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.

Group’s new oil shale report contains wildly inaccurate claims

The Institute for Energy Research (IER), recently posted a blog about oil shale that doesn’t have its facts straight.

The IER blog falsely claims that the federal government put oil shale resources ‘under lock and key’. Oil shale companies have been awarded billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies and received research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) leases on publicly owned lands that don’t require the payment of bonuses, rents, or royalties.

Despite more than a century of failed oil shale projects and billions of dollars risked, taxpayers are still subsidizing oil shale research and development. Currently, there are seven such RD&D leases being pursued in Colorado and Utah.  The companies include: Shell, American Shale Oil (AMSO), Enefit, ExxonMobil, and Natural Soda Holdings.

Chevron also had an RD&D holding, but abandoned it last February in order to focus on viable energy sources – hardly the first oil shale experiment to go bust. On Black Sunday, Exxon closed its Colony oil shale project, which put more than 2,000 out of work and devastated the economy of Colorado’s western slope for years.


Arial photo of a pile of oil shale ‘ash’ in Estonia. Source: EcoCrete Project.

In their blog, IER also highlights Estonia, considered the world leader in oil shale, as the prime example of successful oil shale development – but that’s not factual either. Oil shale isn’t economically viable in Estonia, has caused significant water, air and land pollution, and is highly controversial.

The head of Estonia’s biggest oil shale company, Eestia Energia – known as Enefit in the U.S. – has admitted that oil shale is not profitable without large taxpayer subsidies. Underscoring this point was Moody’s recent move downgrading Enefit’s credit rating to negative, over concerns that they can’t make oil shale profitable.

In addition, oil shale is a dirty, polluting fossil fuel that’s responsible for 80 percent of all of Estonia’s pollution.  Enefit’s track record includes contaminated groundwater, creating 600-foot high mountains of oil shale waste that spontaneously ignite, and causing the emission of “lots of carbon dioxide.”

IER’s blog also boasts that there are huge oil shale deposits in the U.S. But these projections are irrelevant because oil shale isn’t a viable energy source and fails the basic economic test. In other words, the return on oil shale doesn’t outweigh the investment. The amount of energy and water that it takes to superheat, mine and process oil shale – which is actually fossilized algae – is more than the energy that oil shale provides. If you need more evidence just look to the billion dollar oil and gas industry, which has almost limitless resources, and has 100 plus years of failed oil shale experiments to show for their efforts.

The IER can spin oil shale all day, but it won’t change the cold hard fact that oil shale isn’t ready for prime time.

Oil & gas public lands management 101: How to put our farms, water, and national parks at risk

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Colorado State Director Helen Hankins has developed a pattern of offering controversial drilling plans, which when met with widespread public outcry are temporarily halted, only to be re-offered after the furor has died down.

Colorado BLM Drilling 101

In 2011 Dir. Hankins proposed oil and gas leasing in Park County at South Park, home to several large reservoirs for metro Denver, Colorado’s drinking water, serving over two million people.

When the City of Aurora raised serious concerns about the sale, including a lease parcel located within ¼ mile of the high water mark of a city reservoir, Hankins temporarily halted the lease plan. Unfortunately, in 2012, Hankins revived plans to lease South Park for oil and gas drilling. True to form, Hankins temporarily halted the oil and gas lease plans again after local elected officials, sportsmen and others raised significant concerns about the plans, including impacts to water quality, wildlife habitat and tourism.

In early 2012, Colorado BLM proposed drilling next to vineyards, orchards, organic farms and a dairy in the North Fork Valley. When local farmers, ranchers, businesses and residents overwhelmingly opposed the plan, Hankins, again, temporarily halted BLM’s plans to lease the area for oil and gas drilling.

Fast forward to the end of 2012, and Hankins – predictably – offered a similar plan that still threatened the Valley’s local economy and water supplies, and even included leasing land for oil and gas drilling near a public school. Residents, local business owners and others once again opposed the controversial plan, and widely criticized Hankins for basing her plan on outdated analysis and failing to pursue a balanced approach to energy development.  In early February 2013, Hankins again temporarily halted drilling plans in North Fork Valley.

Name this tune: In late 2012, Colorado BLM announced plans to lease land for oil and gas drilling next to Dinosaur National Monument’s visitor center and along its southern entrance, as well as near Mesa Verde National Park. BLM’s proposal would mean that visitors could see drill rigs along with 149 million year old fossils, and create more air quality problems for Mesa Verde National Park – which is already beset with pollution problems. This time, the former Superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument, National Parks Service, and La Plata County joined the chorus of locals who raised serious concerns the drilling proposals. And, once again, Hankins halted the lease plans.

