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Indian Creek - Part of Bears Ears National Monument

Nationally treasured federal lands face threats by oil, gas, and other extractive uses

Should public, federal lands be opened up even further for extracting minerals, oil, and gas for private ventures? FracTracker’s Karen Edelstein discusses the past, present, and potential future of many of America’s cherished natural resources and wonders.

The United States is blessed with some of the most diverse natural landscapes in the world. Through foresight of great leaders over the decades, starting in 1906 — Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Benjamin Harrison, and Jimmy Carter – to name just a few — well over a half billion acres of wilderness have been set aside as national parks, refuges, monuments, and roadless areas. Some of the most famous of these protected areas include the Grand Canyon, Acadia, and Grand Tetons National Parks. In all, the federal government owns 28% of the 2.27 billion acres of land that the United States comprises. These federal lands are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM): 248.3 million acres, the US Forest Service: 192.9 million acres, US Fish and Wildlife Service: 89.1 million acres, and National Park Service: 78.9 million acres. In addition, the US Department of Defense administers 11.4 million acres.

Why are federal lands at risk?

While most people assume that federal wild lands are forever protected from development and commercial exploitation, quite the opposite is true. For most of the past century, federal lands have hunted, fished, logged and grazed by private individuals and enterprises. In addition, and in the cross-hairs of discussion here, is the practice of leasing lands to industrial interests for the purpose of extracting minerals, oil, and gas from these public lands.

Provisions for land conservation and restrictions on oil and gas extraction, in particular, became more stringent since the inception of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. However, environmentalists have watched in horror as the current administration in Washington has gutted the EPA, and installed climate change-deniers and corporate executives in high levels of office throughout a range of federal agencies. Notable is the appointment of Ryan Zinke as US Secretary of the Interior. Zinke, a former businessman, has a long record of opposing environmental viewpoints around extraction of oil, coal, and gas and cutting regulations. The League of Conservation Voters gives his voting record a lifetime score of 4 percent on environmental issues. As recently as this week, Joel Clement–one of Zinke’s senior advisors–resigned his post, citing, Zinke’s poor leadership, wasting of tax-payer dollars, and denial of climate change science.

Early in his tenure as Secretary of the Interior, Zinke initiated a review of 27 national monuments, a move that environmentalists feared could lead to the unraveling of protections on millions of acres of federal land, and also relaxed regulations on oil and gas exploration in those areas. Public comment on the plans to review these national monuments was intense; when the public comment period closed on July 10, 2017, the Interior Department had received over 2.4 million comments, the vast majority of which supported keeping the existing boundaries and restrictions as they are.

Federal lands under threat by Trump Administration

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

The above map shows which sites are under consideration for oil, gas, or coal extraction, or face boundary reduction of up to 88%. Click here to view this map full-screen with a legend, zoom in and click on areas of interest, etc.

Who should be allowed to use these resources?

Ranchers, loggers, and recreational hunters and anglers felt that the 1906 Antiquities Act had been over-interpreted, and therefore advocated for Zinke’s proposal. (The Act was the first U.S. law to provide protection for any general kind of cultural or natural resource.)

However, environmental advocates such as the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and others were adamantly opposed to opening up federal lands resources for extraction, citing the need for environmental protection, public access, and, importantly, concerns that the lands would be more easily transferred to state, local, or private interests. Environmentalists also argue that the revenue generated by tourism at these pristine sites would far exceed that generated by extractive resource activities. Attorneys and staff from NPCA and NRDC argued legislation in effect since the 1970s requires role for Congress in changing the boundaries of existing monuments. The President or his cabinet do not have that sole authority.

The Wilderness Society estimates that already, 90% of the land in the US West, owned by the Bureau of Land Management, is open for oil and gas leasing, while only 10% is set aside for other uses (Figure 2). According to information from Sourcewatch, in 2013, these lands included 12 National Monuments, Parks, Recreation Areas, and Preserves that had active drilling, and another 31 that might see possible drilling in the future.

Source: The Wilderness Society

Figure 2. Percent of land already available for oil and gas leasing in the West. Source: The Wilderness Society

What Zinke has Proposed

True to expectation, in August of 2017, Zinke issued a recommendation to shrink the boundaries of several national monuments to allow coal mining and other “traditional uses” — which appear to include large-scale timbering, as well as potentially oil and gas drilling. Sites include Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah (encompassing more than 3.2 million acres in lands considered sacred to Dine/Navajo people), Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, and Gold Butte in Nevada. According to Zinke’s report, Grand Staircase-Escalante contains “an estimated several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits”. Zinke lifted Obama-era restrictions on coal leasing on federal lands this past March, 2017. However, just last week, a federal judge ruled that the current Administration’s efforts to suspend methane emission restrictions from pipelines crossing public lands were illegal. These are merely a few of the Obama-era environmental protections that Zinke is attempting to gut.

