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.

The Balance Sheet for November 16, 2011

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



Last week, a former elected official and representatives of sportsman and conservation groups flew into Washington, DC. Their mission was to educate members of Congress and the administration about the damage that continued oil shale speculation can have on jobs, drinking water and air quality in the West.


Earthworks uncovered the psychological warfare tactics oil and gas companies are using on Pennsylvania residents who have spoken out about concerns over hydraulic fracturing in their backyards. In one meeting, Matt Carmichael (manager of external affairs for Anadarko Petroleum) went as far as to call these concerned citizens an ‘insurgency.’ Read the full story at


When the Huffington Post published the Facebook profile for the fracking industry, it showed that there are some tight connections between energy companies and those tasked with regulating the hydraulic fracturing process. The Checks and Balances Project profiled three individuals who have been friendly to fracking and who have helped green light its use across the nation.



Despite the fact that companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron have leased upwards of 200,000 acres for oil shale development. None of these companies are able to turn this proto-petroleum rock into commercial oil.


According to a new report from Oil Change International and Public Campaign Action Fund titled, Payback Time? The Supercommittee & Fossil Fuel Subsidies, the 12 members of the supercommitee received at least $4.2 million in dirty energy campaign contributions over the past 11 years.

Other key findings show:

  • Supercommittee members have at least 35 former or current staffers with revolving door ties to dirty energy interests.
  • Subsidies to fossil fuels can be conservatively estimated at $10 billion a year or $100 billion over the last decade.


Friday, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) continues to push for more taxpayer-funded subsidies to industry, this time for oil shale. His bill will be heard in the Energy & Minerals Subcommittee, which he chairs, and aims to throw more money at companies like Shell and ExxonMobil for oil shale speculation. Despite the hype, industry has failed to produce oil from oil shale rock for a hundred years. Join us as we play “Oil Shale Bingo” and listen for the same rhetoric to appear that has been told over the last century.


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Advisory: Udall and Grijalva Ask for a Price Check on Behalf of American Families

Update: Read Rep. Grijalva and Sen. Udall’s letter to the Comptroller General.

Rep. Raùl Grijalva and Sen. Tom Udall are announcing proactive steps they’ve taken to determine if American families are receiving what they deserve from the oil and gas companies that lease public lands. Grijalva and Udall have officially requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an, “investigation of corporate profits and public financial benefits from mineral and oil extraction on federal lands.”

At a time when the five largest oil and gas companies are reporting $67 billion in profits over six months, while collecting $15 billion per year in government handouts, it’s fair to ask whether or not the industry owes their landlords – the American people – a little more rent.

“A GAO report is a great step in finding out how much the American public is losing in fair returns on the lands they’ve lent to oil and gas and mining companies,” said Checks and Balances Project Deputy Director Matt Garrington. “Americans are already paying oil companies near-record high prices at the pump, and then paying again through billions in taxpayer-funded corporate welfare. I commend Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Raùl Grijalva for working to protect the American taxpayer by making sure some of the wealthiest corporations are paying their fair share.”

Thursday morning, Grijalva and Udall will hold a press conference to publicly release their request and explain why they’re concerned that Americans aren’t being fairly compensated for the billions in resources that oil and gas companies pull out of publicly owned land.

The Checks and Balances Project will continue to cover this story. For now, here’s the press conference information:

Grijalva Press Conference Details

Where: 1629 Longworth House Office Building

When: Thursday, Sept. 22, 9:00 a.m.

What: Public release of Grijalva/Udall GAO study request letter and media Q & A

Click to read Rep. Grijalva’s media advisory.

Tip Sheet: Industry and House members push for drilling shortcuts despite legacy of pollution

**BREAKING NEWS** While testifying at Rep. Lamborn’s hearing BLM deputy director Mike Poole announces a rulemaking plan to, “set guidelines for use of categorical exclusions from detailed National Environmental Policy Act analysis for drilling certain wells.” Ben Geman at The Hill has the story  **BREAKING NEWS**

Industry groups and Washington politicians including Western Energy Alliance, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Chairman of the House Energy & Minerals Subcommittee, and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) are trying to use obscure, bureaucratic tools known as “categorical exclusions” to weaken air and water protections in an effort to hand over more public lands to oil and gas company CEOs. Earlier this year, Sen. Barrasso introduced legislation to eliminate May 2010 leasing reforms, and last month Western Energy Alliance was able to put the reform on hold when they won an initial lower federal court ruling. Today, Rep. Lamborn’s subcommittee will hold a politically charged hearing on the subject.

