Dick Cheney’s Wyoming’s Face at MMS

Since we’ve been discussing the way that BP has adopted Dick Cheney’s face for its Deepwater Horizon disaster, I thought I’d link to this article, noting how close the Mineral Management Service and Cheney’s state of Wyoming are. (h/t POGO)

The federal agency cited for an overly “cozy relationship” with the energy industry, which may have contributed to the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster, has enjoyed extensive Wyoming political and economic connections since its creation in 1982 by then-Secretary of Interior James G. Watt, a native of Lusk in eastern Wyoming.


The Wyoming connection was especially evident from 2000 to 2008, during the two administrations of President George W. Bush and his vice president, Wyoming native Dick Cheney. A former chief executive of Halliburton, Cheney took an early and very active interest in energy policy and placed several Wyoming political friends in key positions in the Department of Interior.

Before he took office, for example, Cheney selected David J. Gribbin III, a high school and college friend from Wyoming, to be his transitional liaison with Congress. Gribbin previously worked for Cheney as Halliburton’s chief lobbyist in the capital.

Cheney then chose Thomas Sansonetti, a prominent Cheyenne lawyer and GOP activist, to head the team choosing top personnel for the Department of Interior, which oversees Minerals Management Service.

Sansonetti, a member of the conservative Federalist Society, picked Gayle Norton to head Interior. Although not from Wyoming, native Coloradan Norton was a longtime protégée of James Watt in the Mountain States Legal Foundation, of which Watt was the founding director. Like Sansonetti, Norton was a member of the Federalist Society.

Norton, in turn, named former Sheridan, Wyoming, lawyer Rebecca W. Watson as assistant Interior Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. Watson was responsible for the Bureau of Land Management, the Office of Surface Mining and the Minerals Management Service.


Most importantly, from 2002 to 2008, the Minerals Management Service was directed  by two former Wyoming GOP legislators, Rejane “Johnnie” Burton of Casper  and Randall Luthi, of  Freedom.

Burton, who had managed the Wyoming Department of Revenue under former Gov. Jim Geringer, in 2007 resigned under fire from her $168,000-a-year Minerals Management director’s job after the Department of Interior Inspector General found widespread corruption in the agency’s Colorado-based royalty collection office, and questions were raised in Congress about Burton’s handling of offshore leases.


Burton now works as a $49,000-a-year aide for longtime friend and former legislative colleague Wyoming U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis.

There’s lots, lots more at the link.

Lummis, Wyoming’s only Congressperson, is one of the many BP apologists on the Natural Resources Committee. But I guess it must be easy to be such an apologist, given that you’ve got former top Administration staffers working for you for less than a third of what they used to get in DC.

All of which suggests that one of the reasons the regulatory agency overseeing drilling on public lands is so lax is that it is captive to a bunch of Wyoming hacks who use the revenue from drilling in lieu of income taxes. You see, we’ve just sacrificed the Gulf’s ecosystem because a bunch of folks from Wyoming want to pretend that drilling creates free money.

Cheney photo Copyright World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org) swiss-image.ch/Photo by Jean-Bernard Sieber

54 replies
  1. sojourner says:

    After reviewing the lease for BP’s disaster, there are some really convoluted formulas for calculating royalties — they are basically a giveaway. Instead of the government getting a standard 1/6, a large amount of production is exempted, and it appears that prices have to be at a certain level for royalties to even apply.

    Bush and Cheney helped to push legislation to increase the oil companies’ profitability, and this is just one example.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      Sojourner, thank you for your efforts regarding the royalties.

      Coincidentally, I was posting about the Strategic Petroleum Reserves and the Royalty in Kind contracts they had been using up until last December,09.

      If you go to the SPR entry on Wikipedia the RIK is explained in further detail.

  2. sojourner says:

    For more information on “royalty relief” go here. It appears that royalty relief was totally at the discretion of MMS.

    The actual lease is located here.

