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.


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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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


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.

Same story, different day: Lamborn, Tipton offer-up tired package of oil and gas company giveaways

House Republicans paraded out their latest series of giveaways to the billion-dollar oil and gas industry today in a subcommittee chaired by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO). The bills would increase corporate welfare and a total disregard for western families and the economic health of local communities.

These reckless proposals put forth by Reps. Lamborn, Scott Tipton (R-CO), and Doc Hastings (R-WA) have failed over and over again in Congress because Americans want more out of their representatives than messaging bills for the oil and gas industry. At a time when oil and gas companies are already getting fat on the taxpayers’ dime, it’s appalling that politicians are dishing up yet another industry smorgasbord with zero regard for Western families’ safety and security.

Westerners want a real balance between protecting public lands and energy development. That balance is critical for attracting high-wage businesses and maintaining the billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy in the West.

The three tired bills paraded out yet again today include extreme measures that create quotas and mandates on behalf of oil and gas companies, and encourage risky speculation on publicly owned lands. These reckless proposals would sacrifice our drinking water, air quality, and public lands just to create more handouts that would do nothing to address our energy concerns.

These reckless measures run counter to western values and what’s best for local economies. Recent polling found that 9 out of 10 Westerners agree that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of the economy, while 74% believe that national parks, forests, and monuments, help to attract high quality employers and good jobs to their state.

The outdoor recreation industry alone accounts for $646 billion in annual spending, 6 million jobs and nearly $80 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

Yet, House Republicans continue to push these same reckless proposals, regardless of the potentially devastating impacts to western families and economies – in order to provide more handouts to the billion dollar oil and gas industry which is already hoarding millions of acres of public lands, billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies and is focused on drilling on non-federal lands, where the best and most profitable oil resources are located.

Reps Lamborn, Tipton and Hastings, need to be held accountable for blatant disregard of taxpayer money and their continued attempts to increase corporate welfare for oil and gas companies.

Key provisions from the legislation considered today:

Rep. Lamborn’s bill (HR 1965) would:

  • Block the public from participating in oil and gas leasing decisions by creating “entrance fees” of up to $5,000 to join the conversation.
  • Mandate leasing and encourage costly oil shale speculation that has a century-long track record of failure despite billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies.
  • Roll back the Obama Administration’s common sense approach to the failed “rock that burns,” oil shale, which would put already scarce western water at risk.

Rep. Tipton’s bill (HR 1394) would:

  • Establish energy development – especially fossil fuels – as the primary use of public lands, jeopardizing the billion-dollar outdoor recreation and tourism industries and the thousands of western jobs that they create.
  • Require the Department of Interior to prioritize oil, gas and coal over renewable energy development.

Rep. Hastings bill (HR 1964) would:

  • Fast track approval of drilling permits, roads and pipelines in the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A) in Alaska, regardless of potential environmental impacts.
  • Eliminate the “integrated activity plan” for NPR-A that balances energy development with protection of wildlife habitat and other critical areas.

Natural Resources Committee can’t continue 112th’s land use approach in the 113th

“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana, Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense

Over the course of the 112th Congress, we stood witness to an approach to public land use that has swung spectacularly out of balance. Nowhere is this more evident than in the actions of the House Natural Resources Committee (HNRC). So as the curtain rises on the 113th Congress, we wanted to take a moment to remember the past two years, lest the nation be condemned to repeat them.

Any lip service paid by the HNRC’s leadership to a balanced energy approach has been thoroughly disproven by their actions. Rather than take a smart approach that creates the most energy while protecting our water, communities and resources for future generations, Hastings and his team spent the 112th falling over themselves to continue billions in taxpayer-funded handouts to oil and gas companies.

Under the leadership of Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and his lieutenants, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Rep. Robert Bishop (R-Utah), HNRC focused on promoting the long-failed oil shale experiment. Their oil shale swindle would have given two million acres of public land to oil companies for oil shale speculation, while providing bargain basement royalty rates.

The bill (H.R. 3408), sponsored by Rep. Lamborn, would have provided no energy and no revenue to Americans – just millions in taxpayers handouts to the oil and gas industry.

House Speaker John Boehner named Lamborn’s bill a funding source for his highway bill, but an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would generate zero revenue.