Unfortunately, since then, statements from Dir. Hankins’ staff indicate that this stoppage is temporary. In March, the local Colorado BLM assistant field manager said that the drilling leases near Mesa Verde National Park could be back on the auction block as early as this summer.

Dir. Hankins needs to end this contentious cycle of offering controversial oil and gas drilling leases, deferring them when locals rise up, and then trying to drive them back through later when protests have died down.

Dir. Hankins needs to adopt a new curriculum. She needs a smart-from-the-start approach that addresses the concerns of local residents, business owners, and the many industries that drive Colorado’s economy. She needs to adopt a balanced approach that protects the state’s drinking water, farms and national parks.

Big Oil’s API insatiable lust for taxpayer handouts continues; Industry group demands that U.S. double down on failed oil shale experiments

**UPDATE** API’s Erik Milito may want to check with Estonian Environment Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus before continuing to pressure President Obama to double down on costly oil shale speculation. In an article in today’s Postimees, Minister Pentus-Rosimannus said,

“Eighty percent of our waste, water use and greenhouse gas emissions are connected with the oil shale industry. We must think together how to reduce the negative impact. With that as bottom line, I do not consider it possible for the annual extraction volume of oil shale to grow in the future.”

Estonian oil shale giant Eesti Energia’s U.S. arm, Enefit, is one of the companies trying to develop oil shale in Utah. For more on that, see our recent series Eyes on Enefit.**UPDATE**

The American Petroleum Institute (API) – see: Big Oil – called on President Obama, today, to double down on a century of failed oil shale experiments and risk western water supplies.

API’s response to outgoing Interior Sec. Ken Salazar’s smart oil shale plan was shameless, but predictable (for more on the Salazar Plan, see articles in the SL Tribune, Denver Business Journal and an editorial in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel). Sec. Salazar adopted a reasonable approach that requires oil companies to prove any oil shale technology they might develop is commercially viable and won’t devastate water resources and air quality in the West.

The Government Accounting Office and industry experts have said oil shale could use up to 140 percent of what Denver Water provides its customers, today.

It turns out that common sense and good business practice aren’t slowing down API’s insatiable lust for taxpayer handouts. API wants to double down on 100 plus years of abject oil shale failure, despite the huge risks to the West’s scarce water supplies.

Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream and industry operations, claims that ensuring the safety of western water might delay investment in the development of oil shale technology. He ignores the fact that oil shale speculators have failed for over a century to develop any such technology, despite the billions in taxpayer subsidies – and private investments – already risked.

Western families, farmers, ranchers and business owners, already in year two of the worst drought in a decade, can’t afford to have any more of their water risked on costly oil shale speculation. We need President Obama to put the security and safety of the West’s water and communities before Big Oil’s hunger for more taxpayer handouts.

Eyes on Enefit: Financially unstable and unprofitable, and not ready for prime time

Eyes On Enefit LogoOver the past few weeks, we’ve examined Estonian oil shale company, Eesti Energia, known as Enefit in the U.S., to find out the real story on Estonian oil shale and how it could affect the American West. The outlook is grim.

Even though Eesti Energia is widely considered the world’s leading oil shale firm and is the largest company in the world working with oil shale, it is in a financially vulnerable position. The company has made a number of poor investments, including a new bloc for an Estonian oil shale plant – an investment the Estonian State Audit Office found to be legally questionable and “not economically feasible.” Less than a year after breaking ground on the plant, Eesti Energia abandoned the project.

Things have gotten so bad for Eesti Energia that credit benchmark Moody’s has downgraded the company’s credit rating (now rated negative) twice in the past 15 months.

Even Eesti Energia’s CEO admits that oil shale is not profitable without government subsidies. The reason is simple: oil shale fails the basic economic test. In other words, the return on oil shale doesn’t outweigh the investment.

Over here in the United States, we found Enefit has run into trouble trying to commercially develop oil shale. Despite the company’s claims that extracting Utah oil shale is a “simple mining project,” Enefit has experienced significant problems. Tests show that Enefit hasn’t been able extract oil from the oil shale ore mined in Utah as easily as executives had hoped and promised, and that it requires more energy to process Utah oil shale than expected, which results in higher carbon dioxide emissions. An internal company document called the Utah test results “not promising.” And, despite all the “around the corner” rhetoric we hear from oil shale supporters, at least one Estonian expert thinks that a method for viably extracting Utah oil shale is decades away.

Company dismissals of these concerns are, as one Colorado columnist put it: “reminiscent of previous failures to extract commercial quantities of petroleum from [oil] shale.”

