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August 13 2012

17:04

What To Expect When You’re Electing: Representative Paul Ryan

With the selection of Wisconsin Republican Representative Paul Ryan has his running mate, Mitt Romney has effectively pushed his campaign into the climate change denying fringe. While Romney hasn’t been considered a friend of the environment since he began running for national office, his tendency towards flip-flopping made some of his more extreme, anti-environment positions rather toothless. But Paul Ryan is someone that isn’t just all talk, and what he’s saying will be a disaster for our environment.

While Ryan isn’t necessarily a complete climate science denier, he is certainly classified as a “skeptic,” and oftentimes has used anecdotal evidence to say that we’re making too much of a fuss over something that may or may not be happening.

Let’s start by following the money on Rep. Paul Ryan. Since 1989, he has received $65,500 from Koch Industries, making them his sixth largest campaign donor. In total, he has pulled in a little over $244,000 from the oil and gas industries.

Those finances are clearly represented in his voting history in Congress. Here are a few of Ryan’s most anti-environment, pro-industry votes since being elected:

2000 – Voted against implementing Kyoto Protocol
2001 – Voted against raising fuel economy standards
2001 – Voted against barring oil drilling in ANWR
2003 – Voted to speed up “forest thinning” projects
2005 – Voted to deauthorize “critical habitats” for endangered species
2005 – Voted to speed up oil refinery permitting
2008 – Voted against environmental education grants
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for renewable energy
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for energy conservation
2009 – Voted against enforcing CO2 limits for air pollution
2011 – Voted NO on allowing EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions
2011 – Voted YES to opening up the Outer Continental Shelf for oil drilling
2011 – Voted to eliminate climate advisors for the president
2011 – Voted in favor of allowing Keystone XL Pipeline


Ryan’s proposals and voting history are clearly being dictated by the Koch brothers, and the money that their companies continue to throw behind Ryan’s campaigns. But his actions in Congress are almost docile when compared to his activities outside of Washington, D.C.

From Think Progress:
  

In a December 2009 op-ed during international climate talks, Ryan made reference to the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit emails. He accused climatologists of a “perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion,” in order to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” Because of spurious claims of conspiracy like these, several governmental and academic inquiries were launched, all of which found the accusations to be without merit. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]

In the same anti-science, anti-scientist December 2009 op-ed, Ryan argued, “Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow.” Ryan’s line is especially disingenuous because he hasn’t been trying to sell climate action, he’s been spreading disinformation. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]
 

But the story of Paul Ryan goes much, much deeper than this. It turns out that Ryan is a huge fracking supporter, and isn’t just to benefit his benefactors. Ryan actually has a financial stake in companies that are currently pillaging the state of Wisconsin. From Badger Democracy:
  

Ryan’s 2011 SEI shows his most significant interests are in four companies, all owned by his father-in-law, Dan Little (according to Oklahoma Secretary of State corporate registration). Little is a prominent oil industry attorney (who refused comment to Badger Democracy). The total value of these interests are $350K – $800K, with annual profit of $40K – $130K:

Ava O Limited Mining Co (8% interest) – valued at $100K – $250K; paying out $15K – $50K in profit.

Blondie & Brownie, LLC (10% interest) – valued at $100K – $250K; paying out $5K – $15K in profit.

Little Land Co., LLC – valued at $50K – $100K; paying out $5K – $15K in profit.

Red River Pine Timber (7% interest) – valued at $50K – $100K; no reported profit or interest.

Also owned by Ryan are Mineral Rights in Oklahoma valued at $50K – $100K; and returning $15K – 50K in profit last year.

An examination of Ryan’s 2000 SEI and 2007 SEI show a large increase in the value of these investments. This increase corresponds directly with Ryan’s growing power over the Federal Budget process.
 

No matter how you look at it, Paul Ryan is an environmental disaster. His personal and professional wealth both hinge upon investments in the dirty energy industry, and his track record as a U.S. Representative shows how this will affect his policy decisions.