    Section 6(a) is particularly interesting. If BP is found to have been negligent, it may be on the hook for royalties on that oil and gas leaking into the Gulf… Of course, I guess that is at the discretion of MMS as well.

  3. Citizen92 says:

    The Minerals Management Service (MMS) also runs a procurement service for other agencies.

    The MMS procurement service was used for contracting such things as $140k worth of “office furniture” from the Mitch Wade’s MZM for the Office of the Vice President in 2002. This was MZM’s first contract. MZM had no prior experience providing “office furniture” before. (MZM of course got blown to bits following the Duke Cunningham scandal).

    The MMS procurement division also handled the procurement of a new archiving system for White House e-mails. You know, the archiving system that was never implemented, and resulted millions of “lost” emails from such seminal events as Libby-Plame, WHIG, etc, etc.

    MMS also handled “Pentagon contracted granted to CACI International for interrogation and other intelligence-related services in Iraq.

    The MMS procurement operation started as a Clinton good government initiative. Was it corrupted by bureaucratic master Cheney? Well, it would appear as though MMS was a Chneney-facing organization at that time.


  4. harpie says:

    You see, we’ve just sacrificed the Gulf’s ecosystem because a bunch of folks from Wyoming want to pretend that drilling creates free money.

    This really gets to me…[I can’t even express myself coherently]

    We are ruled by people who believe they deserve Something for Nothing.

    The People own the Common Wealth of the Nation!

    It’s a bitter dose to see that those who are enTrusted to protect the Value of that Common Wealth
    do not even acknowledge the very idea of it.

    All they see is a means of private gain. Exploitation.

  5. fatster says:

    And don’t forget Goldman-Sachs

    Exclusive: Goldman Sachs sold $250m of BP stock before spill


    It just goes round and round and round, from one usual suspect to the next.

    • tjbs says:

      Kinda reminds one of American Airlines stock shorted around 9/10 before a “big” event.

      As always the snake in the grass is dickie our former public servant.

      • bmaz says:

        This is total crap inference by Raw Story. Even their own damn article admits there is nothing, nothing at all, unusual whatsoever about a large asset manager like Goldman selling off that amount over the course of a financial quarter, and Goldman is basically the biggest of asset managers. Scaring up some conspiracy theory by inference, that even they admit is bogus, on this by Raw Story or anybody else is deplorable and asinine. Very shoddy work.

    • klynn says:

      Just thinking…should you have an organization(another government or private organization) listening in on all US communication lines, learning about problems and that the well was running six months behind…you may have a kind of insider’s trading going on should that listening organization give you regular updates.

      I know…tin foil.

      • prostratedragon says:

        I’m not interested in pointing my tinfoil antenna this direction, but if I were, it would be toward the possibility that some word was heard about the delays.

        Simple handicapping would then lean toward BP having trouble either from missing deadlines, or from haste-caused accidents. Nothing extraordinary.

        But mind, a firm like GS probably does very little long-term holding of stock on its own account anyway.

  6. harpie says:

    Thanks to Marcy, sojourner and Citizen92 and faster [and everyone else]for delving into this.

  7. JTMinIA says:

    Minor quibble (since you don’t seem to mind them): Lummis is WY’s only House member, not the only congress-critter.

  8. tjbs says:

    Marcy how do you do it, after your documenting this man’s torture trail,

    including the Gulf, how don’t you just barf all over the keyboard when you

    see a picture his, the shadow of the devil, little dickie.

  9. klynn says:

    I have even heard Republicans state, “Oh please let facts tie the worst aspects of this BP spill to Cheney. We need him finally caught as a criminal”

    • sojourner says:

      Unfortunately, in terms of the cement job, I don’t think they can hang Cheney for that. Cement jobs are often fraught with issues. I think that is Cheney’s only direct link to this mess.

      • bmaz says:

        Well, no, he laid the framework for the complete capitulation of Executive branch agencies and their regulatory oversight and enforcement, especially MMS, to the oil and mineral extraction and production corporations.

