Senators get it wrong on oil & gas production at Jewell nomination hearing; Industry is following the oil to nonfederal lands

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources convened, Thursday, to question President Obama’s Interior Sec. nominee, REI Chief Executive Officer Sally Jewell. The three-hour hearing was generally friendly, but some Senators couldn’t pass up the chance to repeat oil and gas industry talking points, rather than deal in facts.

The Checks and Balances Project watched the hearing and used Twitter to fact check senators. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) all ignored the facts about western land use and energy development at various points during the hearing.

Here are five statements from the hearing where senators got it wrong on U.S. oil and gas production*:

“They’ve driven us backward on the development of nearly a trillion barrels of oil shale in the Green River formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.”

— Sen. Tim Scott (1:29:38 – 1:30:05)

The facts: BLM released a revised PEIS late in 2012 that gave oil shale speculators access to 600,000 acres of public lands. For more than a century, people have tried and failed to make oil shale – a rock that doesn’t actually contain oil – a viable energy source. Along the way, billions of American taxpayer dollars have been risked, with nothing to show for it. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the federal government awarded nearly $7 billion in the 1980’s (over $12 billion adjusted for inflation) on oil shale loan and price guarantees.

Being from South Carolina, Sen. Scott may not know all this about oil shale, since they don’t have any. We suggest he reads our Century of Failure report, and visits No More Empty Promises, to learn more.

* * *

“If you look at the amount of production we have off of federal lands, that you would be responsible for, has declined, when private land production has increased. So it looks like the Department of Interior was going a different direction when the economy and the market was driving it – in the private sector – in a complete different direction.”

— Sen. Joe Manchin (54:20 – 54:45)

The facts: Earlier this week the Salt Lake Tribune ran a story on a new report which shows that price and geology are the reason there’s more drilling on private lands today:

Overproduction of U.S. natural gas, not burdensome drilling regulations, is driving energy developers from western public mineral leases to non-federal lands rich in oil to the east…According to the new report, 89 percent of shale oil and mixed oil and gas in the Intermountain West occupy non-federal deposits even though the feds control much of the region’s lands.

Phil Taylor at Greenwire also wrote on oil shale production on federal lands, showing that it’s actually on the rise.

* * *

“Despite tremendous resources on federal lands, nearly all gains in energy production have occurred on State and private lands.”

— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Opening statement)

The facts: In 2011 the Bureau of Land Management held three of its five largest-ever lease sales for the rights to drill on public land for oil and gas. Those are just some of the 6,314,914 acres of public land the Obama Administration has leased to oil and gas companies – nearly 2.5 times as much as the Administration has permanently protected. A Denver Post story, U.S. oil and gas drilling moving to private land where the shale is, cited a new report from the Center for Western Priorities on the industry’s shift to drilling on nonfederal lands, saying that:

…nationally 93 percent of the shale oil and mixed oil-gas plays and 90 percent of the pure shale natural gas plays were not on federal land.

Oil and gas companies have plenty of public land – so much that 20 million acres of leased lands and nearly 7,000 approved drilling permits lay idle. The most valuable commodities are on private lands, so that’s where industry is drilling.

* * *

“It seems the President’s ‘all of the above’ strategy has not included public land very much. It seems like our success has been on private lands, state lands, but not on public lands, federally owned.”

— Sen. Tim Scott (1:31:08 – 1:31:20)

The facts: Obviously, Sen. Scott also needs to get up to speed on basic facts on U.S. oil and gas production. If CWP’s report isn’t enough, Sen. Scott should read a recent Congressional Research Service report that stated:

Any increase in production of natural gas on federal lands is likely to be easily outpaced by increases on non-federal lands, particularly because shale plays are primarily situated on nonfederal lands and is where most of the growth in production is projected to occur.

Sen. Scott may also want to check out a report (pg. 22) from the Bipartisan Policy Center that states:

This shift [in drilling location] generally reflects a coincidence of geography. The large shale formations that have attracted most of the recent development activity are located in parts of the country where the federal government simply does not have large land holdings (including notably the Bakken, Barnett, Haynesville, Marcellus, and Fayetteville plays).

* * *

“This administration has obstructed access to billions of barrels of oil in ANWR, off our Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts, and on federal lands out west.”

— Sen. Tim Scott (1:29:38 – 1:30:05)

The facts: The oil and gas industry are sitting on 7,000 idle, green lighted drilling permits, and the federal government consistently approves drilling permits faster than industry can drill new oil and gas wells. Any delays in the permitting process are largely attributable to industry, and not the federal government.

If Sen. Scott would like to come visit the West to see this all for himself, we’d be happy to show him around.

*Transcribed by Checks and Balances Project from Energy and Natural Resources Committee Archived Webcast,

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