Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission

Emails Reveal Trump Admin Mulling Big Oil Plan to Transfer Public Land to States

Read time: 8 mins
Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada

During its first year under Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Interior has coordinated closely with the oil and gas industry to accomplish its priorities on the nation's expansive federal lands. Among them: considering a plan to transfer control of oil and gas development on public lands to the states. This revelation comes from emails and documents obtained by the Western Values Project through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The key coordinator of this plan has been Timothy Williams, who has served as the go-between for the oil and gas industry and Interior Department. Williams, deputy director of the agency's Office of External Affairs, formerly served as the field director of the Nevada state branch of Americans for Prosperity, a front group founded and funded by Koch Industries.

China Is Financing a Petrochemical Hub in Appalachia. Meet its Powerful Backers.

Read time: 16 mins
U.S. President Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and West Virginia Commerce Sec. Thrasher join in the Great Hall in Beijing for MOU signing for the Appalachian Development Hub  in November 2017

Over the past year, oil and gas industry plans to build a petrochemical refining and storage hub along the Ohio River have steadily gained traction. Proponents hope this potential hub, which would straddle Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, could someday rival the industrial corridor found along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana.

Those plans center around creating what is known as the Appalachian Storage Hub, which received a major boost on November 9 during a trade mission to China attended by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. At that trade mission, also attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the China Energy Investment Corp. announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to invest $83.7 billion into the planned storage hub over 20 years. For comparison, West Virginia's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 was $72.9 billion.

Though called the Appalachian Storage Hub as a broad-sweeping term, in practice the hub could encompass natural gas liquids storage, a market trading index center, a key pipeline feeding epicenter, and a petrochemical refinery row. Its prospective development has been spurred by the current construction of a $6 billion petrochemical refining facility in Pennsylvania owned by Shell Oil.

This Is the Drilling Method for Most US Oil But Regulators Offer Almost No Oversight

Read time: 8 mins
Oil pump jacks drilling in California

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and offshore drilling garner a lot of news headlines when it comes to oil and gas issues in America, but they're far from the only game in town, with those two drilling techniques not even constituting the majority of U.S. oil and gas production.

For that, look to enhanced oil recovery (EOR), an under-regulated drilling method that has been around for over a century and could be threatening drinking water sources — if only regulators and the public had enough information to determine that danger, according to a new 63 page report published this week. Environmental group Clean Water Action, with graduate students from Johns Hopkins University, plumbed the academic and professional literature on EOR and its associated regulatory issues in order to lay out the potential environmental and public health risks posed by EOR. They also detail how the drilling method came to be handled with such a light touch by regulators at both the state and federal level.

The report details that the almost non-existent regulatory treatment for EOR, which makes up 60 percent of U.S. oil and gas production, may be further watered down due to proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget cuts by the Trump administration. In addition, oil, gas, and coal companies are pushing for two Senate bills offering tax incentives for this drilling technique which cast it as a supposed climate change solution.

Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council

Read time: 6 mins
Bill Cooper

Confidential sources have told Politico that Bill Cooper — current congressional staffer and former fossil fuel industry lobbyist and attorney — is under consideration to head President Donald Trump's White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

CEQ works to coordinate various federal agencies dealing with environmental and energy public policy issues and oversees the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process for proposed infrastructure projects.

Cooper served as legal counsel for the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on what is today known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” a clause which exempts hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Halliburton Loophole was slipped into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and became law under President George W. Bush.

How Jeff Sessions Profited from Introducing a Fracking Exemption for Drinking Water Rules

Read time: 3 mins
Jeff Sessions

With U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in the midst of Senate confirmation hearings, watchdog group Food and Water Watch has raised new questions about how Sessions and his family profited from a fracking loophole provision he introduced in the Senate.

The group has unveiled new documents showing that Sessions' family owned stock in Energen, a Birmingham, Alabama-based oil and gas company, which pioneered fracking in Alabama and in turn benefited from Sen. Sessions’ push to exempt hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Known better as the “Halliburton Loophole,” Sessions co-sponsored — along with climate-denying U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) — the first federal bill (S.724) to exempt fracking activities from drinking water regulations, a 1999 bill which later passed as a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. A few years later, Energen's stock raised significantly in value, and Sessions and his wife cashed out in 2008. 

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

Read time: 4 mins
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

Read time: 8 mins

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.

How a Senator Turned Exxon Lobbyist Limits Access to His Public University-Based Archives

Read time: 8 mins

Emails and documents obtained from Oklahoma State University (OSU) under the state's open records law depict an arrangement in which former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) donated his U.S. Senate papers to OSU, a public university, but still maintains full control of the papers and who gets permission to view them. 

A high-level staffer of Nickles at the time who was arranging the deposit of his records to OSU, GT Bynum — now running for Mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma — wrote in a November 2004 email that a large part of the rationale for the set-up was “because Senator Nickles is dramatically younger than your average retiring senator” and there exists “potential for…something in the archive which might embarrass the senator, his staff, or a colleague.”

Nickles, now 67 and principal of the lobbying firm Nickles Group, currently lobbies for ExxonMobil, Anadarko Petroleum, Exelon and other companies. He formerly served on the Board of Directors of Chesapeake Energy and currently serves on that of Valero Energy

This year alone, Nickles has lobbied for exports of gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), expedited permitting for domestic oil and gas and other oil and gas-related policy issues on behalf of those three companies.

IOGCC Representatives Spout Climate Denial at ExxonMobil-Funded Meeting

Read time: 6 mins

At the opening session of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC)'s recent annual business meeting held in Denver, Colorado, the commission's Nebraska state representative Bill Sydow was closing up at the horseshoe-shaped roundtable by making a few heads turn. 

“I spent Thanksgiving in Chicago with my daughter and her two friends and I'm talking about climate change and global warming and I'm not a skeptic, I'm a denier” stated Sydow, the director of Nebraska's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, flanked by dozens of IOGCC state representatives at the mid-May meeting.

“And so I'm talking to these two kids and they're like 'What are you talking about?' They have never heard another side to the issue.”

Documents: IOGCC-Spawned Loophole Creating Frackquake Crisis Faces Federal Lawsuit

Read time: 7 mins

On May 4, several environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling for an end to the regulatory exemption it carved out in the late 1980s for the oil and gas industry with regards to how it handles industrial waste.

That exemption to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976, a recent DeSmog investigation showed, was pushed in the forefront almost from day one of RCRA's passage by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC). IOGCC is a U.S. Congress-chartered interstate compact consisting of U.S. oil and gas producing states, with a membership roll that includes state-level regulators, industry lobbyists and executives.

The EPA, which granted the oil and gas industry the RCRA exemption in 1988, serves as an IOGCC affiliate member.

An ongoing DeSmog investigation into IOGCC has exhibited that it often behaves like an unregistered lobbying node for the oil and gas industry. DeSmog has also obtained more documents, published here for the first time, revealing IOGCC's role in pushing for and creating the RCRA loophole. 

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