interior Department’s new draft fracking rules were actually met with praise by some in industry this week.

“The ‘Flat Earth Society’ members of Congress have fallen flat on doing what’s right – providing relief on gas prices and promoting real energy independence,” said Matt Garrington, co-director of the Checks and Balances Project. “Coffman and Lamborn continue to put Big Oil profits first.”

The groups noted that the oil and gas industry receives $9.4 billion annually in special tax breaks, funds that would be better spent investing in long term solutions such high tech vehicles, the next generation of renewable fuels, and transportation improvements.

Joining the event was David Bouchey of Aurora, who criticized his Representative, Mike Coffman, for supporting Big Oil and moneyed interests over Coloradans.

“As a constituent, I’m not happy that Mike Coffman has supported letting my unemployment benefits expire while supporting tax breaks for the 1% oil companies,” said Bouchey.

One reason for why Republicans Coffman and Lamborn may be abusing their authority to run special interest legislation for Big Oil and hold messaging hearings could be the disparity in campaign contributions Republicans receive from industry.

According the Center for Responsive Politics, the oil and gas industry gave nearly 88% of their campaign contributions to Republicans. So far this cycle, Rep. Coffman has received $55,000 from the oil and gas industry, and Rep. Doug Lamborn has received $29,250.

“Today’s hearing is just another way Rep. Coffman and Lamborn are paying back their oil and gas campaign contributors,” said Wockner. “We should be ending taxpayer handouts to Big Oil and reinvesting in American energy solutions that will provide relief and real energy security.”

FACTS ABOUT COLORADO ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

  • Natural gas production was at an all-time high in 2010 at  1,589,664 MMcf (latest data available).
  • As of May 2012, of the 4.2 million acres leased for oil and gas drilling on federal lands in Colorado only 25% or 1.06 million acres are currently in production. That means the oil and gas industry has more than 3.1 million acres of land leased available right now for energy production.
  • Drilling in Colorado (federal, state, and private lands) was up 24% in 2011:
    • Average number of annual drill rigs under the Bush administration: 67
    • Average number of annual drill rigs under the Obama administration: 60

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES 

Download a jpg of the banner (seen above) and a map (PDF) showing the amount of Colorado’s federal public lands where are leased for energy development but not yet developed.

Colorado politicians fast track new giveaways to donor oil companies

Matt Garrington, Denver-based co-director of The Checks and Balances Project, offered the following statement and facts regarding today’s hearing on Colorado House Republicans’ three bills to give away more of the West to the oil and gas industry: H.R. 4381, H.R. 4382 and H.R. 4383.

“Reps. Lamborn, Tipton and Coffman are doing a great job playing the Three Stooges for the oil and gas industry, but the American public isn’t laughing.

“Taking away the public’s right to participate in decisions about land we own is criminal. It’s clear that these representatives are working on behalf of industry groups like Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and not the public.

“Why else would they invite WEA Vice President Kathleen Sgamma to testify about why they should shut their own constituents out of decisions about what happens to their public lands?

“We should be discussing real solutions to gas prices, such as aggressively investing in high tech vehicles and renewable energy, increasing fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, and cracking down on Wall Street oil speculators.

“All this legislation will do is lock the public out of our public lands and put more money in the pocket of oil company CEOs.”

WHY THESE BILLS ARE HANDOUTS TO BIG OIL

H.R. 4383 creates a $5,000 fee for individuals who wish to participate in the decision-making process for oil and gas development on publicly owned lands. That includes families living near drilling sites who could be forced to live with the effects of drilling on their air and drinking water.

H.R. 4382 outlaws the right of public, local governments, and stakeholders to review lease sales, preventing new information from affecting leasing decisions. It also prevents the BLM from revising leasing plants.

H.R. 4381 gives oil companies first crack at all federal lands, rather than creating a level playing field between renewable energy and fossil fuels. It puts drilling über alles – making it the primary use of public lands above scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values.

FACTS ABOUT AMERICAN ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

  • Oil production hit an 8-year high in 2011 at 2,070,454 thousand barrels.
  • Natural gas production was at an all-time high in 2011 at 28,577,562 MMcf.
  • Federal public lands leased in FY11 was 38.4 million acres compared to just 12.3 million acres leased and in production.
  • The BLM approved 4,244 drilling permits on federal lands in FY11 was 4,244, outpacing the number of new wells spudded on public lands which was 3,260.
  • Drilling activity reached its highest level under the Obama administration than at any point since the Reagan administration.

Bush-era land official at center of coordinated oil shale strategy

NEWS RELEASE

Contact:
Matthew Garrington, (720) 206-4348

Bush-era land official at center of coordinated oil shale strategy
Watchdog group launches new online campaign in response

DENVER – On Tuesday, county commissioners across three western states met again with a Bush-era BLM director to discuss next steps in a coordinated effort to push an extreme plan to hand over 2 million acres of public lands to oil companies for oil shale speculation.

In March, county commissioners from Colorado, Utah and Wyoming held their first meeting in secret and behind closed doors in Vernal, Utah with Kathleen Clarke, the former BLM Director for President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006.

“Why are local elected officials crossing state lines to meet in secret with a former Bush administration official?” said Matt Garrington, Co-Director of The Checks and Balances Project. “This is politics at its worst. Local officials should be working on behalf of their constituents and not holding secret meetings with absolutely no notice about their intentions.”

In response, the Checks and Balances project today launched a new online campaign www.NoMoreEmptyPromises.com to expose how industry and politicians are using their influence, power, and dollars to push a radical plan to hand over 2 million acres of public lands for oil shale speculation. The website includes a new petition targeting counties that have backed the extreme oil shale plan.

Clarke has a long history of advancing a political agenda for Big Oil. She admitted on the record that politics drove her decisions as Utah’s Director of Natural Resources and gave BP America an environmental stewardship award.

Clarke currently serves as Utah Gov. Herbert’s Public Lands Advisor. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Gov. Herbert took $638,915 from the Energy and Natural Resources industry in 2010.

Since the first meeting, a handful of counties passed resolutions calling for the BLM to hand over 2 million acres of public lands for oil shale speculation – despite the fact that local opposition has been fierce in some counties.

Contrary to the cries of industry proponents, the current Interior Department proposal would actually pave the way for more research and development of oil shale on nearly a half million acres of public lands. Clarke and officials are calling for the reinstatement of President Bush’s 2008 plan.

“When President Bush left office, gas prices were at record highs,” said Garrington. “Oil shale is a cheap gimmick that didn’t help lower gas price then, and it won’t help now. We need our elected officials to stop making empty promises and invest in real solutions to address our energy needs.”

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