Petro-oligarchs play presidential candidates —again

In case you were wondering, the oil and energy industry are hedging their bets by funding both candidates (gee, what a surprise)—but not equally. Politico noted back in April that BP has favored Obama: 

BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations come from a mix of employees and the company's political action committees — $2.89 million flowed to campaigns from BP-related PACs and about $638,000 came from individuals.

(And mind you, that's just campaign contributions, not the appreciably larger sums spent annually in lobbying efforts.) But if you go to the website of the Center for Responsive Politics itself,, you will find that they just reported on Oct. 5, two days after the first presidential debate:

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the oil and gas industry ranks in Romney's top 10 contributing industries and has provided his campaign about $3.5 million in funding. Overall, Romney had received more than $6 million from the energy and natural resources sector as of the end of August, compared to the $1.6 million given to Obama.

Mentioned a couple times in the debate, Exxon Mobil is one of the largest supporters of the Republican Party, giving $1.2 million to conservatives in the 2012 election cycle and $82,350 of that to Romney.

Koch Industries, whose largest market is petroleum refining, also is a top donor to federal Republican candidates, having contributed about $1.5 million to them overall, including $21,450 to Romney, according to data on

We have noted before the Koch brothers' ultra-generous greasing of the anti-environmental backlash, as well as the at least somewhat plausible theories that they are manipulating oil prices in an anti-Obama conspiracy. A chart on shows how the oil and gas industry consistently funds both parties—but the Republicans much more so:

This industry, which includes multinational and independent oil and gas producers and refiners, natural gas pipeline companies, gasoline service stations and fuel oil dealers, has long enjoyed a history of strong influence in Washington. Individuals and political action committees affiliated with oil and gas companies have donated $238.7 million to candidates and parties since the 1990 election cycle, 75 percent of which has gone to Republicans.

Note the subtlety with which the game is played: The industry funds both candidates, successfully buying incumbent Obama's acquiescence on (f'risntance) fracking and offshore drilling—but puts more money on the GOP, which then understands its role as to bait Obama as a Green Stalin for not lifting all oversight and restrictions on hydrocarbon exploitation. (The Hill blog notes the shit-storm the industry is kicking up over an EPA study of fracking's impacts on water quality in Wyoming, finding it supposedly biased against drilling; meanwhile environmental group EarthWorks has just released a study finding that fracking is already making local residents sick in Pennsylvania.) And then the Democrats get so defensive that they practically stumble over each other in a rush to portray themselves as just as pro-oil as the GOP. A depressing case in point from ThinkProgress:

In last night’s second Presidential debate, President Obama and Governor Romney had a heated exchange about energy development on public lands.  The fact checkers immediately stated that Mr. Romney’s number one statistic — that production of oil on government land is down 14 percent — was misleading.  The truth is that oil production on Federal lands is up from the previous administration.  But that is far from the full story.

Governor Romney and his lead energy advisor, oil and gas tycoon Harold Hamm, have repeatedly stated that oil and gas development on public lands has not kept pace with state and private lands.  They conveniently leave out the fact that it is not geologically possible for that to happen.  The Energy Information Agency released a map that shows the vast majority of the current oil and gas shale plays in the lower 48 states are not on public lands. As EIA administrator Adam Sieminski noted in Congressional testimony in August, "The geology is working in favor of non-federal landowners."

This is backed up by the fact that the oil and gas industry itself has asked the government for fewer public lands on which to drill.  As the price of natural gas dropped, there was a dramatic decline in the amount of public land nominated by the industry for leasing. Since fiscal year 2006 (during the Bush administration), there has been nearly a 67 percent decline in the amount of onshore public land nominated by the industry in the Rocky Mountain States.  As one industry expert told The Wall Street Journal, "It is safe to say that there will be fewer natural gas wells drilled in 2012." However, Governor Romney fails to recognize that the Bureau of Land Management cannot lease or permit lands that the industry does not request.

The Federal Government under President Obama has done its part to grant the oil and gas industry access to the acres with the best quality oil and gas resources. For example, the Bureau of Land Management held three of its five largest oil and gas lease sales onshore in 2011.  While Governor Romney was quick to point out that much of the boom in oil and gas production in the United States comes from Bakken Formation in North Dakota, the numbers show that under President Obama the Bureau of Land Management has leased, permitted, and drilled more on North Dakota's public lands than under the previous administration…

Wow, thanks for the good news, ThinkProgress. They do go on to note, however, that Romney's energy plan "would give states control of energy development decisions on Public Lands, which would threaten 30 national park units including the Everglades and Theodore Roosevelt National Park." 

So—just great. We are about to lose the goddam national parks, so we are grateful for a president who is opening virtually all other public lands to the petro-leviathan. 

There is a case to be made—boy, is there ever—that the whole system is rigged, and it is time to accept the risks of supporting the Green Party candidacy of Jill Stein (who was arrested while trying to crash the debate at Hofstra University this week, and spent the next few hours shackled to a chair at a New York state police detainment facility improvised in a nearby warehouse, Amy Goodman informs us). However, there is also a case to be made that the game is played with such Machiavellian skill that we really are in a position where anything other than a vote for the Lesser Evil is a reckless gamble with the country's and the planet's future.

You call it.


  1. US oil production could rival Saudi Arabia
    While Romney baits Obama for supposedly bottlenecking domestic oil production… From the AP, Oct. 24:

    NEW YORK – U.S. oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest producer.

    Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.

    The boom has surprised even the experts.

    “Five years ago, if I or anyone had predicted today’s production growth, people would have thought we were crazy,” says Jim Burkhard, head of oil markets research at IHS CERA, an energy consulting firm.

    The Energy Department forecasts that U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons, which includes biofuels, will average 11.4 million barrels per day next year. That would be a record for the U.S. and just below Saudi Arabia’s output of 11.6 million barrels. Citibank forecasts U.S. production could reach 13 million to 15 million barrels per day by 2020, helping to make North America “the new Middle East.”

    The last year the U.S. was the world’s largest producer was 2002, after the Saudis drastically cut production because of low oil prices in the aftermath of 9/11. Since then, the Saudis and the Russians have been the world leaders.

    The United States will still need to import lots of oil in the years ahead. Americans use 18.7 million barrels per day. But thanks to the growth in domestic production and the improving fuel efficiency of the nation’s cars and trucks, imports could fall by half by the end of the decade.