“It’s unfortunate that Rep. Doug Lamborn is using his power as chairman of the Energy & Minerals Subcommittee to create political theater on behalf of the oil and gas industry,” said Checks and Balances Deputy Director Matt Garrington. “We saw what happens under a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach to energy development when these same sort of shortcuts led to the BP Gulf oil spill disaster.”

The use of “categorical exclusions” – which exempt drilling permits from scientific review – has a legacy of pollution that includes the BP Gulf oil spill disaster, air pollution levels in the Rocky Mountains that rival Los Angeles and huge declines in western wildlife populations.

Oil and gas companies already receive more than $15 billion each year in special tax breaks. These efforts to rollback protections are about more taxpayer-owned public land giveaways to oil and gas company CEOs, who use the lands to drive up share prices and get bigger bonuses.


Five years ago, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law. This sweeping legislation systematically removed a number of air, water, resource and wildlife protections for oil and gas development on public lands. Specifically, Section 390 of that bill expanded the use of “categorical exclusions” allowing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to avoid scientific review when granting drilling permits to oil and gas companies.

Here are some findings in a 2009 study by the bipartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO):

  • The Bush administration applied these shortcuts with increasing frequency, using them in 28 percent of all onshore drilling permits granted from 2006 to 2008.
  • In 85 percent of the cases sampled, these shortcuts were applied illegally, and drilling permits were improperly issued.

This “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to public lands management led to unchecked pollution and development. Here are a few examples:

In May 2010, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar began cleaning up the mess by issuing a series of leasing reforms that included curtailing the abuse of “categorical exclusions” in the permitting process. The reforms have been a huge success. Drilling permits that have been subject to proper scientific review are expected to increase 40 percent this year. The Interior Department is on the right track and should stand strong in the face of Lamborn and Barrasso’s purely political attacks.



The reforms to “categorical exclusions” and oil and gas leasing reforms that were announced in May 2010 were met with sweeping support from sportsmen, conservation groups, and several editorial boards, including the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, the Grand Junction Sentinel and the Salt Lake Tribune. And just last month, former agency officials including U.S. Forest Service Chief and BLM Acting Director Mike Dombeck, U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and BLM Director Jim Baca sent a letter of support to President Obama.



The oil and gas industry is already sitting on more than 6,500 unused drilling permits and idle leases covering millions of acres. If Rep. Lamborn and Sen. Barrasso really cared about developing American energy, they would support “Use it or lose it” legislation to encourage development of drilling leases already issued to oil and gas companies.


August 2005 President George Bush signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005, weakening air, water, and wildlife protections from drilling, and expanding the use of “categorical exclusions.” These would later be illegally used under his administration to allow industry to avoid scientific review of drilling permits.
May 2010 Secretary Ken Salazar issues two critical oil and gas leasing reforms, including:

October 2010 The Government Accountability Office issues a scathing, 72-page report outlining the Bush administration’s illegal use of “categorical exclusions.”
March 2011 The Interior Department releases a report showing industry has failed to develop or even conduct exploration on 57 percent of existing onshore leases covering 21.6 million acres.
May 2011 Sen. Barrasso introduces S.1027, The American Energy and Western Jobs Act, which is intended to rescind the Salazar leasing reforms.
July 2011 Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and other Republican legislators launcha partisan attack on the “Master Leasing Plans” oil and gas leasing reform in a letter to Sec. Salazar, despite the fact that the policy will reduce conflicts on public lands and pave the way for future energy development.BLM data is released showing the industry has failed to develop over 6,500 onshore drilling permits, primarily in western states.
August 2011 The oil and gas industry wins a lower court ruling to block implementation of IM 2010-118, the “categorical exclusion” drilling reform.

Bingo! We win nothing; Oil shale still a failed idea

During Wednesday’s fielding hearing led by Reps. Lamborn and Tipton, both the Congressmen and witnesses repeated century-old rhetoric in an effort to promote oil shale as a “environmentally responsible” energy option.

And while we managed to fill up our Bingo sheet, we hardly won anything – the hearing resulted in the same failed ideas on energy policy and a lack of leadership for real solutions to our growing energy problems.

Below is a recap of the day’s testimony:




Oil shale reserves are going to be a lifesaver. (10/11/56)

  • Gary Aho, Board Member of National Oil Shale Association: Developing oil shale in the western US would create tens of thousands of high paying jobs, reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign oil, improve the balance of trade, enhance national security, provide a stimulus to the economy, and generate tax revenues for all levels of government.

