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,

Discrepancies between oral, written testimonies on oil shale

James Bartis, senior policy researcher for Rand Corporation, testified this morning before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on oil shale. His second appearance before Congress has added to the confusion around the failed energy solution.

Tuesday, June 07

In response to a question from Sen. Joe Manchin about whether the “country could be energy independent if we use the resources we have available,” Bartis said:

“We have so much oil shale, coal, and biomass, that together it is easy to see that we could be using, making, well over 5 to 6 million barrels per day, from these resources alone. Combine that with efficiency measures and I think we could easily make that. But we have, we have to unleash these other fuels.”

Yet, in his written testimony to the ENR Committee, Mr. Bartis’ says oil shale development in the U.S. is still “uncertain” and recommends:

“The prospects for oil shale development in the United States remain uncertain. With regard to oil shale, most of the high-grade shale is on federal lands. Six years ago, when we published our examination of oil shale, we concluded that the prospects for development were uncertain. They remain so today.”


“It is our understanding that privately-funded research activities are ongoing but that no private firm is prepared to commit to commercial [oil shale] production.”


“It would not be advisable to develop detailed regulations that would pertain to full-blown commercial development until more information is available on process performance and impacts.”

Despite nearly a century of failed research and trillions of dollars wasted, Bartis told the committee oil shale is a viable energy solution, disputing the facts in his own written testimony.

Friday, June 03

In his written testimony to a House Energy and Power subcommittee, Bartis said:

“none of these [oil shale development firms] has gathered enough technical information adequate to support a decision to invest hundreds of millions, and more likely billions, of dollars in first-of-a-kind commercial oil shale production facilities.”


I see no reason to promote oil shale as above other promising areas for advancing technology and creating jobs.”

Bartis’ oral testimony continues the nearly 100 years of false promises of oil shale, while his written testimony affirms that we still do not know how or whether the U.S. will ever develop oil shale.