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March 01 2013


An Addendum

Some longtime contributors to the Green blog will now be posting to the Caucus and Bits blogs instead, and they can be followed on Twitter.

A Blog’s Adieu

The New York Times is discontinuing the Green blog but plans to press on with aggressive energy and environment coverage.
Sponsored post

August 03 2012


Delaware Tax Haven: The Other Shale Gas Industry Loophole

Most people think of downtown Houston, Texas as ground zero for the oil and gas industry. Houston, after all, serves as home base for corporate headquarters of oil and gas giants, including the likes of BP America, ConocoPhillips, and Shell Oil Company, to name a few.

Comparably speaking, few would think of Wilmington, Delaware in a similar vein. But perhaps they should, according to a recent New York Times investigative report by Leslie Wayne.

Wayne's story revealed that Delaware serves as what journalist Nicholas Shaxson calls a "Treasure Island" in his recent book by that namesake. It's an "onshore tax haven" and an even more robust one than the Caymen Islands, to boot.

The Delaware "Island" is heavilized utilized by oil and gas majors, all of which are part of the "two-thirds of the Fortune 500" corporations parking their money in The First State.

Delaware is an outlier in the way it does business,” David Brunori, a professor at George Washington Law School told The Times. “What it offers is an opportunity to game the system and do it legally.”

The numbers are astounding. "Over the last decade, the Delaware loophole has enabled corporations to reduce the taxes paid to other states by an estimated $9.5 billion," Wayne wrote

"More than 900,000 business entities choose Delaware as a location to incorporate," explained another report. "The number…exceeds Delaware's human population of 850,000."

Marcellus Shale Frackers Utilize the "Delaware Loophole" 

The New York Times story also demonstrated that the shale gas industry has become an expert at utilizing the "Delaware Loophole" tax haven to dodge taxes, just as it is a champion at dodging chemical fluid disclosure and other accountability to the Safe Drinking Water Act, thanks to the "Halliburton Loophole." The latter is explained in great detail in DeSmogBlog's "Fracking the Future."

Utilization of the "Delaware Loophole" is far from the story of a few bad apples gone astray for the industry. As Wayne explains, the use of this "onshore tax haven" is the norm.

More than 400 corporate subsidiaries linked to Marcellus Shale gas exploration have been registered in Delaware, most within the last four years, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit group based in Harrisburg that studies the state’s tax policy.

In 2004, the center estimated that the Delaware loophole had cost the state $400 million annually in lost revenue — and that was before the energy boom.

More than two-thirds of the companies in the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry alliance based in Pittsburgh, are registered to a single address: 1209 North Orange Street, according to the center.

These fiscal figures, as Wayne points out, predate the ongoing shale gas "Gold Rush" in the Marcellus. SEIU of Pennsylvania has calculated $550 million/year in lost tax revenue in the state from the shale gas industry due to the loophole.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives set out to tackle the "Delaware Loophole" quagmire in the spring of 2012, but merely offered half-measure legislation that would have allowed corporations - including the frackers - to continue gaming the system. Coryn S. Wolk of the activist group Protecting Our Waters summarized the bill in a recent post:

In March, 2012, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives created a bipartisan bill, HB 2150, aimed at closing corporate tax loopholes. However, as the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center noted in their detailed opposition to the bill, the bill would have cost Pennsylvania more money by soothing corporations with major tax cuts and leaving the loopholes accessible to any clever accountant.

Tax cheating in Delaware goes far above and beyond the Marcellus Shale. All of the oil and gas majors, with operations around the world, take full advantage of all Delaware has to offer.

"Piping Profits"

If things in this sphere were only limited to shale gas companies operating in the Marcellus Shale, the battle would seem big. Big, but not insurmountable.

Yet, as the Norway-based NGOPublish What You Pay points out in a recent report titled, "Piping profits: the secret world of oil, gas and mining giants," the game is more rigged than most would like to admit.

How rigged? Overwhelmingly so.

