ThinkProgress blogs on Tipton’s field hearing

The team over at ThinkProgress posted a well researched, thoughtful article on Rep. Tipton’s field hearing today to review drilling standards. It turns out there is evidence that drilling near groundwater supplies can have negative effects on people’s health.

Click to read the full story.

Barrasso and Hastings turn energy discussion into a pro-industry spin zone

The energy debate continued to get more contentious when wildly illogical arguments were tossed out during roundtable discussion hosted by Politico.

The voices, from all sides of the energy debate, included Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Rep. Dianne DeGette (D-Colo.), former head of the EPA Carol Browner and Doug Holtz-Eakin formerly of John McCain’s presidential campaign.

While DeGette and Browner pushed back on pro-industry, energy policies, Barrasso and Hastings mostly defended the dirty energy sources that fund their campaigns. Not surprisingly, the discussion took a heated turn when both were asked to vote against energy subsidies.

A time to kill subsidies?

Carol Browner wasn’t going to let Hastings and Barrasso get away with flip-flopping on their feelings over government handouts. Barrasso, who earlier in the debate made the claim that green job created in America come at the expense of two non-green jobs, got oddly squeamish when Browner asked him why he wouldn’t eliminate the subsidies to the oil industry. Barrasso who has been pushing pro-industry legislation over the past six months said Congress needed to revisit the whole tax code before focusing on just a portion of it.

The hypocrisy was immediately pointed out: “So your okay with focusing on just ethanol subsidies, but when it comes to oil subsidies you simply say you want to deal with the entire tax code? If that’s your argument, I happy to have it with the American people,” said Browner.

Hastings got dizzy on his own spin when he tried to address the issue. “Subsidies should be eliminated over time. The question is when is that time? When the market plays its role,” said Hastings to a surprised audience. If Hastings is willing to let the market decide then the record profits posted by Big Oil in the first quarter should be a clear indicator to get rid of oil and gas subsidies.

Spinning the high gas prices

While the subsidies debate was a ‘he said, she said,’ the panel appeared to run amok with solutions to high gas prices. It was even suggested that the United States should drill its way out of the problem. “It is short sided to ignore the abundance of oil in the Western lands,” he the industry-backed Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Since assuming the role (and collecting nearly $100 thousand in oil and gas campaign contributions during the 2010 cycle) has tried several times to open up land for drilling. It would also be short sided for the oil and gas industry to continue to let the 21 million leased acres go undeveloped.

Hastings’ solution was undercut by Holz-Eakin, who acknowledged that gas prices are set on a global market and that getting more fuel into the market won’t have any affect on prices in the short term. Holz-Eakin used this logic to lampoon President Obama’s deployment of the strategic oil reserve, but drifted away from the idea when compromised on Hastings spin.

Fuzzy economic memory

During a brief question and answer session from the audience Brooks Yeager of the Clean Air Cool Planet pressed Holtz-Eakin why he was not focused on reducing demand when America produces five percent of the oil and uses 25 percent of the global supply. Holtz-Eakin simply replied that he wants to get more energy out there but added no analysis to Yeager’s economic inquiry.

“He seemed to forget about economics all of a sudden, funny how that works,” said Yeager when asked by The Checks and Balances Project if he was satisfied with Holtz-Eakin’s answer.


A job over clean air

Among the most unsatisfying answers was Barrasso’s job attack against climate change policies. “I’d rather have a job than clean air,” he said when discussing the economics of cleaning up the atmosphere. Still no clarity on how that supports the clean energy debate. One thing is clear: During the 2012 election the GOP’s stance is to push jobs at the cost of everything else.

Connecting the dots between gas industry tycoons and the NAT GAS Act requires ink by the barrel load.

A recent investigation by DeSmogBlog and PRWatch exposes just who stands to benefit from the NAT GAS Act and the expensive tactics being used to ensure it flies through congress. The most recent tactic is a public relations campaign by Chesapeake Energy, which included the gas giant’s “Declaration of Energy Independence.”

Chesapeake Energy’s CEO, Aubrey McClendon, is joined by T. Boone Pickens, when it comes to who will benefit from NAT GAS Act. The legislation calls for the government to cut checks to any company that transfers its fleet of vehicles to methane gas and to have citizens shell out their taxes so that methane gas fueling stations can be constructed throughout the country.