September 14 2011

22:02

Deepwater Horizon Still A Massive Headache For BP

The problems facing BP along the Gulf Coast continue to pile up. After more than a year of investigations, the U.S. Coast Guard has finally released their long-awaited assessment of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Their conclusion was that the ultimate blame for the disaster rests squarely on BP’s shoulders.

The new report, put together by The Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), was among the most exhaustive investigations to date, according to Reuters. The report claims that the decisions made by BP in the days before the rig explosion are what led to the catastrophe. Among those were BP’s decision to ignore the safeguarding of the cement plug, and the oil company’s decision to only use one type of cement to seal the well. The report also said that the location that BP chose for the casing was very poor, making it difficult to access in an emergency.

The new report does lay some blame at the feet of other companies involved, including Transocean and Halliburton, but they said that at the end of the day, BP was in charge of the decision-making process, and therefore they are the responsible party. This is a far cry from a recent report by Marshall Islands investigators, who recently pinned the blame for the disaster on the rig workers themselves, rather than the companies involved in the rig’s management. The new report is on par with other reports that also put most of the blame on BP.


But the report wasn’t just another episode of the blame game, it actually offered solutions to prevent further disasters. The Associated Press notes the recommendations of the panel as follows:
  

The panel recommended further changes to offshore drilling practices, including requiring at least two barriers to be placed in a well — one mechanical, and one cement. The Macondo well had a single barrier, the cement seal at the bottom, so when the blowout happened the only thing to stop it was the blowout preventer. That didn't work, the panel says, because the kink in the pipe caused by the force of the blowout kept it out of reach of the safety device's shearing rams. The rams are supposed to pinch a well shut in an emergency by slicing through the well's drill pipe.
 

But the Coast Guard report isn’t the only problem that BP is having to deal with in regards to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Reports over the last few weeks have been surfacing about oil sheens appearing in the Gulf of Mexico around the “sealed off” Macondo well where the Deepwater Horizon rig was located. Today, a new report by Al Jazeera highlighted the seriousness of the new oil being found in the Gulf:
  

Al Jazeera flew to the area on Sunday, September 11, and spotted a swath of silvery oil sheen, approximately 7 km long and 10 to 50 meters wide, at a location roughly 19 km northeast of the now-capped Macondo 252 well.

Edward Overton, a professor emeritus at Louisiana State University's environmental sciences department, examined data from recent samples taken of the new oil. Overton, who is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contractor, told Al Jazeera, "After examining the data, I think it's a dead ringer for the MC252 [Macondo Well] oil, as good a match as I've seen".

While not ruling out the possibility that oil could be seeping out of the giant reservoir, which would be the worst-case scenario, Overton believes the oil currently reaching the surface is likely from oil that was trapped in the damaged rigging on the seafloor. He said the oil could either be leaking from the broken riser pipe that connected the Deepwater Horizon to the well, or that oil is leaking from the Deepwater Horizon itself.
 

Other scientists along the Gulf Coast are worried that the oil could actually be coming from the actual oil reserve itself – speculating fissures developing along the floor of the Gulf of Mexico are leaking oil from the 50 million gallon reservoir beneath the sand. While events like that are actually quite common, none have been known to create sheens as massive as the current one being tracked in the Gulf.

While it will be difficult to prove where the new oil is coming from without extensive underwater surveillance, one thing is for sure: The damage from the Deepwater Horizon disaster will not be subsiding any time soon, and BP’s troubles will linger even longer.

April 23 2011

18:53

Congressional Democrats Warn of Gas Fracking Dangers

Just days after an explosion rocked a hydraulic fracturing site in Pennsylvania, Congressional Democrats released a report detailing the dangers associated with fracking. Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been investigating the dangers of fracking for years, and their new report has some startling new information about the risks, and which areas of the country are facing the biggest threats.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) summarized the major findings of the report as follows:

Over a five-year period from 2005-2009, companies used more than 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 different chemicals and other components, including chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens or are federally regulated because at certain levels they are known to be quite harmful to human health--such as benzene, lead, and diesel fuel.