        • sojourner says:

          I was writing at the same time, I guess (grin). I should also state that my calculation in my prior comment is based on 120 days to get the well under control from April 21.

      • sojourner says:

        Sorry, by “this mess” I am referring to the BP blowout. To be sure, I am sure there are other messes of Cheney’s doing, and maybe he will get hung out to dry for one of those.

        I sat down yesterday and put some calculations together about BP’s idiocy. What I came up with is that, based on a flow of 19000 bbls per day at a price of $70 per barrel, BP and its partners theoretically will lose roughly $130 million (that does include any calculations for natural gas). Now, granted, it is very expensive to operate in the Gulf, but another week or so of operations to ensure the safety of that rig and the lives of those who died would have been a drop in the bucket.

      • klynn says:

        Oh, I know. It will come down to certifications and bypassed regulatory issues.

        I was just taken back when I heard a group of Repugs state this.

      • ghostof911 says:

        Cement work is difficult but the pros are supposed to know what they’re doing. The oil giants are not paying big bucks to amateurs.

        Coincidence that Halliburton is at the center of the work that caused the failure.

        Coincidence that Halliburton acquired Boots & Coots eight days before the explosion.

        Coincidence that G-S sold its BP shares at the most opportune moment.

        The pattern is getting nauseating.

  10. Gitcheegumee says:

    My first recollection of Norton was through the Abramoff And Indian Casino controversy ,emanating from the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana.
    The Dep’t of the Interior has jurisdiction over the BIA(Bureau of Indian Affairs).

    Here’s an interesting synopsis of Norton :

    National Corruption Index :: Gale NortonOct 13, 2008 … As Secretary of the Interior from 2001 to 2006, Gale Norton ‘s credo might … Second, he was doing Jack Abramoff’s bidding regarding Indian …
    http://www.nationalcorruptionindex.org/pages/profile.php?profile_id... – Cached

    • harpie says:

      I can’t read the name “Abramoff” without thinking of this:

      Jack’s House; Hart Seely; 3/31/06

      These are the men

      That fleeced the tribes

      That paid the money

      That made the bribes

      That purchased the Congress that

      Jack built. […]

      [cont’d @ link]

  11. harpie says:


    GAO-Testimony before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Committee on Natural Resources, House of Representatives; 3/17/09
    OIL AND GAS LEASING Federal Oil and Gas Resource Management and Revenue Collection in Need of Comprehensive Reassessment

    [pdf 5]; The federal government receives one of the lowest shares of revenue for oil and gas resources compared with other countries. For this and other reasons, the United States is an attractive country for investment in oil and gas development. Specifically, in 2007, the revenue share that the federal government collects on oil and gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico ranked 93rd lowest of 104 revenue collection regimes around the world that were studied. However, despite significant changes in the oil and gas industry over the past several decades, Interior has not systematically re-examined how the federal government is compensated for extraction of oil and gas for over 25 years. In contrast, some other countries have recently increased their shares of revenues as oil and gas prices rose and, as a result, will collect between an estimated $118 billion and $400 billion, depending on future oil and gas prices.4

    [4] GAO, Oil and Gas Royalties: The Federal System for Collecting Oil and Gas Revenues Needs Comprehensive Reassessment, GAO-08-691 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 3, 2008).

    • sojourner says:

      I saw that piece yesterday and started to go back to it. It did a pretty good job of shredding the need for corporate welfare! Why should a company like BP need an enticement of lower royalties to go out and drill to make money? All it does is allow BP etal to obtain a faster payout at the expense of our resources. If BP did not drill, someone else would.

      I have also made the point elsewhere that the bonus money BP paid for this lease indicates that they were pretty certain that something was there. I believe it was on the order of $32 million…

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        Here’s some additional background on MMS and oil royalties that provides a part of the overall history:

        NOIA Issues – OffshoreBackground: Since the inception of the federal offshore oil and gas … Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced a measure on March 1, … Issue: On November 2000, Section 304 of Outer Continental Shelf Deep Water Royalty Relief Act …. To date, MMS has not received any complaints or objections to Sale 181 from Florida. …

            • Gitcheegumee says:

              Well, if you type in Mary Landrieu complains about lack of oil royalties into Google,Sojourner, you will find the link on page 2 of the Google links.