According to the DeSmog report, Chesapeake, “will pour $150 million into Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (CEF). Energy tycoon and hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens sits on CEF’s Board of Directors and owns a 41 percent stake, according to the company’s March, 2011 10-Q filing. That money will go toward funding methane gas fueling stations along federal highways spanning the country.

The timing of Chesapeake’s launch of the “Declaration of Energy Dependence” is no coincidence. The NAT GAS Act is at a critical stage. It currently has 183 co-sponsors, but it is also being considered at a time when the United States is trying to reduce handouts from America’s taxpayers. But with the help a public relations army that even includes a methane gas funded television network, McClendon and Pickens are betting they can buy another handout for the fossil fuel industry.

THE BALANCE SHEET | July 26, 2011

Our weekly update to unravel the industry and political spin around the energy debate



Last Thursday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) started his birthday by filing pro-oil and gas amendments to S.917 at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup. Then it was on to lunch with the United Technologies (UT) PAC, which already has already given him $3,500 this cycle. Interestingly, one of UT’s subsidiaries is Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., whose spokesman once said, “Offshore oil has been the big driver of commercial helicopter business in general and for us in particular.”


Wednesday, The Wilderness Society released an analysis revealing that the same oil and gas companies trying to blame the government for high gas prices have failed to develop 6,573 federal drilling permits issued to them by the Bureau of Land Management. Over 97 percent of those permits are located in the Rocky Mountain region. Those permits mean the holders have a green light to drill, so we’re confident Rep. Doc Hastings and Rep. Doug Lamborn will be calling CEO’s to the carpet any day now to explain why they’re not using those permits.


In an op-ed for The Hill, Checks and Balances Project Deputy Director Matt Garrington explains how Sen. Barrasso is more concerned about keeping his Big Oil contributors happy than keeping American families safe. Sen. Barrasso has repeatedly demonstrated his priorities though several attempts to dismantle the Interior Department’s drilling protections, which are meant to keep Americans safe from reckless practices.



According to the Public Campaign Action Fund, “a whopping 94% of House oil PAC money recipients in the first 6 months of 2011 voted to keep these wasteful subsidies.” Big Oil donated a total of $1.2 million to members of Congress through registered PACs



The big five oil companies are expected to announce another profitable quarter for 2011. Look for the strategic messaging from these corporations and their congressional investments as they try to explain needing billions in taxpayer handouts while collecting billions in profits


Twitter: @checksandbals | Email:

A few facts about July 4th gas prices and energy development

American families will be heading to the beaches, barbecues and national parks this weekend to celebrate the birth of our nation. Unfortunately, more families will likely be sticking closer to home due to lingering high gas prices. Meanwhile Big Oil will celebrate the close of another quarter of billion-dollar profits.

Second quarter profits won’t be released for a couple of weeks, but all indicators say it’s been another banner quarter for Big Oil. They and their politician friends in Washington have continued to work together to blame everyone else for high gas prices. Even when President Obama had to release 30 million barrels from the strategic petroleum reserve last week, Congressman Doc Hastings still refused to call on Big Oil CEOs to use all the permits and lands that belong to them and are standing idle. Instead, Hastings lobbied on behalf of his Big Oil bosses to secure more government handouts.

Here are a few facts Big Oil and politicians like Hastings don’t want Americans to know when they go to gas up their cars this weekend:

  1. The number of active drill rigs in the country has nearly returned to pre-recession levels. Non-partisan Headwaters Economics reports that in May 2011, the number of active rigs was 1,847, less than 200 fewer rigs than were operating in September 2008, at the end of George W. Bush’s term in office.
  1. Big Oil is crying for more government handouts while thousands of drilling permits sit idle. Oil and gas companies haven’t developed nearly 7,200 onshore oil and gas permits where they have a green light to drill. The same goes for 57 percent of their existing onshore leases, nationally.
  1. Big Oil has even more permits coming. According to the Department of the Interior, onshore drilling permits are expected to increase over 40% in 2011. So how many permits will litter taxpayer land one year from now, when oil companies’ CEOs are still whining they need more acres and permits to impress shareholders?
  1. The U.S. is a net exporter of petroleum products. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S.’s petroleum imports have actually decreased over the last few years. In November and December of 2010 and in February and March of 2011, we actually exported more petroleum products than we imported. The same is true for natural gas where producers are eyeing new markets and looking to ship American natural gas to overseas. The Energy Department recently approved a new export facility in Louisiana.
  1. American taxpayers are paying Big Oil at the pump and on tax day. Big Oil politicians like Doc Hastings and Doug Lamborn voted in May to protect the $18 billion in corporate welfare companies like Exxon and BP will receive over the next 10 years.

