Friday, July 22, 2016

Fossil Fuel Industry Finds a New Way to Stymie Protests

Much has been said about the pros and cons of online activism, but when it comes to keeping fossil fuels in the ground, having protesters on location during leasing auctions has been key in recent years. This tactic could soon be rendered obsolete if the fossil fuel industry, along with many in Congress and the federal government, get their way and make oil and gas leasing auctions exclusively online affairs. Earlier this month, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed a bill that would require lease sales for offshore oil and gas drilling to be held online. At the same time, the Obama administration is helping to shift onshore public lands auctions online after years of unwelcome confrontation with environmental activists—the most familiar of these being a 2008 act of civil disobedience by Tim DeChristopher during an oil and gas drilling rights auction in Utah. DeChristopher entered the auction and started winning bids to drilling rights on more than 150,000 acres of publicly owned Utah wilderness. After winning more than a dozen leases worth more than $2 million—leases he never planned to pay for—DeChristopher was eventually sentenced to two years in federal prison for criminal fraud. The media attention his actions brought to the issue helped make oil and gas leasing one of the main confrontation points between environmentalists and the Obama administration throughout Obama’s time in office. Tim Ream, Climate and Energy Campaign Director with WildEarth Guardians, told me that Obama’s “public lands and energy policies completely undermine his climate policy.” “The administration doesn’t like us shining a light on Obama’s biggest climate failure,” he said. “That’s what we do at auctions.” Ream said that since last November, “Keep It In The Ground” protesters—a campaign to protect public lands from drilling—have been at every public lands and waters fossil fuel auction trying to raise awareness for the cause and pressure the administration. Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), one of the authors of the bill to mandate online auctions for offshore oil and gas leases, said the primary reason for his bill is to “modernize” the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s offshore leasing process. “Internet-based oil and gas leasing will open investment opportunities and competition for additional businesses, improve the transparency and efficiency of the process,” he said during a legislative hearing...more

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