Industry’s new leaf?

Maybe the oil and gas lobby’s latest efforts should strike hope in the hearts of Coloradans. Are they turning over a new leaf and willing to balance energy development with conservation interests? Maybe … maybe not.

From Colorado Oil and Gas Association Director Tisha Schuller’scharm offensive” to Western Energy Alliance President Tim Wigely’spoll for the people,” oil and gas lobbyists are in high gear trying to stop a public relations mess that industry themselves created.

Clearly the effort is garnering them good press like Schuller reinventing herself as the environmentalist or Mr. Wigley taking a tired poll they rehash nearly every year and parading it as proof they want to know what Coloradans think.

Mr. Wigley makes broad claims about the support for energy development using his national poll, but he fails to take a look at what people believe in his own backyard. If industry really wants to know what Coloradans think, they don’t have too far to go far to find out. They want the health of their communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

A recent poll of westerners by Hart Research Associates found that nearly two-thirds of voters (65 percent) believe that “permanently protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is very important to them personally” while less than a third (30 percent) feel that “making sure oil and gas resources on public lands are available for development” is important.

Just this week, a delegation from the North Fork Valley traveled to Washington, DC calling for balance. The group included a winery owner, local official, and agricultural representative. After officials like Colorado BLM Dir. Helen Hankins and industry failed to listen to the community, they took matters into their own hand and drafted a citizen proposal which allows for responsible energy development while protecting the booming agri-tourism economy of the North Fork.

This isn’t the first time that there have been questions about Dir. Hankins continually listening to the oil and gas industry instead of local communities and conservation interests. Industry proposals to drill near Mesa Verde National Park and place a drill rig near the visitor center of Dinosaur National Monument have faced severe backlash.

Yesterday, Boulder County Councilors decided to put a three-year oil and gas fracking ban on the ballot to give its residents an opportunity to speak and industry to listen. It’s no wonder so many local communities along the Front Range are proposing hard-lines like that after industry failed to “listen” to Coloradans and instead sided with Gov. John Hickenlooper to kill numerous bills which would have protected our water, our air, and our health.

Ms. Schuller and Mr. Wigley have one thing right. A rational conversation about oil and gas drilling is long overdue. We must put our communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

It’s time for the oil and gas lobby to turn over that leaf.

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.

Tipton staffer goes to WEA, raises his ties to oil and gas companies

Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton’s close and questionable ties to oil companies have been a source of controversy since he was first elected. These include:

  • His campaign contributions from oil companies;
  • His financial investments in oil companies lobbying for the Keystone Pipeline – which he voted in favor of , and
  • His ties to SG Interests, an oil company recently ordered to pay $275,000 in fines to settle a federal anti-trust law suit. In 2012, SG Interests started a super PAC to help re-elect Tipton.

Last week, Coloradoans were given another look behind the curtain at Rep. Tipton’s cozy relationship to Big Oil as a former Tipton aide announced he is joining Western Energy Alliance – an oil and gas lobbying group known to be critical of drilling safety standards.

Last year, WEA representatives testified on behalf of a Tipton bill that would mandate energy development as the primary use of all public lands – which would leave agriculture, hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation, and watershed interests out in the cold.

We understand that Rep. Tipton is influenced by his addiction to Big Oil contributions and the size of his personal net worth. But, at some point he needs to put the Coloradoans who elected him before big oil company CEOs.

The story behind The Road to Nowhere

Jeff Hartley, a lobbyist for oil shale company Red Leaf Resources, interviewed with Utah-based NPR affiliate KCPW in early August. Mr. Hartley used the interview to try to spin the facts and deny that the Seep Ridge Road project is a taxpayer-funded subsidy for Red Leaf.

The project, dubbed the “Road to Nowhere” in the Salt Lake City Weekly, cuts through Uintah County and ends at the county border to benefit Red Leaf’s proposed oil shale project and tar sands speculation. Earlier proposals for the road would have gone all the way to I-70 but met stiff opposition in neighboring Grand County.