              • sojourner says:


                I have pounded my soapbox for today — and my wife left me some assignments to take care of. If I don’t, well, I will have marks on me…and they might find my body laying out on the road or something.

                Sorry if I have spouted too much… EW and BMAZ, thanks for letting me vent some!

                • sojourner says:

                  OK, done with Task #1 and thought of something… I would dearly love to know (as would others) about what went on in Cheney’s Energy Task Force. There sure seems to have been a lot of “hands-off” by the government after that, and much more lax regulation. Circling back around to the original topic of this blog, the Wyoming Mafia could have had something to do with it…

                  • ghostof911 says:

                    The BP execs would know something about Cheney’s Energy Task Force. If BP wants to survive as a corporation, it can divert attention away from itself by revealing what it knows about the Dick’s secret machinations.

                    Edit: didn’t David Addington say that they were going to continue doing what they are doing until a stronger bully made them stop? It might be time for BP to take the gloves off and go for the jugular.

  12. Gitcheegumee says:

    That brought the donations
    That helped him to greet
    The great Coushatta Nation!
    With 800 members
    And fund-stream support
    From the famous Coushatta Casino
    Which paid several million
    For Jack to abort
    A rival tribe’s parlor
    In nearby Shreveport,
    Which prompted the letter
    That outlined their claims
    That went to Gale Norton,

    Co-signed by these names:
    Tom DeLay, Eric Cantor,
    Roy Blunt, the chief whip,
    Speaker Dennis Hastert.
    That’s the House leadership!
    That played the game
    And wears the shame
    That hangs over the Congress that

    Jack built.

    (Thank you,harpie.)

    • harpie says:

      Sure thing!

      And speaking of Native Americans:
      Gulf Oil Spill Threatens Louisiana Native Americans’ Way of Life; Joseph Goodman; Miami Herald; 5/31/10

      The Indians here have borne the consequences of the work of oil and gas companies for nearly 100 years, but the oil that is now only a short boat ride away has the potential to slam a death nail into this fishing village and the cultural identity of Indians who have populated it for centuries.

      • sojourner says:

        I am very familiar with Terrebonne Parish and some of the places mentioned in the article. It is sad to think about all of that being destroyed. Redfish are some of the best fish to eat (and LOTS of fun to catch), and I suspect they will be almost wiped out, at least in that area. I also spent time fishing offshore…

        • harpie says:

          It’s all so sad.

          [Also, I appreciate you looking into that GAO report…what can we DO about it all? OY!]

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        Pretty interesting if you Google up “oil drilling on tribal lands in Wyoming”.

  13. barne says:

    When you blow up a coastline, what are the adverse “knock-on” multiplier effects in the rest of the American and world economy?

    • sojourner says:

      Lost jobs and wages for extended periods (fisheries, oysters, shrimp)… Tourism (who wants to scrape tarballs off their feet and legs?)…Hunting and recreational fishing. Cleanup and disposal — and I think it has to be considered hazardous, particularly with the benzene component in it. There will be health costs due to inhaling fumes. I think the list will go on and on…

  14. Gitcheegumee says:

    @#41 and #42, there is a site called outragedmoderates.org that compiles reams of government data… go there and click on Download for Democracy.

    There are MANY subjects there, including Cheney Task Force docs .

    I don’t know if it will contain what you are looking for, but its a terrific resource center for docs.

  15. barne says:

    I agree that running with a Goldman Sachs conspiracy on their BP stock sale is both wrong and dumb.