The report shows that ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and ExxonMobil have 439 out of their combined 783 subsidiaries located in well-known tax havens around the world, including in Delaware. All three companies maintain fracking operations, as well, meaning they benefit from both the Halliburton and Delaware Loopholes.

Adding BP and Shell into the mix, Publish What You Pay revealed that the five majors have 749 tax haven subsidiaries located in Delaware out of a grand total of 3,632 global tax haven subsidiaries. This amounts to 20.6-percent of them, to be precise.

These figures moved Publish What You Pay's Executive Director, Mona Thowsen, to conclude, “What this study shows is that the extractive industry ownership structure and its huge use of secrecy jurisdictions may work against the urgent need to reduce corruption and aggressive tax avoidance in this sector."

Tax Justice Network: $21-$32 Trillion Parked in Offshore Accounts

A recent lengthy report titled "The Price of Offshore Revisited" by the Tax Justice Network reveals just how big of a problem tax havens are on a global scale, reaching far beyond Delaware's boundaries.

As Democracy Now! explained,

[The] new report…reveals how wealthy individuals and their families have between $21 and $32 trillion of hidden financial assets around the world in what are known as offshore accounts or tax havens. The conservative estimate of $21 trillion—conservative estimate—is as much money as the entire annual economic output of the United States and Japan combined. The actual sums could be higher because the study only deals with financial wealth deposited in bank and investment accounts, and not other assets such as property and yachts.

The inquiry…is being touted as the most comprehensive report ever on the "offshore economy." 

The Democracy Now! interview below is worth watching on the whole, as oil and gas industry "offshoring" is but the tip of the iceberg.

Photo CreditGunnar Pippel | ShutterStock

Exhaustive Study Finds Global Elite

April 03 2012


Climate Change, the News Media and the Public

A reporter explains the roots of a series in which he tries to take readers back to square one on climate science.

February 09 2012


Accountability Moment: Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce Squirms And Evades Question on Fossil Fuel Funding

Robert Bryce from the fossil fuel industry-funded Manhattan Institute just can't bring himself to answer a simple question about the fossil fuel industry funding flowing into his group. Readers of DeSmogBlog may recall our previous coverage about Bryce's anti-clean energy attacks in the New York Times op-ed pages and elsewhere.

Citing the prime example of Robert Bryce's conflict of interest, I asked the Public Editor at the New York Times last year why the paper doesn't require its op-ed contributors to disclose their funding sources so that readers can make up their own minds about the potential bias of these contributors.

Since Bryce is typically only listed as a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, that doesn't let the reader know that his organization has received a significant amount of money from dirty energy interests including ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. That's an important factor in evaluating the rationale behind Mr. Bryce's bias against clean energy.

Watch below as Gabe Elsner, my friend at the Checks and Balances Project, asks Bryce the simple question about his funding from fossil fuel interests. 

Gabe explains: 

I asked Bryce if he had financial ties to the fossil fuel industry after his debate appearance before the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners conference on Monday. Not only did Bryce refuse to answer the question, he also launched into an angry, finger-pointing tirade saying that I’d “made up” the amount of fossil fuel support documented by Manhattan Institute records.

Watch the clip with Gabe's analysis embedded:

read more

December 01 2011


A New Look for Green Blog Comments

The New York Times has tweaked the mechanism for reader commentary on its blogs and articles.

July 04 2011


France Becomes First Country To Ban Fracking; Gas Drilling Still A Go

In a major setback for the oil and gas industry, the French Senate last week voted 176 to 151 to ban hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), the controversial gas industry drilling method facing scrutiny the world over due to water contamination and other concerns. Once the legislation receives presidential approval, France will be the first country to permanently outlaw fracking.

The ban on fracking is a major victory for the French public, wary of the health, safety and water contamination impacts that unconventional gas drilling would have on communities. Still, with up to five billion cubic metres of unconventional gas spread across southern France, the drilling drama is likely far from settled.

The majority of the Senators voting in favour of the ban on Thursday come from President Nicholas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party. On the other side, many of the Senators voting against the law, which passed a similar lower house vote in May, decry it for not going far enough.