Zinke has proposed decreasing the size of Bears Ears National Monument from the current 1.35 million acres to a mere 160,000, a reduction of 88%. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, made up of thirty Native American tribes, condemned the recommendation as a “slap in the face to the members of our Tribes and an affront to Indian people all across the country.” The Navajo Nation intends to sue the President’s administration if this reduction at Bears Ears is enacted.

Bears Ears National Monument, designated by President Barack Obama, contains tens of thousands of cultural artifacts, and is facing not only a threat of boundary shrinkage, but also a relaxing use restrictions within the Monument area. The current President has referred to Obama’s designation of the monument as “an egregious abuse of power.” Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated by President Bill Clinton, and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was designated by Clinton and expanded by President Obama.

The recommendation details were not made public in August, however, and only came to light in September through a leaked memo, published in The Washington Post. In the memo, Secretary Zinke noted that the existing boundaries were “arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of resource management.” The memo goes on to say that “[i]t appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining and timber production rather than to protect specific objects.” In addition, Zinke is advocating for the modification for commercial fishing uses of two marine national monuments: the Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll.

Lacking Specificity

According to the Washingon Post, Zinke:

… plans to leave six designations in place: Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients; Idaho’s Craters of the Moon; Washington’s Hanford Reach; Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant; Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks; and California’s Sand to Snow.

Perplexingly, the report is silent on 11 of the 27 monuments named in the initial proposal. One of which is the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument — over 725,000 square miles of ocean — in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The report also requests tribal co-management of “cultural resources”  at Bears Ears, Rio Grande del Norte, and Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks. While one could imagine that greater involvement of indigenous people in the federal government’s management of the sacred landscapes to be a potentially positive improvement, the report is silent on the details. More information on tribal co-management and other options can be gleaned from a series of position papers written by the Property and Environment Research Center.

Of other note: Zinke is also suggesting the establishment of three new national monuments, including the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area in Montana, a sacred site of the Blackfeet Nation. Badger-Two Medicine was the site of a more than 30-year battle to retire 32,000 acres of oil and gas leases. The tribe prevailed, and the leases were canceled in November, 2016.

With potential lawsuits pending about boundary changes, galvanized push-back from environmental and tribal interests on resource management definitions for the targeted monuments, and general unpredictability on policy details and staffing in Washington, the trajectory of how this story will play out remains uncertain. FracTracker will continue to monitor for updates, and provide additional links in this story as they unfold.

Check out National Geographic’s bird’s eye view of these protected areas for a stunning montage, descriptions, and more maps of the monuments under consideration.


Federal Lands Map Data Sources

National Monuments under consideration for change by Secretary Zinke:
Accessed from ArcGIS Online by FracTracker Alliance, 28 August 2017. Data apparently from federal sources, such as BLM, NPS, etc. Dataset developed by Kira Minehart, GIS intern with Natural Resources Defense Council.0=not currently targeted for policy or boundary change1= targeted for expanded resource use, such as logging, fishing, etc. 2=targeted for shrinkage of borders, and expanded resource use.

National Park Service lands with current or potential oil and gas drilling:
Downloaded by FracTracker Alliance on 9 November 2016, from National Park Service.  Drilling information from here. List of sites threatened by oil and gas drilling from here (23 January 2013).

Badger-Two Medicine potential Monument:
Shapefile downloaded from USGS by FracTracker Alliance on 28 August 2017. This map layer consists of federally owned or administered lands of the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For the most part, only areas of 320 acres or more are included; some smaller areas deemed to be important or significant are also included. There may be private inholdings within the boundaries of Federal lands in this map layer. Some established Federal lands which are larger than 320 acres are not included in this map layer, because their boundaries were not available from the owning or administering agency. Complete metadata available here.


