Public Lands

Fri, 2014-04-11 06:00Ben Jervey
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Oil Industry Cherry-Picks Drilling Data to Mislead Public on Federal Lease Programs

The oil industry and its well-compensated apologists in Congress like to complain that the Obama administration is stalling oil production on public lands. The problem with that argument: it’s demonstrably false.

While plenty of environmental advocates may wish that President Obama was actively working to keep the fossil fuel reserves underground, the data tells a much different story.

In fact, according to new data released by the Department of the Interior, the amount of crude oil produced on onshore federal lands in 2013 was the highest it has been in over a decade.

This hasn’t stopped the oil industry from “distorting and cherry-picking statistics,” in the words of the Center for Western Priorities, to argue for even fewer regulations and more lax permitting processes.

A Tuesday post on the The Daily Caller is representative of the oil industry's spin, and provides a tutorial in cherry-picking data.

The total number of oil and gas drilling leases issued in 2013 reached a nearly three-decade lows, according to the Bureau of Land Management. The bureau says it issued 1,468 drilling leases last year, totaling 1.17 million acres of federal land — the lowest figures since 1988, which is the oldest year for which the BLM has data.

Overall, U.S. oil production has boomed in recent years, but production on federal lands has been falling. The Congressional Research Service reports that oil production on federal lands fell from 1,731,500 barrels per day in 2009 to 1,627,400 barrels per day in 2012, and the total shareof crude oil produced on federal lands fell to 26 percent in 2012 from 33 percent in 2009.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

Tue, 2014-03-11 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Fracking in Public Forests Leaves Long Trail of Damages, Struggling State Regulators

Last Wednesday, the Washington D.C. city council passed a resolution opposing fracking in the George Washington National Forest, making the nation’s capitol the third major U.S. city, after Los Angeles and Dallas, to decry the hazards of shale drilling in recent days.

The D.C. council’s resolution called on the U.S. Forest Service to prohibit horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the forest’s headwaters of the Potomac River, the sole source of water for the nation’s capital, citing the risks of pollution and the costs of monitoring for contamination.

It is unclear whether the DC City Council vote will hold any sway in determining the actual fate of the forest. The decision whether to permit fracking there primarily rests with the U.S. Forest Service, which is currently updating its long-term management plan for the George Washington National Forest.

As the debate over shale drilling intensifies in the nation’s capitol and across the country, Pennsylvania offers useful lessons for how states have mishandled their forests. Pennsylvania has been ground zero for Marcellus shale development and roughly two thirds of Pennsylvania’s state forest land lies above the Marcellus shale, one of the largest shale plays in the U.S.

Cornell University Professor Anthony Ingraffea recently reviewed state data on environmental violations in Pennsylvania state forests, including the 100,000-acre Loyalsock forest in the north central part of the state, a popular tourist destination and the focus of a local controversy over fracking.

What Mr. Ingraffea found highlights the hazards of drilling and demonstrates how a powerful industry can overwhelm regulators’ capacity to protect against environmental harms.

State regulators, the data revealed, have been unable to adequately keep tabs on drilling on state lands.

Over 59 percent of the Marcellus wells already drilled in the Loyalsock had never been inspected, Prof. Ingraffea found, and over a quarter of wells on state lands had no inspection reports available to the public.

Fri, 2013-10-18 07:41Sharon Kelly
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Fracking Coming to Washington D.C.'s Drinking Water?

Over the past several years, the battle over fracking has brought Congressional hearings, protests and huge industry money to Washington DC. But in recent months the topic has taken on a new, more local turn in the nation's capital as oil and gas companies push to drill in a national forest near in the city's backyard and an unusual cast of charaters are lining up to oppose it.

The fight is over access to drill for shale gas in the George Washington National Forest and officials from the Environmental Protect Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service have come out in opposition, even though some of these same federal agencies have in other contexts helped to promote expanded shale gas drilling.

The forest is one of the East Coast’s most pristine ecosystems, home to some of its last old growth forests.

Horizontal drilling, key to shale gas extraction, has never before been permitted in the George Washington National Forest. But as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service prepares a new 15-year plan, drillers are pushing hard for the ban to be lifted despite the industry’s long record of spills, air pollution and water contamination on public lands.

Wed, 2013-10-09 18:00Ben Jervey
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Selective Shutdown: Congressman Raul Grijalva's Petition to Ban Drilling on Public Lands While Public is Locked Out

As the government shutdown drags well into its second week, the gates to America’s national parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests remain closed and the taxpaying public is denied access. Not everyone will be turned away at the gates, however: oil, gas, and coal companies that are already drilling and mining on our public lands can proceed with business as usual.