Even when Eesti Energia has been able to produce subsidized energy from oil shale in Estonia, the environmental impact has been disastrous. The company’s Estonian operations have contaminated groundwater, created 600-foot high mountains of oil shale waste that spontaneously ignite, and caused the emission of “lots of carbon dioxide.” A former executive at Red Leaf Resources testified before Congress that Eesti Energia’s Estonian operations were a “nasty business.”

Given this web of problems, it shouldn’t be surprising that company officials can’t seem to keep their stories straight. What is said in the U.S. often doesn’t match up to what is said in Estonia.

Oil shale – a rock that actually contains no oil – has a 100-year track record of failure in the U.S. despite the billions in taxpayer dollars that have been risked on failed oil shale experiments.

The facts from our Eyes on Enefit series argue for taking a cautious, balanced approach to oil shale. Companies like Enefit should not be given more federal land or money for oil shale experiments until they can prove that they are able to develop oil from oil shale in a commercially and environmentally sound way.

This blog is a summation of our series about Enefit, known at home in Estonia as Eesti Energia, covering the company’s financial outlook, background and status of its Utah project.

#NYFrackingScandal Hits Cuomo Administration: Newly Disclosed Documents Show Conflicts of Interest

Photo from

With only two days before the expected release of New York’s Environmental Impact Assessment on fracking (also known by the industry term hydraulic fracturing), Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration is at the center of a new conflict of interest scandal regarding two of his top aides.  Today, seven groups requested the Albany County District Attorney General David Soares investigate the Cuomo Administration’s conflicts of interest surrounding two staffers that hold “key positions in New York’s decision over whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing.”

There are looming questions on the impartiality of Lawrence Schwartz and Robert Hallman, two top Cuomo Administration officials, who have significant influence on the Governor’s fracking decision. New documents obtained by DeSmogBlog through New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) show that Mr. Schwartz has significant stock holdings in companies that stand to benefit from fracking in New York state, and that Mr. Hallman failed to make specific financial disclosures, raising questions about his objectivity on the issue.

The two top aides, Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, and Robert Hallman, Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment, have significant oversight within the Cuomo Administration on the issue of hydraulic fracturing. According to the groups’ letter, Mr. Schwartz supervises all state deputies and commissioners, including Mr. Hallman and the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation – the agency that is tasked with studying high-volume hydraulic fracturing and developing the state’s policy regarding this extraction technique. Mr. Hallman is the state’s highest gubernatorial staff member who has oversight over the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

According to financial disclosure documents, Schwartz has substantial holdings in companies engaged in shale gas development, including ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum and ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil alone holds 43,000 acres of leases for fracking in New York under its subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. Schwartz also identified “Williams Co.,” apparently a reference to “The Williams Companies Inc.,” a pipeline company that plans to build a $750 million pipeline through the southern portion of New York.

Mr. Hallman failed to specify his stock holdings in his financial disclosure forms, which seems to violate (at the very least) the spirit of N.Y. Pub. Off. § 73-a. The law states that “Public officials are required to list “EACH SOURCE” of income greater than $1,000 and “the type and market value of securities… from each issuing entity” greater than $1,000,” according to the letter from seven groups to District Attorney General Soares. Instead of disclosing each source, Mr. Hallman listed “various common stock” and “various corporate bonds.” His lack of disclosure should serve as a red flag and calls into question his impartiality on the state’s fracking decision.

Furthermore, records obtained via the FOIL request indicate that fracking companies have recently worked directly with Cuomo Administration officials.  XTO Energy Inc, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, wrote to Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Hallman requesting changes to the state’s draft regulations on fracking in August 2012. And, The Williams Companies communicated with Mr. Hallman regarding natural gas pipelines twice in the summer of 2012.

New York state law states that public officials should avoid personal investments that could “create substantial conflict between his duty in the public interest and his private interest.” Both Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Hallman may have conflicts of interest that violate this standard.

Today during a press conference in Albany, Alex Beauchamp, Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director, said, “We are outraged to discover that Governor Cuomo’s top aide is so heavily invested in oil and gas companies. And further, that he made these investments during the very timeframe this administration has been considering whether to allow fracking in New York. Clearly, this administration must not allow fracking to move forward under this cloud of scandal.”

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House Energy and Power Subcommittee promotes failed oil shale speculation, despite century of failure and new reports that world’s leading firm could lose big on Utah oil shale project

“It’s disappointing to see Rep. Whitfield and House Republicans recycling the same old failed energy ideas. Despite being awarded billions in taxpayer funds, all these oil shale speculators have to show is failure. We need real energy solutions, not more speculation and failed investments,” said Ellynne Bannon, western lands program manager for the Checks and Balances Project.

