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Watchdog groups say it is a new kind of corporate power—rather than lobbying with money, these groups influence with research. (Photo: Maersk Drilling/flickr/cc)

Obama's Offshore Drilling Proposal Based on Fossil Fuel Industry Research

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management used industry-funded reports to tout economic benefits of offshore drilling in Gulf and Arctic

Nadia Prupis

A key component of President Barack Obama's push for offshore oil drilling—an economic analysis touting the benefits of opening up waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic—was based on studies conducted by the fossil fuel industry, a new investigation reveals.

The "apparently impartial" analysis from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) justified the offshore drilling proposal unveiled last month as having potential for "increased wages, additional jobs, increased tax collection, revenue sharing, and proximity of supply and consumers economic," the nonprofit research group Public Accountability Initiative states in its report, Offshore Shilling: An Analysis of the Economic Studies Justifying the Department of Interior's Offshore Drilling Plan.

Yet "buried in the BOEM report's fine print, though, were footnotes shedding light on how the bureau came to its conclusions: it used studies from the same fossil fuel industry that could benefit from the expansion," write reporters David Sirota and Clark Mindock for the International Business Times.

Eight of the nine studies cited in the bureau's report came from authors or organizations with ties to the industry, including the American Petroleum Institute, the largest industry trade group with over 600 member organizations.

Four of the studies were directly funded by oil and gas companies or lobbying groups, while the other four were prepared by think tanks and "dark money advocacy groups" that also take funds from the fossil fuel industry, the Initiative reports.

None of them were peer-reviewed.

And perhaps least surprising of all, the economic numbers projected in the studies were found to have been severely exaggerated. An economist from the University of Southern Maine wrote in a report commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center that one of the studies cited by the BOEM "significantly overstates the potential economic benefits of offshore drilling by basing calculations on nonexistent leasing scenarios, outdated oil prices, and unknown amounts of Atlantic oil," Mindock and Sirota write.

Anne Rolfes, leader of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a health and justice nonprofit based in New Orleans, told the IBT that the industry is being "very insincere in their so-called concern about jobs because if the industry really cared about jobs they should and could put thousands of people to work repairing their decrepit infrastructure," adding that the employment claims were "ridiculous, inflated numbers."

Watchdog groups say it is a new kind of corporate power—rather than lobbying with money, these groups influence with research.

"The oil and gas industry has managed to get an important audience for its self-serving research at an especially contentious moment for offshore fossil fuel expansion," the Initiative states.

Federal regulators last week held a public forum on the draft analysis of the Obama administration's plan to lease out parcels of the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico for offshore drilling, just a month after the president announced a ban on extraction activity in much of those waters until 2022.

"The climate science tells us that in order to not totally wreck the climate we need to keep 80 percent of known fossil fuels projects in the ground," Jason Kowalski of the climate advocacy group told the IBT. "From our experience with [the] Keystone [XL] pipeline, it is pretty clear to us that for a lot of executive agencies, for a lot of offices within our government, rubber-stamping fossil fuel policies is the norm."

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