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July 29 2012

20:13

How Do You Spend $375 Million A Day? Ask The Oil Industry

The average U.S. household has seen both their net worth and their average income steadily decline over the last seven years. Unemployment in the United States still remains at uncomfortably high levels, and the poverty rate is about to reach highs that haven’t been seen since the 1960’s. But as average citizens are struggling to provide food for their families and gainful employment, there are a special few in the U.S.A. who have more cash than they know what to do with. Those special few would be the oil industry.

While most of us in the U.S. were cringing every time that ticker on the gas pump climbed higher and higher, executives at the top five oil companies were squealing with delight as their profits climbed even faster and higher than the prices at the pump.

This week, oil companies are sheepishly coming forward with their 2nd quarter earnings statements, likely praying that Americans forget about the fact that gas prices were recently at near-historic highs in areas of the country. From Climate Progress:
  

The top two corporations on the Fortune 500 Global ranking, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, announced their 2012 second-quarter earnings today, bringing the total profits for three Big Oil companies to $44 billion for 2012 or $250,000 every day this year. Exxon profited by $16 billion this quarter, bringing its earnings for 2012 to $25 billion.

The New York Times wrote that Exxon and Shell’s earnings “disappoint,” because energy prices unexpectedly dropped for consumers this summer. Put their profits in the appropriate context, however, and Exxon and Shell still made a combined $160,000 per minute last quarter, even though the top five oil companies benefit from $2.4 billion federal tax breaks every year.
 

That certainly warrants repeating: Exxon and Shell made a combined $160,000 every minute for the last quarter, and still helped themselves to a piece of the $2.4 billion in federal tax breaks and subsidies that flow to the top five oil companies (the grand total for all members of the industry is estimated to be between $4 and $7 billion a year.)

At their current rate of pay by the minute, they are on track to beat their record from last year when the top five oil companies combined earned a total of $261,000 every minute, for a grand total of $375 million a day.

So the ultimate question is how do they spend all that money? The simplest answer is that they spend most of it in ways that only makes them wealthier. Again from Climate Progress:
  

ExxonMobil:

Exxon spent 42 percent — or $10.7 billion — of its 2012 profits buying back its stock, which enriches executives and largest shareholders.

Exxon has spent $17 million lobbying for the past 18 months, making it the top spender in the oil and gas industry. It has spent more than $52 million lobbying for the first three years of the Obama presidency, 50 percent more than in the Bush administration.

Exxon is sitting on $18 billion in cash reserves.

Exxon sent federal candidates $1.3 million in campaign contributions so far this campaign cycle, sending 91 percent to Republicans.

Exxon paid just 13 percent in federal taxes last year, lower than the average American family. Right after Mitt Romney, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the top recipient of Exxon federal contributions.

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson received $24.7 million total compensation.

Royal Dutch Shell:

Shell has spent nearly $22 million on lobbying for the past 18 months, making it the second-biggest spender of the oil and gas industry.

Shell bought back 15 percent of its second-quarter profits, or $900 million.

In its annual report, Shell noted that the number of oil spills increased from 195 in 2010 to 207 during 2011.
 

But Exxon and Shell aren’t the only companies to report massive paydays this week; ConocoPhillips is also apparently rolling in the dough. Here’s how they spent their $2.3 billion in 2nd quarter profits:
  

ConocoPhillips has already spent $1 million lobbying Congress this year. In 2011, ConocoPhillips spent over $20 million on lobbying Congress, making it the top spender of the oil and gas industry.

Conoco has contributed nearly $400,000 to federal campaigns this year, with 90 percent of the contributions going to Republicans.

Conoco is sitting on $1 billion in cash reserves.

The company spent 35 percent more than they earned this quarter — or $3.1 billion — buying back its own stock, which enriches the largest shareholders and executives.
 

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with a company being profitable. The problem is that the oil industry is profitable at the expense of our national economy and our environment. Oil spills in recent years have cost billions of dollars – money that is coming from U.S. taxpayers – and the ridiculous prices at the pump are taking a huge toll on American families.

And again, at the same time these companies are reaping these profits, we’re giving them an extra $7 billion tip every year. And as long as they keep pulling in these massive profits, they’ll have enough money to pay off the right politicians to keep those billions in subsidies in place. Last year, the total amount spent on lobbying topped $30 million by the oil industry in order to preserve their subsidies, which netted them a whopping 42% return on their investment.

July 27 2012

10:30

Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Supreme Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional. The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 "…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise."

Act 13 — pejoratively referred to as "the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway" by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld — would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

"It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government," Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. "It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it."

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That's half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

PA Act 13, Originally an ALEC Model Bill 

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is in the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. ALEC is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative, Republican Party-centric "corporate bill mill" by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze, and then vote on what it calls "model bills." Lobbyists have a "voice and a vote in shaping policy," CMD explains. They have de facto veto power over whether their prospective bills become "models" that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

A close examination suggests that an ALEC model bill is quite similar to the recently overturned Act 13. 

It is likely modeled after and inspired by an ALEC bill titled, "An Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation." This Act was passed by ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force at its Annual Meeting in August 2010 in San Diego, CA

The model bill opens by saying that "…the planning and zoning authority granted to rural counties may encourage land use regulation which is overly centralized, intrusive and politicized." The model bill's central purpose is to "grant rural counties the legal authority to abandon their planning and zoning authority in order to transition to decentralized land use regulation…"

The key legal substance of the bill reads, "The local law shall require the county to repeal or modify any land use restriction stemming from the county’s exercise of its planning or zoning authority, which prohibits or conditionally restricts the peaceful or highest and best uses of private property…"

In short, like Act 13, this ALEC model bill turns local democractic protections on their head. Act 13, to be fair, is a far meatier bill, running 174 pages in length. What likely happened: Pennsylvania legislators and the oil and gas industry lobbyists they serve took the key concepts found in ALEC's bill, ran with them, and made an even more extreme and specific piece of legislation to strip away Pennsylvania citizens' rights.

There were many shale gas industry lobbyists and those affiliated with like-minded think-tanks in the house for the Dec. 2010 San Diego Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where this prospective ALEC model bill became an official ALEC model bill. They included Daren Bakst of the John Locke Foundation (heavily funded by the Kochs), Russel Harding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (also heavily funded by the Koch Family Fortune), Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (again, heavily funded by the Kochs), Mike McGraw of Occidental Petroleum, and Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center (a think tank that sits under the umbrella of the Koch Foundation-funded State Policy Network).

A Model That's Been Passed and Proposed Elsewhere

The Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation model bill has made a tour to statehouses nationwide, popping up in Ohio, Idaho, Colorado, and Texas. The model passed in some states, while failing to pass in others.

Here is a rundown of similar bills that DeSmogBlog has identified so far:

Ohio HB 278

Long before the ALEC model bill was enacted in 2010, Ohio passed a similar bill in 2004, HB 278, which gives exclusive well-permitting, zoning, and regulatory authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Ohio is home to the Utica Shale basin.

Mirroring ALEC's model, HB 278 gives the "…Division of Mineral Resources Management in the Department of Natural Resources…exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells in the state.."

Could it be that the ALEC model bill was actually inspired by HB 278? It's very possible, based on recent history.

As was the case with ALEC's hydraulic fracturing chemical fluid "disclosure" model bill (actually rife with loopholes ensuring chemicals will never be disclosed), ALEC adopted legislation passed in the Texas state legislature as its own at its December 2011 conference.

Idaho HB 464 

Idaho's House of Representatives passed HB 464 in February 2012 in a 54-13-3 roll call vote. A month later, the bill passed in the Senate in a 24-10-1 roll call vote. Days later, Republican Gov. Butch Otter signed the bill into law.

Key language from HB 464 reads

It is declared to be in the public interest…to provide for uniformity and consistency in the regulation of the production of oil and gas throughout the state of Idaho…[,] to authorize and to provide for the operations and development of oil and gas properties in such a manner that a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas may be obtained.  (Snip)

It is the intent of the legislature to occupy the field of the regulation of oil and gas exploration and production with the limited exception of the exercise of planning and zoning authority granted cities and counties…

The Democratic Party State Senate Minority Office was outraged about the bill's passage. 

"[HB] 464 establishes Idaho law governing oil and gas exploration and development including limits to local control over the location of wells, drilling processes, water rights and the injection of waste materials into the ground," reads a press release by the Idaho State Senate Minority Office. "[HB 464] preempts local land-use planning statute dating back to 1975. Counties will have little input in the permitting process whereby well sites are selected (or restricted) and no role in planning and zoning."

Sound familiar? Like PA Act 13 and the ALEC model? It should.

Full-scale fracking has yet to take place in Idaho, though the race is on, with Idahoans signing more and more leases with each passing day. Thanks to gas industry lobbyists' use of ALEC's model bill process, the industry will have far fewer hurdles to clear in the state when the race begins. 

Colorado SB 88

The Demoratic Party-controlled Colorado State Senate struck down an ALEC copycat bill, SB 88, in February 2012.

The Bill Summary portion of SB 88 explains the bill concisely, mirroring, once again, PA Act 13 and the ALEC Model Bill: "…the Colorado oil and gas conservation commission has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate oil and gas operations, and local regulation of oil and gas operations is preempted by state law."

Colorado sits atop the Niobrara Shale basin. Like Pennsylvania, it has seen many cities successfully move to ban fracking, making the goal of a bill of this nature all the more obvious.

From Colorado Springs to Boulder County, cities and counties across Colorado have passed measures against fracking,” Sam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch told the Colorado Independent at the time SB 88 was struck down. “This bill is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to strip local governments of what little power they have to protect their citizens and water resources from the harms posed by fracking.” 