The legislation to ban fracking was originally intended to cover all forms of unconventional gas drilling, but that effort was seen by many UMP parliamentarians as too restrictive.

The French ban means that companies granted drilling permits last March will have two months to prove that they are not using fracking techniques. U.S. gas company Scheupbach Energy received two licenses and France's Total was given the other. Their permits will be revoked if they wish to frack, and they could face fines and prison sentences for any fracking attempts.

Opponents of the law continue to voice concerns that only a blanket ban on all forms of unconventional drilling will truly protect public health, water supplies and the environment. These parliamentarians claim that gas companies could theoretically continue to frack wells due to provisions allowing for ‘drilling for scientific research purposes.’ Ecologist senator Jean Desessard, like many opposition politicians, also feels that the fracking-specific ban means that those eager to drill will change the name of their gas extraction technique, or use another drilling method which might prove equally if not more damaging.

This is a real concern since the text of the law does not properly define fracking. Although a challenge has already been prepared, for now, opposition parliamentarians will not appeal to the Constitutional Court for a ruling on the matter.

From the gas industry’s perspective, the law is a major setback. The Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, which represents Total and other oil and gas interests, suggests that “the law will prevent an evaluation of shale hydrocarbon resources and their impact on the French economy.” There is also some concern that drillers could challenge the law in court. Last month, French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said that a challenge of some sort was likely. However, during the Senate debate, she said “financial and legal risks have been limited.”

The fracking ban legislation now heads to President Sarkozy’s desk for signing.

June 16 2011


Manhattan Institute Op-ed Exemplifies Why NY Times Should Require Disclosure of Financial Conflicts

The New York Times ran an op-ed last week by Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute, a group funded by Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and other polluters to confuse the public about climate change and energy issues. Bryce goes to great lengths to portray solar and wind power as land-hogging energy choices. He suggests that fracked shale gas and nuclear are somehow more environmentally preferable energy options.

This is a common argument by Bryce, who had a similar pro-fracking op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week, and who has emerged as one of the loudest of a growing cadre of critics of clean energy. Most of these critics are, not surprisingly, affiliated with “institutes” (i.e., front groups) that get money from the dirty energy industries that solar and wind are starting to disrupt.

Bryce’s argument was quickly debunked by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which points out a number of factual errors and omissions in the Manhattan Institute representative's piece.  AWEA was correct to take on Bryce's misinformation and set the record straight. Climate Progress also picked apart Bryce's claims in detail.

But one important question remains - why does The New York Times print such misleading opinion pieces without revealing the clear conflict of interest that a Koch/Exxon-funded front group representative has on such matters? Did the Times’ even ask, and does it do so as a matter of standard practice? <!--break-->
If not, the Times could quickly and easily implement and enforce a policy compelling such op-ed contributors to publicly state their financial conflicts of interest. After all, freelance contributors to the news side of the paper are held to such a standard. What's with the free pass that Bryce got?

The Times is well-regarded as one of the last bastions of journalistic integrity, which is why it’s so troubling to see the paper fail to enforce a reasonable standard of ethical disclosure on Bryce's prominent op-ed. The Times ought to provide readers with basic information about the conflicts of interest that a contributor might have.

This is about basic ethics, and doesn't even reach the level of asking the Times to actually verify facts in op-eds -- a step that would inform readers about the blatant misrepresentations and distortions of fact made in propaganda pieces like Bryce's.

It's not difficult to see that his arguments that wind and solar renewable energy projects take up more land than fossil fuel and nuclear operations are preposterous.  Does anyone really believe Bryce's claim that wind turbines (which each have a very small physical footprint) are more land-intensive than, say, blowing the tops of hundreds of Appalachian mountains to extract coal, or the vast amounts of land swallowed by oil and gas infrastructure, including pipelines, oil rigs, pump stations, and the roads built specifically to move all that drilling equipment around?

