Obama Admin Quietly Enables Oil and Gas Drilling on Public Lands and Waters, Weakens Endangered Species Act

Offshore oil platform.

As eyes turned to the most viewed presidential debate in U.S. history, the Obama administration meanwhile quietly auctioned off thousands of acres of land for oil and gas drilling in national forests, opened up 119 million acres for offshore drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico, and delivered a blow to the Endangered Species Act. 

Judge Strikes Down Plan to Open One Million Acres of California Public Lands to Drilling

San Ardo oil field drilling infrastructure.

On September 6, a U.S. district judge in Los Angeles issued a ruling overturning a federal plan to open vast tracts of public land in central California to oil and gas drilling, which includes hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had failed to analyze the risks of fracking and other extreme oil and gas extraction techniques when preparing a resource management plan that would have allowed drilling on more than one million acres of land in California’s Central Valley, the southern Sierra Nevada, and in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties.

Obama Admin Moves Onshore Oil and Gas Lease Auctions Online To Stymie 'Keep It In The Ground' Protests

Protestors hold sign that says "Keep it in the ground."

On August 30, the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLMannounced that it would utilize Congress' blessing, given to it in the form of passed legislation, to proceed with online bidding for oil and gas located on U.S. public lands. 

The industry push to make online bidding the norm — as opposed to standard in-person, oral bidding — began with a fervorous pitch in 2009 in reaction to the “Bidder 70” civil disobedience action of activist Tim DeChristopher at an auction in Utah. It has culminated seven years later in reaction to another movement, this one involving the U.S. environmental movement at-large and not just a single person, otherwise known as the Keep It The Ground campaign.

How IOGCC Spawned the Lawsuit That Just Overturned BLM Fracking Regulations on Public Lands

In a ruling on the Obama Administration's proposed regulations of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on U.S. public lands, U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming Judge Scott Skavdahl — a President Obama appointee — struck down the rules as an illegal violation of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. 

Filed in March 2015 by first the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and Western Energy Alliance and then the State of Wyoming (soon joined by North Dakota, Utah and Colorado), the industry and state lawsuits would soon thereafter merge into a single lawsuit. The merger symbolizes the origins of the lawsuit — the 2014 Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

Fox in Hen House: Online Auctions For Oil and Gas Leases On Public Lands May Be Industry-Owned and Run

If the recent past serves as prologue, then online leasing of oil and gas on U.S. federal lands may resemble the proverbial fox guarding the hen house, with one eBay-like company in particular standing to profiteer from the industry's proposed e-bidding scheme.

That company, EnergyNet Inc., ran the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM)'s online oil and gas bidding pilot program back in 2009. The Amarillo, Texas-based corporation also hosts online oil and gas bids for Texas, North Dakota, Utah and Colorado, effectively shutting out citizens of those states from the bidding process altogether.  

Online bidding, as opposed to BLM's current process of holding oral auctions at locations open for the public to attend (or protest outside), has been proposed by the industry-funded advocacy group Western Energy Alliance (WEA) as a reaction to the most recent set of actions held in early-May in Denver, Colorado by the Keep It In The Ground movement as a way to “end the circus.”

John Klee — vice president of corporate business development for EnergyNet — formerly served on WEA's board, and Ryan P. Dobbs, the company's business development manager for the western U.S., is a WEA member according to EnergyNet's website.

Oil and Gas Activities Behind Texas Earthquakes Since 1925, Scientists Conclude

If you've felt an earthquake in Texas at any point over the last four decades, odds are that quake wasn't naturally occurring, but was caused by oil and gas industry activities, according to a newly published scientific report.

Just 13 percent of Texas earthquakes larger than magnitude 3 since 1975 were the result of natural causes alone, according to scientists from the University of Texas who published their peer-reviewed paper in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

In recent years, fracking wastewater injection wells have become the primary cause of tremblors in the state, the report adds.

"End the Circus": Big Oil Group Plots to Exclude Public from Public Lands Bidding at IOGCC Meeting

At the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC)'s 2016 meeting in Denver, Colorado this week, a representative from a prominent oil and gas lobbying group advocated that auctions of federal lands should happen online “eBay”-style — a clear attempt to shut the public out of the bidding process for fossil fuel leases on public lands. 

Speaking on public lands issues in front of IOGCC's public lands committee, Kathleen Sgamma — Western Energy Alliance's (WEA) vice president of governmental affairs — compared environmental groups' Keep It In The Ground campaign actions at U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) bids to a “circus.” Sgamma said WEA was in contact with both BLM and Congressional members to push the auctions out of the public sphere and onto the internet.

DeSmog, which attended the IOGCC meeting, recorded the presentation and has published it online.

Fracking Boom Expands Near Chaco Canyon, Threatens Navajo Ancestral Lands and People

Beneath a giant methane gas cloud recently identified by NASA, the oil and gas fracking industry is rapidly expanding in northwestern New Mexico. Flares that light up the night sky at drilling sites along the stretch of Route 550 that passes through the San Juan Basin, which sits on top of the oil rich Mancos Shale, are tell-tale indicators of the fracking boom. 

Much of the land being fracked belongs to the federal government. The rest is a mixture of state, private and Navajo Nation land.

The region is known to the Diné (Navajo) as Dinétah, the land of their ancestors.  It is home of the Bisti Badlands and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site.

Flares burning at fracking industry site on federal land near Counselor, New Mexico ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Revealed: How Big Oil Got Expedited Permitting for Fracking on Public Lands Into the Defense Bill

The U.S. Senate has voted 89-11 to approve the Defense Authorization Act of 2015, following the December 4 U.S. House of Representatives' 300-119 up-vote and now awaits President Barack Obama's signature.

The 1,616-page piece of pork barrel legislation contains a provision — among other controversial measures — to streamline permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on U.S. public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a unit of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Buried on page 1,156 of the bill as Section 3021 and subtitled “Bureau of Land Management Permit Processing,” the bill's passage has won praise from both the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and comes on the heels of countries from around the world coming to a preliminary deal at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

We applaud the Senate…and are hopeful the president signs this measure in a timely fashion,” said Dan Naatz, IPAA lobbyist and former congressional staffer, in a press release

Alluding to the bottoming out of the global price of oil, Naatz further stated, “In these uncertain times of price volatility, it’s encouraging for America’s job creators to have regulatory certainty through a streamlined permitting process.”

Streamlined permitting means faster turn-around times for the industry's application process to drill on public lands, bringing with it all of the air, groundwater and climate change issues that encompass the shale production process. 

At the bottom of the same press release, IPAA boasted of its ability to get the legislative proposal introduced initially by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NMas the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act of 2014 after holding an “educational meeting” with Udall's staffers. Endorsed by some major U.S. environmental groups, Udall took more than $191,000 from the oil and gas industry during his successful 2014 re-election campaign.

IPAA's publicly admitted influence-peddling efforts are but the tip of the iceberg for how Big Oil managed to stuff expedited permitting for fracking on U.S. public lands into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015.

BLM Hasn't Performed An Environmental Review of Coal Leasing Program Since 1979

It has been 35 years since the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last performed an environmental review of its coal leasing program.

Two environmental groups are suing the BLM to force a review of the program.

Given advances in scientific knowledge of the risks posed by mining and burning coal to human health and Earth’s climate made since 1979, the groups argue that the review will “compel the Bureau of Land Management to deliver on its legal obligation to promote environmentally responsible management of public lands on behalf of the citizens of the United States.”

Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils filed the lawsuit last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, naming Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and BLM Director Neil Kornze as lead defendants, along with the Department of the Interior and the BLM.


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