Far from a completed debate, as covered in a June 2012 follow-up story by the Colorado Independent, things are just getting underway on this one in The Centennial State.  

I don’t know where it goes from here. I suspect there is a happy medium and there is a compromise that can be reached,” Democratic Party State Senate President Brandon Shaffer told the Independent. “I also suspect next year additional legislation will come forward on both sides of the spectrum. Ultimately I think the determination will be made based on the composition of each of the chambers. If the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate, there will be more emphasis on local control.”  

Former Sen. Mike Kopp (R) was one of the public sector attendees at the Dec. 2010 Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where the ALEC model bill passed. 

Texas HB 3105 and SB 875

In May 2011, TX SB 875 passed almost unanimously. The bill essentially calls for the elimination, in one fell swoop, of the common law of private nuisance in Texas.

SB 875's key operative paragraph explains,

[Entities] subject to an administrative, civil, or criminal action brought under this chapter for nuisance or trespass arising from greenhouse gas emissions [have] an affirmative defense to that action if the person's actions that resulted in the alleged nuisance or trespass were authorized by a rule, permit, order, license, certificate, registration, approval, or other form of authorization issued by the commission or the federal government or an agency of the federal government…

Texas — home to the Barnett Shale basin and the Eagle Ford Shale basin — played a dirty trick here, but what else would one expect from the government of a Petro State?

The ALEC model bill calls for a transition from centralized power by local governments to individual property rights under the common law of private nuisance, a civil suit that allows those whose private property has been damaged to file a legal complaint with proper authorities. Now, under the dictates of SB 875, even these rights have been eviscerated.

Perhaps Texas exemplifies a realization of the oil and gas industries' ideal world: legal rights for no one except themselves.

"This [bill allows] the willful trespass onto private property of chemicals and or nuisances, thus destroying the peaceful enjoyment of private property, which someone may have put their life savings into," Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of Dish, Texas and one of the stars of Josh Fox's Academy Award-nominated documentary film, "Gasland," wrote in a letter. "Therefore, private citizens would have no protection for their private property if this amendment was added."

HB 3105's key language, meanwhile, makes the following illicit (emphases mine): 

the adoption or issuance of an ordinance, rule, regulatory requirement, resolution, policy, guideline, or similar measure…by a municipality that..has effect in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality, excluding annexation, and that enacts or enforces an ordinance, rule, regulation, or plan that does not impose identical requirements or restrictions in the entire extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality…or damages, destroys, impairs, or prohibits development of a mineral interest

This bill, unlike SB 875, never passed, though if it did, it would do basically the same thing as PA Act 13 and the ALEC model. If it ever does pass, however, it would mean that Texans would have literally no legal standing to sue the oil and gas industry for wrongdoing in their state.

ALEC's Bifurcated Attack: Erode Local Democracy, Strip Federal Regs,

Coming full circle, though PA Act 13 was struck down, for now, as constitutional, that doesn't necessarily mean ALEC copycat versions like it won't start popping up in other statehouses nationwide. 

Sleep on this for awhile. There's more to come.

Part two of DeSmog's investigation on ALEC's dirty energy agenda will show that, along with pushing for the erosion of local democracy as we know it today, ALEC has also succeeded in promulgating legislation that would eliminate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions - another Big Business giveaway of epic proportions.

If anything is clear, it's this: statehouses have become a favorite clearinghouse for polluters to install the "Corporate Playbook" in place of democracy.

Stay tuned for Part Two of DeSmog's investigation, coming soon.

(**Full Disclosure: Steve Horn is a former employee of CMD and worked on the ALEC Exposed project)

Image Credit: Center for Media and Democracy | ALEC Exposed

March 27 2012

18:48

Beginning of The End for Big Oil’s Billion Dollar Subsidies?

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (N.J.) has introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to kill, once and for all, the billions of dollars worth of subsidies that are flowing from the federal government to the oil industry.

Under Menendez’s proposal, the $4 billion annual corporate welfare handed out to oil companies would instead be used to pay down the federal deficit and be re-invested into renewable energy technology.

Given the Republicans’ history of fighting for the oil industry and their subsidies, you would expect this bill to be dead on arrival. However, in an odd combination of arrogance and ignorance, Senate Republicans actually sided with Democrats in a vote to move the bill onto the floor for debate.

Republicans currently believe that any issue involving gas and oil is a home run for their party, so they’re banking on the issue actually helping them out, politically. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following statement about the issue:
  

“We’re going to use this opportunity to explain how out of touch Democrats are on high gas prices, and put a spotlight on the common-sense ideas Republicans have been urging for years — ideas that reflect our genuine commitment to the kind of all-of-the-above approach the President claims to support but doesn’t.”
 

McConnell’s comment demonstrates both the arrogance and ignorance of the Republican Party on the issue of gas prices.

read more

March 08 2012

04:03

Republican Claims About Gas Prices Demonstrate Lack Of Knowledge About “Free Market”

As the national average for gas prices pushes closer and closer towards $4 a gallon, Republicans have wasted no time in attempting to convince the public that President Obama and his “hostility” towards the oil industry is the reason we’re feeling the squeeze at the pump.

read more

December 28 2011

05:14

The Year In Dirty Energy: Money, Corruption, And Misinformation

It is said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That statement has proven itself true time after time in both politics and business, but I would like to amend that statement slightly: Power corrupts, but money and power corrupt absolutely. This year has been no different. We’ve seen unprecedented amounts of money flowing from the dirty energy industry into the hands of politicians in order to achieve everything on their corporate wish lists.

From near constant hammering of the Environmental Protection Agency, to getting approval for dirty energy projects, corporate money has corrupted every level of politics this year.

I already covered the extensive efforts of the Koch brothers in a previous post, but they are hardly the only culprits who are attempting to undermine democracy and decency by pouring money into politics. Here are a few other stories of interest that DeSmogBlog has covered over the last 12 months:

The biggest “non-event” for climate denier dollars this year was the Heartland Institute’s “Denial-a-palooza” conference:

The Heartland Institute gathered a who’s-who of the global warming denial network together in Chicago in May for the fourth International Conference on Climate Change.

As in years past, the event is expected to receive very little mainstream media coverage. The deniers like to think the reason is some liberal media conspiracy. In reality, the lack of interest stems chiefly from the fact that this denial-a-palooza fest is dripping with oil money and represents a blatant industry effort to greenwash oil and coal while simultaneously attacking the credibility of climate scientists.

Despite the lack of press interest, the show must go on. After all, the Chicago meet-up provided deniers and industry front groups a chance to coordinate their ongoing efforts to smear the reputation of the IPCC, and they can reminisce about the Climategate non-scandal like boys in the schoolyard kicking around a rusty old can.

For insight into the underlying aim of the Chicago denier conference, let us take a look at the funding sources for the sponsoring organizations.

19 of the 65 sponsors (including Heartland itself) have received a total of over $40 million in funding since 1985 from ExxonMobil (funded 13 orgs), and/or Koch Industries family foundations (funded 10 orgs) and/or the Scaife family foundations (funded 10 orgs).

This gathering was just the beginning of the massive astroturf campaigns that the dirty energy industry worked on this year:

The oil industry has put their astroturf and lobbying efforts into overdrive over the last few months, preparing for a bitter fight in the upcoming 2012 presidential election. In addition to their usual work of pushing for increased domestic oil production and the opening of federal lands for oil drilling, the industry is working around the clock to convince lawmakers to sign off on the Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport crude tar sand oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

ThinkProgress reporter Lee Fang has helped uncover some of the oil industry’s recent astroturf tactics at townhall meetings across the country. But the oil industry isn’t just limiting themselves to townhall meetings – they have also embraced social media as a means to manipulate public opinion. Rainforest Action Network blog The Understory and Mother Jones are reporting that oil industry insiders are creating fake Twitter accounts to tout the need for the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Chris Mooney offered a great analysis of why these astroturf groups have become so important to the industry, and how effective it can be:

One obvious goal of astroturfing is to shape public policy, and public opinion, in a manner congenial to corporate interests. And indeed, the outrage over astroturfing in a sense presumes that this activity actually works (or else, why oppose it).

Yet there have been few scientific tests of whether the strategy does indeed move people—in part, presumably, because doing a controlled experiment might be hard to pull off. That’s why I was so intrigued by a new study in the Journal of Business Ethics, which attempts to do just that.

Charles H. Cho of the ESSEC Business School in France, and his colleagues, set up a study in which they created (ironically) fake Astroturf websites related to global warming—as well as fake grassroots websites on the same issue—and tested over 200 college undergraduates on their responses to them. To ensure a strong experimental design, only a few things were varied about these websites—what they claimed about the science, and what they disclosed about their funding sources.

Interestingly, when the results were gathered, it turned out that information about the site’s funding source didn’t have any significant effect on the study participants’ views. However, readers of the astroturf sites were much more likely to feel that the science of global warming is uncertain, and to question the phenomenon’s human causation.

One finding was particularly disturbing: People found the Astroturf messages less trustworthy overall, and yet were still influenced by them. The most influenced were those study participants who were the least engaged in the climate issue—and thus, presumably, the most vulnerable to astroturf misinformation.

In cases where astroturfing isn’t effective enough at confusing the public, dirty energy companies like Exxon have attempted to just pay scientists to deny global climate change:

The Carbon Brief (TCB) has a nice analysis on the not-very-startling coincidence that at least nine of the top 10 “skeptical” “scientists” who are publishing on climate change have direct links to Exxon.

