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,

Roberts amendment hangs oil company boondoggle on Senate transportation bill



March 13, 2012

CONTACT: Matt Garrington, (720) 206-4348

Roberts amendment tries to hang oil shale boondoggle on Senate transportation bill

The following is a quote from Denver-based Checks and Balances Project Co-Director Matt Garrington about S.AMDT.1826, Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R-KS) oil shale amendment to the Senate transportation bill.

“After taking $429,800 from Big Oil, Sen. Roberts has wrapped every giveaway he can think of into one amendment – including a 2 million acre handout for oil shale speculation.

“Sen. Roberts clearly isn’t serious about fixing our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, or he wouldn’t be trying to solve our transportation and energy needs with an oil shale industry that does not exist.”

Five facts you need to know about S.Amdt.1826 and oil shale:

  • Sen. Roberts’ amendment would hand 2 million acres of public lands over to oil companies and mandates commercial leasing on 125,000 acres despite the fact that no commercial oil shale industry exists.
  • The amendment also creates a new oil shale subsidy by setting a bargain basement royalty rate of 5 percent (compared to 12.5 percent for onshore oil and gas and 18.75 percent for offshore oil), reducing revenue from the federal treasury to local governments which is intended to offset the associated infrastructure costs of energy development.
  • The House passed a similar oil shale bill sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn in February, as part of Speaker Boehner’s much-maligned transportation package. The Congressional Budget Office scored the oil shale bill as having “no effect on revenue,” and days after Rep. Lamborn’s bill passed, Chevron announced it was divesting its oil shale research in Colorado.
  • There is no actual oil in oil shale. It’s a rock found in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado that contains kerogen, a precursor to oil that has not been in the ground long enough under enough heat or pressure to turn into oil. A century of failed attempts to make it a viable energy source have included ideas like detonating nuclear bombs to cook it at 600 to 700 degrees and lowering massive heaters into the ground for 3 to 4 years at a time.
  • The Roberts amendment includes other giveaways on the oil industry’s wish list including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, expanding offshore drilling, and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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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.

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.

Barrasso continues push for Big Oil handouts, despite cost to health, western landscape

On Thursday, just days after voting to protect $21 billion in corporate welfare for oil and gas corporations, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) submitted legislation rolling back water, air, and wildlife protections to drilling impacts.

A few key facts about oil and gas drilling on public lands:

  • Oil and gas companies have recklessly polluted our air, creating significant ozone pollution issues in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. In fact, drilling activities in rural Wyoming increased ozone pollution to levels in violation of federal standards 13 times this past winter.
  • Oil and gas companies have failed to ensure responsible development that respects wildlife resources. In Wyoming’s Pinedale Anticline region, mule deer populations declined by over 50 percent.
  • Access to drilling is simply not an issue on our public lands:

Onshore drilling permits are expected to increase 40% this year.
Oil and gas companies fail to develop 57 percent of their existing leases.
Oil and gas companies have failed to develop nearly 7,200 onshore oil and gas permits where they have a green light to drill.

Oil & gas supported senators return the favor

Tuesday night’s vote in the Senate was telling. The vote was on a motion to proceed on S. 90, the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act. If the bill had passed, over the next 10 years $21 billion taxpayer dollars would have stopped flowing into Big Oil’s bank accounts. Instead, that money would have been used to help pay down our national deficit.

oil and gas contributions breakdown

It seems like a slam dunk. The top five oil and gas companies made a combined $32 billion in profit the first quarter of this year. In just three months, five companies made so much money that even after they were done paying their employees and their overhead costs and all their bills, they still had $32 billion left. And then those companies turned to the American people, the same people who paid that $32 billion, one $4 gallon of gas at a time, and cried financial distress and said they need billions more.

The American people didn’t believe them. A recent poll shows 74% of Americans want to end Big Oil tax breaks. But some Washington politicians believed Big Oil. To be exact, 48 senators who have received a total of $21 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry believed them. Another 52 senators didn’t believe Big Oil needs billions in tax dollars, maybe that’s because those senators only received $7 million from oil and gas companies.

And no, those numbers aren’t backward. The motion passed by a simple majority, but did not have enough support to overcome a filibuster.

Tuesday night’s senate vote was a sad commentary on the priorities of our elected officials. It shows that even in the face to overwhelming popular opinion, some of them will continue to support the corporate masters who fill their campaign accounts.

Neslin brings his message back home

The man tasked with overseeing the oil and gas industry in Colorado continues to say that groundwater contamination is not an issue when it comes to hydraulic fracturing in the state.

David Neslin (pictured), Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) , told a federal forum this week that the COGCC has investigated hundreds of complaints about water contamination related to hydraulic fracturing, “and to date we’ve not found any instances of groundwater contamination.” Neslin reportedly did not offer any comments about the operations associated with fracking that are vital to the practice.

These operations include mixing, transporting and injecting millions of gallons of toxic fracking fluid into the ground, through aquifers via cement casings. Gas companies must also safely dispose of the wastewater produced by fracking that is laced with toxic chemicals and radioactivity.

Neslin has repeatedly omitted these essential processes from of his discussions of hydraulic fracturing and water contamination. Following his testimony at a congressional hearing in the nation’s capitol earlier this month, Neslin spoke on camera to the Checks and Balances Project and said that cracked pipe casings and leaky wastewater pit liners were not considered part of hydraulic fracturing process that he had just promoted to the senators. During the hearing, like yesterday’s BLM meeting in Golden, Colorado, Neslin repeated that the COGCC had no “verifiable evidence” that fracking has lead to ground water contamination in Colorado.


-To see the Checks and Balances report on David Neslin’s definition of hydraulic fracturing click here.

-Read the Greeley Tribune’s report on the federal fracking forum in Colorado this week by clicking here.

-To read about Chesapeake Electric’s suspension of fracking in Pennsylvania after a fracking explosion sent chemicals into nearby waterways click here.