Two fracking products contained hydrofluoric acid (hydrogen fluoride in water). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "You could be exposed to hydrogen fluoride if it is used as a chemical terrorism agent.” Hydrofluoric acid can eat through hard rocks. According to the CDC, swallowing only a small amount of highly concentrated hydrofluoric acid or even splashes of hydrofluoric acid on the skin can be fatal. It can cause a wide range of very serious health effects.

Many of the fracking fluids contain chemical components that are listed as “proprietary” or “trade secret,” so the public cannot know what chemicals are being stored, used, or disposed of in their communities or near their drinking water sources.

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In addition to reporting on the dangerous chemicals used in fracking, the House Committee also showed which states are being pumped with the most fluids. At the top of the list is Texas, where more than 3.5 million gallons of toxins have been pumped into the earth, followed by Colorado with 1.5 million gallons over the four-year period studied. In Pennsylvania where the recent fracking well blew, 747,000 gallons of toxic fracking fluid were used from 2005 – 2009.

Over the four year period studied, more than 21.5 million gallons of fracking fluid had been used throughout the United States, utilized by only 14 different oil and gas companies. The industry uses more than 650 different types of fracking fluid solutions, and the report found that at least 95 had 13 different components that are known carcinogens.

The leak in Pennsylvania has been stopped for now, but as this new report shows, there are other areas of America that are poised for even greater disasters than we saw in Pennsylvania.

April 18 2011

11:45

Emails Reveal BP Attempted To Manipulate Oil Spill Studies

Emails obtained by Greenpeace last Friday have revealed that BP was actively trying to manipulate studies designed to assess the damage from last year’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of the disaster, BP created a $500 million fund to study the effects of the oil on the environment, and the emails obtained by Greenpeace show that the company was trying to control which scientists worked on the project, attempting to cherry-pick those who would downplay the effects of the oil.

The Guardian reports:

Russell Putt, a BP environmental expert, wrote in an email to colleagues on 24 June 2010: "Can we 'direct' GRI [Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative] funding to a specific study (as we now see the governor's offices trying to do)? What influence do we have over the vessels/equipment driving the studies vs the questions?".



The Guardian has the full emails available here.  But the new emails are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to BP’s efforts to manipulate science. Last summer, a report by the Mobile Press-Register revealed that BP was offering large sums of cash to any scientist willing to join their camp. The oil giant had been meeting with scientists from universities in the South since the early days of the oil leak, offering to pay $250 an hour to scientists in exchange for their silence on the oil disaster.
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The University of South Alabama declined an offer from BP to “purchase” their entire marine sciences department after BP wanted them to sign a confidentiality agreement that would have prevented them from making their research findings public, even if asked by a court.

There were two reasons why purchasing these scientists and manipulating the studies would have been useful for BP: First, it allows them to control the flow of information relating to the oil leak. Second, it would have prevented any scientist or university who accepted money from the company from testifying in court, taking away a valuable resource for plaintiff’s attorneys filing lawsuits against the energy company.

So what was BP so afraid of? The environmental damages of the gusher are still being calculated, many of which have happened far beneath the surface of the Gulf waters, but the impacts on human health are already making themselves known onshore. New reports show that contract cleanup workers for BP are now beginning to show symptoms from their exposure to both the oil and the dispersants used to help congeal the oil. Doctors along the Gulf Coast are reporting numerous instances of patients suffering from a variety of symptoms including racing heartbeats, vomiting, dizziness, ear infections, swollen throats, respiratory infections, and memory loss.

As many as 52,000 workers helped clean up oil in the Gulf of Mexico and along the shore, and scientists say that the studies on their health were woefully inadequate. Their main problem is that the chemical Benzene, a known carcinogen that is present in crude oil, disappears from the body within four months of exposure, leaving only the damage to a person’s body behind. However, health safety studies weren’t conducted until six months after exposure, meaning that workers tested negative for benzene in their bodies.

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to cost BP billions of dollars, and every new piece of information that comes out makes their case harder to defend in a court, making them even more likely to pay large sums before the saga ends. Their efforts to purchase scientists and manipulate data have so far been unsuccessful, but that could change in the years of battles still ahead for the company.

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