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With less than three weeks to go before Election Day, the rhetoric around gas prices and drilling is heating up at campaign events around the country. The issue was also front and center in Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

Predictably, data about oil production on federal lands and its effects on gas prices is being spun and twisted to fit a range of agendas. While the data shows that industry interest for drilling permits has moved away from public lands to private lands – there is a simple explanation for the shift that industry lobbyists and PR pros aren’t telling you. Drilling companies go where the most profitable resources are, and today that means shale oil, the vast majority of which is under private lands.

We want to help the public by laying out the hard facts about oil production on federal lands and its impact on the price at the pump (or lack thereof) so that the next time there is a sound bite or lofty rhetoric, the public knows the truth.

Here are seven things to you need to know about oil production and drilling on your public lands.

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Wed Oct 10, 2012 at 12:15 PM PDT

Reality check: Gas prices debate

by mgarrington

Rhetoric in the public debate on gas prices is heating up from politicians this week. Unfortunately, oil and gas apologists continue to push misinformation on the American public.

Instead of exporting American resources so that oil companies get richer, let's use our oil at home to the benefit of all Americans.

There is another simple step we can take to help American families whose pocketbooks are hurting because of high prices at the pump. We should end the billions in special tax breaks to Big Oil and reinvest those funds in transportation solutions, high tech vehicles, and the next generation of renewable fuels.

Let'™s consider the facts about gas prices and energy development.

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When you fill up your tank for vacation this summer, keep in mind that the dial at the pump is spinning faster than you think. In addition to what you pay at the pump, your tax dollars are going to waste subsidizing oil companies.

As families pile into the station wagon to hit the road, Republican members of Congress are taking advantage of Americans, and the price at the pump, with their own tour to spin Big Oil talking points. They are avoiding the real conversation we should be having about energy. It's time to end tax breaks to oil companies and reinvest those funds in American energy solutions such as transportation improvements, high tech vehicles, and the next generation of renewable fuels.

A new study from Headwaters Economics explains why taxpayer money is going to waste when we throw it at oil companies trying to encourage them to drill.

The evidence overwhelmingly suggests there are three things that drive oil production: geology, technology and price.

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Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 01:02 PM PDT

All of the above beyond just oil

by mgarrington

As gas prices top $4/gallon in an election year, Americans are fed up with empty promises and cheap gimmicks. Who in their right mind buys Newt Gingrich’s claim that he can lower gas prices to $2.50/gallon?

So, who or what is to blame for high gasoline prices?

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Speaker of the House John Boehner is bringing his controversial highway bill (H.R. 7) to the floor this week. The Speaker has included Rep. Doug Lamborn’s oil shale boondoggle (H.R. 3408) as one of his funding sources.

Today, in a desperate move to salvage his highway bill, it was announced that the Speaker is splitting off the energy package under the PIONEERS Act (H.R. 3408). Fitting, since there's no energy or revenue in oil shale.

We thought pointing out the truth behind Boehner’s and Lamborn’s bills was worth a new Checks and Balances Project video.

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Wall Street started 2012 by ringing in the New Year for oil and gas speculators.  On Tuesday, Ralph Hill, the CEO of WPX Energy Inc., rang the opening bell for the first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

The evidence of speculation’s effect on the price at the pump has piled up over the last couple of years. In 2011 especially, as gas prices hit near-record highs in the first half of the year, analysts and financial reporters explained how price increases had less to do with supply and demand than Wall Street trading.

Commissioner Bart Chilton of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission endorsed this view in a speech to the High Frequency Trading World in Amsterdam.  Chilton told a room full of traders, “Researchers at Oxford, Princeton, and many other private researchers say that speculators have had an impact on prices—oil prices and food prices most notably.”

Even Goldman Sach acknowledged the impact of speculation on energy prices. In a little-publicized study conducted issued last year, the investment world’s flagship firm estimated oil prices to be $20 higher per barrel as a result of speculation.

When you consider the effect this speculation has had on the checkbooks of American families, it’s telling that the NYSE still chose an oil and gas CEO to open the new year. It can be viewed as an admission that speculators understand the role they’ve played in energy costs, and are looking forward to another banner year.

Unfortunately, that prosperity won’t be passed down to American consumers. After all, in just the first three quarters of 2011 oil and gas companies reported over $101 billion in profits. They passed cost of speculation directly on to the consumer, even though many of those companies were engaged in speculation themselves.

