For House Republicans, the season of oil and gas giveaways has begun

As reported by Politico’s Andrew Restuccia, Tuesday, House Republicans will spend the summer trying to breathe new life into tired ideas filled with industry giveaways. It’s no wonder given these politicians receive huge contributions from the oil and gas industry. Ironically, these “conservatives” want more mandates and quotas for oil companies while also cutting common sense protections for our air and water.

What Congress should focus its energy on – and what people in the West support – is balance between conservation and energy development. Instead of handouts to oil companies, our leaders in Washington should promote a diverse and thriving economy that supports main street businesses, farming and ranching, tourism, and outdoor recreation.

GOP House leadership has already said it will move the same failed giveaways it tried to push through last year, and the year before that. The problem they’re already running into is that they’ve already tried – and failed – to dupe Americans into thinking these handouts are anything else. Even a Republican energy adviser quoted in Restuccia’s story said, “It’s probably going to look a lot like it’s looked in the last four or five years.”

Westerners want more out of their elected officials than repeated political plays and messaging bills for the oil and gas industry. They want a real balance between protecting the public lands that support and attract high-wage businesses and using them to produce American-made energy.

Here’s a quick preview of the rhetoric we can expect to hear from House Republicans this summer, and the facts they will ignore:

The economy

numbers_graphicShot: Failure to open more federal lands to drilling will hurt job creation and economic growth in Western communities.

Chaser: Western states have grown out of the boom and bust cycle that comes with relying solely on energy development. Protecting as much public land as we lease will further build out the outdoor recreation industry, which already accounts for $64 billion in annual spending, 6 million jobs and nearly $80 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

Price at the pump

Shot: These bills are an important step toward bringing down gasoline prices.

Chaser: In 2012, an Associated Press study showed that oil production has no effect on gas prices. Meanwhile, a Goldman Sachs analysis found that Wall Street speculation was adding more than $23 to the price of crude, or as much as $0.56 per gallon at the pump.

Drilling on private lands

Shot: Increased pressure to develop on private lands is just one result of the slowdown of public lands energy development by this administration .

Chaser: The latest oil boom in the lower 48 states is due largely to an unconventional resource known as “shale oil,” (oil trapped within shale rock). The vast majority of both “shale oil” and “shale gas” (natural gas trapped within shale rock) is found under private, not public, lands. The location of these resources – not safeguards to protect air quality and water supplies – explain the shift in drilling from public to private lands.
shale_locationAdam Sieminski, U.S. House, Subcommittee on Energy and Power Committee on Energy and Commerce, 2 August 2012

Permitting delays

Shot: Regulatory hurdles, long delays, and policies that keep federal lands under lock-and-key have become all too common.

Chaser: Industry is responsible for the majority of permitting delays. Last year, BLM announced it is moving to an online permitting system that will hopefully help companies cut down the time it takes them to properly file permit applications.
permit_timingBLM Table of Average Application for Permit to Drill (APD) Approval Timeframes: FY2005 – FY2012

Permits

Shot: The Obama administration is playing fast and loose with drilling permit pledges.

Chaser: Industry does not use the drilling permits that have already been issued for oil and gas development. In fact, there are nearly 7,000 unused drilling permits that industry could develop on federal public lands.
unused_permitsBLM Approve Permits – Not Drilled table

Idle lands

Shot: President Obama and his Administration have actively blocked, hindered and delayed American energy production.

Chaser: According to the Department of Interior’s Oil and Gas Lease Utilization, Onshore and Offshore report, issued May 2012, “As of March 31, 2012, approximately 56 percent (20.8 million acres) of total onshore acres under lease on public lands in the Lower 48 States were conducting neither production nor exploration activities.
leased_productionDOI Oil and Gas Lease Utilization Report

The facts are not on House Republicans’ side, and neither is public opinion. A recent poll shows 9 out of 10 Westerners agree that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of the economy. Seventy-four percent believe they help attract high quality employers and good jobs to western states.

It’s time we put conserving our treasured public lands back on equal ground with leasing them for oil and gas drilling. If oil- and gas-funded politicians continue to try and resurrect these industry giveaways, they’re just showing where their priorities lie – with the companies that fund them rather than the people they represent.

Seven things you need to know about oil production and drilling on your public lands.