The U.S. could be producing oil shale in 10 to 15 years. (06/08/79)

  • Dan Whitney, Oil Development Manager for Shell Exploration and Production Company: The road to commercialization is likely to be measured in decades not years.

The American petroleum industry seems once again to be turning its attention to the development of shale oil resources… (08/09/80)

  • Anu Mittal, Director, Natural Resources and Environment Division of the Government of Accountability Office (GAO): The federal government as spent $22M on oil shale research.

…As foreign petroleum prices continue to rise and political situations create new doubts about the availability of Middle East oil. (08/09/80)

  • Michael Hagood, Director, Program and Regional Development for Idaho National Laboratory: In the meantime, the U.S. will need to pursue securing access to reliable supplies of energy and at the same time lessen its dependence on politically and economically unstable sources of oil imports.
  • Dan Whitney: Shell has pursued the technical and commercial development of the In situ Conversion Process (ICP) for oil shale since the early 1980s as a means to produce from oil shale.
  • Brad McCloud, Executive Director of Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale: There is even more unrest in the Middle East

A committee hearing looking toward development of fuels from oil shale. (04/02/51)

  • Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Oversight Field Hearing on “American Jobs and Energy Security: Domestic Oil Shale the Status of Research, Regulation and Roadblocks.”

The shale covered a large area. (10/06/16)

  • Rep. Lamborn: “The United States is blessed with tremendous oil shale resources.”
  • Rep. Lamborn: “Nearly 75% of the world’s recoverable oil shale is estimated to be located in this country and we have appropriately been called the ‘Saudi Arabia of oil shale’.”
  • Rep. Lamborn: “Most of that shale is located right here around us, where according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Western United States may hold more than 1.5 trillion barrels of oil.”

Thousands of acres of land rich with oil shale. (04/30/17)

  • Anu Mittal: The thickest and richest oil shale within the Green River Formation exists in the Piceance Basin of northwest Colorado and the Uintah Basin of northeast Utah.

Oil shale hailed as future source of oil. (09/26/23)

  • Michael Hagood: As world oil demand and prices continue to rise there will be increasing efforts to develop more of the unconventional fossil energy resources, such as oil shale.
  • Anu Mittal: As you know, being able to tap the vast amounts of oil locked within U.S. oil shale could go a long way toward satisfying our nation’s future oil demands.

Commercial oil shale development seems assured. (09/28/80)

  • Dan Whitney: Shell has often said, we intend to develop oil shale in a manner that is economically viable.

Shale oil will undoubtedly play an important role in meeting growing fuel demands. (10/31/53)

  • Dan Whitney: Properly developed, they could be a major component of US energy security.

Oil shale is believed to hold promise as a reserve supply of petroleum. (09/01/26)

  • Brad McCloud: The U.S. is sitting on a massive reserve of oil.
  • Rep. Lamborn: “Enough [oil shale] to provide the United States with energy for the next 200 years.”

A new era in oil production of the country. (10/06/16)

  • Brad McCloud: Companies like Shell, Chevron, American Shale Oil and Red Leaf Resources are continuing to develop exciting and new technologies that may lead to commercial viability and meet growing national and international energy needs.

Nearing a commercially feasible level. (04/02/51)

  • Thomas Sladek, Director of Ockham Energy Services: Enefit American Oil has acquired the Oil Shale Exploration Company project in Utah, which could, in time, produce 57,000 barrels of shale oil per day.

Scientists forecast that within three years they can demonstrate a practical method of oil shale operation. (10/18/46)

  • Michael Hagood: Realizing a sizeable oil shale industry can contribute significantly to U.S. energy security, but its establishment and impact could take several years.

Another oil shale hearing? Let’s play Bingo

On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will host a field hearing on oil shale in Grand Junction, Colo.

For nearly a century, oil shale has been promoted as the miracle fuel, but it has yet to become commercially viable, let alone become a realistic option to meet America’s growing energy needs.

However, we don’t expect those details to stop Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Scott Tipton (R-CO) and industry witnesses from repeating the nearly century old rhetoric about the vitality of oil shale.

So, the Checks and Balances Project created an Oil Shale Bingo Card (click to download) to track the sound bites you might hear about oil shale during the hearing. As you follow along, you can witness history be repeated as politicians and industry representatives use talking points, which are as true today as they were in 1910.


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.