Land-Leasing Transparency

Until recently transparency has been hard to come by at the Department of Interior. From 2000 to 2008 the Department was riddled with corruption, conflicts of interest and embarrassments. Deputy Secretary Steve Griles resigned his position at Interior after the department’s Inspector General found he had been meeting with lobbyists who had interests in DOI business. Griles was later convicted and sentenced to ten months in prison for obstructing justice as part of the Jack Abramoff scandal. Employees at the DOI’s Minerals Management Service violated ethics limits by accepting inappropriate gifts. Some MMS employees have even been found to have exchanged drugs and services from prostitutes while attending functions put on by the very industries they were tasked with regulating. But that’s not all. Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton left her post as Interior Department Secretary after being investigated by the Department of Justice and the DOI’s Inspector General for ties to both Abramoff and a conflict of interest with Royal Dutch Shell.

In the wake of a mostly lost decade for the Interior Department, the new Secretary, Ken Salazar promised to bring “law and order” to what had been an ethics’ free zone run by lobbyists for industries it was supposed to oversee.

Yet, while many barriers to corruption and conflicts have been put in place over the last 24-months, the oil and gas industry still has plenty of access to public property, and it is enjoying record profits – while spending tens of millions on lobbying and propaganda.

In November 2010 the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that national oil and gas reserves were at a record high. In 2009 the United States’ net proven crude oil reserves stood between 1.8 billion barrels and 22.3 billion barrels. That same year the United States’ net proved natural gas reserves saw their greatest-ever annual increase of 11 percent or 28.8 trillion cubic feet (tcf). All this took place while oil and gas companies drilled fewer wells than at any point in the previous decade, which demonstrates the effect of new drilling technology on the world energy market.

To get your head around this consider the following. Just over a third of the 4,090 drilling permits the Bureau for Land Management issued are used, leaving the vast majority of the 30-million acres of public lands they can drill on undrilled.

All of this data refutes the claim that the Obama administration is blocking oil and gas development on public lands; an argument frequently put forth by supporters of the oil and gas industry. A new analysis by the Checks and Balances Project shows that oil and gas companies profit the most when consumers pay the most at the pump. This analysis simply compared readily available data from the Energy Information Administration. For a look at this information click here.

To be clear, the Checks and Balances Project is releasing these findings not to hinder the profits of the oil and gas, but rather to inform the public that there seems to be no relationship between the availability of drillable land in the United States and the prices Americans pay at the pump. Several politicians and special interests continue to speak as if this is not the case and the Checks and Balances Project feels it is in the public’s interest to get the facts straight on this very important matter.

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