With less than three weeks to go before Election Day, the rhetoric around gas prices and drilling is heating up at campaign events around the country. The issue was also front and center in Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

Predictably, data about oil production on federal lands and its effects on gas prices is being spun and twisted to fit a range of agendas. While the data shows that industry interest for drilling permits has moved away from public lands to private lands – there is a simple explanation for the shift that industry lobbyists and PR pros aren’t telling you. Drilling companies go where the most profitable resources are, and today that means shale oil, the vast majority of which is under private lands.

We want to help the public by laying out the hard facts about oil production on federal lands and its impact on the price at the pump (or lack thereof) so that the next time there is a sound bite or lofty rhetoric, the public knows the truth.

Here are seven things to you need to know about oil production and drilling on your public lands.

1. Oil production is at its highest level in eight years.

Despite the conventional wisdom spun by industry and on campaign trails by Big Oil politicians, the U.S. is the world’s third largest oil producer. In fact, domestic oil production is at its highest level in eight years.

Oil Production Graph
Source: “U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil,” Energy Information Administration, accessed 18 October 2012.

2. The vast majority of shale oil and gas resources are found under private and not public lands.

The latest oil boom in the lower 48 states is due largely to an unconventional resource known as “shale oil,” (oil trapped within shale rock). The vast majority of both “shale oil” and “shale gas” (natural gas trapped within shale rock) is found under private and not public lands. The location of these resources, not safeguards for air and water, explain the shift in drilling from public to private lands.

Source: Adam Sieminski, Testimony of the Energy Information Administration, U.S. House, Subcommittee on Energy and Power Committee on Energy and Commerce, 2 August 2012.

3. Natural gas prices have plummeted, while oil prices have rebounded since 2008.

The major factor driving whether a rig drills for oil or natural gas is price. Most of the energy resources under federal public lands are natural gas. As we saw above, most shale oil resources are under private lands. Given that natural gas prices plummeted and oil prices have rebounded since 2008, there is a strong incentive for drill rigs to move from public to private lands.

Source: “Cushing, OK WTI Spot Price FOB,” Energy Information Administration, accessed 18 October 2012.
U.S. Natural Gas Wellhead Price,” Energy Information Administration, accessed 18 October 2012.

4. Despite the fact that most shale oil resources are under private lands, oil production was higher on public lands in 2011 than it was in 2007.

One would of course expect oil production to skyrocket on private lands, but oil production has also increased on public lands by about 19,000 barrels per day.


Source: Marc Humphries, “U.S. Crude Oil Production in Federal and Non-Federal Areas,” Congressional Research Service, 20 March 2012.

5. More oil production from public lands will not affect the price at the pump.

The Associated Press found that “[g]as price spikes have had little to do with the level of oil produced in the United States.” This is because the price of oil is set on a world market, and increasing demand from countries such as China and India is raising the cost of oil. So, drilling companies make more money drilling for oil when prices spike, but it won’t lower the price at the pump.

Click the snapshot below to view the Associated Press’s interactive chart on their website.


6. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management continually approves drilling permits faster than the number of new wells industry develops.

Critics often point to declining permit numbers as proof positive that the federal government is blocking development, but the facts tell a different story. Industry is submitting far fewer permits to drill on public lands because of the shift from public lands natural gas resources to private lands shale oil deposits, and the federal government can’t approve a permit unless industry submits an application for it. More importantly, the federal government consistently approves drilling permits faster than industry can drill new oil and gas wells. The only thing holding back industry is industry.

Source: “Number of Drilling Permits Approved by Fiscal Year on Federal Land,” U.S. Bureau of Land Management, last updated 9 November 2011.
Number of Well Bores Started (Spud) During the Fiscal Year on Federal Lands,” U.S. Bureau of Land Management, last updated 9 November 2011.

7. Industry is sitting on more than 7,000 federal drilling permits with a green light to drill.

Lastly, industry does not use the drilling permits that have already been issued for oil and gas development. In fact, there are more than 7,000 unused drilling permits that industry could develop on federal public lands.


Source: “Approved Applications for Permit to Drill – Not Drilled,” U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 30 September 2011.

Reality check on gas prices, public lands

Rhetoric in the public debate on gas prices is heating up from politicians this week. Unfortunately, oil and gas apologists continue to push misinformation on the American public.

Instead of exporting American resources so that oil companies get richer, let’s use our oil at home to the benefit of all Americans.

There is another simple step we can take to help American families whose pocketbooks are hurting because of high prices at the pump. We should end the billions in special tax breaks to Big Oil and reinvest those funds in transportation solutions, high tech vehicles, and the next generation of renewable fuels.