Key Facts

  • The Obama Administration has moved forward with new research and development leases for oil shale on public lands. In November 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management finalized two new oil shale research, demonstration, and development leases to ExxonMobil and Natural Soda.
  • Oil shale is not oil. It is a rock that has to be heated to 700 degrees or more over months, or even years, in order to be processed into oil. Taxpayer dollars have already funded $3.2 billion dollars in loan guarantees and $3.7 billion in price guarantees to oil companies for oil shale with nothing to show for it except failed projects.
  • Some oil shale advocates like to point to the nation of Estonia as proof that oil shale can be a viable energy source. Unfortunately, Estonia isn’t saying the same thing about U.S. oil shale.  The CEO of Eesti Energia, Enefit’s parent company, a world leader in oil shale development has acknowledged that oil shale isn’t profitable and that “we have time” to wait and “we will not make any real investments” in the U.S. until the oil shale industry in Estonia is at a “new level.”
  • Just last month Enefit, a company trying to produce oil shale in Utah, came under fire from a key investor – the Estonian government – when it was revealed that the company could lose up to $100 million dollars on their project in Utah. It was also reported that Enefit’s Utah project has proven to be “unexpectedly difficult to do, and that tests indicate that Utah oil shale requires more energy to break down than expected, resulting in higher carbon dioxide emissions.

Forget common sense and good business, CO BLM Director Hankins’ actions spur red tape, protests and public outcry

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that as oil and gas leasing on public lands increased in 2012, the number of protested leases declined.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Colorado. It’s just the opposite under Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Helen Hankins. In her state, lease protests have risen sharply and the number of developed leases declined.


— Source, The Wilderness Society’s Making the Grade report

Hankins has disregarded DOI’s leasing reforms and instead decided to auction drilling leases in places like the North Fork Valley, right next to farms and wineries, and next to Dinosaur National Monument. Her insistence on giving oil and gas companies whatever they ask for has created more red tape for industry, upset local communities, and, if the leases go through, could jeopardize local economies.

Some facts about Hankins’ tenure as Colorado’s BLM Director:

  • According to The Wilderness Society’s report, Making the Grade, in Colorado, 93 percent of parcels in lease sale notices were protested in CY 2012. The national average for protested leases was 12 percent, and no other western state exceeded 25 percent.
  • Dir. Hankins refuses to listen to the local community in North Fork.  Hankins is again planning to lease over 20,000 acres, relying on a resource management plan written in 1989, decades before the organic farms and vineyards that now drive the region’s economy were in place.
  • Dir. Hankins has repeatedly refused to use Master Leasing Plans (MLP), which allow for landscape-level analysis to determine drilling’s effects on air, water, land and wildlife. In South Park, Dir. Hankins has refused to conduct an MLP, despite the fact that Denver’s and Aurora ‘s watersheds are in close proximity to the potential lease sites.

After a century’s worth of lessons, government needs to stop picking the same loser

Matt Garrington, Denver-based co-director of The Checks and Balances Project, offered the following statement and facts regarding today’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing discussing the failed energy source, oil shale.

“Chairman Hall and others have argued against clean energy, saying the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers. Yet today they’re holding a hearing on the all-time loser of energy sources, oil shale.

“For over a century, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been sunk into failed oil shale projects. Still, we have never had a viable commercial oil shale industry in this country.

“If the Science committee doesn’t think government should be in the business of picking winners and losers, they should stop wasting the taxpayer money on hearings to try and generate support for losers like oil shale.”

  • In 1981, the Reagan administration approved a $1.2 billion loan guarantee for Exxon’s Colony oil shale project on Colorado’s Western Slope. One year later, on May 2, 1982 – what became known as Black Sunday – Exxon announced it would abandon its involvement in the Colony project. Overnight, about 2,200 employees and thousands of others who had moved to the state to support a burgeoning oil shale industry were out of a job. The devastation to local communities and economies took decades to recover from.
  • Unocal Corp.’s Parachute Creek project has been called the most successful oil shale venture in U.S. history. In this case, successful meant that over a decade, tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies were sunk into the project until Unocal called it quits in 1991. Parachute Creek’s energy production peaked at 1.5 million barrels, but even then Unocal still lost $7 million on the project.
  • The House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn in February to sink more money into oil shale in return for the promise of royalties that would fund highway repairs. 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.

Rehberg voted for the oil shale boondoggle