Let’s be clear. Others in the oil and gas industry would benefit from the project. But without Red Leaf’s heavy involvement, elected officials would not have dumped tens of millions of dollars into the Seep Ridge Road project. Red Leaf was front-and-center in the effort to secure tax dollars for the “Road to Nowhere.”

In November 2007, Red Leaf Founder Todd Dana and Red Leaf VP Laura Nelson gave a presentation before a joint Vernal City Council and Uintah County Commission special meeting. In response to the Red Leaf presentation, Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee stated one of the “greatest needs” of the Red Leaf project “is the repair of Seep Ridge Road which has heavy traffic.” Fellow Uintah County Commissioner Mark Raymond echoed those sentiments describing the paving of Seep Ridge Road as “big issue” for oil shale development.

In March 2008, Nelson became the lead for the entire energy industry as point of contact for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (now the Western Energy Alliance).

Just one month later, the Utah Legislature appropriated $2 million for the project. State Rep. Kevin VanTassell (R-Vernal) pushed for the funding and represents the area where Red Leaf’s operation is located. Uintah County spent another $2 million of public funds, while the industry pledged only $1 million. The industry’s funds were allocated for “the estimated cost of preparing an environmental-impact statement and preliminary engineering drawings for an improved road.”

That same year, Red Leaf pledged a modest $100,000 industry challenge grant to help fund the initial expenses for the Seep Ridge Road paving project.

Red Leaf’s investments are paying off. Paving of the Seep Ridge Road began last month and will cost taxpayers $85.5 million.

So far, the project has received $30.5 million from Uintah Transportation Special Service District and $20 million from the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board. Interestingly, Commissioner McKee sits on the Permanent Community Impact Board.

Throwing taxpayer money at oil shale hasn’t worked so well over the last century. Exxon’s Colony Oil Shale Project received a $1.1 billion loan guarantee in 1981, only to go bust one year later. Unocal received $114 million in federal price supports and went bust in 1991.

Hartley told KCPW that the Red Leaf project will be up and running within 18 months, describing the indefinite delay caused by failure to do proper groundwater analysis as a “procedural” step. The larger companies involved in oil shale such as Shell have said that oil shale is at least a decade or more away from commercial viability.

Oil shale companies should prove that the technology works and that scarce western water supplies won’t be ruined in the process. We shouldn’t be throwing any more taxpayer support – in the form of direct subsidies, loans, infrastructure improvements, or bargain-basement royalty rates for public land access – before we know the economic viability of a project.

Buyer beware since this “Road to Nowhere” has the all makings of a huge taxpayer subsidy to another failed oil shale project.

Oil and gas welfare queen parking only

Remember back when Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said he would have EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in front of Congress so often she’d need her own parking space? Maybe he should have made the same offer to oil and gas welfare queen Kathleen Sgamma.

Today’s Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing marks the Western Energy Alliance’s Vice President of Government & Public Affairs’ FIFTH appearance before the 112th Congress. She’s scheduled to testify about drilling on private lands vs. public lands.

We’re willing to bet Ms. Sgamma won’t admit that industry is drilling more on private lands because that’s where the oil is. The vast majority of the much-hyped and very lucrative shale oil resources such as the Bakken in North Dakota or Eagle Ford in Texas are under private lands. (Don’t believe us? See the map on page 6 of this EIA presentation.)

What’s more likely is that Sgamma will continue to ask for more government welfare. Big Oil CEOs are already sitting on 20 million idle acres of public lands leased for development and upwards of 7,000 permits with a green light to drill.

In fact, Ms. Sgamma has testified in support of legislation that would create more welfare for oil and gas companies such as oil company quotas on taxpayer-owned public lands.

Obviously no stranger to the Hill, over the last two years, Ms. Sgamma has testified:

  • Three times before the House Natural Resources Committee, Energy and Mineral Resources Oversight Subcommittee,
  • Once before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Subcommittee
  • Once before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

It’s always the same tired story that goes out of its way to twist the truth about energy development in the West.