This is interesting, as well, in that it doesn’t account for the increasing amounts of money being invested invested by funders (such as the Koch brothers) who have been taking a less transparent approach than Exxon in acknowledging their links.

In a second instalment, TCB also took a closer look at both the quality and content of the purported “900+” science papers identified by the Global Warming Policy Foundation as somehow skeptical of the science of climate change. The news, for the skeptics as for the climate, turns out to be all bad.

Only a small number of the papers actually appeared in reputable publications (eg., 34 in Nature, 33 in Science), and many of those either don’t address the climate question directly or do NOT come to the conclusion that the GWPF attributes.

The industry has even tried to push their agenda in our school systems:

Under fire from outlets like The New York Times, the education publishing behemoth Scholastic (of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Harry Potter fame) pulled an energy curriculum sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, which gave a nice PR sheen to coal without bothering to cover, uh, the whole environmental angle. The curriculum had reportedly already been mailed to 66,000 classrooms by the time it got yanked.

What’s currently seeping into classrooms across the country is far, far worse—more ideological, and more difficult to stop. We’re talking about outright climate denial being fed to students—and accurate climate science teaching being attacked by aggressive Tea Party-style ideologues.

Even with the propaganda taken from the schools, the dirty energy industry has found another way to covertly push their misinformation onto the public:

There appears to be an increasingly sophisticated and planned effort by conservatives and polluter front groups to use “persona management” software to pollute social media outlets and website comment forums with auto-generated sockpuppet swarms designed to mislead and misrepresent real people.

Leaked emails from Aaron Barr, CEO of a federal subsidiary for HB Gary, disclose the latest efforts and technology used underhandedly for “ganging up on bloggers, commenters and otherwise ‘real’ people to smear enemies and distort the truth.”

This phenomenon was first reported by Happy Rockefeller over at Daily Kos.

ClimateProgress is following this issue, particularly when it comes to the online discussion about climate change, noting that readers joke about pre-programmed ‘denier-bots’ and “how the same arguments and phrasings keep cropping up in the comments’ section of the many unmoderated news sites on the web.”

Public opinion is one thing, but political positions are another. That’s why American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard made the following admission this year:

Oil industry lobbyist and president of the American Petroleum Institute (API) Jack Gerard made his industry’s goal clear in a recent interview with Fortune Magazine. Mr. Gerard said he hopes that in the near future there will be an oil lobbyist on the ground in every U.S. Congressional district in order to help his industry flourish, “so when a policy proposal hits the industry’s bottom line, lawmakers from Seattle to Savannah will hear complaints about it from voters back home.”

And on the big issues of the year, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, the industry sent their dollars directly to the source:

After applauding the House’s vote to rush a decision on TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a new campaign to boost the controversial project. The Partnership to Fuel America is run out of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, and seems positioned to be the U.S. Chamber’s main influence channel to drum up support for Keystone XL. Supportive comments aside, it’s also the first time the U.S. Chamber has so publicly and overtly aligned with the Canadian company’s project.

And more:

TransCanada Corp, the company hoping to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, spent $540,000 on lobbying in the third quarter of 2011, according to lobbying disclosure records released this week.

In addition to $390,000 reported by Paul Elliott, TransCanada Pipelines, Ltd's infamous in-house lobbyist, two outside firms lobbied on TransCanada's behalf to promote the Keystone XL pipeline: Bryan Cave LLP, which reported $120,000 in earnings from TransCanda in quarter three; and McKenna, Long & Aldridge, which was paid $30,000 by TransCanada in the same period.

And when they feared that their generous tax breaks could be repealed, the dirty energy industry sent their best lobbyists to the members of the “super committee”:

As the so-called “Super Committee” works to figure out how to trim $1.2 trillion from the U.S. government’s federal deficit, the dirty energy industry has their lobbyists working overtime to make sure that their billions of dollars in annual subsidies aren’t among the items on the chopping block.

Not being ones to miss an opportunity, members on the committee have scheduled dozens of personal fundraisers for their campaigns before that deadline hits. And many of the companies who fear that their subsidies could be cut will be in attendance. After all, the lobbyist blitz contains more than 180 former staffers of members of the Super Committee, so access is not an issue, and no introductions will be necessary.

But money doesn’t always come from lobbyists or special interests; sometimes it comes from the most obvious source: The banks. Alternet has put together a fantastic piece detailing the top 20 banks that have helped fund anti-environmental efforts this year:

A new study by Urgewald, a German environmental organization, establishes a strong link between large multinational banks and the coal industry, one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

The study (.pdf), "Bankrolling Climate Change," identifies the top 20 "climate killer" banks by the amount of financial support they give the coal industry. Number one is JP Morgan Chase, followed by Citi and Bank of America. That's despite lofty rhetoric from these companies about their work to address climate change.

Building a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant - a typical size - is going to cost over $2 billion. That's not money that utilities usually have just lying around in the corner. Bank financing pays an important role, either through direct lending or banks organizing capital for utilities to pursue these projects. The two most important roles of banks are as providers of corporate loans for the coal industry and as providers of investment banking services, meaning helping the company to sell shares or bonds. In terms of our calculations of the amounts of money in the "climate killer bank" rankings, we didn't differentiate between these roles. We figured it's secondary whether a bank directly gives its own money or plays an organizing role: This is support the banks give to the coal industry.

So whether the money comes from banks, corporations, or lobbyists, the impact that big money has on politicians and policy is undeniable. Until the funds dry up, we’ll never be in short supply of politicians willing to do the dirty work of the dirty energy industry.

December 11 2011

23:32

"Raising Elijah": An Interview With Ecologist and Author Sandra Steingraber

Q: In light of your new book Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, which raises the specter of raising children in troubled times, both environmentally and ecologically, are you surprised that natural gas corporations have been producing public relations and propaganda materials like coloring books (recall Talisman Energy's Terry the Fracasaurus, and Chesapeake Energy's coloring books), going into schools and giving scholarships, etc.? 

A: Not at all. This is an attempt at deflection and drawing attention away from the bad public relations problems the industry has. It is hypocritical and cynical to go into communities, do fracking (see DeSmogBlog's Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate), and then do these types of things.

For example, there are increased rates of crime, drug abuse, and motor vehicle accidents in areas in which fracking takes place. Roads in areas in which fracking is taking place are full of 18-wheelers hauling around toxic chemicals. It is a stunning move, based on all of these things.

For the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and Chesapeake Energy’s corporate sponsorship of it, it is the ultimate case of cynicism, based on what they do on a daily basis. For them to get involved shows that they’re trying to deflect attention away from what they’re actually doing to cause these things in the first place.

The idea that they’re aligning themselves with the breast cancer movement is creepy and is like cigarette companies getting involved in fighting against cancer, while they are the ones also causing it.

Q: Why do you think these corporations are stooping so low, and why now? What type of reputation do these natural gas corporations have, at-large, in an area like the Marcellus Shale, for example?

A: Public opinion is deeply opposed to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in upper state New York and the anti-fracking resistance movement is solidifying and growing there. Therefore, partnerships with chartiable organizations are an attempt to alter public opinion.

That said, doing this is expensive for corporations, so it is a sign of desparation on their side of things to make fracking look like a warm and fuzzy and friendly thing. They want a different kind of association. When you hear name of their company, they hope you have warm, fuzzy feelings about them, when, in actuality, they’re actually going to come in and destroy the community.

Q: Can you explain a bit more about your book, Raising Elijah, and in particular, what role you see your new book playing in combating this benevolent role the gas industry ruthlessly tries to portray for itself? Also, can you explain what personally motivated you to write such a book?

A: Benevolent is the perfect adjective. These new partnerships are like an abusive spouse who’s trying to deflect attention away from his actual crime by funding a home for people who’ve suffered domestic abuse. The best way to solve the problem of carcinogens in the air is not to put them in the air in the first place. The best way to prevent children from being abused is to create an actual sustainable community and healthy ecosystem.

My book has been in the works for 8 years and I wanted to continue where I left off in the last book. This one takes a look at how exposure to environmental toxics impacts childhood development.

Fracking was not originally on my radar, but it was hard to ignore come 2007 and 2008. I learned more and more about it and was eventually asked to speak on panels on the topic. It is the biggest threat to childrens’ health that I’d ever encountered. The final chapter in book is entirely devoted to fracking.

Beating fracking is the environmental cause of our time. We are standing at a cross-roads — easy fuels are gone, and energy extremism is all that’s left. Mountain top removal is one, tar sands crude is another, offshore drilling is the third, and fracking is the fourth.

Fracking hits home the closest. It is occurring in 34 states, often in densely populated areas. The possibility of it exposing people to these toxins is immediate and the possibility that we’ll contaminate water, air, and food are also great.

Air contamination is also a guarantee, via compressors. Chances are, we’ll blanket the northeast in smoggy air, which already was dirty air to begin with, with regular ozone alerts. Surface and ground water and food resources are now also all at risk. The dairy industry is huge in New York, but now that is also at risk.

The Marcellus Shale basin is now a radioactive place, and thus, all of this stuff is now in peril. There needs to be a public conversation about this, if only because of the costs of helping children from cradle to grave. Asthma, for example, is a very expensive problem and leading cause of absenteeism in schools. It will become more common with fracking - much more common.

The Environmental Impact Statement done by the New York Department of Environmental Protection was also a sham, with public health impacts not even discussed. There was nothing in it on any of the scores of environmental and ecological costs associated with fracking that will arise in the future.

All of this is the explanation for why I wrote the book. The secrecy the industry enjoys makes it hard for researchers to go as deep as they possibly could if there were no veil of secrecy. It is hard to say exactly what kind of chemicals people are inhaling and consuming.