By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance
Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship

2017 Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship Recipients

Award to be presented to three environmental stewards addressing oil and gas impacts at reception held in Pittsburgh, PA, November 18th

WASHINGTON, DC – October 5, 2017 – Three community advocates were recently selected by a panel of judges to receive the 2017 Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship, presented this year by Americans Against Fracking, Earthworks, FracTracker Alliance, Halt the Harm Network, and Stop the Frack Attack – sponsored by the 11th Hour Project. Award recipients were chosen because of their steadfast determination to highlight and address the impacts of the oil and gas industry in communities across the United States. The 2017 Community Sentinel Award winners are:

  • Ranjana Bhandari – Arlington, Texas
  • Frank Finan – Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania
  • Ray Kemble – Montrose, Pennsylvania

This year’s recipients, nominated by their peers, have lead campaigns to prevent wastewater injection wells from being permitted near drinking water reservoirs; documented fugitive air emissions using their own personal FLIR cameras; and fought cancer and legal attacks from oil and gas companies simultaneously.

These awardees truly represent the heart of local heroes working tirelessly to safeguard their communities from fracking and its collateral impacts, while at the same time encouraging a national transition to safer, renewable forms of energy…

… remarked Brook Lenker, Executive Director of FracTracker Alliance, the organizer of the award partnership.

Recipients were selected by a committee of community defense leaders: Bill Hughes of Wetzel County Action Group, West Virginia; Pat Popple of Save the Hills Alliance, Wisconsin; Sierra Shamer of Shalefield Organizing Committee, Pennsylvania; Dante Swinton of Energy Justice, Maryland; and Niki Wong of Redeemer Community Partnership, California.

The three recipients will each be awarded $1,000 for their efforts and recognized at an evening reception at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday, November 18, 2017 during the People vs. Oil and Gas Infrastructure Summit.

Learn more about the third annual Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship, or purchase tickets to the reception for $40 (includes award ceremony and reception, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and a drink).

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About FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker Alliance is a national organization with regional offices in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Washington DC, and California. The organization’s mission is to study, map, and communicate the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. Learn more at fractracker.org.

34 states with active drilling activity in US map

34 states have active oil & gas activity in U.S. based on 2016 analysis

Each year, FracTracker Alliance compiles a national well file to try to assess how many wells have been drilled in the U.S. We do this by extracting data from the various state regulatory agencies that oversee drilling in oil and gas producing states. We’re a little late posting the results of our 2016 analysis, but here it is.

Based on data from 2014-2015, 34 states * saw drilling activity, amounting to approximately 1.2 million facilities across the U.S. – from active production wells, to natural gas compressor stations, to processing plants.

The process we used to count these wells and related facilities for the 2016 analysis changed a bit this time around, which obviously impacts the total number of wells in the dataset. 2016’s compilation was created in consultation with Earthworks, for the purpose of informing the Oil and Gas Threat Map project. The scope was more restrictive than previous editions (see our 2014 and 2015 analyses), focusing only on wells that we were reasonably confident were actively producing oil and gas wells, thus excluding wells with inactive or uncertain statuses, as well salt water disposal (SWD) and other Class II injection (INJ) well types.

There are facilities included in this dataset that we don’t normally tally, as well (See Table 1 below). Earthworks was able to determine the latitude and longitude coordinates of a number of compressors and other processing plants, which are included in the dataset below and final map.

In all, the facility counts are reduced from about 1.7 million in 2015 to about 1.2 million in 2016, but this is more a reflection of the definition than substantial changes in the active well inventory in the U.S. You can explore this information by state, and additional results of this project, using Earthworks’ Threats Maps. Additionally, the national well file is available to download below.

You’ll notice that we don’t refer to the wells in this analysis as “fracked” wells. The primary reason for not using such terminology is because no one common definition exists across those states for what constitutes a hydraulically fractured well. In PA, for example, such wells are considered “unconventional” because drilling occurs in an unconventional formation and usually involves some sort of well stimulation. Contrastingly, in CA, often drillers use “acidizing” not fracking – a similar process that breaks up the ground using acidic injected fluids instead of the high pressure seen in traditional fracking. As such, we included all active oil and gas production instead of trying to limit the analysis to just wells that have been stimulated. We will likely continue to use this process until a federal or national definition of what constitutes a “fracked” well is determined.