If The New York Times had a policy requiring op-ed contributors to answer basic questions about their funding sources and conflicts of interest, perhaps readers wouldn't be misled by such pieces.

In this case, had the Times’ opinion page staff asked Bryce where his group the Manhattan Institute gets its funding, readers would learn that the groups gets a significant amount of money from dirty energy interests including ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.

How hard is that, really?

Dirty energy interests know they can game the papers, and that's why front groups like Bryce's Manhattan Institute and dozens of similar industry PR firms bother to masquerade as think tanks. It's a decades-old practice stretching all the way back to the call in the 1971 Powell Manifesto to start launching such groups.

By requiring op-ed contributors to disclose financial conflicts, direct or indirect, on the subject of their pieces, the Times would begin to unmask this cottage industry.

In order to set such a policy, the Times would need to look no further than the very standard it applies to its own news staff through its code of ethics:

Masquerading. Times reporters do not actively misrepresent their identity to get a story. We may sometimes remain silent on our identity and allow assumptions to be made ­ to observe an institution's dealings with the public, for example, or the behavior of people at a rally or police officers in a bar near the station house. But a sustained, systematic deception, even a passive one … may be employed only after consultation between a department head and masthead editors.” [emphasis added]

The Times’ opinion page editors should apply the spirit of that standard on masquerading by asking a few direct questions of op-ed contributors like Bryce about their funding.

By failing to implement this simple standard, the Times enables the printing of industry propaganda on its influential opinion pages.

*Phone and email messages sent by DeSmogBlog to New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane inquiring about this policy discrepancy have not been answered, but we will update this post when we hear from him.

June 15 2011


President Obama’s Fracking Panel Unmoved By Pennsylvanians’ Water Concerns

On Monday, the Natural Gas Subcommittee, from Energy Department Secretary Stephen Chu’s Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), held its second public meeting.  Around 400 people packed a cramped auditorium at Washington Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania to discuss the effects of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) on water supplies, air quality and other threats from the controversial practice.

The crowd split into two camps, those opposing and those supporting the highly contentious drilling method which has spread across Pennsylvania. Fracking opponents argued that fracking is a dangerous and destructive process that must be banned immediately, while those in favour yelled out “drill, baby, drill.”

Given the circumstances it was not surprising that the pro-frackers won the evening. This was due, in large part, to the work of gas industry front-group Energy in Depth who sent out emails to Pennsylvania and New York residents supportive of fracking, offering them airfare, hotels and meals to attend. Tickets to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the New York Mets were even offered, although later retracted. <!--break-->

The mandate of the SEAB Natural Gas Subcommittee focuses on supporting the President’s “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” and will make recommendations within the next months on how to “improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas extraction processes” [pdf]. A fracking ban, or even a slowdown in gas development will not be considered.

The pro-oil and gas biases of the Subcommittee members have been heavily scrutinized since their appointment earlier this year. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes that six of seven members have a considerable financial interest in the oil and gas industry. For instance, Subcommittee Chairman John Deutch, sits on the board of Houston-based Cheniere Energy Inc., and was paid some $882,000 for his services between 2006 and 2009. He also earned around $563,000 in 2006 and 2007 for serving on the board of Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world’s three largest fracking companies.

Nadia Steinzor, who is a Marcellus Shale representative for EARTHWORKS Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), believes that it is unconventional gas profits, and not the interests of affected residents, that will be best represented on the panel. Josh Fox, who made the fracking documentary Gasland, called last night’s events a sham.

EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt has gone even further in demanding wholesale changes to the panel and its purposes, given the heavy representation of oil and gas interests on the Subcommittee:

“John Deutch must step down from the panel.”

“…The panel must be chaired by an impartial person and must also be expanded to include independent experts.”

Trusting the oil and gas industry to police themselves poses tremendous risks to public health and safety as well as effective environmental protections.

Time and again, drillers have acted carelessly placing the lives of residents at risk.

In this instance, the oil and gas industry is being handed the proverbial keys to the city since running such an important committee will help to determine drilling and environmental policies for years to come.