The extremism of the HNRC didn’t stop there.  The committee also failed to address or even investigate the causes of the Deep Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or to consider policies needed to prevent a further spill – despite the billions in damages BP caused. To the contrary, HNRC voted multiple times to lift the temporary safety moratorium that was installed following the Gulf of Mexico spill.

The majority on the HNRC also fought tirelessly to secure more of our public lands – forests, canyons, waterways – for oil and gas drilling. Hastings and his peers ignored facts like record-level production, decreased nominations by oil companies and that new deposits like the Bakken Field and Eagle Ford are located on privately owned land.

Instead, they continually complained that oil and gas companies, which reaped some $136 billion in profits in 2011, and collected billions in taxpayer-funded handouts, were being mistreated.

The HNRC also failed to protect any new public lands as wilderness. This makes the 112th the first Congress since 1966 to not do so.

In the new Congress, Rep. Hastings remains HNRC chairman. Rep. Lamborn remains chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and Rep. Bishop will remain chairman of the re-named subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. This means there is no reason to believe the balance of land use will correct itself.

Let’s hope that the American people remember the past, and let these politicians know they don’t want it repeated.

Oil shale: Energy’s pink unicorn

Norquist's pink unicorn

Grover Norquist, founder of the right wing, anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, recently spoke out about the folly of spending tax dollars on pink unicorns, since they don’t exist. Following his logic, government shouldn’t create handouts for oil shale, since it doesn’t exist as an energy source.

We want to see if Mr. Norquist is willing to join us in calling for an end to all oil shale subsidies.

After a century of efforts to turn oil shale into a viable energy source, no commercial industry for it exists. And, that’s even after the federal government has risked billions in taxpayer-backed handouts to oil companies in the name of oil shale, including a brand new $50 million subsidy that was just introduced in Congress.

Mr. Norquist’s position on pink unicorns came in response to Sen. Lindsay Graham’s (R-SC) statement about voting for tax increases. Norquist claims that spending cuts to ‘match’ tax increases won’t ever happen (In other words, the cuts will never come to exist, like pink unicorns).

“If you had a pink unicorn, how many dollars in taxes would you raise to trade for the pink unicorn? Since pink unicorns do not exist in the real world, it’s never occurred to me to worry about the senator from South Carolina.”
— November 28, 2012, NPR

Oil shale is the pink unicorn of energy.

Commonly confused with the shale oil being drilled for in the Bakken and Eagle Ford fields, oil shale is actually a rock that contains a fossilized organic substance called Kerogen. Kerogen was never subjected to the titanic heat and pressure that forms liquid oil. To take the place of Mother Nature’s process, oil shale speculators have to superheat the rocks to 700 degrees or more over months or even years, to create oil.

After a century of investment and research, oil companies haven’t found a way to duplicate those geologic forces in a commercially viable way.

In late November, the nonpartisan budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense released a report examining the billions of tax dollars that have been risked on oil shale speculation. Nearly $7 billion taxpayer-funded handouts in the form of loan and price guarantees for oil shale were made to oil companies in just the 1980s alone.

Coincidentally, just as Taxpayers released their report, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) introduced a bill (H.R. 6603) with $50 million in new government handouts for the pink unicorn of energy, oil shale.

And, Rep. Hall is trying to give away this money even though companies involved in oil shale speculation say they don’t want or need taxpayer subsidies.

“We’re not asking for any special treatment[.] We’re asking to be able to proceed as any other industrial development would.
— Rikki Hrenko, CEO of Enefit American Oil, Bloomberg, February 27, 2012

Hall’s bill comes even after a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis found that opening up public lands to commercial oil shale development would provide zero revenue.

That CBO analysis was sparked by Speaker Boehner and Rep. Lamborn’s proposal to use oil shale royalties to fund transportation projects. That plan had a number of flaws, including the fact that there is no commercial oil shale industry to generate royalties, and that another section of the bill slashed any potential royalties to bargain basement levels.

Oh, and Rep. Lamborn said oil shale wouldn’t help transportation funding.

After the Lamborn bill went nowhere in the Senate, the House again tried to prop-up oil shale by including new spending on oil shale research other legislation.  Cooler heads prevailed, and the amendment offered by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) that struck funding for oil shale research from the appropriation, passed.

Rep. Hall’s bill is the third attempt by supposedly conservative members of Congress to prop up an industry that says it doesn’t need or want subsidies.