Table 1. Facilities by State and Type

State Count of Facilities by Type Grand Total
Compressor Processor Well
AK 7 3,356 3,363
AL 17 7,016 7,033
AR 231 8 13,789 14,028
AZ 40 40
CA 7 21 92,737 92,765
CO 426 49 50,881 51,356
FL 2 102 104
ID 6 6
IL 5 48,748 48,753
IN 7,374 7,374
KS 9 90,526 90,535
KY 5 11,769 11,774
LA 6,486 94 2,555 9,135
MI 19 16,525 16,544
MO 2 687 689
MS 6 4,556 4,562
MT 5 9,768 9,773
ND 19 13,024 13,043
NE 1 16,202 16,203
NM 902 37 57,839 58,778
NV 176 176
NY 12,244 12,244
OH 29 10 90,288 90,327
OK 856 96 29,042 29,994
OR 56 56
PA 452 11 103,680 104,143
SD 408 408
TN 15,956 15,956
TX 758 315 397,776 398,849
UT 18 20,608 20,626
VA 9,888 9,888
WI 1 1
WV 20 16,118 16,138
WY 325 48 38,538 38,911
Grand Total 10,472 825 1,182,278 1,193,575
* NC facilities are not included because the state did not respond to multiple requests for the data. This exclusion likely does not significantly affect the total number of wells in the table, as historically NC only had 2 oil and gas wells.
FracTracker map of the density of wells by U.S. state as of 2015

1.7 Million Wells in the U.S. – A 2015 Update


 

Updated National Well Data

By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology

In February 2014, the FracTracker Alliance produced our first version of a national well data file and map, showing over 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the United States. We have now updated that data, with the total of wells up to 1,666,715 active wells accounted for.

Density by state of active oil and gas wells in the United States. Click here to access the legend, details, and full map controls. Zoom in to see summaries by county, and zoom in further to see individual well data. Texas contains state and county totals only, and North Carolina is not included in this map. 

While 1.7 million wells is a substantial increase over last year’s total of 1.1 million, it is mostly attributable to differences in how we counted wells this time around, and should not be interpreted as a huge increase in activity over the past 15 months or so. Last year, we attempted to capture those wells that seemed to be producing oil and gas, or about ready to produce. This year, we took a more inclusive definition. Primarily, the additional half-million wells can be accounted for by including wells listed as dry holes, and the inclusion of more types of injection wells. Basically anything with an API number that was not described as permanently plugged was included this time around.

Data for North Carolina are not included, because they did not respond to three email inquiries about their oil and gas data. However, in last year’s national map aggregation, we were told that there were only two active wells in the state. Similarly, we do not have individual well data for Texas, and we use a published list of well counts by county in its place. Last year, we assumed that because there was a charge for the dataset, we would be unable to republish well data. In discussions with the Railroad Commission, we have learned that the data can in fact be republished. However, technical difficulties with their datasets persist, and data that we have purchased lacked location values, despite metadata suggesting that it would be included. So in short, we still don’t have Texas well data, even though it is technically available.

Wells by Type and Status

Each state is responsible for what their oil and gas data looks like, so a simple analysis of something as ostensibly straightforward as what type of well has been drilled can be surprisingly complicated when looking across state lines. Additionally, some states combine the well type and well status into a single data field, making comparisons even more opaque.

Top 10 of 371 published well types for wells in the United States.

Top 10 of 371 published well types for wells in the United States.

Among all of the oil producing states, there are 371 different published well types. This data is “raw,” meaning that no effort has been made to combine similar entries, so “gas, oil” is counted separately from “GAS OIL,” and “Bad Data” has not been combined with “N/A,” either. Conforming data from different sources is an exercise that gets out of hand rather quickly, and utility over using the original published data is questionable, as well. We share this information, primarily to demonstrate the messy state of the data. Many states combine their well type and well status data into a single column, while others keep them separate. Unfortunately, the most frequent well type was blank, either because states did not publish well types, or they did not publish them for all of their wells.

There are no national standards for publishing oil and gas data – a serious barrier to data transparency and the most important takeaway from this exercise… 

Wells by Location

Active oil and gas wells in 2015 by state. Except for Texas, all data were aggregated published well coordinates.

Active oil and gas wells in 2015 by state. Except for Texas, all data were aggregated published well coordinates.

There are oil and gas wells in 35 of the 50 states (70%) in the United States, and 1,673 out of 3,144 (53%) of all county and county equivalent areas. The number of wells per state ranges from 57 in Maryland to 291,996 in Texas. There are 135 counties with a single well, while the highest count is in Kern County, California, host to 77,497 active wells.