Q: You recently won the Heinz Award, given for significant achievements benefiting the environment, which earned you a $100,000 award and afterward, you wrote that you would devote that money to fighting fracking in upstate New York.

Bearing that in mind, can you explain, based your own experiences and personal convictions, as well as the lessons taught in your book, what type of activism is best geared toward defeating fracking?

Put another way, what form of activism gets the movement to ban fracking the best bang for its buck and do you see more nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience in the anti-fracking movement’s future?

A: $100,000 is NOTHING to the big boys in the corporate natural gas world. The only way money will work if it will also embolden others to do big things. The only reason I’m even going public with the fact that I’m investing money in the fight against fracking is to inspire other people to start fighting back.

We’re at the 11th hour now. The moratorium was here before, but now that’s over. Now is the time if you don’t want to be fracked. As a cancer survivor, whatever money I have ends up going into paying medical bills. When you live in an area surrounded by frackers, what point is it to even try to do that if the water, air, community, etc., will be gone and destroyed and the area becomes a toxic wasteland?

So, what better use of money than to defend and protect this place? I couldn’t think of better thing to do, with even more of a public platform, to highlight lunacy of fracking. I want others to feel that they shouldn’t give up before they start the fight. Self-defeatism is what’s beating us — learned helplessness — beats us even more than the formidable power of natural gas industry.

Whatever I can do to get people out of that place — if you want to be the hero, now’s your chance. I hope to use the money to open up space for speech, and not silence.

One suggestion is to put all eggs in one basket, but it is probably better to spread it around. The fight of townships to ban fracking locally — see Dryden case study — is one option. There’s also fight at state level with regards to Cuomo. 

The international human rights movement is also against dependence on fossil fuels. There is also the example of the civil disobedience that was used to stop the tar sands pipeline. There are fights everywhere, which go from the global level all the down to village level.

I am, in short, still in the thinking stage about funding and where it’ll all end up.

December 09 2011

18:34

Another LNG Deal Inked, Fracking Export Bonanza Continues

On December 7, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC) granted a 30-year license to Jordan Cove LNG (liquefied natural gas), located in Coos Bay, Oregon, to transform its existing import terminal license into an export terminal license. It would be the first LNG export terminal on the west coast of the U.S., with multiple LNG export terminals also in the negotiation phase, set to be located on the west coast in Kitimat, British Columbia.

KMTR-TV explains where the unconventional gas, procured via the toxic fracking process explained thoroughly in DeSmogBlog's "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate," will come from for Jordan Cove:

Construction of the Ruby Pipeline has brought gas from Wyoming to Southern Oregon, where it is sent to California. Construction of a new pipeline would link Ruby with Jordan Cove.

El Paso Natural Gas, a subsidiary of El Paso Corporation, owns the Ruby Pipeline. "Ruby is a 680-mile, 42-inch interstate natural gas pipeline," according to its website.

The pipeline that KMTR-TV is referring to, which would link Ruby with Jordan Cove, is called the Pacific Connector Pipeline, and is proposed to be a "234-mile, 36-inch diameter pipeline," according to its website

Wyoming is home to the Niobrara Shale basin, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently revealed as a site of groundwater contamination linked to the fracking process.

LNG from Jordan Cove LNG will be exported to the Asian market, which is willing to pay three times more for the fracked gas than the domestic market. In a September interview with the business journal Platts, Jordan Cove LNG project manager Robert Braddock stated the rationale behind converting Jordan Cove into an export terminal: "we would have certainly much closer access to the Asian markets."

This is but a small piece of a much bigger, broader picture of foreign-based multinational corporations investing in U.S. shale operations in order to benefit from the export potential. This will mean higher prices for U.S. consumers, despite industry claims to champion U.S. energy independence and "affordable" energy.

A Foreign Flurry to Profit from U.S.-Based Shale Gas

Two important investigative reports on the subject came out recently, one by Food and Water Watch and another by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Both of the reports show that, contrary to the claims made by the oil and gas industry that fracking for unconventional energy will "boost local economies," fracking is increasingly revealing itself as a boon for huge multinational corporations, often not even based in North America, but in foreign locales.

"Foreign investment poured into American gas and oil shale fields through three quarters of 2011, amounting to $24.5 billion of the total $39.9 billion in deals," revealed the Tribune-Review

Furthermore, as DeSmogBlog previously revealed, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved two LNG export deals, both in Sabine Pass, Texas, with many many more FERC deals in the middle of the approval process.

The map below, produced by the Tribune-Review, best portrays who stands to gain from the North American fracking boom happening in every crevice of the United States. "Boosting the local economy"? As can be seen quite clearly, this is merely a pipe dream.

18:24

Fracking Ohio's Utica Shale to "Boost Local Economy"? A "Total" Sham

It is a well-known fact that the unconventional gas industry is involved in an inherently toxic business, particularly through hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), which the EPA just confirmed has contaminated groundwater in Wyoming. The documentary film "Gasland," DeSmogBlog's report "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate," and numerous other investigations, reports, and scientific studies have echoed the myriad problems with unconventional oil and gas around the globe.

What is less well-known, but arguably equally as important, is who exactly stands to benefit economically from the destruction of our land, air, and water in the gas industry's rush to profit from the fracking bonanza. The U.S oil and gas industry would have us believe that they are principally focused on ushering in American energy independence. But their claims are increasingly suspect as the real motivation of this industry becomes clearer by the day.

A hint: it's not the small "mom and pop," independent gas companies, but multinational oil and gas corporations. Another hint: it's often not even American multinational oil and gas corporations, but rather, foreign-based multinational oil and gas corporations who stand to gain the most.

France's Total S.A. Enters Ohio's Utica Shale, as well as Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya

On December 7, Bloomberg's Businessweek reported that Total S.A. is positioning itself to acquire 25 percent of Chesapeake Energy’s stake in Ohio's Utica Shale, valued at $2.14 Billion

Total S.A., the largest oil and gas producer in France, is a multinational corporation perhaps most notorious for its involvement in Iraq's "Oil-For-Food" scandal. In 2010, Total S.A. was accused of bribing former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's officials to secure oil supplies. 


Total SA also brokered another big deal on December 7, this one in Uganda, a place I recently wrote about on AlterNet in a piece titled, "Did Obama Just Kick Off Another Oil War — This Time in Africa?" It appears the question raised and answered in my article is being confirmed more and more with each passing day.

Explaining the terms of the deal, Reuters wrote, "French oil major Total said it could build a pipeline from South Sudan to Uganda that would continue to Kenya’s coast, potentially solving the fledgling state’s headache about how to export its oil."

These announcements comes on the heels of a December 1 announcement by another foreign corporation, Norway's Statoil, stating that it "would like to add to its acreage position in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas as it looks to grow its unconventional oil and gas position in North America."

Speaking of corruption, by the way, Ohio is a natural landing spot for Total S.A.

Ohio: Home to Big Gas Money

Common Cause of Ohio, in a recent report titled "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets," revealed that from 2001 through June 2011, Republican Governor John Kasich received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the gas industry. The Republican Senatorial and House Campaign Committees took another $210,250 from the gas industry during that same time period.

Not to be outdone, on the other side of the aisle, former Democratic Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, received $87,450 during that time frame. 

Top donors included the following:

  • Ohio Oil & Gas Producers Fund - $820,285
  • British Petroleum PAC & Employees - $215,438
  • Marathon Oil PAC & Employees - $207,054

Summing things up, Common Cause wrote,

Companies engaged in fracking contributed $2.8 million to state candidates, political committees, and parties in Ohio from 2001 through June 2011, helping the natural gas industry preserve what are some of the nation’s most lenient fracking regulations. Ohio does not require full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process, has stripped from local governments the power to regulate fracking, and allows fracking as close as 100 feet to a residence.

All in all, this is a bad deal for the people of Ohio, but a great deal for global multinational oil corporations, a pattern all too familiar in the American political fray.

Any way one slices it, the claim that the gas industry first and foremost is a "good neighbor" who will "benefit the local economies," is a total sham. 

 

December 02 2011

21:34

Smeared But Still Fighting, Cornell's Tony Ingraffea Debunks Gas Industry Myths

Cornell University Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea made waves in April 2011 when they unveiled what is now known simply as the "Cornell Study."

Published in a peer-reviewed letter in the academic journal Climatic Change Letters, the study revealed that, contrary to the never-ending mythology promulgated by the gas industry, unconventional ("natural") gas, procured via the infamous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, likely emits more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere during its life cycle than does coal. DeSmogBlog documented the in-depth details of the Cornell Study in our report, "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate."

Since the report was published, the Cornell Study has receieved serioius backlash from the gas industry, in particular from Energy in Depth, the industry's go-to front defensive linebackers on all things fracking related. DeSmogBlog revealed earlier this year that Energy in Depth is an industry front group created by many of the largest oil and gas companies, contrary to its preferred "mom and pop" image. 

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea wrote a must-read piece this week for CBC News, "Does the natural gas industry need a new messenger?

In his article, Dr. Ingraffea discusses and debunks many key gas industry myths, which he explained "always have at least a kernel of truth, but you have to listen to the whole story, carefully, not just the kernel."

"With decades of geopolitical influence and billions of dollars on the table, it is not surprising that the gas industry has perpetuated…myths to keep the public in the dark, regulators at bay, and the wells flowing," Ingraffea writes.