The fact is that oil and gas companies are drilling at record levels. They’re drilling most in states such as North Dakota because that’s where the shale oil is and what can turn the greatest profit. Who would believe it? Companies drill for oil because that’s where they make money.

The non-partisan Headwaters Economics found in their research: “Since the end of 2009, oil production has more than doubled in North Dakota where the oil resource is best.”

ImageBut here’s the kicker, oil and gas drilling is up on both private and public lands in North Dakota. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management averaged nearly double the amount of drilling permits under President Obama than under President Bush in North Dakota.

In fact, oil and gas leasing, permitting, and drilling on North Dakota’s BLM lands were all higher under President Obama than President Bush.

Why? Because the main factors for oil and gas drilling isn’t public lands policy, it’s geology, technology and price. Oil companies are drilling on private and public lands in North Dakota that have shale oil under them. Fracking technology has made once impossible-to-get resources profitable. Throw in the huge bump in oil prices thanks to increasing world demand and voilà … drilling companies are drilling for oil under land that has oil.

They’re not drilling for natural gas in the Rockies because the price of natural gas plummeted in 2009, and now the Rockies have to compete with more lucrative plays closer to major populations such as the Marcellus Shale.

If Ms. Sgamma plans to continue her frequent trips to Capitol Hill with the 113th Congress, we suggest she reimburse the tens of thousands of dollars taxpayers have wasted on her “oversight” hearings and Big Oil welfare legislation mark-ups in the House.

But, she still should try for the parking space.

Issa continues to lead oil crusade against renewable energy

Champions oil above everything else for campaign donors

Matt Garrington, Denver-based co-director of The Checks and Balances Project, offered the following statement and facts regarding today’s hearing on Thursday’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on an all of the above energy policy:

“Chairman Darrell Issa’s (R-Cal.) own words show that his idea of an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy is all about oil and gas. Issa has called government investment in renewable energy ‘reckless bets with taxpayer funds,’ but you never hear him speak against the billions in taxpayer dollars that every year pour into “traditional energy products” like oil and gas.

“We’re already seeing record oil drilling, and it’s not enough. A true ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy includes proven, renewable technologies like solar and wind. Chairman Issa’s energy strategy will make us more dependent on oil and more vulnerable to price shocks at the pump.

“Instead of using his position as head of the House’s government reform arm to help modernize our nation’s energy infrastructure, Chairman Issa prefers to give oil executives, mouthpieces and front group pundits a chance to speak on the record.”

“You won’t see representatives of successful solar and wind companies, auto manufacturers building high-tech vehicles, or cutting-edge researchers creating the next generation of renewable fuels testifying at Chairman Issa’s hearing. These stakeholders don’t fill Issa’s campaign coffers, so they don’t get a seat at the table.”

Today’s witnesses include:*

  • Charles Drevna, President of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, who in 2010 gave $1,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee;
  • Michael Krancer, Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, who since 2008 has given $7,750 to Republicans, most of that to Congressional candidates;
  • Peter Glaser, partner at Troutman Sanders LLP, who since 2007 has given $4,300 to Republican candidates, and
  • Kathleen Sgamma, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas-funded group whose PAC has given $71,337 to Republican politicians since 2007.

*All contribution amounts according to FEC records at

Facts about American energy production:

  • Drilling activity reached its highest level under the Obama administration than at any point since the Reagan administration.
  • According to a May 2012 Interior Department report, the oil and gas industry had conducted production or exploration activities on just 56% of public lands leased in the U.S. In fact, the oil and gas industry is sitting on more than 20 million acres of idle lands already leased for development.
  • As of January 25, 2012, the oil and gas industry had 6,500 unused drilling permits for federal lands and a total of 7,000 unused drilling permits for both federal and Indian lands.
  • Renewable energy such as wind and solar power has nearly doubled since 2008.
  • This summer, the White House is expected to finalize an agreement with automakers to set an unprecedented fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by 2025. This plan will save car and truck drivers $1.7 trillion at the pump or about $8,000 per vehicle.

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.