Energy Roundup: White House altered drilling report, says newly released probe

Probe finds White House edited report to suggest experts backed drilling ban

White House energy czar Carol Browner’s office edited a key Interior Department report on oil-drilling safety to suggest that outside scientists and engineers endorsed a deepwater drilling freeze, according to a new report by Interior’s inspector general.

The new finding stems from complaints by engineers that Interior consulted when crafting a late May report that laid out offshore safety recommendations in the wake of the BP oil spill.

The May safety report also called for the drilling freeze that Interior quickly imposed, but the outside experts said the document wrongly implied that they had endorsed the moratorium.

“In the version that [Interior] sent to the White House, the moratorium was discussed on the first page of the Executive Summary, while the peer review language was on the second page of the Executive Summary, immediately following a summary list of the safety recommendations contained in the body of the 30-Day Report,” states a Nov. 9 memo from acting Interior IG Mary Kendall to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar included with the report.

But that’s not what came from the White House:

“The version that the White House returned to [Interior] had revised and re-ordered the language in the Executive Summary, placing the peer review language immediately following the moratorium recommendation. This caused the distinction between the Secretary's moratorium recommendation — which had not been peer reviewed — and the safety recommendations contained in the 30-Day Report — which had been peer reviewed — to become effectively lost,” Kendall notes.

Fuel to the fire

The report will provide ammunition to GOP lawmakers who question White House drilling policies and the role of Browner — topics already in the crosshairs of Republicans who will control the House next year.

House and Senate Republicans have for months highlighted the engineers’ claims that the Interior report was edited to suggest their buy-in for the drilling freeze, which was lifted last month. Many Republicans, pro-drilling Democrats and oil-industry groups called the ban too sweeping from the start.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) asked for the report in mid-June, and several other House Republicans — including Natural Resources Committee ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) — also called for the review.

Hastings, who is likely to chair the Natural Resources Committee when the GOP takes over the House next year, has already signaled that he’ll put White House drilling policies under the microscope. Administration critics fear Interior will drag its feet in issuing new deepwater permits even though the formal ban has been lifted.

Early (very early) morning edits by Browner’s office


Kendall in the memo traces the changes to an exchange between Steve Black, who is a counselor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and the White House in the very early morning hours of May 27, the day the drilling safety report was released.

“After he drafted the Executive Summary, Black sent it to a member of Browner’s staff at the White House. According to Black, Browner was concerned that the Executive Summary did not summarize the recommendations and the associated timetables well enough; therefore, Browner’s staff drafted some of the text to be included in the Executive Summary themselves,” the report states.

“After several iterations between him and Browner’s staff, Black said that he received a final version of the Executive Summary from the White House ‘around 2 or 3am’ the morning it was ultimately finalized. After receiving the final product from the White House, Black said that he reviewed the final draft; he did not have any issues with the text added by the White House,” it adds.

While the report is likely to yield strong criticism, Kendall concludes that Interior officials were not intentionally trying to suggest the outside experts backed the drilling freeze.

“All [Interior] officials interviewed stated that it was not their intention to imply that the moratorium had been peer reviewed by the experts, and that when the experts' concern was brought to their attention, they promptly issued an apology to the experts via conference call, letter, and personal meeting,” notes Kendall’s memo to Salazar.

Inhofe still aims to probe climate science
 
While House Republicans appear reluctant to delve into a debate over climate science in the next Congress, at least one leading global warming skeptic is planning to continue his assault.
 
Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), in an interview Tuesday with The Hill’s J. Taylor Rushing, said he is “not at all” shy about pursuing his criticism of the science behind climate change.
 
“I’ve been consistent on this because I’ve either been chairman of the subcommittee or the EPW in recent years, and when I found out the cost, that’s when I looked at the science,” Inhofe said. He boasted that he was a “one-man truth squad” during last December’s U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen.

“I am not at all shy about saying there are two reasons to be against it — one is economic, since it would lead to the largest tax increase in history, and the other is the fact that the science is not sound science," Inhofe said.

Inhofe showed up for one day of the two-week United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen last year, mainly to hold an impromptu 30-minute press conference there.
 
House Republicans avoiding the science debate
 
A House GOP leadership aide said Republicans in that chamber are going to avoid getting into a debate over climate science in the next Congress, in part because it is bad PR.
 
Instead, Republicans there will focus on the economic impact of policies mandating greenhouse gas curbs.
 
“At issue is the EPA endangerment finding, which the administration evidently believes grants license to launch an anti-global warming crusade that ignores any hardships it imposes on working people,” said Larry Neal, a spokesman for Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). The "endangerment finding" is EPA's conclusion that greenhouse gases threaten humans — the legal underpinning for climate regulations.
 
Neal said the Energy and Commerce Committee — where Barton is currently ranking Republican — “will finally get to inquire into why” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson “proudly refuses to analyze her agency’s actions to determine either the potential job losses they will cause or the pressure they will put on U.S. companies to relocate overseas.”

He added, “Needless to say, the Democrats currently in charge haven't been interested in holding hearings to ask those questions, much less hearing the answers. Congressman Barton is very interested.” Barton was part of a 21-member bipartisan CODEL led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that attended part of the Copenhagen talks.

Drilling lawsuit will go to trial

“A New Orleans judge will conduct a two-day bench trial next year in an oil industry lawsuit claiming U.S. regulators continue to stall deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico,” Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

“U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, after a closed-door meeting today with lawyers in three lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s offshore drilling policy, said he would try two of the cases next year in New Orleans federal court.”

Arctic drilling plans under fire

“Alaska environmental groups and native villagers critical of U.S. government plans to open the Chukchi Sea to oil drilling said Tuesday a recent government environmental review runs afoul of a court order that required the review,” Dow Jones reports.

“The U.S. Interior Department last month released a preliminary updated environmental review of a 2008 sale of Chukchi Sea offshore drilling rights called ‘lease sale 193.’ The department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or BOEMRE, issued the updated review in response to a July order from a federal court in Alaska,” the piece adds.

“Alaska environmental groups and native villagers had asked the court to reverse the sale, arguing that the government didn't have adequate scientific information about wildlife and Arctic Ocean ecosystems to make an informed decision as to how offshore drilling activities would affect bowhead whales and other marine mammals in the Chukchi Sea that villagers rely on for subsistence hunting.”

Uh-oh — report says oil will be scarce before alternatives come online

“The global oil supply is set to run dry 90 years before replacements such as renewable energy are ready to satisfy the same amount of demand, according to UC Davis researchers,” The Los Angeles Times reports.

“Current policies that set targets for batteries, hydrogen, biofuel and other alternative energy sources won’t be enough, a study published Monday says.”

“Deb Niemeier, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and postdoctoral researcher Nataliya Malyshkina examined existing public companies dealing in non-oil fuels such as BlueFire Ethanol Inc. of Irvine and Enova Systems Inc. of Torrance.”

In case you missed E2 Wire yesterday

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Bromwich sounds cautious note on new industry-backed drilling watchdog

GOP already hitting Manchin as pawn of Senate Democrats

Oil industry also sues EPA over higher ethanol blend

Doctors' lobby supports greenhouse gas regulations

Spill panel eyes creation of new industry safety body

EPA issues subpoena to Halliburton for 'fracking' data

Johnson to seek top Dem spot on Science and Technology panel

Judge bars press from oil-drilling permit hearing

Food, farm groups sue EPA over higher ethanol blend

EPA completes greenhouse gas reporting rule for oil-and-gas industry

Exxon, Shell lauded as ‘standard-bearers’ on safety

Spill panel: BP, firms made 'egregiously bad' decisions, need revamp

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