Let's review four of the myths exploded by Dr. Ingraffea:

Myth One: "Fracking is a 60-year-old, safe, well proven technology"

Dr. Ingraffea writes:

Yes, fracking is 60 years old. But using this shorthand obscures the truth that what’s at issue here isn’t really just fracking. It's the entire process of coaxing gas from shale using high-volume, slickwater fracking with long laterals from clustered, multi-well pads.

Myth Two: "Fluid migration from faulty wells is rare"

Ingraffea dismantles this one:

Fluid migration is not rare. For example, industry researchers Watson and Bachu, in a Society of Petroleum Engineers paper in 2009, examined 352,000 Canadian wells and found sustained casing pressure and gas migration…Most recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene, methane and chemicals in water-monitoring wells in Pavilion, Wyoming…

Myth Three: "The use of clustered, multi-well drilling pads reduces surface impacts"

Ingraffea:

Such pad sites are large and growing, up to 10 acres or more. Newer sites, in Canada, are bigger than 50 acres, and each will leave behind clusters of wellheads and holding tanks for decades.

Cluster drilling facilitates and prolongs intense industrialization and leaves a larger, more concentrated, and very long-term footprint, not a smaller and shorter one.

Myth Four: "Natural gas is a 'clean' fossil fuel"

This one would be laughable if so many people did not believe it. As the old adage goes, "A lie can travel halfway 'round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Ingraffea on this whopper:

NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell’s work, published in the prestigious journal, Science, shows that methane – natural gas – is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor over a 20-year time horizon, and 33 times more powerful over a century.

He proceeds to explain that methane gas is prone to leakage, which is not taken into account when proponents tout gas as a "clean" source of energy:

Leaks happen routinely during regular drilling, fracking and flowback operations, liquid unloading, processing, and along pipelines and at storage facilities.

The rate of leakage is anywhere from 3.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent of the lifetime of production of a shale gas well, which means from three to 200 per cent greater leakage rate than from conventional gas wells.

Exposing Other Mythology, Making a Plea For Truth 

Dr. Ingraffea also discusses other myths the gas industry relies upon on a daily basis, including "jobs created," "gas for energy independence," gas as a "bridge fuel" toward renewable energy, among others. All of these lies and misdirections have been debunked on multiple occasions, by numerous sources.

Concluding where he began his article, Ingraffea makes a plea to his readers: "keep asking questions, dig for the truth, and you’ll get the whole story."

November 29 2011

23:06

To Understand What's Happening with Fracking Decisions in New York, Follow the Money

In a November 25 article titled, "Millions Spent in Albany Fight to Drill for Gas," The New York Times reported:

Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor…The companies and industry groups have donated more than $430,000 to New York candidates and political parties, including over $106,000 to Mr. Cuomo, since the beginning of last year, according to a coming analysis of campaign finance records by Common Cause.

Those who were wondering the motive behind NY Democratic Governor Anthony Cuomo's decision to lift New York's moratorium on fracking now have a better sense for his enthusiasm: campaign cash.

Back in June, I wrote,

Despite the copiously-documented ecological danger inherent in the unconventional drilling process and in the…gas emissions process, as well as the visible anti-fracking sentiment of the people living in the Marcellus Shale region, Cuomo has decided it's 'go time.' Other than in New York City's watershed, inside a watershed used in the city of Syracuse, in underground water sources deemed important in cities and towns, as well on state lands, spanning from parks and wildlife preserves, 85% of the state's lands are now fair game for fracking, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

It is clear that Cuomo did not have science on the top of his priority list when making his decision to lift the moratorium. 

But as any good reporter knows, possibly one of the most crucial tenets of good jouranlism is to follow the money, which is just what the Times and Common Cause did. 

What we are seeing is the concerted application of really a substantial amount of money to try to move public policy into a pro-fracking stance. It is a tremendous amount of pressure on our state government," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York, to The New York Times.

Common Cause and The New York Times, then, have shed more light as to why Cuomo decided to make this decision and the light is colored green, the color of money

November 16 2011

19:24

Senate Hearing Confirms Natural Gas Export Plans Will Raise Prices For Americans

Considering the rate at which natural gas resources are being developed, and the sudden push from industry to export the product, it might come as a surprise that the Senate’s Energy Committee hadn’t had a hearing on liquified natural gas (LNG) since 2005.

Last Tuesday, for the first time in six years, Senators brought the issue back to the Capitol spotlight, as they considered the impact of exporting LNG on domestic prices.

In order to export or import natural gas, companies can either transport it through pipelines, or ship it as liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG is natural gas cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the gas becomes a liquid. Back in 2006, LNG imports far outstripped exports, and industry used that trade deficit to push for a massive expansion of domestic drilling, relying heavily on the argument for American “energy security.”

Now that that expansion is well-underway, with the infamous Utica and Marcellus shales the frontier of rapid development, utilizing controversial fracking and horizontal drilling techniques, the industry is eager to start exporting LNG to international markets where the fuel fetches a much heftier price.

The Senate hearing comes in the wake of a massive 20-year, $8 billion deal between the British BGGroup and Houston-based Cheniere Energy.

The amount of LNG represented in that deal alone amounts to roughly 3.3 percent of all current U.S. natural gas consumption.There are currently four other export applications on the desks of the Department of Energy (Dominion Energy’s Jordan Cove project, which I wrote about here, is another), and together they would be the equivalent of 10 percent of current U.S. natural gas use, according to Chris Smith, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Oil & Gas at the DOE.

Exporting that amount of LNG alone is, lawmakers worry, enough to impact domestic prices. Earlier this year, when the DOE approved  the export permit for the Sabine Pass LNG project in Louisaiana (where the Cheniere LNG would ship off towards Europe), the department admitted that the project would raise gas prices in the U.S. by more than 10 percent.

Speaking at the hearing last Tuesday, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon put Smith on the spot as to the rational of that decision:

Clearly, the department believes that raising natural gas pries by 10 percent meets the public interest test required by the Natural Gas Act…My question is, does the department believe that raising gas prices by five times that amount would be in the public interest?

The agency must determine whether the export projects are in the “national interest” during the approval process.

These first five proposed export deals represent, as Reuters referred to the Cheniere deal, “a new  chapter in the shale gas revolution that has redefined global markets."

Many energy experts, environmentalists, and lawmakers like Senator Wyden are concerned that, despite the rhetoric, a massive expansion of natural gas drilling won’t actually improve America’s energy security or self-reliance, but will only help the gas companies reach more lucrative foreign markets, leaving Americans to clean up the mess and pay for any pollution, spills, or long-term ecosystem degradation, as well as paying higher natural gas prices.

As proof of the industry’s intention to tie into a global market, Wyden held up a graph of LNG prices worldwide, showing that prices are up to three times higher overseas than they are in the United States.

(DeSmogBlog has contacted Senator Wyden’s office for a clearer copy of that graph, and will post it when we receive it.)

Showing the graph, Wyden warned, "Exports in the United States are going to make natural gas like the oil market. That’s why I’m concerned about what these price hikes could mean for our businesses and our consumers.”

Some other interesting bits from Wyden's testimony:

“I’m trying to get my arms around where the department is going to draw the line. Given the fact that prices overseas are many times higher than North American prices, my question really deals with how high do you think the price of the natural gas in the United States can go up as a result of these exports and still meet the public interest test?
Is there anything else you can tell me about how the department is going to draw the line so we can tell American businesses and consumers that they’re going to be able to get affordable natural gas as a result of this new export policy?”
“We’re going to be looking at impact on GDP. We’re going to be looking at jobs. We’re going to be looking at impact on a balance of trade. Some of those factors will be affected by the price itself. So we understand the importance that price holds.
“We also understand that natural gas at these export levels remains an inherently local domestic commodity. Prices are higher in Asia, but if you compare natural gas with oil, oil is a globally fungible commodity where you have enough transportation infrastructure to move oil from market to market. Whereas the ability to couple prices in the United States with prices in Asia, there simply isn’t the infrastructure that would allow you to do that at this point in time.”

Also providing testimony was Jim Collins, director of underground utilities for the city of Hamilton, Ohio. Collins argued that exporting LNG would tie the country to international markets, and would increase domestic prices and cause Americans’ utility bills to rise. Collins is no anti-gas crusader. He supports the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel and electricity producer, but is worried that the export strategies of gas companies will leave Americans worse off.

Today, the vast  majority of natural gas exports from the United States travel through pipelines into Mexico and Canada. Only about 5 percent of natural gas exports currently leave our borders as LNG from coastal ports. (I dug deeper into the natural gas trade numbers in this earlier post.)

As of last year, there were 11 LNG terminals in the United States, only one of which — Sabine Pass — is approved for exports. That the industry is lobbying so hard to open up other terminals for overseas shipping is proof that the "energy security" claims they're making to rally favor around rapid shale gas development are disingenuous at best.

It's worth noting that natural gas imports are still far greater than exports, and current natural gas demand still outstrips domestic supply. If "energy security" were the real goal, then the companies should be content closing the gap of domestic supply and demand.

But because the gas industry intends to tie into the more lucrative foreign markets as soon as possible, Americans will wind up paying higher energy bills, and will be left with all the risk, and cleaning up all the industry's pollution and waste. Which is why so many energy experts, environmentalists and lawmakers see natural gas exports as a lose-lose for America.

September 13 2011

18:35

Environmental Impact Deemed "Limited" For Potentially Explosive Shale Gas Pipeline Into Lower Manhattan

Last Friday, exactly one year after the massive natural gas pipeline blast that killed eight and leveled a San Bruno, California neighborhood, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) brought the controversial New Jersey-New York gas line one step closer to construction.