Unused land leases limit tourism and contribute to high gas prices

As we head into the Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of the summer travel season, families are feeling the pinch from high gas prices. Unfortunately, instead of pushing for real solutions to help Americans save money and drive our nation toward energy independence, the oil and gas industry lobby continues demanding more government handouts, including reckless development of our public lands and ending common sense protections for the land, water, and air on which American families and businesses depend. Responsible energy development means protecting the land, rivers, and lakes western states need for their outdoor recreation and tourism industries and that Americans enjoy on their Memorial Day weekend and summer vacations.

Outdoor recreation is a significant part of America’s economy, contributing over $730 billion nationally. In 2010, more than 137.9 million Americans, age 6 or older, participated in at least one outdoor activity.

Moreover, access to public lands for drilling is not an issue. The simple truth is that the oil and gas industry has failed to develop 57 percent of its current leases as well as 7,200 permits where they have a green light to drill.

Outdoor recreation business leaders and user groups support responsible energy development. That way we can ensure Americans can continue to visit their favorite vacation spots on future Memorial Days and provide jobs to the of thousands of men and women who work in the outdoor recreation industry.

Outdoor recreation & tourism in the Intermountain West

  Outdoor recreation industry annual state economic contribution[1] Outdoor recreation industry related jobs[2] All direct travel and tourism jobs[3]
Colorado $10 billion 107,000 357,721
Montana $2.5 billion 34,000 71,216
New Mexico $3.8 billion 47,000 119,974
Utah $5.8 billion 65,000 151,334
Wyoming $4.4 billion 52,000 42,429

Drilling by the numbers

Access to drilling is simply not an issue on our public lands:

  • Onshore drilling permits are expected to increase over 40% in 2011. (U.S. Dept. of Interior)
  • Oil and gas companies have yet to develop 57 percent of their existing onshore leases nationally. (U.S. Dept. of Interior)
  • Oil and gas companies yet to develop nearly 7,200 onshore oil and gas permits nationally where they have a green light to drill. (New York Times)

The United States is a world leader in oil and gas production

  • The U.S. is the world’s third largest producer of oil in the world, producing about 9.1 billion barrels of oil per day. (Energy Information Administration)
  • The U.S. is the world’s leading producer of natural gas, producing 26.2 billion cubic feet per year. (Energy Information Administration)
  • More drilling rigs are located within the United States than all other countries in the world combined – U.S.: 1,830; Canada 143; all other countries, 1129. (Baker Hughes)
  • Oil and gas companies receive over $15 billion in taxpayer subsidies each year. (Taxpayers for Common Sense)
  • President Obama targeted $43 billion in taxpayer subsidies over 10 years in his FY12 budget proposal. (White House)
  • While the U.S. does important significant levels of crude oil, the U.S. is now a net exporter of petroleum products and selling refined oil and diesel oil abroad. (Energy Information administration)

[1] “State by State Active Outdoor Recreation Economy Report,” Outdoor Industry Association,

[2] Ibid.

[3] :EPS-HDT: Socioeconomic Profiles,” Headwaters Economics,

Just another Natural Resources Committee hearing

The House Natural Resources Committee met yesterday for a hearing titled, “Harnessing American Resources to Create Jobs and Address Rising Gasoline Prices – Part III: Impacts on Seniors, Working Families and Memorial Day Vacations.”

The hearing seems to have generated about as much interest as another trequel, “Police Academy 3: Back in Training.” The majority invited three witnesses who all did their part to support the hearing’s title by stating that high energy prices do, in fact, affect senior, working families and people traveling for vacation. You can read the committee’s press release for a summation of each of the majority’s witnesses’ remarks.