Maybe Mr. Norquist’s influence is waning in Congress, because Republicans continue to offer up pink unicorns as solutions to real energy challenges. We hope that he will lend his voice to the chorus of Americans asking our government to stop giving billion-dollar oil companies more of our tax dollars for a rock that supplies as much energy as a pink unicorn.

— Artwork by Ben Topf

It’s DÉJÀ vu all over again – Oil-backed politicians hold conference call to push new handouts to oil companies

The House Majority leadership has declared it will bring a package of  “oil-above-all” bills to a vote next week. They’re calling the bills the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act (DEJA). We’re calling it the DÉJÀ VU bills, because it’s simply more of the same: Oil-sponsored politicians are trying to create new government handouts to their oil industry campaign contributors.

Today, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Natural Resources Chair Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) are getting on a blogger conference call at 11:30 AM EST to talk about the DÉJÀ VU bills. If you’re going to be on that call, we hope you’ll ask them a few questions, since we weren’t invited.

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” said Checks and Balances Co-Director Matt Garrington. “Chairman Hastings, Rep. Gardner and other oil-soaked politicians are trying to disguise new land giveaways to oil companies as job bills. If energy development on more land will create more jobs, why aren’t they trying to force oil company CEOs to use the 20-million acres that are leased to them and laying idle? It’s because oil company CEOs fill their reelection campaign accounts, and these congressmen are singing for their supper.”

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy has taken $359,300 in oil and gas industry contributions.
  • Rep. Doc Hastings has taken $241,804 in oil and gas industry contributions.
  • Rep. Cory Gardner has taken $304,724 in oil and gas contributions.

*All amounts according to the Center for Responsive Politics (

Here are some facts about the DÉJÀ VU bills that McCarthy, Hastings and Gardner are probably hoping you overlooked:

Rep. Cory Gardner’s bill (H.R. 4480)

  • Attempts to increase the amount of land available to oil companies in a blatantly political fashion. The Gardner bill mandates that every time President Obama draws oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), that the BLM would have to lease an equal percentage of public lands to oil and gas companies. This throws any market-based approach to supply and demand on our public lands out the window. Rep. Gardner fails to call the oil companies to account for the tens of millions of acres currently leased and thousands of permits issued but not yet developed.

Rep. Doug Lamborn’s bill (H.R. 4383)

  • Assesses “a $5,000 documentation fee” on anyone from “the public” who wishes to formally object to a leasing or drilling decision. These decisions affect public lands that are owned by all Americans. In effect, the bill is the equivalent of someone telling you that it will cost you $5,000 just to object to drilling in your front yard.
  • Places limits on how judges are allowed to conduct judicial review. They would be forced to “presume” that initial decisions on leasing and drilling were “correct” and in most cases could only enjoin decisions for no more than sixty days.

Rep. Mike Coffman’s bill (H.R. 4382)

  • Puts the authority for deciding how much public land is available for drilling in the hands of the oil companies instead of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  Coffman’s bill does this by mandating that the BLM offer at least 25 percent of the area nominated for leasing by industry. In order to gain more land, oil companies simply would need to nominate more lands knowing that they’d be guaranteed at least a quarter of the total lands nominated. These are the same oil companies currently sitting on over 20 million acres of idle leases on public lands.
  • Rolls back the Salazar leasing reforms which provide a common sense approach to public lands management. This would prevent local government and other stakeholders from having a say up front in the leasing process and create more conflict on public lands. It would also remove common sense protections for air quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat by allowing oil companies to skirt scientific review prior to drilling. These reforms have been key in reducing conflict and creating more certainty for industry on how to proceed with a lease once it’s issued.

Rep. Scott Tipton’s bill (H.R. 4381)

  • Ignores the balanced land use approach that we’ve developed in Colorado, and instead mandates that energy development be the primary use of all public land. This leaves ranchers, outdoor recreation businesses, watershed protection, and hunting and fishing in the dust.
  • Disposes of the current “multiple-use” mandate under which most of the public lands are managed. Instead, the Secretary of the Interior would be mandated to “take all necessary actions” to reach an objective for energy development on public lands. That objective would be decided by Washington insiders and likely with undue oil industry input, instead of feedback from Coloradans.

We urge any bloggers on today’s conference call to question the congressmen on these points and see what they have to say. But if you get a little dizzy, don’t worry. You’re just feeling DÉJÀ VU.

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.”


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.


  • 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.