A quick survey of the contingency plans (see: Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, National Park Service) of various federal agencies shows how extraction can continue unfettered, even while the rest of of are shut out of our public lands. Today, there are 12 national parks with oil and gas drilling operations underway, and coal mining is widespread across BLM lands, particularly in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana. 

As Corbin Hair reported on SNL:

The Department of the Interior, which oversees oil and natural gas drilling as well as U.S. public lands, will furlough up to 58,765 of its 72,562 employees, according to its updated plan. National parks will close and reviewing new oil and gas leases will halt, but the DOI will continue monitoring existing operations.

“The majority of the personnel that are excepted are law enforcement, wildland fire, emergency response and security, animal caretakers, maintenance and other personnel that would be focused on the custodial care of lands and facilities and protection of life and property,” the DOI's plan said. On the outer continental shelf, “the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement would continue to ensure the safety of drilling and production operations and issue drilling and other offshore permits, however renewable activities and five year plan work would be terminated.”

At least one elected official recognizes this as unfair and unjust. On October 3, Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging the officials to halt mining and extraction on public lands while the public itself was locked out.

Rep. Grijalva’s letter reads:

Wed, 2013-08-14 12:12Brendan DeMelle
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Powerful Video Contrasts Obama Climate Speech with Expanded Coal Leases on Public Lands

Greenpeace US released this powerful video today, contrasting the laudable statements that President Obama made during his climate change address in June with his administration's efforts to greatly increase the amount of public lands leased for coal mining.

Watch:

Fri, 2013-07-26 11:00Farron Cousins
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Industry Pressure Shuts Down EPA Fracking Investigations, Watch our Ring of Fire interview

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent countless taxpayer dollars and man-hours over the last few years investigating the environmental threats posed by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in many regions across the United States.  And when their draft reports showed that the practice was poisoning water supplies, the gas industry stepped in and immediately put a halt to the studies.

According to a new report by ProPublica, the EPA has halted several investigations into the safety of fracking operations in places like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. 

Most recently, the EPA halted a study on the environmental impact of fracking in Pavillion, Wyoming.  The draft report of the study had been finished, but the gas industry intervened and questioned the validity of the study, so the EPA decided to back off and hand over the task of completing the study to the state of Wyoming.  The state will finish the investigation, but the funding will come from the natural gas drilling company EnCana.  Incidentally, EnCana is responsible for the pollution that the EPA was testing.

And it wasn’t that the EPA didn’t find anything that citizens should be concerned about; quite the opposite is true.  In spite of halting the study, the agency still told residents that they should not drink the water coming out of their taps, nor should they use it to bathe because of the chemicals that were found in the tap water. 

Mon, 2013-05-20 10:09Steve Horn
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Obama Admin. Approves ALEC Model Bill for Fracking Chemical Fluid Disclosure on Public Lands

On May 16, the Obama Interior Department announced its long-awaited rules governing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on federal lands.

As part of its 171-page document of rules, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), part of the U.S. Dept. of Interior (DOI), revealed it will adopt the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands.

ALEC is a 98-percent corporate-funded bill mill and “dating service” that brings predominantly Republican state legislators and corporate lobbyists together at meetings to craft and vote on “model bills” behind closed doors. Many of these bills end up snaking their way into statehouses and become law in what Bill Moyers referred to as “The United States of ALEC.”

BLM will utilize an iteration of ALEC's “Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act” - a bill The New York Times revealed was written by ExxonMobil - for chemical fluid disclosure of fracking on public lands and will do so by utilizing FracFocus.org's voluntary online chemical disclosure database.

In a way, it's all come full circle. As we covered here on DeSmogBlog, the original chemical disclosure standards and the decision to utilize FracFocus' database came from the Obama Dept. of Energy's (DOE) industry-stacked Fracking Subcommittee formed in May 2011. DOE gave a $1.5 million grant to FracFocus

The Texas state legislature soon thereafter adopted the first bill making FracFocus the fracking chemical disclosure database at the state level in June 2011. Since then, it's been off to the races, with the Council of State Governments adopting the TX bill as model bill in Aug. 2011, ALEC adopting it as a model bill in Oct. 2011, and the bill becoming state law in Colorado, Pennsylvania and other states.

Both the Illinois and Florida state legislatures have also tried to push through this model, but it died dead in its tracks.

FracFocus has been an anemic and failed effort by the Obama Admin. to alter the George W. Bush Admin. “Halliburton Loophole” standards for fracking chemical disclosure, which allowed the recipe of fracking chemicals to remain a “trade secret.” It's amounted to nothing more than the same game by a different name, with a Harvard study recently giving FracFocus a “failing grade.”     

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