Meanwhile, Big Oil executives and the politicians they support fought tooth and nail to protect the billions in government handouts oil companies receive every year. For the record, many of those same politicians were far less vocal in protecting the 2 percent payroll tax cut that House Republicans held hostage at the end of the year.

If you’re looking for an explanation for their actions, you need look no further than Ralph Hill, the CEO who opened the NYSE. Before WPX Energy split off from Williams, Hill was that company’s President of Exploration and Production. During his time there, Hill gave thousands of dollars to the company’s political action committee.

That PAC turned around and funded the election campaigns of many of the politicians who over the past year have protected corporate welfare to oil companies, especially some of the key players on the House Natural Resources Committee.

No wonder these same Congressmen voted time and time again to protect special tax breaks on oil and gas subsidies, and we still don’t have legislation cracking down on oil speculators.

Wall Street continues to prove it is politically tone deaf by bringing in the very example of the 1 percent to kick-off the New Year – an oil and gas CEO whose company gets bigger profits when America’s working families are forced to pay more at the pump.


This opinion piece originally ran in The Hill's Congress Blog.

By Drew Sloan, Truman National Security Project and Matt Garrington, Checks and Balances Project

In September 2010, engineers successfully capped BP’s ruptured Deepwater Horizon oil rig, after it spilled estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This month, one year after a milestone in the worst environmental disaster in America’s history, its effects continue to devastate the region’s economy and the families who live there.

Adding insult to these American’s injuries, BP was able to write-off a whopping $13 billion of its clean-up costs on its taxes, forcing American families to pay the tab for the damage the oil company created.

This summer, an ExxonMobil pipeline rupture polluted at least 10 miles of Montana’s Yellowstone River. And like BP, lawyers and politicians will make sure that Americans pay the damages by permitting the world’s most profitable corporation to write-off clean up costs on its taxes.

That’s in addition to the $15 billion Americans pay every year in taxpayer-funded subsidies and special tax breaks to the oil and gas industry.
Americans pay three different ways for their fuel: First at the pump, then for the environmental impacts and cleanup costs of spills, then finally, by subsidizing government handouts to this multi-billion dollar industry.

The facts are black and white:

• The American drilling industry is nearly at pre-recession levels and approaching a 20-year high in activity.

• America is the world’s third largest producer of oil and the world’s largest producer of natural gas.

• Oil companies reported over $67 billion in profits for the first half of 2011, and spent $39,562,199 in lobbying Congress to protect another $43 billion in corporate tax breaks.

Despite these facts, oil and gas companies continue to ask for more handouts, and company CEOs blame government obstructionism for hurting supply.

The truth is that oil and gas companies have failed to develop 6,500 onshore drilling permits where they have a green light to drill. And, 57 percent of all onshore leases and 70 percent of all offshore leases have yet to be developed. Over-regulation and access to domestic natural resources are simply not an issue.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA-4) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI-6) both say they’re in favor of an all of the above energy strategy. Unfortunately for American families, actions speak louder than words. Hastings and Upton say “All of the Above,” but their actions prove they mean “Oil Above All.”

We must build a 21st century energy infrastructure to insulate ourselves against speculators artificially inflating the oil markets. Diversifying our nation’s energy portfolio will give people a choice in where they spend their dollars – a choice not to buy from companies that pollute our rivers or stain our beaches. How many times must Americans foot the bill and our water, air and land pay the price.  

Americans need control when it comes to energy.  And we can get there by making investments in a new energy economy that diversifies our energy options while at the same time making our nation safe, secure, and strong in the years to come. Doing this will lead to job creation, keep investment dollars here at home and insulate us from the instability around the globe. A diversified energy portfolio would give Americans a choice in how they power their lives.

The time has come for us to take back control.  Let’s do it.

By Drew Sloan, Truman National Security Project
Matt Garrington, Checks & Balances Project


By Matt Garrington

Last week, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) wrapped up their tour to push Big Oil's agenda under the guise of more jobs and lower energy prices in an effort to weaken protections for our air, water, public lands and oceans.

Ironically, it turns out that the AFP tour did help promote jobs ... in China. Part of the free giveaways to the few who actually showed up to the "Running on Empty" tour stops, included $20 gas cards to Diamond Shamrock and small foam gas station pumps.

It turns out the toys were a made in China. Talk about a rookie campaign mistake.

The gaffe says everything about what AFP is all about ... lining the pockets of their funders like the oil refinery magnates the Koch Brothers and Big Oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell and BP ... while ignoring what is actually important to western states and American families.

If AFP is going to be shilling for multinational oil companies and conservative political operatives, the least they could do is make sure the props are made in America.

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