With the exception of Texas, where the data are based on published lists of well county by county, the state and county well counts were determined by the location of the well coordinates. Because of this, any errors in the original well’s location data could lead to mistakes in the state and county summary files. Any wells that are offshore are not included, either. Altogether, there are about 6,000 wells (0.4%) are missing from the state and county files.

Wells by Operator

There are a staggering number of oil and gas operators in the United States. In a recent project with the National Resources Defense Council, we looked at violations across the few states that publish such data, and only for the 68 operators that were identified previously as having the largest lease acreage nationwide. Even for this task, we had to follow a spreadsheet of which companies were subsidiaries of others, and sometimes the inclusion of an entity like “Williams” on the list came down to a judgement call as to whether we had the correct company or not.

No such effort was undertaken for this analysis. So in Pennsylvania, wells drilled by the operator Exco Resources PA, Inc. are not included with those drilled by Exco Resources PA, Llc., even though they are presumably the same entity. It just isn’t feasible to systematically go through thousands of operators to determine which operators are owned by whom, so we left the data as is. Results, therefore, should be taken with a brine truck’s worth of salt.

Top 10 wells by operator in the US, excluding Texas. Unknown operators are highlighted in red.

Top 10 wells by operator in the US, excluding Texas. Unknown operators are highlighted in red.

Texas does publish wells by operator, but as with so much of their data, it’s just not worth the effort that it takes to process it. First, they process it into thirteen different files, then publish it in PDF format, requiring special software to convert the data to spreadsheet format. Suffice to say, there are thousands of operators of active oil and gas wells in the Lone Star State.

Not counting Texas, there are 39,693 different operators listed in the United States. However, many of those listed are some version of “we don’t know whose well this is.” Sorting the operators by the number of wells that they are listed as having, we see four of the top ten operators are in fact unknown, including the top three positions.

Summary

The state of oil and gas data in the United States is clearly in shambles. As long as there are no national standards for data transparency, we can expect this trend to continue. The data that we looked for in this file is what we consider to be bare bones: well name, well type, well status, slant (directional, vertical, or horizontal), operator, and location. In none of these categories can we say that we have a satisfactory sense of what is going on nationally.

Click on the above button to download the three sets of data we used to make the dynamic map (once you are zoomed in to a state level). The full dataset was broken into three parts due to the large file sizes.

FracTracker Launches Oil and Gas Tracking App

Pittsburgh, PA – FracTracker Alliance announces the release of our free iPhone app – designed to collect and share experiences related to oil and gas drilling across the United States. As unconventional drilling or “fracking” intensifies, so too do the innovative ways in which citizens can track, monitor, and report potential issues from their smart phones.

The app allows users to submit oil and gas photos or reports. Users can also view a map of wells drilled near them and user-submitted reports. This map shows wells that have been drilled both unconventionally and conventionally.

“FracTracker’s app contributes to the collective understanding of oil and gas impacts and provides a new opportunity for public engagement,” explains Brook Lenker, Executive Director of the FracTracker Alliance. “We hope that our mobile app will revolutionize how people share oil and gas information.”

Development Partners

Several organizations and community groups helped to test and improve the app during its development. To address questions about the impacts of oil and gas development across landscapes, FracTracker joined with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) to create a crowd-sourced digital map with photos detailing the scale of oil and gas development near North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park using the app. The photo map is part of a NPCA’s campaign designed to educate citizens about the cross-landscape impacts of oil and gas development near America’s national parks. NPCA is hosting two events this week in support of this campaign work – in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

“FracTracker’s new app allows us to tell a visual story about fracking’s impacts to national parks and their local communities,” said Nick Lund, who manages the NPCA’s Landscape Conservation program. “With this week’s public events in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, we will show the dramatic impact that fracking continues to have, in just a few years, near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. These images can help inform the public and our elected officials as they finalize drilling regulations in Pennsylvania. We hope this information will lead to strong protections for our national parks, our forests, and our drinking water.”

Beta testing and reviews of the app were also conducted by Mountain Watershed Association, Responsible Drilling Alliance, Audubon PA, PA Forest Coalition, Southwest PA Environmental Health Project, and Save Our Streams PA. The app was developed in collaboration with Viable Industries, L.L.C.

Like NPCA, groups can use the FracTracker app to collect visual data and develop customized maps for their own projects. Contact FracTracker to learn more: info@fractracker.org.

Download the App

Download_on_the_App_Store_Badge_US-UK_135x40

Download the free app from the iTunes store or visit FracTracker.org to learn more: www.fractracker.org/apps. Currently the app is only available for only iPhone users, but an Android platform is due out later this year.