The pipeline, as proposed by Spectra Energy, would carry shale gas through a number of New Jersey towns, under the Hudson River, and into the Meatpacking District of Lower Manhattan. On Friday, FERC released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that gave preliminary approval for construction of the pipeline and all of the related aboveground facilities. The EIS runs over 800 pages long, so I wasn’t able to give it a thorough read (you can find links to all the sections here), but the Executive Summary gave every indication that the line would be approved. FERC found “that construction and operation of the NJ-NY Project would result in limited adverse environmental impacts” and that “[T]hese limited impacts would mostly occur during the period of construction.”

For all the detailed discussion of wetlands and waterways and noise pollution and archaeological sites, there’s one major risk — environmental and public safety — that the report glosses over.

What happens if there’s an explosion? New Jersey-New York City shale gas pipeline map



Granted, it isn’t the role of an EIS to disqualify a pipeline on pure disaster risk potential, but you’d think that it would have to address the environmental impacts associated with the very real potential for explosive accidents. FERC finds just a “slight increase in risk” to residents who live near this 30 inch shale gas pipeline.

The pipeline and aboveground facilities associated with the NJ-NY Project would be designed, constructed, operated, and maintained to meet or exceed the DOT Minimum Federal Safety Standards in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 192 and other applicable federal and state regulations. By designing and operating the proposed Project in accordance with the applicable standards, the Project would represent only a slight increase in risk to the nearby public.

The public safety advocates behind NoGasPipeline.org make the case that the proposed NJ-NYC gas line would be roughly the same size and rely on the same pressure as that which caused the deadly San Bruno blast. Of course, that San Bruno line was old — originally installed in 1956, but a recent report by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed lax regulatory oversight and PG&E’s inadequate safety monitoring for the fatal tragedy.

Spectra has already lost local confidence in their safety measures. As reported by Natural Gas Watch in June, federal regulators cited Spectra with “17 inadequacies in its pipeline safety operations and procedures" for things like "continuing pipeline surveillance" and "welding procedures."

The folks at Natural Gas Watch mapped out a rough version of potential impacts if a blast similar to San Bruno were to occur at the pipeline's point of entry into Manhattan.

shale gas blast New Jersey New York shale gas line explosion

The citizens behind NoGasPipelines.org also created a "blast map" on the New Jersey side of things that is actually far more detailed and every bit as jaw-dropping.

Upon receiving the draft EIS, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy expressed his disappointment in no unclear terms. The report "does not address our primary concerns, which are the safety and security of our residents and the impact on the future development of our city," Healy said in a statement. "Additionally, we feel strongly that there are serious environmental impacts that this would have on our community and our residents, and we remain vehemently opposed to this project."

The public now has 45 days to comment on the draft EIS before the final version is prepared. You can e-file your comments here until October 31st.

17:55

Polluters Join Forces To Pressure Obama On Oil And Gas Drilling

In the wake of President Obama’s speech on job creation last week, major players in the energy industry have banded together to put pressure on the president to speed up the permitting process for new oil and gas drilling leases. At least 17 different companies and interest groups sent a joint letter to the president telling him that the best way to create jobs is to allow the dirty energy industry to drill, baby, drill.

From the industry letter:
  

One policy initiative that simultaneously creates high-paying jobs and increases revenues into federal coffers would be to improve efficiency and the rate of permitting activity in the Gulf of Mexico to a rate that is commensurate with industry’s ability to invest. Because safe, reliable domestic energy impacts all sectors of the US economy — manufacturing, agriculture, transportation and small business – such a move makes sense in light of the new regulatory regime and containment protocols developed by the Interior Department and private industry working in partnership.


The dirty energy industry would like us to believe that the administration’s energy protocols for drilling are hindering job growth in the country, even though the current wait time for drilling approval is about three months. Their claims of “safety” also ring hollow for those of us living on the Gulf Coast who are still witnessing oil washing up on our shores more than a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico, spewing oil into the water for more than three months.

The American Petroleum Institute was not a part of the 17 groups that sent the letter to the president, but they have not been silent in the jobs debate. In a recent release, the API claimed that by lifting restrictions on oil and gas drilling, the energy industry would add as many as 1.4 million jobs and generate as much as $800 billion in tax revenue for the federal government. API president Jack Gerard acknowledged that it would take about 7 years for all of these jobs to materialize, far less than the estimated 2 million “green” jobs created in just one year by the President’s 2009 stimulus package.



Despite the fact that the green jobs sector can create jobs faster than oil and gas drilling, the dirty energy industry has a much louder megaphone and more resources to push misinformation onto the public. The folks over at the industry-funded website GlobalWarming.org (funded and maintained by the Competitive Enterprise Institute) recently posted about how the president’s stimulus package and green jobs initiatives actually lost American jobs. They also beat the familiar drum of “job-killing regulations.”

From GlobalWarming.org’s Hans Bader:
  

No net jobs were created in America last month (even as the people needing jobs increased), as the Obama Administration drafted a host of new job-killing regulations and threatened costly lawsuits against employers. But rather than rethink his failed economic policies, Obama is planning to spend billions more on green-jobs fantasies and boondoggles…

The $800 billion stimulus package was indeed a failure. It contained ill-conceived provisions that ignited trade wars with foreign countries such as Mexico, wiping out jobs in our export sector and aggravating America’s trade deficit. The stimulus package’s green jobs funding, nearly 80 percent of which went to foreign firms, effectively outsourced thousands of American jobs to foreign countries, at taxpayer expense. More corporate welfare for “green energy” will do nothing to fix the overall bad business climate, which is discouraging job creation.
 

Again, their claims seem to be at odds with reality, as we recently reported on several studies that prove that the Administration’s environmental protections are actually helping to create jobs in America. And as for their claims regarding the oil they would produce from increased drilling, those are also false. As we previously reported:
  

The oil-loving Bush Administration actually did a wonderful job proving how little the impact would be if we opened up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil drilling. According to their own estimates, the oil would take about a decade or more before it even reached the market, and at that point might bring the price of oil down by about 50 cents per barrel at its peak. That translates to a reduction of about 1 to 3 cents less per gallon of gasoline at the pump. They estimated that there are roughly 10 billion barrels of oil in the wildlife refuge, and since the US consumes 6.6 billion barrels a year, despoiling that wild public treasure would only supply enough oil to completely fuel the United States (no imports or other sources) for about a year and a half. After that, the well is completely dry.

The Gulf of Mexico oil reserves don’t offer much to get excited about either. According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the best estimates say that there could be as much as 20 billion barrels of oil in the Gulf (again, at best.) This means that the Gulf could fully supply America for maybe 3 years, if the estimates are correct.

But this doesn’t mean that Obama will turn a deaf ear to their cries. He has been incredibly forgiving to the dirty energy industry, and has managed to give in to most of their demands since taking office. And with national elections a little more than a year away and unemployment the major talking point, the president could easily cave into polluter demands in an attempt to show the public that he did everything possible to create American jobs.

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

September 07 2011

14:30

America’s Natural Gas Pipelines - A Closer Look At This Gigantic Pipeline System

Following up on our broader look at the North American oil and gas pipeline system, with a focus on crude and the special case of tar sands oil pipelines, this week we'll tackle the tubes that carry natural gas.

Natural Gas in the United States

In 2009, the US used some 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, surpassing Russia as the world's largest producer and consumer of the fuel. Used for everything from heating homes to lighting cooking ranges to powering fleet vehicles to firing power plants — and often cited as a cleaner-burning energy source than coal or oil — demand for the fossil fuel has spiked in recent years.

While natural gas is produced in 32 states, the top five — Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico, in that order — produce a full 65 percent of the nation's total (pdf). This leaves a lot of states dependent on natural gas imports. As this map shows, 28 states need to import at least 85 percent of their gas demands.

natural gas pipelines map

Click here or on the map for a larger version.

Moving this huge amount of natural gas around requires a vast pipeline transmission system. Let's take a closer look at these pipes, shall we?

The Natural Gas Pipeline System

In terms of mere reach and mileage, the natural gas lines that run throughout the country and continent dwarf those that carry crude. While there are roughly 150,000 miles of crude pipelines in the United States (about 55,000 miles of the thick "trunk lines" and 95,000 miles of refined product lines), there are over 305,000 miles of natural gas lines, all part of 210 distinct pipeline systems operated by private companies. That's not to mention the more than 2 million miles of natural gas distribution lines and service pipelines (the smaller "delivery" lines that run through thousands of cities and towns).

On top of all that, according to the Energy Information Administration, to help the gas flow there are:

  • More than 1,400 compressor stations that maintain pressure on the natural gas pipeline network and assure continuous forward movement of supplies  (see map).
  • More than 11,000 delivery points, 5,000 receipt points, and 1,400 interconnection points that provide for the transfer of natural gas throughout the United States.   
  • 24 hubs or market centers that provide additional interconnections  (see map).
  • 400 underground natural gas storage facilities (see map).
  • 49 locations where natural gas can be imported/exported via pipelines (see map).
  • 8 LNG (liquefied natural gas) import facilities and 100 LNG peaking facilities (see map).

Clearly, pipelines are just one part of a larger natural gas transmission system. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), illustrates the system like so:

natural gas pipeline system

Click here or on the image for a larger version.

To oversimplify the process: Gas is gathered from underground or offshore wells, storage tanks holding imported supplies, or other reservoirs, and runs through gathering lines to a processing and treatment plant. Then, a compressor increases pressure of the gas and pushes it through the pipelines. These compressor stations are spaced about 50 to 100 miles apart and move the gas at roughly 15 miles per hour. Some of the gas moving along this subterranean fuel highway is diverted and stored in underground reservoirs to ensure steady supply through the cold winter months when demand for home heating fuel is highest. Eventually, the gas reaches the "city gate" of a local gas utility, the pressure is reduced and an odorant is added (so that leaking gas can be detected). Local gas companies move the fuel the last few miles to homes and businesses, and a gas meter on a building measures the consumer's use.

