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The Interior Department is In Bed With the Oil and Gas Industry

Sunset at Indian Valley, Bears Ears National Monument. Now image this scene with the valley filled with oil rigs

President Trump signed an executive order last year promoting energy independence. The day after, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued two orders with the intention of implementing Trump’s executive order. They promote the development of energy, including oil and gas, on public lands.

Reuters recently reported that oil and gas drillers only bid on a “tiny fraction” of Gulf of Mexico leases offered up in the largest lease sale in the history of the U.S. Clearly, Trump’s plans to develop fossil fuel energy on public lands are not going as expected.

It should come as no surprise that the federal government recently conducted the largest lease sale in American history. The Interior Department panders to the oil and gas industry. A Western Values Project report found that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke puts special interests above public lands in the U.S. The report looks at about 33 meetings Zinke had with oil and gas industry companies and representatives over a 10 month period, with him averaging almost one meeting a week, and 3.3 meetings a month. Ten of the 33 meetings, almost one-third, occurred in the first two months Zinke was at the Interior Department.

“It appears as if Interior and Secretary Zinke will only give lip service to hunters, anglers, hikers, and campers while selling out our public lands to his political supporters,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project, in a statement.

Zinke’s travel schedules available on the Interior Department’s website reveal that he either met with energy executives or toured energy facilities at least six times from March 1 to December 31, 2017.

“Given Secretary Zinke’s meeting schedule, appointees and policy directives, he seems to have no qualms about letting special interest lobbyists run Interior.”

“Zinke’s beltway bubble is clearly out-of-step with the majority of Americans, who value our public lands and want to protect our outdoor heritage for future generations,” said Saeger.

A closer look at some of Interior Department dealings with the oil and gas industry

Eni Petroleum develops and explores natural gas and oil reserves. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, an agency under the Interior Department, approved Eni Petroleum’s application to drill in the Arctic, which made it the first company to gain approval for Arctic drilling since 2015. It is also one of the companies Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt recused himself from interacting with until August 2019.

Two BSEE employees worked over Christmas in December 2017 to obtain a permit for an Eni exploratory well. Interior Press Secretary Heather Swift said that Eni would have a “nice Christmas present” as the well “could raise millions.” BSEE Director Scott Angelle thanked the employees for working over the holiday and in an email to the employees said, “24 /7 /365. Energy dominance lives here!”

ConocoPhillips, an American multinational company that develops and produces crude oil and natural gas, is another company the Interior Department is in tight with. After the company contacted high-level Interior officials about drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), ConocoPhillips managed to persuade the Bureau of Land Management to release a draft environmental impact statement analyzing an application to develop oil and gas in the NPR-A. While the company pushed to drill in the NPR-A, ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance invited Zinke and his wife to a dinner at a restaurant in Washington DC with ConocoPhillips SVP Andrew Lundquist and to the Ford Theatre Reception.

Decreased protection for public lands

The Trump administration has initiated or completed at least 22 policy changes that have decreased protections for public lands and benefited the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Western Priorities. In 2017, Zinke opened up 11.6 million acres of public lands to oil and gas development. He also eliminated two million acres of national monuments and proposed big budget cuts to the National Park Service, while proposing significant park entrance fees for the general public.

The Bureau of Land Management sold oil and gas leases for 51,400 acres of public lands in southeastern Utah. The leases included parcels next to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and near Bears Ears and Hovenweep National Monuments. The three monuments contain Native American ruins, rock art, and other artifacts.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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