  16. john in sacramento says:


    My Brother-in-law and my Nephew used to live in Gillette (it’s in the Powder River Basin about 50 miles west, southwest of Devil’s Tower). Everytime I’ve gone through Wyoming it either snows or hails, either in the eastern part of the state where Gillette is, or in Casper, or in the northwest corner in Yellowstone

  17. thatvisionthing says:

    Driveby comment — connecting Cheney – Wyoming – minerals – bentonite – anthrax – ginned up war with Iraq. See Glenn Greenwald, The unresolved story of ABC News’ false Saddam-anthrax reports — re ABC News 2001 reporting that the anthrax in Daschle’s letter had telltale additive bentonite, unique to Iraq/Saddam — a “fact” widely picked up and used to gin up war with Iraq — yet it turns out bentonite is common in South Dakota and Wyoming, and Lynne Cheney was even quoted in 2004 WaPo profile of Dick as saying:

    “I knew when he was digging ditches out at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Grounds. And I knew him when he was loading bentonite, hundred-pound bags of bentonite, onto railroad cars.”

    All roads lead to Cheney

  18. fatster says:

    BREAKING: WH orders BP to fund Louisiana dredge project


    Sometimes undeniable, overwhelming public pressure works with this WH.

  19. alinaustex says:

    The BP disaster is very bad for the Oil Patch . Many are the whispers down here on the Gulf Coast about how bad for “bidness ” the Cheney Cartel has been the last eight years . PappaBush and others are getting more open in the criticism of the bushcheney MMS , Norton , and the havoc wrought by all the 43 cronies . What is not known yet is whether this will boil over into an attempt to takedown the Cheney Cartel from the moderates around PappaBush . But we do that Bush 41 is very upset about how Cheney pissed all over the Bush 43 administration.PappaBush is also livid about Jeb’s chances for national office being dashed from the debacle that was Dubya’s tenure. One tell might be James Baker coming out publically against what Cheney and his MMS cronies have done to the oil business. The Big Dick – in short might still get thrown under the bus .

  20. harpie says:

    The article EW links to is well worth a read:

    Before Deepwater Horizon Disaster – Wyomingites Had Key Roles in MMS; Rone Tempest; 6/2/10

    Tempest links to a [long and detailed] series that they worked on in September 2009 called:
    From James Watt to Cynthia Lummis: The Inside Story of the Department of Interior Oil and Gas Royalty Scandal and Its Wyoming Roots.

    Part One covers the Wyoming roots in detail. [This has been a long and determined project on their part.]
    Part Two covers the Bush/Cheney time period in detail.
    The Bill they discuss in Part Three is HR3534, the “Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act of 2009 [which is now sitting in committee] http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-3534

    To provide greater efficiencies, transparency, returns, and accountability in the administration of Federal mineral and energy resources by consolidating administration of various Federal energy minerals management and leasing programs into one entity to be known as the Office of Federal Energy and Minerals Leasing of the Department of the Interior, and for other purposes.

    Look at this page from maplight.org which shows money opposed to and in support of this Bill [who could have predicted…?]:

    I don’t know where I found this, but since it mentions Wyoming…:
    Research Shows Federal [ed note: as opposed to some state] Oil Leasing and Royalty Income a Raw Deal for Taxpayers Oil industry controls huge swaths of public land at world’s cheapest prices; Elizabeth McGowan5/18/10

    A May 2007 Government Accountability Office report concluded that the U.S. federal government receives one of the lowest government takes on the globe. Results from five private sector studies presented in 2006 show that the U.S. government receives a lower government take from the production of oil in the Gulf of Mexico than do states—such as Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, California and Louisiana—and dozens of foreign governments, according to the GAO report.

    The Propublica article Gitcheegumee linked to above is also instructive:

    A Mystery: When Did Gov’t Exempt Gulf Drilling from Detailed Enviro Reviews?; Ryan Knutson and Marian Wang, 6/1/10

    and references this very informative article by Holly Doremus, a Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-faculty director of the California Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

    Heads in sand, oil in water; [Great title!]; 5/10/10

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