What you won’t read in that release are the remarks of a rising star on the energy stage, Truman National Security Project Fellow Drew Sloan. Mr. Sloan, a two-tour Afghanistan veteran and winner of a bronze star and a purple heart, works at OPower, a northern Virginia, energy-efficiency company. His remarks on the national security and economic needs to move our nation to renewable energy were reasoned and respectful. Unfortunately, they seem to have been omitted from the committee’s press release. The Checks and Balances Project is looking for the hearing transcript and will publish his remarks as soon as we can locate it.

One of Mr. Sloan’s remarks that had us laughing came in response to Rep. John Fleming’s (R-LA-04) assertion that he’s never met anyone with a green job. Mr. Sloan simply raised his hand and said that he has a green job. There was no response from Rep. Fleming, but that could be because Rep. Doug Lamborn, who was chairing the event, ended the speaking portion halfway through Mr. Sloan’s sentence.

Speaking of Rep. Fleming, he also said that the government doesn’t give any subsidies to Big Oil. This seems strange since the Senate just held a vote on whether or not to end $21 million of those subsidies. It is worth noting Rep. Fleming has taken $248,350 from Big Oil over the course of his 2.5 or so years in Congress. That’s about $99,000 per year.

fleming campaign money

Issa and committee Republicans received nearly a half-million in Big Oil money prior to ‘oversight’ report

Today, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform released a 40-page report in an attempt to shift blame for the recent increase in gasoline prices away from Big Oil.

Chairman Darrell Issa and his Republican colleagues on the committee took in a grand total of $453,910 dollars from the oil and gas industry during the last election cycle. By contrast, the committee Democrats received $67,400.

“Today, the hundreds of thousands of dollars in Big Oil campaign contributions look a lot more like book royalties for defending Big Oil,” said Matthew Garrington, Denver-based deputy director of the Checks & Balances Project. “After accepting all that money, Chairman Issa and his fellow Republicans have written a grand conspiracy story to defend Big Oil in the face of high gas prices.”

“There’s nothing like a reading a good work of fiction,” continued Garrington. “I’ll have a glass of milk and a small plate of cookies to enjoy while I read Issa and company’s latest attempt to help the oil and gas industry, since obviously protecting $4 billion per year in taxpayer handouts a few weeks ago wasn’t enough.”

2010 election cycle oil and gas industry contributions*:

Name District


Rep. James Lankford OK-5


Rep. Darrell Issa CA-49


Rep. Blake Farenthold TX-27


Rep. Pat Meehan PA-7


Rep. Tim Walberg MI-7


Rep. Jason Chaffetz UT-03


Rep. John Mica FL-07


Rep. Dennis Ross FL-12


Rep. Mike Kelly PA-3


Rep. Trey Gowdy SC-4


Rep. Frank Guinta NH-1


Dr. Paul Gosar AZ-1


Dr. Scott DesJarlais TN-4


Rep. Connie Mack FL-14


Rep. Jim Jordan OH-04


Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle NY-25


Rep. Patrick McHenry NC-10


Rep. Todd Platts PA-19


Rep. Dan Burton IN-05


Rep. Raul Labrador ID-1


Rep. Justin Amash MI-3


Rep. Michael Turner OH-03


Rep. Joe Walsh IL-8




Drilling by the numbers:

The United States is a world leader in oil and gas production:

  • The United States is the world’s third largest producer of oil in the world, producing about 9.1 billion barrels of oil per day.
  • The United States is the world’s leading producer of natural gas, producing 26.2 billion cubic feet per year.
  • More drilling rigs are located within the United States than all other countries in the world combined (United States: 1,830; Canada 143; all other countries, 1129).
  • Oil and gas companies receive over $15 billion in taxpayer subsidies each year.
  • President Obama targeted $43 billion in taxpayer subsidies over 10 years in his FY12 budget proposal.

Access to drilling is simply not an issue on our public lands:

  • Oil and gas companies have failed to develop nearly 7,200 onshore oil and gas permits where they have a green light to drill.

*Data from


Our weekly update to unravel the industry and political spin around the energy debate



Despite billion-dollar profits across the board, Big Oil refineries are producing less fuel while making more money. It’s too bad this game of monopoly has real impacts to our pocketbooks. According to the Department of Energy, American refineries’ operations have dropped by eight percent to 81 percent of their total production capacity. Oil and gas corporations are fattening up their wallets at taxpayers expense. Los Angeles Times has the full story.