The President and the DoE have also undermined the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by convening this industry focus group to study unconventional gas fracking. Something Rep. Fred Upton and his fellow Republicans have been trying so hard to do, though largely unsuccessfully

In fact, the EPA initiated a four year study of fracking’s impacts to freshwater last year, with preliminary results expected late in 2012. The existence of a separate fracking panel will probably have little effect on the discussions within the EPA’ Science Advisory Board Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan Review Panel, which meets again on June 21st. But when it comes time to produce an initial report in 2012, the possibility that the Natural Gas Subcommittee has ruled that fracking is not a danger will definitely have an effect. Policy will already be set.

EWG’s Dusty Horwitt also questions the Natural Gas Subcommittee’s impacts on the EPA for similar reasons:

"We were surprised that this panel was created at all, especially with the EPA study already going on."

"So we're concerned that this panel will come out with findings in 90 days -- that's essentially early August at this point -- that some people could hold up as the Obama administration's definitive view on the issue."

The next SEAB, Natural Gas Subcommittee public meetings will take place on June 28th and July 13th, at the main office for the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, DC.

June 14 2011


Interior Dept Okays Thousands Of New Unconventional Gas Wells In Utah

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that his department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are fast-tracking unconventional gas drilling permits in Utah’s Uintah Basin. The federal agencies will approve up to 3,675 new wells for the Greater Natural Buttes Area Gas Development Project, first proposed in 2006 by Kerr-McGee Oil & Gas Onshore LP, a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

The Greater Natural Buttes project was delayed for many years in part because it will emit large quantities of hazardous air pollution. In fact, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a draft environmental impact statement discussing how oil and gas wells in the Uintah Basin region are the primary cause of ozone pollution, which exceeded acceptable levels for 23 days during January and February 2011, including five “very unhealthy” days.

The Interior Secretary is hailing unconventional gas as “clean” despite the fact that the EPA and a recent Cornell study suggest that unconventional gas drilling releases huge amounts of climate-altering pollution. Now it appears that air pollution will no longer hold up gas development with the inclusion of an air quality supplement helping to speed up the project’s draft environmental impact statement.

Salazar described the agreement between the federal agencies and drillers as representing a “sea change” for streamlining air and environmental monitoring, and for approving (future) fossil fuel projects.

Of the sea change, he stated:

“I am encouraged that the BLM, EPA, and the company found a collaborative path forward that would put sensible air pollution control technologies to work as the field is explored and developed. We are going to work to institutionalize this type of collaboration between the BLM and EPA to ensure that future proposals receive prompt and thorough reviews and are not delayed by unnecessary bureaucracy.”

The Salazar announcement follows on the heels of a memo [pdf] he sent earlier this month to BLM Director Bob Abbey. The order stressed not to designate certain lands with wilderness characteristics as "Wild Lands."
By not placing lands off-limits for oil and gas drilling, and with federal agencies now geared towards quickly approving projects, oil and gas drillers stand poised to drill whenever and wherever they wish, with inadequate scrutiny into the climate and health impacts of their actions.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), oil and gas companies have used waivers under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act to inject toxic chemicals into some 120,000 wells drilled in the Western U.S. since 2000, mainly for unconventional gas, and around 270,000 wells since 1980.

The health, air and water pollution risks tied to unconventional gas drilling, and in particular the much-maligned and destructive hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) method, are increasingly well-known. Just last month, a former Bush-era EPA official publicly stated (again) that the safety of unconventional gas fracking was exaggerated.

To respond to the specific dangers to groundwater from fracking for unconventional gas, the EPA is in the midst of an initial assessment of the drilling process.

The study, however, is not due out until late 2012 (with the final report expected in 2014), offering little solace for public concern around gas fracking.

The Utah gas drilling approvals arose from the increased pressure Republicans are putting on the Obama Administration to cut funding for Wild Lands preservation.