App Screenshots

app1

See a map of wells near you or submit a report.

app4

The legend describes the points on the map in more detail.

app2

Clicking on a dot shows the record/well

app3

Clicking the “i” shows you more information about the point

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Media Contact

Samantha Malone
FracTracker Alliance
malone@fractracker.org
412-802-0273

FracTracker Alliance is a non-profit organization with offices in PA, OH, NY, WV, and CA that shares maps, data, and analyses to communicate impacts of the global oil and gas industry and inform actions that positively shape our energy future. Learn more about FracTracker at www.fractracker.org.

National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its one million members and supporters, and many partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for our children and grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.npca.org.

Politics and Campaign Financing

O&G Politics & Campaign Financing

By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Anyone who has been paying attention to the domestic shale gas conversation knows the issue is fraught with controversy and political leanings. The debate is made only more complicated by the extensive lobbying to promote drilling and related activities. It would be nice to look at shale gas through a purely analytical lens, but it is impossible to decouple the role of politicians and those that fund their campaigns from the myriad socioeconomic, health, and environmental costs/benefits.

As such, this article covers two issues:

  1. Who Gets Funded: the distribution of oil and gas (O&G) funds across the two primary parties in the US, as well as the limited funds awarded to third parties, and
  2. Funding Allocation to a Specialized Committee: industry financing to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology1 the primary house committee responsible for:

…all matters relating to energy research, development, and demonstration projects therefor; commercial application of energy technology; Department of Energy research, development, and demonstration programs; Department of Energy laboratories; Department of Energy science activities; energy supply activities; nuclear, solar, and renewable energy, and other advanced energy technologies; uranium supply and enrichment, and Department of Energy waste management; fossil energy research and development; clean coal technology; energy conservation research and development, including building performance, alternate fuels, distributed power systems, and industrial process improvements; pipeline research, development, and demonstration projects; energy standards; other appropriate matters as referred by the Chairman; and relevant oversight.

Politics and Campaign Financing

Fig. 1. Relevant Oil & Gas PACs, Institutes, and Think Tanks – as well as Koch Industries and subsidiaries offices (Orange). Click to explore

1. Letting the Numbers Speak

“When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

The above quote has been attributed to a variety of sources from sports figures to economists, but nowhere is it more relevant than the politics of shale gas. The figures below present campaign financing from O&G industry to the men and women that represent us in Washington, DC.

Data Analysis Process

To follow the shale money path, FracTracker has analyzed data from the: a) total contributions and b) average per representative across Democrats and Republicans. Our Third Party analysis included five Independents in the Senate as well as one Green, one Unaffiliated, one Libertarian, and two Independents in the House.

Results

Annual Senate compensation relative to average US Income Per Capita

Fig. 3. US Senate Salary (Late 18th Century to 2014) & Average American Salary (1967-2013).

There are sizable inter-party differences across both branches of congress (See Figures 2a-b). In total, Democratic and Republican senators have received $18.1 and $48.6 million from the O&G industry since data collection began in 1990. Meanwhile, Third Party senators have received a total of $385,632 in O&G campaign finance. It stands to reason that the US House would receive more money in total than the senate, given that it contains 435 representatives to the Senate’s 100, and this is indeed the case; Democratic members of the House received $28.9 million to date vs. $104.9 million allocated to the House’ GOP members – or a 3.6 fold difference. Third Party members of the House have received the smallest allotment of O&G political largesse, coming in at $197,145 in total.

To put this into perspective, your average Democratic and Republican senator has seen the gap increase between his/her salary and the average American from $27,536 in 1967 to $145,171 in 2013 (Figure 3).

These same individuals have also seen their political war chests expand on average by $151,043 and $412,007, respectively. Third Party senators have seen their campaign funds swell by an average of $64,272 since 1990. Meanwhile, the U.S. Capitol’s Democratic and GOP south wing residents have seen their O&G campaign contributions increase by an average of $50,836 and $188,529, respectively, with even Third Partiers seeing a $38,429 spike in O&G generosity.

Figure 2a

Figure 2a. Total funding received by both branches of the US legislative branch

Average funding received by oil and gas industry

Figure 2b. Average funding received by oil and gas industry

Location is a better predictor of whether a politician supports the O&G industry than his/her political affiliation. At the top of the O&G campaign financing league tables are extraction-intensive states such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Alaska, California, and Louisiana. (See Figures 4a-h at the bottom of this article for Average Oil & Gas Contributions to US House Representatives and Senators across the US.)

