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  March 19, 2018

Petroleum Executives Visit Trump, Increasing Offshore Oil Drilling

The American Petroleum Industry (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) held meetings at the Trump Hotel in DC. At the same time, these associations are also lobbying the Trump administration for an expansion of offshore oil exploration
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SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. On Thursday this week, President Trump was busy with fossil fuel donors at The White House. He met with the American Petroleum Institute's executive board, a coalition of top oil and gas executives including the CEO of Exxon Mobil and Chevron. The meetings at The White House were very convenient because most of these executives were attending a conference at the Trump International Hotel in DC, where the American Petroleum Institute had just finished a two-day board meeting for over 200 members with rooms starting at $400 a night.

In the meantime, it has been also recently revealed that members of the Trump administration's Department of Interior, Secretary Ryan Zinke, and EPA Chief Scott Pruitt met last year with Indiana-based coal executive White Stallion Energy's Steven Chancellor, who donated $1 million for the Trump campaign in 2016. The meeting was called a courtesy call in records obtained by the Sierra Club in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit being pursued by the Sierra Club.

No stranger to the invisible hand of money and fossil fuel interests in America is Steve Horn. He's the former research fellow with DeSmogBlog. Dave has taken up a new post as an investigative journalist for the online publication and magazines titled Criminal Legal News and Prison Legal News. Steve, good to have you with us.

STEVE HORN: Good to be back on. Thanks for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: Steve, the American Petroleum Institute, let's start with who they are, what they do, and the kind of power they wield in Washington.

STEVE HORN: Sure. There's kind of two main lobbying groups in DC, more than that in terms of some sub-issues. But if you want to talk about the two biggest voices for the oil and gas industry in Washington, one would be API, which I consider the voice of quote-unquote "big oil". That is, the major oil producers and exploration companies like Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, and also the contractors, companies like Halliburton, Schlumberger, et cetera. So the biggest companies in the world, a lot of them are multinational conglomerates, and so that's API.

There's another organization I just want to mention because they also met at the Trump Hotel this month, earlier in the month, and that is the Independent Petroleum Association of America, or the IPAA. That is more the voice of what I consider to be the fracking industry. Those are the more smaller, independent companies. They're still rather large. But those companies are really the pioneers of fracking, the ones who are the wildcatters, the ones who took the risk, put down that capital to do fracking. Big oil really came on later on that, they didn't think economical. They thought it was too expensive to do that deep horizontal drilling through shale beds. But they're both powerful voices in Washington DC, both happen to have meetings in which their lobbyists and representatives came to Trump Hotel in the month of March and then met with Trump administration officials thereafter, so both are noteworthy in that way.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now Steve, you recently wrote an article titled California is Fighting Trump's Offshore Drilling Plan but Exxon, Koch Already Drill There. How much drilling are we talking about, and how much does the current administration seek to expand it? Of course, in the process, tell us about the case.

STEVE HORN: Sure. Well, so in the center of California, I think that people would be surprised to hear that Governor Jerry Brown has an existing wells or leases that exist, and the state has increased that by 200 wells in the state since 2012. The reason why he's able to do that is because there was a moratorium put in place decades ago after the Santa Barbara oil spill, but existing leases that were already in place did not have to be part of that moratorium. So you can't do new leases until this new Trump proposal, which is being contested by Governor Brown, by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, by the State Legislature here, and others, so it's kind of come under huge fire in the State of California of course and elsewhere, states like Florida, et cetera.

But all of that said, it's important to point out that there's already quite a bit of drilling in Southern California already. Over 188,000 acres are leased off to do drilling, and probably the biggest company that you see repeatedly in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management lease listings for that is Exxon Mobil. Koch is more a smaller player, has a small stake in a couple wells. But Exxon appears as the dominant leaser, leaseholder of dozens, over two dozen different wells. One would think that a company like Exxon Mobil has an interest in increased offshore drilling more in ... maybe in deeper waters. It's important to point out, I think, that if you drive in Southern California along Highway 1 say in a place like Huntington Beach, you can actually see these offshore wells driving down Highway 1 because they're not super deep water. They're not that far offshore.

It's a little bit surprising because one would think of Huntington Beach just a vacation kind of a place, a place where you sit on the beach. But actually, when you're sitting on the beach in Huntington Beach you can see that offshore well pad, for example. Exxon Mobil has some of the stakes in some of the wells, and so I would ... Again, I would say that if you watch this closely over the next few months and there's legal proceedings, I would expect that you would see Exxon Mobil's voice appear maybe in regulatory motions or in legal proceedings, something like that.

But yeah, going back to API. They've been a big pusher in increasing offshore drilling both on the Atlantic Coast and the Pacific Coast, so it's not completely surprising that ... wouldn't be surprising if that was one of the things that was discussed in the recent meeting with the Trump administration.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, conservation experts see the transfer of public lands as a cynical move to expand the extractive industries on public lands. Would you agree with that sentiment?

STEVE HORN: Well, yeah. I think that that's one of the main ... A lot of people say that not a lot has happened on the Trump administration. That's how the mainstream media covers it. It's sort of this, "There's not much happening on the Trump administration. They're paralyzed by all of the scandal." But in the regulatory agencies, things like the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Land Management, lots of stuff is happening that's changing the nature of public lands and shifting either control over them, a push to shift control over them to the states, or a shift towards pushing for more extraction on those lands, both onshore and of course, as we're discussing, offshore.

That's something that Congress doesn't have to be super involved with. It's not something that needs a bill, needs to go through The White House. It's something that regulatory agencies have a lot of say over and that courts will have maybe the final say over as they're challenged by environmental groups and other groups that have an interest in this matter. So I expect it ... this is the sort of thing that will play out for years to come in Federal Courts, may even go past the time that Trump is president perhaps, if he's only in The White House for four years. But it's something that won't ... it's an issue that we're going to see on the radar for a long time to come now that it's been put on the table by the Trump administration.

SHARMINI PERIES: Steve, we're going to miss you on this beat, following the ways in which the fossil fuel and extracting industries fund our legislators and interfere with our democracy. But how should people follow this case that's going on in California with the Sierra Club and then keep up with the ways in which legislators are funded by this industry, therefore influencing their decisions?

STEVE HORN: Well, I think that there are organizations that are following this closely whether it's The Voice of San Diego, which is a really good kind of independent investigative journalism outlet here in San Diego, or there's California Watchdog. There's the outlet Reveal, which is based in California. I expect that all of those will have good coverage of this. Of course, in terms of who's filing the lawsuit, Sierra Club will probably be updating the press on these things.

Yeah. I mean, I think DeSmog will still cover ... I won't be the one covering it but someone will fill my shoes and cover these issues well, I'm sure, so they'll be no shortage. This is a huge stay. A lot of people are interested in this issue and stopping offshore drilling, so I expect that this will be a debate that will be followed closely even by the mainstream media. Yeah, I would just say stay tuned. Like I said, it'll be something that's going to be in the news for months to come as something that ... the nature of legal proceedings, they last for a long time.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Steve. I thank you so much for joining us today. All the best with your new endeavors.

STEVE HORN: Thanks for having me, and let's be in touch on the new beat going forward.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.


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