While it's important to understand the whole system for context, let's hone in on the pipelines themselves. Which, again, are pretty widespread.

Where Are The Pipelines?

There's no better way to show the scale of this natural gas pipeline system than with a map. Like this one from the EIA, which, to be clear, only shows the interstate and intrastate transmission lines, not those 2 million miles of local distribution and service lines:

natural gas pipelines map

Click here or on the map for a larger version.

While that national map is eye-opening, it doesn't do much to answer the question that is likely in the front of anyone's mind: how close are they to me?

PHMSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT) actually has a helpful — if terribly clunky — mapping tool that lets you zoom in and better see where the pipelines run. The Pipeline Information Management Mapping Application (or PIMMA) lets you zoom in on the system by county. Here's San Francisco County:

natural gas pipelines san francisco

The dark blue lines in the Southeast part of the peninsula are natural gas transmission lines. As you can see, the lines disappear when they hit the city/county line. Not because they don't connect to anything there, but because (like I said) PIMMA is a bit clunky. (If you need some help navigating the PIMMA tool, the Pipeline Safety Trust has a really handy "walkthrough" that's well worth checking out.)

So what if you do live near a natural gas pipeline? Is it reason for concern? My next post will take a look at the state of America's aging natural gas infrastructure, and the considerable safety and security concerns in the system.

Note: This is the third post in an ongoing series covering energy pipelines in North America. See Part 1 and Part 2.

August 05 2011

18:32

Oil Industry Steps Up Astroturf Efforts For 2012 Election

The oil industry has put their astroturf and lobbying efforts into overdrive over the last few months, preparing for a bitter fight in the upcoming 2012 presidential election. In addition to their usual work of pushing for increased domestic oil production and the opening of federal lands for oil drilling, the industry is working around the clock to convince lawmakers to sign off on the Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport crude tar sand oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

ThinkProgress reporter Lee Fang has helped uncover some of the oil industry’s recent astroturf tactics at townhall meetings across the country. At a separate townhall event in Iowa, Republicans Rick Santorum and Herman Cain were asked questions by “activists” planted by the industry-funded group the Iowa Energy Forum. From Fang’s report:

ThinkProgress witnessed the Iowa Energy Forum in action on a recent reporting trip. At a local Republican event at the Pizza Ranch buffet, a man affiliated with the group pressed Rick Santorum to commit to supporting the Keystone XL pipeline as another person with the group videotaped the exchange. The same dynamic happened again later that week at a Tea Party event with Herman Cain.

We came across a Youtube account affiliated with the Iowa Energy Forum. In addition to hosting an infomercial from the American Petroleum Institue, the trade association sponsoring the Forum, the channel features videos of astroturfed questions planted with GOP presidential candidates like Cain, Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich. Many of the exchanges appear as authentic dialogue between a candidate and a regular Iowan. However, the questions are part of a well-crafted effort by oil lobbyists steer, and to some extent control, the GOP primary.

(Watch a compilation of planted questions at town hall events here.)

Of course, Republican candidates are more than willing participants in the oil industry’s outreach efforts. Some of the oil industry’s lobbyists behind the Iowa Energy Forum effort double as consultants to the Pawlenty campaign. Cain has said that he would literally appoint the CEO of Shell Oil to set oil industry regulations at the EPA. And as ThinkProgress discovered, the American Petroleum Institute maintains an official partnership with Gingrich’s 527 attack group, American Solutions for Winning the Future (ASWF).

The Des Moines Register has pointed out that on the website of the Iowa Energy Forum, the fine print reveals that the American Petroleum Institute (API) is their main sponsor.

But the oil industry isn’t just limiting themselves to townhall meetings – they have also embraced social media as a means to manipulate public opinion. Rainforest Action Network blog The Understory and Mother Jones are reporting that oil industry insiders are creating fake Twitter accounts to tout the need for the Keystone XL Pipeline.

From The Understory:

Followers of the #tarsands hashtag on Twitter may have noticed a strange spike in posts yesterday morning. Within three minutes, fifteen accounts (the list has since grown) all posted the message “#tarsands the truth is out! [link]” linking to API’s web page about oil sands. Then came another post from the same accounts, this time linking to the Nebraska Energy Forum, one of 26 state-based-front-groups sponsored by API in the lead up to the 2012 election. Then a flurry of posts late last night from those same accounts, all linking to a post on “publicaffairsinformant.com” touting KeystoneXL and linking back to the Nebraska Energy Forum.


As we previously reported, API president Jack Gerard has made it clear that he wants to have an oil lobbyist placed in every Congressional district in America. And from the looks of things, he’s doing his best to fulfill that mission for the oil industry.

August 03 2011

18:39

Federal Government Asks Judge To Dismiss New York State Fracking Lawsuit

The U.S. government is asking a federal judge in New York to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the state of New York against the government that was seeking to demand a complete review of the environmental damage caused by hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The federal government claims that New York state does not have the grounds to file a suit as they have “no evidence” of injury and they do not have the authority to sue the federal government.

Sandra Levy, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, wrote to District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, telling him that the suit was barred because the federal government has “sovereign immunity,” and therefore, federal agencies cannot be sued by states.


From a previous DeSmogBlog post detailing the specifics of the lawsuit:

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to properly study the effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) before granting permits to gas drillers. The lawsuit seeks to stop fracking in the Delaware River Basin until a comprehensive analysis of the dangers is performed by the government.

Schneiderman warned Washington last month that he would file suit if the government didn’t take immediate action to study the effects of fracking. Schneiderman says that federal officials have failed to assess the fracking process properly, and that the environmental protections for the Delaware River Basin have not been evaluated by government officials to determine if they are adequate to address the fracking boom. Independent studies have shown that fracking fluids contain numerous toxic chemicals, and that the potential to contaminate water supplies is enormous.

Currently, standards for the Delaware River Basin would allow as many as 18,000 new gas wells in the coming years, and the majority of these will employ the controversial fracking method. These rules allow companies to create new gas wells without having to adhere to any environmental standards that other industries follow in the area.


In his original complaint, Schneiderman pointed out that hundreds of clean water violations have been reported as a result of the more than 2,000 gas wells that have been drilled in Pennsylvania, and that the state of New York has spent a staggering $1.5 billion to help protect their own water supply from fracking pollution.

The federal government’s request is a horrible blow to American citizens and to the environment, and will set a dangerous precedent for any fracking lawsuits that arise in the future.

August 02 2011

17:30

EPA Proposes First-Ever Federal Fracking Rules

The U.S. EPA is poised to enact the first ever rules on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with a proposal that would allow the agency to regulate the practice under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air route was chosen by the agency, as the U.S. Congress prohibited their attempts to regulate the practice of fracking under the Clean Water Act in 2005.

From Raw Story:

The new EPA proposal would limit emissions released during many stages of natural gas production and development, but explicitly targets the volatile organic compounds released in large quantities when wells are fracked. Drillers would have to use equipment that captures these gases, reducing emissions by nearly 95 percent, the EPA said.

The EPA contends that the measure would actually be a moneymaker for drilling companies. Though it might compel them to invest in new equipment, this equipment would allow them to capture methane gas currently lost in the drilling process, which they could then sell.

The EPA proposal is the result of a successful 2009 lawsuit brought against the agency by WildEarth Guardians and another advocacy group alleging that the agency had not updated air-quality rules as required. The EPA is supposed to review such rules at least every eight years, but in some cases had not done so for 10 years or more.


Despite the EPA’s claims that the tighter standards would actually increase the income of gas drillers, the industry was quick to speak out against the proposed rule changes. The Marcellus Shale Coalition issued the following response on their website:

While we understand that EPA is required by law to periodically evaluate current standards, this sweeping set of potentially unworkable regulations represents an overreach that could, ironically, undercut the production of American natural gas, an abundant energy resource that is critical to strengthening our nation’s air quality.

According to the EPA, the new rules would result in the following emission reductions every year:


Volatile Organic Compounds: 540,000 tons, an industry-wide reduction of 25 percent.

Methane – 3.4 million tons, which is equal to 65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), a reduction of about 26 percent.

Air Toxics –38,000 tons, a reduction of nearly 30 percent.


Once the EPA sets a date for implementation, the gas industry will have 60 days to submit any complaints or input on the new rules. While the date is not currently set, the American Petroleum Institute has already asked the EPA to delay implementation until at least August 2012.

July 28 2011

19:05

Pipelines 101: An Introduction To North American Oil & Gas Pipeline Routes and Safety Concerns

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be rolling out a whole lot of information about pipelines. Why?

Because these metal tubes are truly the blood vessels of the oil and gas industry. Without them, the industry wouldn't be able to deliver the liquid fossil fuels to their refineries, or out to the customers after that. Technically, it could be done with trucks and trains and tankers, but the economics just wouldn't work. Without pipelines, liquid fossil fuels become impractically expensive.

So through one lens, pipelines are incredible. They cart valuable petroleum products from source to refinery to end use with remarkable efficiency. And they do so really cheap!

But not all is so rosy with these tools of fossil energy infrastructure. Pipelines leak and spill -- pretty often, actually. They run through fragile ecosystems, under waterways, and across incredibly valuable aquifers. And as crucial as they are in delivering affordable fuel to your gas tank or furnace, they're pretty tempting targets for anyone who wants to deal our nation's energy supply a serious blow. In other words, our dependance on oil and gas pipelines makes our nation vulnerable to a terrorist attack, a concern that's been long established in security circles.