Here are some facts to consider about gas prices and energy development.

Oil and gas drilling
Oil and gas drilling in America is its highest level since Ronald Reagan was in office. Over the last four years, there appears to be a direct correlation between gas prices and drilling activity. Higher prices means more drilling, but more drilling has failed to lower gas prices.


Domestic oil production
Earlier this year, the Associated Press found that there is no correlation between how much oil is produced and the price of gas. In fact, domestic crude oil production is at its highest level since the late 1990’s.

Over the last four years, oil production has increased right alongside the price of gas. Clearly, we need an all-of-the-above energy policy that goes beyond oil.

Public lands
The Congressional Research Service found that oil production on federal lands is higher in 2011 as compared to 2007.

Oil and gas companies have also failed to develop more than 20 million of acres of public lands that are already leased for oil and natural gas. According to a May 2012 Interior Department report, the oil and gas industry had conducted production or exploration activities on just 56% of public lands leased in the U.S.

It’s summer, time for flip flops

Gas prices have decreased for the past five weeks, in response to the same sort of global economic factors that cause them to increase. But that answer doesn’t work well for oil company politicians and their spokespeople at Fox News.

Media Matters takes a good look at how Fox News is flip flopping and saying that falling gas prices are bad (hear that American families?), and that global factors do affect gas prices.

Note that Fox is now raising how worldwide economic factors are affecting gas prices, after spending weeks blaming Obama for the price increase since the president’s inauguration. Fox won’t explain that the extremely low price in January 2009 was a short-lived drop caused by the massive economic recession. In fact, last week on Fox News, Varney explicitly said with a straight face that the price increase since the bottom of the recession had “everything to do with” Obama, but the recent drop in gas prices “has nothing to do with” him:

Read the story

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.

Colorado House GOP pander for more oil and gas lobby dollars

Matt Garrington, Co-Director of The Checks and Balances Project, offered the following statement and facts regarding the introduction of 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.

“Colorado House Republicans clearly know who is in charge of the U.S. House – Big Oil. It’s painful to watch members of Congress so blatantly pander for oil and gas lobby dollars.

“Instead of pushing legislation that amounts to nothing more than cheap gimmicks and handouts to industry, Rep. Lamborn, Rep. Coffman and Rep. Tipton should offer real solutions to high gas prices.

“If we want to get serious about gas prices, we should end tax breaks to oil and gas companies and reinvest those funds in American energy solutions such as high tech vehicles, the next generation of renewable fuels, and transportation solutions. We should also crackdown on Wall Street oil speculators that artificially increase the price of gas.”

FACTS ABOUT AMERICAN ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

  • 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 millionacres leased and in production.
  • Drilling permits on federal public lands approved in FY11 was 4,244, outpacing the number of new wells spudded on federal public lands which was 3,260
  • As of January 25, 2012, the oil and gas industry had 6,500 unused drilling permits for western federal lands.
  • Drilling activity reached its highest level under the Obama administration than at any point since the Reagan administration.

FACTS ABOUT COLORADO ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

  • Natural gas production was at an all-time high in 2010 at 1,589,664 MMcf
  • Federal public lands leased in FY11 was 4.38 million acres compared to just 1.47 million acres leased and in production.

Bush administration average: 67
Obama administration average: 60

A LOOK AT THE BILLS

H.R. 4382, Sponsored by Rep. Coffman (CO-06) – $174,800 in oil and gas contributions

  • Increases oil and gas company speculation on public lands by requiring the Interior Department lease at least 25 percent of lands nominated for leasing by the oil and gas industry each year.
  • Ignores the fact that 57% of oil and gas leases – covering 21.6 million acres – lay idle
  • Prohibits Interior Department from making common sense decisions about whether leasing decisions should move forward when conflicts arise with other values such as water, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation.
  • Eliminates oil and gas leasing reforms which have reduced conflicts and litigation over drilling, ensured stronger conservation measures are implemented alongside responsible energy development, and provided a seat at the table for local government, outdoor recreation businesses, and the community.

H.R. 4381, Sponsored by Rep. Tipton (CO-03) – $111,600 in oil and gas contributions

  • Mandates the Interior Department to develop a new energy development plan every four years – but sets the table against renewable energy from consideration.
  • Ignores market forces by requiring arbitrary “necessary actions” to facilitate energy development on the public lands.

