Why Big Oil and Gas Get Exclusive Access to Public Lands as Low as $1.50 an Acre
DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn discusses how Tim DeChristopher’s 2008 act of civil disobedience triggered a response by the oil and gas industries to move to online restrictive bidding
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The world’s biggest banks are driving climate change by pumping billions of dollars into extreme fossil fuels, according to a new report released this week from Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Sierra Club, and Oil Change International. Investigative journalist Steve Horn has taken a closer look for us at the machinations of public lands and how they’re being auctioned off to oil and gas interests for drilling and mining for as little as $1.50 an acre. In the U.S., Keep It In the Ground movement has focused in on the leasing of public lands. Let’s take a look at a clip from one of their campaigns.
PERIES: Joining us now to discuss all of this is Steve Horn. He’s a research fellow for DeSmogBlog, and a freelance investigative journalist for many respectable publications like Intercept, the Guardian, Vice News, Truthout, and many others. Thank you so much for joining us, Steve.
STEVE HORN: Good to be back on, thanks for having me.
PERIES: So, Steve, this controversy surrounding the auctions and the case of activist Tim DeChristopher, tell us more about it, and how did he become Bidder 70.
HORN: Tim DeChristopher became Bidder 70 back in 2008 when he showed up at a Bureau of Land Management bid for oil and gas in Utah, and being someone not from the industry and just being an activist, at the time was a college student at the University of Utah, showed up, bid as if he were someone in the industry, and ended up winning the bid, which the industry didn’t like, because he wasn’t in the industry and had no intentions of paying. He had the intentions of winning the bid as a way of saying, I won, and therefore I have no interest in bidding on it, but no one else in the industry will be able to drill–no one else, he won’t be able to drill, obviously, he’s not in the industry. But no one else in the industry will be able to drill on that land either.
So it was a form of civil disobediency, received two federal counts, indictments on the counts. He ended up in jail for a few years. And since then there’s been more and more, more mainstream green NGOs in the United States involved in paying attention to these bids, and lots of various political maneuvers since then that have arisen.
PERIES: And so tell us about how the department, the Interior office and inspector general has been pushing for this online, 100 percent online bids.
HORN: [Inaud.] the Department of Interior was a bit freaked out about that this could become more, you know, a thing that others do. And they wrote a report. Within that they had recommendations of what to do for fraud, or potential fraud, during these bids. And they opened it up in the introduction by talking about Tim DeChristopher. They never mentioned him by name, but they cited the incident. And in there one of the recommendations was to move to online bidding.
And so what they did that year was launched a pilot program in Colorado at the Bureau of Land Management office in which one company, named Energy [Net], won the bid to be the online company to do those bids, and they held their first ever online bed. There hasn’t been one since, but there has been many pushes in Congress that were, eventually culminated in the passage of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act 2014, [inaud.] obviously a huge bill. One of the provisions within it says that if the Bureau of Land Management wants to they can move towards online bidding, as opposed to what takes place now, which is [oral] bidding at various locales around the United States.
PERIES: Now, you and others have pointed to this as another scheme where the oil and gas industry proposed an e-bidding scheme for oil and gas leases on public land. So why have this, this become so controversial?
HORN: Well, so you know, as of this year and last year there’s been a movement for both Keep It In the Ground, which lots of U.S. NGOs have been pushing the Bureau of Land Management to stop, you know, giving away this oil and gas for cheap, and they keep the public oil and gas and coal that’s underneath public lands in the ground.
And so there have been protests and demonstrations of a sort that you opened up the segment with, and one industry group in particular, the Western Energy Alliance, has been very vocal about this activism at a conference I attended of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. A woman who works for the Western Energy Alliance said that we need to, again, we need to move towards online bidding to, quote-unquote, end the circus.
And so going back to 2009, and even before I looked at lobbying disclosure records, but 2009 you look at who won that bid, it was a company named EnergyNet. Well, that company in particular has been lobbying for a move towards online bidding on public lands since over a decade, since 2004, I found. And you know, that’s important for many reasons. But I think that one of the major, you know, one of the most interesting points that I found was who the lobbyists were, and who the, you know, who the main lobbyist is now. That’s a guy by the name of Tim Stewart, who has lots of important political connections, including his connection back to Western Energy Alliance.
He also lobbies for them, which is an industry group of which EnergyNet and many oil and gas companies are members. But also his brothers, one of them is a U.S. representative, Chris Stewart in Utah. And his other brother, Cody Stewart, is the main energy adviser to Utah governor Gary Herbert. So you see a lot of this goes back to Utah, and goes back to Tim DeChristopher, of course, where this all, the whole backlash against cheap bidding on oil and gas began.
PERIES: And this is why, I guess, you have proverbially called this the fox guarding the hen house. I thank you so much for joining us.
HORN: Thanks for having me.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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