bureau of land management

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.

Extreme Weather, Widespread Flooding Hammer Louisiana as Federal Government Prepares to Lease Gulf of Mexico for Drilling

Walter Unglaub never thought flooding would threaten the carriage house he rents in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. It is on a bluff 30 feet above the Bogue Falaya River, in an area that is not considered a flood zone.
 
But that didn’t stop a flash flood from forcing Unglaub to swim for his life to get to higher ground awaiting rescue last Friday.
 
“No one is safe from extreme weather,” Unglaub told DeSmog on Sunday when he returned to sort through his belongings to see what, if anything, was salvageable. 
 
After two days of intermittent rain, 14 inches of rain fell Friday night. This extreme weather event took place 12 days before the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will auction drilling leases to 43 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Fossil Fuels from Federal Lands Create One Quarter of Total U.S. Carbon Emissions, New Report Concludes

A newly released analysis by the Climate Accountability Institute concludes that fossil fuels extracted from federal lands release carbon equal to a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The rate has stayed roughly consistent from 2003 to 2014.

When it comes to coal, the rate was even higher than average last year, the report concluded. “In 2014, two-fifths (40.2 percent) of U.S. coal  production was from leases on Federal Lands;  production on Indian Lands accounted for an additional 1.9 percent of U.S. coal production,” wrote Rick Heede, author of the analysis.

New Federal Fracking Rules Rely on FracFocus Even as EPA Research Highlights Site's Flaws

It's a classic case of the government's left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Days after the Bureau of Land Management issued new federal rules for fracking on federal land, relying heavily on an industry-run site called FracFocus, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a study mainly noteworthy for the shortcomings of the site that it revealed.

More than 70 percent of the chemical disclosure statements that drillers posted on FracFocus between January 2011 and February 2013 were missing key information because drillers labeled that data “confidential business information,” the EPA reported.

On average, drillers reported using a mix of 14 different chemicals at each well site. At sites where information was withheld, an average of five chemicals were not named.

In fact, FracFocus allowed drillers to conceal the identity of more than one out of every ten chemicals whose use was “disclosed” on the site, EPA researchers found.

This made it impossible for EPA's researchers, who received over 39,000 disclosure statements from FracFocus in March 2013 and published their study two years later, to definitively say what chemicals drillers used most often, how much of each chemical was injected underground, or even to simply create a list of all the chemicals used at the wells.

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