Due to the politically-motivated rejection of scientific concerns on fracking, the Obama administration seems ready to roll over on its land conservation pledges. Former Clinton-era Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt recently called on the President to assert himself against those politicians who have “…simply declared war on our land, water and natural resources.”

Babbitt added that:

“It is imperative that President Obama take up the mantle of land and water conservation — something that he has not yet done in a significant way…”

“We’re three years into this administration and we haven’t heard a strong conservation voice…”

“This silence is going to yield some very bitter fruit if it continues.”

The President’s disappointing stance on protecting land is echoed in his recent pro-drilling slant. In May, Obama named a panel to study the fracking process and to make recommendations within six months. As EWG has pointed out, the panel is dominated by representatives from the oil and gas industry.

EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt described the panel and its mandate by saying:

“It looks as if the Obama Administration has already reached the conclusion that fracking is safe.”

“The new administration panel appears to be an effort to undercut the EPA’s study by assigning an elitist group of industry insiders to take a cursory look at fracking…”

Access the Department of the Interior Air Quality Supplement Notice published in the Federal Register  June 10, 2010, which is available for public review for 45 days.

April 05 2011


There Goes The Neighbourhood: China Rushes To Develop Shale Gas At Home And Abroad

To satisfy its thirst for energy, China is very quickly becoming a big player in the shale gas industry. Unfortunately, whether at home or abroad, there also seems to be little concern from Chinese leadership for the destructive environmental impact of drilling for heavily polluting shale gas – which is often drilled for using the controversial hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) method.

Domestically: Investing in shale gas in China
China’s National Energy Administration is quickly working to draft a plan to develop the country’s shale gas reserves, which are estimated at more than 10 times its conventional gas reserves.

Early in 2010, China’s Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR) set a target for the country to identify 50-80 shale gas areas and 20-30 exploration and development blocks by 2020. Moreover, the MLR’s Strategic Research Centre for Oil and Gas wants to produce 8-12% of China's gas from shale wells by 2020.

State-controlled PetroChina (a.k.a. China National Petroleum Corporation) announced its intention to produce 500 million cubic meters of shale gas by 2015 and Sinopec Corporation also wants to exploit some 2.5 billion cubic meters of shale gas and coalbed methane in that time. Already, Royal Dutch Shell is drilling 17 gas wells, for both tight gas and shale gas, and plans to spend $1 billion a year over the next five years on shale gas in China.
Internationally: Investing in shale gas across the Pacific
China is rushing to become an important player in securing international gas exports, particularly in Canada’s westernmost province, British Columbia (BC). China has found an eager partner in BC which supports a booming shale gas industry with its lax oversight of shale operations, its public servants who are opposed to receiving outside advice and as of several weeks ago a new provincial leader who takes her advice from a shale gas baron who is a former EnCana Corporation CEO. Let us not forget that this gas will also sell in Asia for as much as three times its price in Canada.

Michael McCullough writes that the state-controlled China Daily reported that Chinese producers are scouring the globe for gas reserves “to reduce reliance on coal and satisfy [China's] energy hunger to fuel its economy…”

In February, PetroChina invested some $5.4 billion into EnCana’s Cutbank Ridge project, which was the largest investment by a Chinese state–controlled firm in Canada. EnCana CEO Randy Eresman said: "In the longer term, they have expressed a desire to be involved in the North American LNG market…”

Only a couple of weeks ago, partners in the proposed Kitimat LNG facility at Bish Cove on BC’s north coast awarded the engineering and design contract to take gas from pipelines and turn it into a liquid for marine transport to notorious former Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

The President of Kitimat LNG, Janine McArdle, described this announcement’s importance for Asia, saying: “This is another important milestone for Kitimat LNG, taking us a significant step closer in being able to export LNG to Asia-Pacific markets as soon as 2015.” 

Now, a second LNG export facility north of the one at Bish is being proposed.

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) has twice advised the BC government that shale gas drilling is incompatible with legislated carbon emission reductions. These concerns, however, continue to fall on deaf ears as the promises of fossil fuel company’s investments are taking precedence. China’s shale expansion only aggravates the difficulty of protecting the natural environment from fossil fuel expansion.

