Western Energy Alliance

Federal Research Has Been Stoking Oil, Gas Interest in Bears Ears Monument for Years

Bluff formations in Bears Ears Monument

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is considering revoking the protected status from Bears Ears National Monument, a culturally and archaeologically significant area spanning 1.35 million acres in Utah and protected by then-President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act of 1906 during his last weeks in office.

While numerous Native American tribes claim ties and sacred sites within its borders, Bears Ears is also of considerable interest to the fossil fuel industry for its close proximity to oil and gas deposits, one of several reasons for pushback against the monument designation. According to a map published by WildEarth Guardians, a group calling for protection of Bears Ears, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) powerhouses EOG Resources and Whiting Petroleum are already drilling near the area. Soon, however, there may be much more activity.

A DeSmog review of Utah state records shows that the drilling company Wesco Operating has obtained permits to drill in oil fields near Bears Ears, fields which are part of a larger shale basin extending under the monument. Furthermore, the federal government has been stoking interest in developing that shale basin to the tune of nearly three quarters of a million dollars invested in feasibility research.

Former Koch Agents, Fossil Fuel Industry Hired Guns Now Staffing Trump's Federal Agencies

Obama and Trump officials meet in the White House

On March 8, ProPublica obtained “beachhead team” rosters with the names of hundreds of temporary staffers the Trump administration has installed in federal agencies, including the Department of Interior (DOI), Department of Energy (DOE), the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and others. 

A DeSmog investigation shows that this list of staffers, largely undisclosed before this week, includes former operatives allied with Koch Industries, oil and coal industry employees, a former employee of a prominent climate denial group, and an advocate for a pro-trophy hunting organization funded by oil and gas. The background and connections of these staffers may serve as a preview to potential priorities these agencies may take on related to energy, climate, and environment under Donald Trump.

Congressional Energy and Climate Committees Are Loaded with Ex-Fossil Fuel Lobbyists

U.S. Capitol building

Though the U.S. Congress has been in session for two months, much of the policy action which has taken place since Donald Trump assumed the presidency on January 20 has centered around his Executive Orders.

As some have pointed out, Trump's first speech in front of a joint session of Congress on February 28 can be seen as a reset moment, with the clock ticking on Republicans to deliver on promises made to voters in the 2016 election. In the energy and environment sphere, those efforts will likely center around gutting climate and environmental protections, and much of it will be carried out by congressional committee staffers. 

A DeSmog investigation has revealed that many Republican staff members on key committees are former fossil fuel industry lobbyists, which could help fast-track the industry's legislative agenda in the weeks and months ahead. In total, 15 staffers on the eight main energy and environment congressional committees previously worked as industry lobbyists on behalf of oil, gas, mining, coal, petrochemical, and electric utility interests. 

Protections for Rare and Endangered Animals Under Threat from Permian Basin Drilling Industry

Midland, Texas — Monarch butterflies, tiny lizards, and a type of grouse known as the lesser prairie chicken all drew close scrutiny from a large gathering of oil and gas executives at the Permian Basin Petroleum Association's annual meeting this year.

Fracking has helped turn the Permian Basin into the nation's most productive oil field — and the only part of the U.S. where the oil industry continues to expand robustly despite a price slump that began in mid-2014.

But the parched Permian Basin is also home to a broad array of rare wildlife, including a significant number of species already considered threatened or endangered. With the Fish and Wildlife Service considering adding dozens more species in Texas to their lists, the oil industry here is sweating (and not simply because last month was the warmest October in Midland in over 80 years of record-keeping).

Endangered species may prove to be an unexpected Achilles heel for the Permian drilling industry as it attempts to turn the deserts of west Texas into an oil “well factory” — a dense field of wellpads, pipelines and access roads built right amid unique ecosystems and habitats for wild animals that may be at risk of extinction.

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. 

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.

"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.

Vivian Krause and Richard Berman’s Oil Industry Playbook

vivian krause, richard berman

He had no idea he was being taped.

So when influential Washington, DC, political consultant Richard Berman talked about strategy and tactics to the oil and gas industry’s Western Energy Alliance in Colorado Springs this past June, he didn’t mince words.  

This is an endless war,” Berman said.

The secret tape was published in the New York Times a few weeks ago, released by a displeased oil industry executive, on condition of anonymity.

As he urged industry reps to employ tactics like digging up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, Berman also made one emphatic point:

People always ask me one question all the time, ‘How do I know that I won't be found out as a supporter of what you're doing?’ We run all of this stuff through non-profit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don't know who supports us. We've been doing this for 20-something years in this regard.”

The Western Energy Alliance, at whose June meeting Berman laid out his cold-blooded strategy, describes membership as “an investment in the future of the independent oil and gas community in the West.” Its members throughout the U.S. and Canada “share and support our commitment to improve business conditions, expand opportunities and move the industry forward.” 

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