During the initial round of hearings hosted by the BLM, critics voiced their concerns over oil shale calling it “the petroleum equivalent of fool’s gold,” and pointing to the fact that oil companies have failed to produce any commercial oil from oil shale in the last 100 years. The economics of the dirty energy source were described as, “a Hail Mary shot from the half court.” The hearings are assessing the use of 1.9 million acres of public land that could be made available for oil shale drilling projects. Read about the hearings in the Deseret News or watch the video from NBC’s Grand Junction, Colorado affiliate KKCO.


During a ‘public’ meeting a week after the major fracking wastewater spill in Leroy, Pa., Governor Tom Corbett’s gas advisory commission shut out hundreds of Pennsylvanians who came to express their concerns about the controversial process. It’s no wonder the Commission is less than welcoming to public scrutiny: In 2010, Commission members collectively gave $790, 950 to Corbett’s political campaign and had 514 reported environmental violations between them. C&BP has the full story.


Thursday, the launch of highlighted Big Oil’s ties with Republican members of Congress. But last week, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan vocalized his support for the end of taxpayer-funded subsidies to oil and gas companies. Is this the first sign that the honeymoon may be over? Read more about Ryan’s remarks here.



The oil and gas industry gave $180,650 to House Speaker John Boehner for the 2010 election, the most they’ve ever paid into his campaign accounts in one election cycle. Could that be why he flip-flopped on taxpayer-funded subsidies to oil and gas companies after telling Jonathan Karl of ABC News that they could be on the chopping block?



Congress back in session means it’s time for some to put taxpayers’ money where politicians’ mouths are. We will be watching for any action from Chairman Paul Ryan, or the other Republicans we noted who expressed a willingness to end billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded subsidies to the oil and gas industry. President Obama sent a clear signal, in his letter to Congressional leadership, that ending oil and gas subsidies is a priority for his administration. Senator Harry Reid vowed to hold a vote to end the subsidies within the month.


Twitter: @checksandbals | Email:

As Americans feel pain at pump, Big Oil wins big

For immediate release
April 26, 2011

Media Contact:
Matt Garrington, Deputy Director
(303) 454-3376

Washington, DC – This week, Big Oil will announce record profits at a time when Americans are suffering at the gas pump. In the first quarter of 2011, ExxonMobil is expected to post a gain of 50 percent while a 33 percent bump is expected for both Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

“While Americans are feeling the pain of high gas prices, Big Oil is to announce record profits for the first quarter of 2011,” said Matt Garrington, Deputy Director of the Checks and Balances Project.

“These dirty energy corporations skirt their obligations and get billions in taxpayer funded subsidies, while they gouge Americans at the pump. The industry continues to demonstrate an abusive of the federal tax system. Speaker Boehner should stand by his words and make sure Big Oil pays their ‘fair share” of taxes,” continued Garrington.

According to Politico, the announcement schedule is:

Wednesday, 2 a.m.: BP
Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.: ConocoPhillips
Thursday, 5 a.m.: Royal Dutch Shell
Thursday, 8 a.m.: ExxonMobil
Friday, 11 a.m.: Chevron

These announcements come after Halliburton reported last week that its first quarter revenue set a company record at $5.3 billion, which is up from $3.8 billion in the first quarter of 2010. First quarter profits were up 148 percent from $206 million in 2010 to $511 million in 2011.

Halliburton cited increased U.S. onshore drilling activity as the reason for its success, with Chairman Dave Lesar stating, “North America delivered strong performance as margins progressed due to increased activity while Eastern Hemisphere operating income was significantly impacted by geopolitical events in North Africa, delays in Iraq, and typical seasonality.”

A simple analysis by the Checks and Balances Project of 10 years’ worth of industry profits and pump prices demonstrate that oil companies profit the greatest when Americans pay the most at the pump.

# # #

The Checks and Balances Project’s mission is to investigate how and why decisions are made that affect taxpayers and consumers. The project is focused on holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable for their actions related to energy, government spending, public health, and the environment.


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