Pipelines are typically built and paid for by private companies. But public support is crucial to the industry, and it comes in many forms, from eminent domain takings to subsidies and tax breaks to favorable environmental impact reviews.

You typically don't hear much about pipelines, unless something goes wrong. And even then, hearing something about them is rare.

So let's start at the top, and explain the very nature of pipelines: what kinds there are, what functions they serve, and where they run.

Types of pipelines

In general, there are two main types of energy pipelines: oil pipelines and natural gas pipelines. For now, I'm going to focus on those that carry oil.

For the oil industry category, there are pipelines that carry crude and others that carry refined petroleum products. If you'll allow me to expand the blood vessel metaphor, crude pipelines are technically the veins that carry crude oil from the source to refineries. Just like our veins, they get thicker as they get closer to the spot they dump their contents out. "Gathering lines," typically about 8 to 24 inches in diameter, collect oil from wells and then hook up into larger "trunk lines" that carry the crude over long distances to the refineries. The famous Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), a trunk line, is probably the most well-known American pipeline, and it's a full 48 inches in diameter.

In all, there are roughly 55,000 miles of these thick crude oil trunk lines in the United States.

Refined product lines carry the end products of the oil industry -- gasoline, jet fuel, home heating oil, diesel fuel, and so on. These stretch across nearly every American state (with a couple of exceptions in crowded New England), and in all, there are thought to be about 95,000 miles of refined product pipelines.

Where are they?

The first question that probably jumps to mind is: are there any near me? For crude oil, it's actually not so easy to find out. Official natural gas pipeline maps are out there, like this one from the Energy Information Agency

But for security reasons, official government websites don't publish the locations of crude lines. On private company's sites you can find some not-so-detailed maps. Like this one from Canada's Centre for Energy.

But by far the most comprehensive map I was able to find came from an interesting site called Theodora, an information publishing site that gathered lots of data from primary sources and mashed it up into this impressive map. Green lines are oil pipelines, red carry natural gas, and blue carry refined petroleum products.
Here is the larger map of North America:
Theodora map of North America pipelines

And here is a closer look at the U.S. pipeline system:

You can see how a bunch of big red "trunk lines" come down from Canada and Alaska, funneling crude to refineries in California and the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

Check back soon for more information on pipelines. On Friday, we'll have a special and urgent (considering a current piece of legislation in the House) post on pipelines that carry crude from Canadian tar sands. This diluted bitumen or "DilBit" is actually a potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensates. It is highly corrosive, more acidic than "regular" crude, and as such, the likelihood of it spilling or leaking out of "DilBit" tar sands pipelines is far higher than normal. More on that Friday.

July 22 2011

12:15

Koch Brothers And ExxonMobil Join Forces To Fight RGGI With Copy-Paste State Legislation

As we’ve reported over and over again, the popular and successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and other regional climate agreements are under attack from polluters. Today, a bombshell report by Bloomberg News makes it undeniably clear who is leading the attack, and paints an ugly picture of collusion, influence, and state legislators deep in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. 

The report shines a light on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which serves as a drafting board for industry-friendly state legislation and then subsequently as a sort of mixer for corporations and state politicians who are willing to accept financial favors to bring these copy-and-paste laws back to their home states.

Bloomberg reporter Alison Fitzpatrick 
writes:
The opportunity for corporations to become co-authors of state laws legally through ALEC covers a wide range of issues from energy to taxes to agriculture. The price for participation is an ALEC membership fee of as much as $25,000 -- and the few extra thousands to join one of the group’s legislative-writing task forces. Once the “model legislation” is complete, it’s up to ALEC’s legislator members to shepherd it into law.
Fitzpatrick calls out Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries as two companies whose handwriting (forget fingerprints) are all over the template legislation that forces states out of their regional climate agreements.
The process seems to work, at least to some degree. Within the past year, legistators in at least eight states have introduced provisions to leave their respective emissions reduction pacts. David Anderson, who writes the New Hampshire Primary 2012: Green blog about climate change and the 2012 election, first spotted the template. After doing some heroic digging, he found that in at least six of these states, the legislation introduced was literally copied-and-pasted from the template provided by ALEC. These states are Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington (all PDFs), and New Hampshire.

Anderson first spotted the language in the “findings” section of the New Hampshire bill. As he told Living on Earth: “It says ‘whereas there has been no credible economic analysis of the increasing cost of doing business in the state of,’ and then there’s a blank, so, in this case, they inserted the words, New Hampshire.”

When the bill was discussed in committee, Anderson reported this incredible exchange:

The bill’s lead sponsor, state Rep. Richard Barry (R), looked a bit like a dog caught with the family cat in its mouth when he was asked to explain the language at a public hearing; he nervously said that none of the bill’s sponsors had written this particular section, but stopped short of revealing ALEC as the source of the text. That didn’t sit well with Rep. James Garrity (R), chair of the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee, who later explained, “Our committee does not feel that editorials belong in laws.” The matter was resolved by dropping the ALEC text, and the amended bill went on to pass the House.

The language Anderson found in the New Hampshire bill is the same that Fitzpatrick identified (PDF) as the “eight-paragraph resolution,” that reads, in part, “there has been no credible economic analysis of the costs associated with carbon reduction mandates” and “a tremendous amount of economic growth would be sacrificed for a reduction in carbon emissions that would have no appreciable impact on global concentrations of carbon dioxide.”

Fitzpatrick reports that ALEC’s “model bills, which now total almost 1,000, are listed on its website, although their full texts can be called up only by members.” But the Center for Media and Democracy actually acquired the full texts of over 800 of the bills earlier this month, and posted them at ALECexposed.org.

ALEC has received at least $124,000 from the Exxon Mobil Foundation in dues and sponsorships, but that figure doesn’t include direct grants or gifts from the corporation itself. Greenpeace reveals that the Council has also received at least $408,000 from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation since 1997.

This isn’t, of course, the first time we’ve seen Koch money directly influencing regional climate pacts.

Last month, Governor Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of RGGI, stripping the ten state agreement of one of its key cornerstone partners. Next door in New York, Americans for Prosperity, a group whose ties to the Koch brothers are well established, sued the state for its continued commitment to RGGI.
So far, none of the legislative or alternative efforts to pull out of regional commitments have had great traction. New Jersey’s case was unique, as Christie was able to use a controversial executive order, but there's still a lengthy regulatory process to fully extricate the state from the pact, and Democratic leaders in the state senate and assembly are introducing new legislation to strip the governor of his authority over RGGI.

Despite
widespread public support in the Garden State, Christie, who doesn’t deny that humans are causing global warming, claimed that RGGI was "a failure and an ineffective approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” This claim has been widely and summarily dismissed by scores of economists, environmentalists, and five governors who remain fully committed to RGGI. "Governor Christie is simply wrong when he claims that these efforts are a failure," said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

Americans for Prosperity celebrated Christie’s decision, even taking direct credit for it in a public press release: Americans for Prosperity Declares Victory over RGGI Cap & Trade!

The New Jersey chapter of AFP spent roughly $200,000 in the state on advertisements and other public efforts to fight RGGI, and plenty of analysts assume that Christie’s announcement was made to appease the notorious Tea Party funders as he sets his sights on a prospective White House run in 2012.

But while the New Jersey campaign was done in broad daylight, this Bloomberg News bombshell makes clear that Koch-funded organizations are still spearheading shadowy attempts to help states cut and run from their regional climate commitments.

With the prospects for nationwide carbon pricing at a ten-year low, regional agreements like RGGI, the Western Climate Initiative, and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord seem to hold the best hope for creating a carbon market and generating revenue to fund clean energy and energy efficiency projects. For this reason, no doubt, polluting interests like Koch Industries are sharpening their swords, and their legislation drafting pencils.

June 07 2011

17:14

Top Republican Wants To Weaken EPA, Fast Track Environmental Destruction

Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield from Kentucky, who serves as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, has made it clear that he will do everything in his power to push several bills that will strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to protect the public from pollution spewing from utility plants. Whitfield joins the chorus of Republicans and industry leaders who claim that emission standards are too costly for businesses and, as a result, will cost the economy desperately needed jobs.

The specific rule that Whitfield is working to repeal involves standards that would require utilities to install devices to capture as much CO2 as possible from industrial boilers and waste incinerators, a move the EPA estimates would prevent thousands of premature deaths from heart attacks and respiratory illnesses every year. The American Petroleum Institute successfully lobbied the EPA in April to postpone the rule until the public and industry leaders had a chance to air their concerns, which the EPA will be receiving until July 15th. Whitfield is hoping that new legislation will kill the proposal once and for all. <!--break-->
It should come as no surprise that Whitfield is working so diligently to protect the energy industry from paying to reduce their pollution. Over the course of his 13-year career in the House of Representatives, Whitfield has received a total of $305,115 from electric utilities, $238,247 from oil and gas companies, and another $161,177 from mining interests - $704,539 in polluter money. His position as Chair of the Energy and Power subcommittee allows his dirty energy benefactors to reap untold rewards for their industries.

His record before being Chair of the Energy and Power Subcommittee shows a clear preference towards the energy industry. He voted in favor of creating more oil refineries and speeding up the permit approval process for facilities. He voted against the offshore oil drilling moratorium, and against repealing oil industry subsidies. He’s also voted against raising vehicle fuel economy standards, and against providing tax incentives and subsidies for renewable energy projects.

Whitfield is planning to fast track his disastrous plans when Congress returns from a summer break in July.

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