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April 25, 2012 10:18 PM UTC

Bush-era land official at center of coordinated oil shale strategy

  • by: checks-and-balances

Yesterday, a second meeting was held in Vernal, where commissioners from across three states met (past Colorado participants include Garfield, Mesa, Moffat, and Rio Blanco Counties). The reason: to figure out how to give 2 million acres of western public lands to oil companies in the name of the failed energy source – oil shale. And who may be pulling the strings in this puppet show is none other than Bush-era Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director, and current public lands adviser to Utah Gov. Herbert, Kathleen Clarke.

Ms. Clarke and these county commissioners are trying to force a roll back of the current BLM proposal to provide nearly a half a million acres of public lands for oil shale research. Instead, they argue for commercial leasing on 2 million of acres for oil shale speculation. This, despite the fact that oil companies have failed to develop a commercially viable technology to develop oil shale. Without knowing what technology would rise to the occasion, there is no way to know what sort of gamble oil shale will be when it comes to water demands, air pollution, and local economies.

We don’t know exactly what role Ms. Clarke is playing in this coordinated effort, but we do know she has a strong history of shilling for the oil and gas industry.

When President George W. Bush named Ms. Clarke his BLM director in 2001, she already had a record of siding with energy interests over common sense development. While Director of Utah’s Dept. of Natural Resources Clarke:

  • Sided with energy companies to allow drilling in winter range for elk and made it easier for them to petition to remove species from state protective listings, and[1]

  • Told Utah’s state geologist to “back off” after his office found a fault line under a planned addition to the Salt Palace Convention Center.[2]

In fact, when the geologist resigned following this debacle, claiming political pressure, Clarke’s response was, “I am political, and I work for a political governor.”[3]

In a statement that it seems still rings true today, Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association said “We’ve worked extensively with Kathleen. We believe (her appointment) is good for Utah and Western oil and gas.”[4]

Clarke’s behavior didn’t change once she took over BLM. On January 4, 2002, the BLM office in Washington, DC issued a memo to land managers in Utah, mandating that, “‘when an application for permission to drill comes in the door,’ that work should be ‘their No. 1 priority.'”[5]

One month later, she proposed spending a half million dollars to rush through oil and gas permitting on western public lands.[6] Clarke later advocated for aggressive drilling plans in five different regions in the Rockies[7].

In June of 2002, Clarke’s BLM awarded BP America – whose Deepwater Horizon platform would create the greatest environmental disaster the U.S. has ever experienced – the Director’s Excellence Award. Clarke recognized BP for their, “efforts and contributions in performing outstanding environmental stewardship on Federal lands administered by the BLM.”[8]

Good thing the award was for lands and not water.

Clarke continued to side with oil interests. In August, the story broke that she was trying to push through what was called a “$100 million giveaway by U.S. taxpayers” in a land swap with her home state of Utah. Over the complaints of BLM officials, including its chief appraiser for Utah, Clarke tried to hand the state 135,000 acres of federal land.

Michael Grunwald and Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post wrote one Utah official, “bragged that the oil, gas, coal, tar sands and oil shale deposits his state would obtain through the deal ‘could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars.'”[9]

Clarke’s behavior continued throughout her tenure at BLM, until she left in 2007. Now, as part of Gov. Herbert’s administration, it seems she’s still pulling strings on behalf of the oil industry.

In March, the first gathering in Vernal, Utah occurred, behind closed doors and with no notice to local residents who actually lived in the county. Clarke was in the room helping to craft the strategy to open up 2 million acres for oil shale speculation.

Since then, a handful of counties passed resolutions calling for the BLM to hand over 2 million acres of public lands for oil shale speculation – despite the fact that local opposition has been fierce in some counties.

Let’s see how Clarke continues to perform as puppet master.

[1] “BLM: UTAH OFFICIAL NAMED TO LEAD LAND AGENCY,” Larisa Epatko, Greenwire, August 28, 2001.

[2] “Utah Resources Chief to Lead U.S. Bureau of Land Management,” Bill McAllister, Denver Post, August 28, 2001.

[3] ibid.

[4] “Another Utahn may lead BLM,” Dennis Romboy and Bob Bernick Jr., Deseret News, August 28, 2001

[5] “Some Utahns seeing red Earth Day,” Donna Kemp Spangler, Deseret News, April 21, 2002.

[6] “Bush offers Western energy plan,” Lee Davidson, Deseret News, February 5, 2002.


[8] “BP America Receives National BLM Award,” PR Newswire, June 5, 2002

[9] “U.S. Ignored Appraisers In Land Deal With Utah; BLM Experts Called Swap A $100 Million Giveaway,” Michael Grunwald and Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, August 19, 2002.


4 thoughts on “Bush-era land official at center of coordinated oil shale strategy

  1. The Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateau have been, for two centuries, continuously assaulted for their mineral wealth by thoughtless and unscrupulous people like Kathleen Clarke. They are legion and their ilk will never stop trying to take from the Earth to enrich themselves.

    I suppose that is just the way of the world and will never change.

    What makes this particular attempt at theft so galling is the ludicrous nature of the claims these criminals use to justify their personal greed.

    There is NO proven method to economically, and profitably, extract oil from “Kerogen Rock”…period. “Oil shale” is a meaning less term unless you want to wait a couple of million years.

    The only real answer to the question…”Why do you need to lease 2,000,000 acres instead of 500,000?”…is: We can borrow 4 times as much money from banks and investors if we can circumvent the will of the people and give Big Oil what it wants.

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