2. Committee on Science, Space and Technology

The second portion of this post covers influences related to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology (CSST). There is no more powerful group in this country when it comes O&G policy construction and stewardship than CSST. The committee is currently made up of 22 Republicans and 18 Democrats from 21 states. Thirty-five percent of the committee hails from either California (6) or Texas (8), with Florida and Illinois each contributing three representatives to the committee. Almost all (94%) of the O&G campaign finance allocated to CSST has gone to its sitting GOP membership.

The top three recipients of O&G generosity are all from Texas, receiving 3.2-3.5 times more money than their party averages – totaling $1.93 million or 37% of the total committee O&G financial support. The next four most beholden members of the committee are Frank Lucas and Michael McCaul (TX, $904,709 combined), Cynthia Marie Lummis (WY, $400,400), and Kevin Cramer (ND, $343,000). The average Democratic member of the CSST committee has received 12.8 times less in O&G funding relative to their GOP counterparts; Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex representatives Marc Veasey and Eddie Bernice Johnson collected a combined $130,350 from industry. Interestingly a member of political royalty, Joe Kennedy III, has collected nearly $50K from the O&G industry, which corresponds to the average for his House Democrat colleagues.

See Figures 5-6 for totals and percentage of party averages of O&G campaign funds contributed to current member of the US House CSST.

Total Oil & Gas campaign funds contributed to current member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Figure 5. Totals

Total Oil & Gas campaign funds contributed to current member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology as percentage of party averages.

Figure 6. Percentage of party averages

 “Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts”

In addition to current do-nothing politicians beholden to the O&G industry, we have prospects such as Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst going so far as to declare that the Koch Brothers various Political Action Committees (PACs) started her trajectory in politics. Promising “ ‘to abolish’ the Environmental Protection Agency, she opposes the Clean Water Act, and in May she downplayed the role that human activities have played in climate change and/or rises in atmospheric CO2.

In Ohio it seems realistic to conjecture that OH Governor John Kasich, bracing for a tough reelection campaign, is wary of biting the PAC hands that feed him. He has also likely seen what happened to his “moderate” colleagues in states like Mississippi and Virginia, and in the age of Citizens United and McCutcheon he knows that the Hydrocarbon Industrial Complex will make him pay for anything that they construe as hostile to fossil fuel business as usual.

Close to the Action

Groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, Randolph Foundation, and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)2 are unapologetically wedded to continued production of fossil fuels. Nationally and in OH, politicians appear to be listening more to the talking points and white papers of such groups than they do their own constituents.. Therefore, it is no coincidence that DC and its surrounding Virginia suburbs has been colonized by industry mouthpieces, energy policy and economic academic tanks, philanthropies, and Political Action Committees (PACs). See Figure 1 for more information.

Know Your Vote

So when you go to the polls on November 4th, remember that politicians are increasingly beholden not to their constituents but to the larger donors to their campaigns. Nowhere is this more of a concern than US energy policy and our geopolitical linkages to producers and emerging markets. More to the point, when offered an opportunity to engage said officials make sure to bring up their financial links as it relates to how they vote and the types of legislation they write, massage, customize, or outright eliminate. As Plato once said, “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Our current selection of politicians at the state and federal level are not evil, but data on O&G politics and campaign financing presented herein do indicate that objectivity with respect to oil and gas legislation has been at the very least compromised.


Figures 4a-h. Average & Total O&G Industry Contributions to US House Representatives and Senators across the US mainland and Alaska

Average Total
Democratic Representatives

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Representatives

Fig. 4a

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Representatives

Fig. 4b

Democratic Senators

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Senators

Fig. 4c

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Senators

Fig. 4d

Republican Representatives

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Representatives

Fig. 4e

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Representatives

Fig. 4f

Republican Senators

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Senators

Fig. 4g

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Senators

Fig. 4h


References

  1. This committee’s minority leader Ms. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) recently proposed the H.R.5189 – Energy and Water Research Integration Act of 2014 with an as yet to be published summary.
  2. …along with like-minded entities like the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce’s PAC. These PACs and foundations tend to fund and greatly benefit from frackademic shops like Northwestern University’s Northwestern Law Judicial Education Program and George Mason University’s Law and Economics Center.

Events

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