Where to from here?

The scale of development and the rapid growth of this polluting fossil fuel risk many of China’s climate change action goals and its claims on environmentally friendly development. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that huge amounts of global warming pollution are produced in the extraction of shale gas, on par with coal emissions. The EPA is also conducting an extensive study of fracking. The preliminary findings from this investigation are expected at the end of 2012, with final results in 2014. Recently, the New York Times has also drawn much attention to the dangers that fracking poses to human health and freshwater, through its series Drilling Down.

At home in China, decisionmakers would do well to examine the contamination threats and other problems experienced by their North American counterparts before rushing to exploit shale gas. The health and environmental risks from shale gas development and fracking have led New Jersey to ban fracking outright, and Maryland’s House has passed a full shale gas moratorium until 2013. In Canada, the province of Québec has banned fracking for at least two years.

Environmental advocates should be wary about China moving into BC and elsewhere to secure and invest in shale gas projects. While in the short term the economy may benefit from foreign investment, in the long run, more pipelines will mean greater dependence on fossil fuels.  Turning a blind eye to their destructive influence on the climate would leave China in the same troubling position that Canada and the U.S. now find themselves in, with no adequate clean energy policy and no effective response to climate change.

Shale gas is hardly an energy "solution" - in fact it creates a host of climate-altering and water-threatening risks - so China should reexamine the wisdom of pursuing this dirty fuel.

March 31 2011


The Big Picture on Energy

A special section of The Times explores energy topics ranging from oil dependence to the ethanol industry to rethinking the combustion engine.

March 08 2011


BREAKING: Quebec BAPE Shale Gas Study Verdict Is In: Drill Baby Drill, But No Fracking For Now

After keeping Québec’s much anticipated Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE) shale gas development study under wraps for more than a week, Pierre Arcand, Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks just released the BAPE’s findings to the public. Regrettably, shale gas in the province is receiving a green light or in French “un feu vert” (a green fire translated literally). Ironically, this is exactly what the BAPE’s recommendation will lead to as shale gas expansion means that many of the province’s environmental goals will go up in smoke. For now, the controversial drilling method of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) will be halted until a strategic  environmental impact assessment can be conducted.

All in all, the BAPE’s recommendation to proceed is a major blow to environmental and health advocates calling on the Québec Liberal government to heed the many public safety and environmental risks which surround shale gas drilling and fracking.<!--break-->

Since last August when the BAPE was convened, Premier Jean Charest has firmly stated his position that a moratorium is not an option. To this end, the BAPE commission’s mandate was deliberately narrow, not focused on whether or not to allow dirty shale gas development to proceed, but rather on how the province can “harmoniously develop” the shale gas industry while also protecting the safety and health of the population and surrounding environment.

Green lighting destructive natural gas drilling is dangerous given that provincial inspectors have already found leaks in 19 of 31 gas wells (half of which involve fracking). The troubling signs of widespread leaks led Minister Arcand to express his doubts, as far back as January 21st, about whether or not the industry was in control of its operations.

Unconscionably, Quebec seems ready to forge ahead with expanded fracking and shale gas development before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) preliminary in-depth study of fracking threats is released in late 2012.

The public has learned even more reasons for concern about the gas industry’s safety record following the extensive coverage in the “Drilling Down” series published by the New York Times.

Since the BAPE started its 13 public consultation tour of the region facing the most direct impacts from shale gas development – primarily between Montréal and Québec City – the gas industry has lost much of the early support it enjoyed from politicians like Arcand, and notably from the public.

The latest polling shows that 55% of Quebecers are against shale-gas drilling, up from 37% in September. According to the daily La Presse, amongst those who are knowledgeable, 75% of people prefer a moratorium on shale development, and this includes 75% of experts and engineers.

Lucien Bouchard, former Québec Premier turned shale industry spokesman, has warned his clients of a very “harsh” finding. This, however, does little to address the major health, social and environmental concerns that come with shale gas and fracking.