H.R. 4383, Sponsored by Rep. Lamborn (CO-05) – $137,962 in oil and gas contributions

  • Puts arbitrary deadlines on the permit approval process, especially given the fact that BLM continually issues far more drilling permits than the number of new wells industry drills on federal lands.
  • Establishes a $5,000 administrative fee for protests to leases, permits, and right-of-ways as well as creating arbitrary barriers to judicial review when the public, state and local governments, and others wish to challenge unwise leasing and development decisions.
  • Ignores the fact that industry has failed to develop more than 6,500 drilling permits.

Coloradans forced to pay twice for gasoline

In Colorado, Clean Water Action and Colorado Conservation Voters held events on Tax Day to hold Congressmen Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton accountable for the special tax breaks and subsidies they are handing out to Big Oil. While at local gas stations, citizens asked why they were being forced to “shoulder more than $157 million of the burden for oil and gas tax breaks” especially when gas prices are at an all time high.

Fat Cat takes photos with drivers calling an end to taxpayer handouts to Big Oil. Source: Clean Water Action

“It’s high time Coloradans stop paying twice for gas – once at the pump and again on Tax Day,” said Gary Wockner, director of Clean Water Action. “We should end the billions in taxpayer handouts to Big Oil fat cats, but Reps. Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton have voted a half dozen times to protect Big Oil tax breaks.”

According to Clean Water Action:

Coloradans are paying just over $3.85 a gallon for gas, $0.29 more per gallon than one year ago. While Colorado families struggle to adjust to higher energy prices, the top five oil and gas companies alone reported $137 billion in profits this past year.

Oil and gas interests have given more than $6.8 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress so far this election cycle, 88 percent of which went to Republican members.

Rep. Mike Coffman has taken $164,800 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, and Rep. Scott Tipton has taken $104,600.

“Big Oil is buying-off our members of Congress, including Reps. Coffman and Tipton, to keep protect billions in special tax breaks,” said Wockner. “No wonder the only solution to gas prices these politicians offer up are gimmicks like ‘drill, baby, drill.”

“Instead of taking money from Big Oil, the Congressmen should vote to end Big Oil tax breaks and reinvest those funds in long term solutions such as transportation improvements, the next generation of renewable fuels, and high tech vehicles,” concluded Wockner.

Oil speculation hurting Americans and raising the price at the pump

Today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee are holding a hearing on oil speculation and its impact on high gas prices. This February, Forbes, using Goldman Sachs analysis, found that Wall Street speculation was adding more than $23 to the price of crude or as much as $0.56 per gallon at the pump. ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson stated that there was no issue with supply in demand and cited Iran rhetoric and market response as reason for the run-up.

Checks and Balances Project Co-Director Matt Garrington had this to say on Leader Pelosi’s hearing:

It’s high time that Congress crack down on oil speculation and how it drives up the price at the pump. Leader Pelosi should be commended for taking on Big Oil and Wall Street on behalf of American families.

The American Petroleum Institute, Western Energy Alliance, and the politicians bought-and-paid-for by oil companies continue to lie to the public about the cause of high gas prices. Those accusations haven’t been able to survive the light of day. An Associated Press study showed that oil production has no effect on gas prices. In fact, some refineries are actually cutting back on production arguing that today’s high prices are not enough to make additional production profitable.

Four years ago we saw Wall Street’s greed decimate the housing market and our economy. When it comes to oil speculation, we need more accountability to prevent Wall Street gamblers from raising energy prices and hurting the pocketbooks of Americans.

Cracking down on Wall Street gamblers is an important step to addressing high energy costs.

Key facts regarding American oil production:

All of the above means we have to go beyond oil

As gas prices top $4/gallon in an election year, Americans are fed up with empty promises and cheap gimmicks. Who in their right mind buys Newt Gingrich’s claim that he can lower gas prices to $2.50/gallon?

So, who or what is to blame for high gasoline prices?

The Big Oil spin machine and the Republicans who received 88% of Big Oil campaign contributions would have you believe it’s the President’s conservation policies which aim to balance responsible energy development and the protection of our Great Outdoors.

The truth is that energy development and conservation is not a zero sum game. Under the Obama Administration, domestic oil drilling hit a record high, American oil production hit an eight-year high, domestic demand is at its lowest point in 17 years, and America stands as a net exporter of petroleum products.

The simplistic view of “drill here, drill now” has no credibility as a means to bring down the price of a gallon of gas. In fact, the Associated Press just reported that increased oil drilling has never brought down gas prices.

When I studied Economics, one of the first things they taught was the Law of Supply and Demand and how it should affect price in a free market. This year, the price at the pump seemingly defies that law. Demand for oil and gas in America is down and production is up. But that hasn’t prevented prices from surging, and oil industry profits surging right along with them.

To be clear, supply and demand is one factor at play – but on a global level. The economic progress of China and India, as well as the swelling appetite for oil that comes with that growth, adds to an increase in oil prices. Clearly supply and demand are not the whole story though.

As one expert at Oppenheimer & Co recently noted, “Speculation is now part of the DNA of oil prices.”

That sentiment is echoed by some unlikely sources. ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson recently stated that oil speculation and uncertainty over Iran are driving up the current price at the pump. Citing Goldman Sachs, Forbes reported this past February that oil speculation was adding $0.56 to the price at the pump.

Something else that seems fishy is that while global demand is going up and gas prices surging, Big Oil’s refineries in the United States are cutting back.

So while Americans struggle to pay for the cost of these high energy prices, the oil and gas industry made nearly $137 billion in profits last year. Make no mistake. Oil companies don’t want lower gas prices because it means less profit.

So what is there to do?

President Obama is correct when he says there is no “quick fix” to gas prices. Congress needs to end taxpayer handouts to big oil and reinvest those funds in American energy innovation and clean energy solutions. We need to make our cars and trucks more fuel efficient, so American families can cut energy costs and travel farther on less oil. Congress and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission should crack down on Wall Street speculators to stop their gambling from artificially inflating the price at the pump.

We need an all of the above energy strategy that goes beyond oil. Unless we truly end our dependence on oil, foreign or domestic, we will continue to be vulnerable to global events and market manipulation by Big Oil and their friends on Wall Street.

Originally published on the National Journal Energy Expert Blog

Wall Street rings in the New Year for oil speculators

Matt Garrington

Wall Street started 2012 by ringing in the New Year for oil and gas speculators.  On Tuesday, Ralph Hill, the CEO of WPX Energy Inc., rang the opening bell for the first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

The evidence of speculation’s effect on the price at the pump has piled up over the last couple of years. In 2011 especially, as gas prices hit near-record highs in the first half of the year, analysts and financial reporters explained how price increases had less to do with supply and demand than Wall Street trading.

Commissioner Bart Chilton of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission endorsed this view in a speech to the High Frequency Trading World in Amsterdam.  Chilton told a room full of traders, “Researchers at Oxford, Princeton, and many other private researchers say that speculators have had an impact on prices—oil prices and food prices most notably.”

Even Goldman Sach acknowledged the impact of speculation on energy prices. In a little-publicized study conducted issued last year, the investment world’s flagship firm estimated oil prices to be $20 higher per barrel as a result of speculation.

When you consider the effect this speculation has had on the checkbooks of American families, it’s telling that the NYSE still chose an oil and gas CEO to open the new year. It can be viewed as an admission that speculators understand the role they’ve played in energy costs, and are looking forward to another banner year.

Unfortunately, that prosperity won’t be passed down to American consumers. After all, in just the first three quarters of 2011 oil and gas companies reported over $101 billion in profits. They passed cost of speculation directly on to the consumer, even though many of those companies were engaged in speculation themselves.

Meanwhile, Big Oil executives and the politicians they support fought tooth and nail to protect the billions in government handouts oil companies receive every year. For the record, many of those same politicians were far less vocal in protecting the 2 percent payroll tax cut that House Republicans held hostage at the end of the year.

If you’re looking for an explanation for their actions, you need look no further than Ralph Hill, the CEO who opened the NYSE. Before WPX Energy split off from Williams, Hill was that company’s President of Exploration and Production. During his time there, Hill gave thousands of dollars to the company’s political action committee.

That PAC turned around and funded the election campaigns of many of the politicians who over the past year have protected corporate welfare to oil companies, especially some of the key players on the House Natural Resources Committee.

No wonder these same Congressmen voted time and time again to protect special tax breaks on oil and gas subsidies, and we still don’t have legislation cracking down on oil speculators.

Wall Street continues to prove it is politically tone deaf by bringing in the very example of the 1 percent to kick-off the New Year – an oil and gas CEO whose company gets bigger profits when America’s working families are forced to pay more at the pump.

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