Quebecers will now have to rely especially on the newly formed watchdog group the Collectif scientifique sur la question du gaz de schiste au Québec, to hold both the industry and government accountable.

The BAPE recommendations are avaialbe for access in their report in French [PDF].

March 01 2011


Pennsylvania Governor Ends Moratorium On Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling In Sensitive State Forests

Pennsylvania’s new Republican Governor Tom Corbett fulfilled a campaign promise to rescind his predecessor’s wise executive order and de-facto ban on the leasing of sensitive state forest land for Marcellus shale gas development. This short-sighted decision removes the requirement for environmental  impact assessments prior to the granting of natural gas drilling permits, and strips other critical oversight of gas drilling on publicly-owned forest lands.

Last October, former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell barred gas drilling in state forests to protect “the most significant tracts of undisturbed forest remaining in the state.” The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) determined that leasing new drilling sites would damage the ecological integrity of the state’s forest system. The Rendell moratorium provided significant checks on run-away shale gas development on public lands since it required the state parks and forests agency to thoroughly review drilling permit applications for some public lands “even where the state doesn’t own the below-ground natural gas rights.” Specifically in instances “where the state doesn't own the mineral rights to 80 percent of state park land and 15 percent of state forest land.” <!--break-->
In a prepared statement released at the time of the ban, Rendell described the need for the moratorium stating:

“Drilling companies’ rush to grab private lands across the state has left few areas untouched by this widespread industrial activity…”

“We need to protect our unleased public lands from this rush because they are the most significant tracts of undisturbed forest remaining in the state.”

The DCNR was required to take into account:

“…threatened and endangered species habitat’ wildlife corridors; water resources; scenic viewsheds; public recreation areas; wetlands and floodplains; high-value trees and regeneration areas; avoiding steep slopes; pathways for invasive species; air quality; noise; and road placement and construction methods.”

Pennsylvanians have a right to feel concerned having seen the destructive environmental and health impacts from fracking for natural gas in the documentary Gasland. The threats to drinking water and public health documented in the film have helped to encourage growing public awareness about the serious risks of hydraulic fracturing and other gas industry practices. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun to review the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique widely used by natural gas drillers, with a preliminary assessment due out in late 2012 (with the final report expected in 2014).

Public concern about fracking and other dangerous gas industry activity is surging, especially in the aftermath of the first two must-read installments in a series by The New York Times investigating the negative health and environmental impacts from gas development across the country.

Given this growing evidence of the risks posed by gas development for Pennsylvania’s health and environment, Corbett’s move is not only rushed, risky and wrongheaded, but it will bind his state’s future to yet another dirty fossil fuel.

The new Governor believes the Rendell ban to be redundant and since the November 2010 elections, Republican leaders are emboldened to help their industry campaign contributors.

State Senator Mary Jo White (R-Venango), Chairwoman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and career recipient of nearly $42,000 in campaign contributions from electric utilities, almost $21,000 from mining interests, and $17,000 from oil and gas firms, has cheered on the new Governor’s efforts:

"The policy was irresponsible and could potentially cost Pennsylvania taxpayers tens of millions of dollars from impairment of existing contracts."

Not all State Senators are happy and particularly Sen. Jim Ferlo who was the first member of the Assembly to sponsor legislation for the moratorium on Marcellus shale gas drilling:

“I think that many of us were willing to give the new Governor the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, the honeymoon is already over because these repeals are a clear signal that the Governor is not ashamed to disregard common sense and the public interest to satisfy the oil and gas industry…”

“This week there was another accident in Washington County and three workers were seriously injured. As Governor, his is job to protect Pennsylvania, our natural resources, and our public health…”

“Instead, he is repealing necessary regulations and replacing them with a blank-check for the gas-drillers.”

Additionally, John Quigley, a former DCNR secretary under Gov. Rendell said the repealed policy:

"…wasn't redundant. In fact, quite the opposite situation exists. There are gaping holes in the state's ability and practice of considering well drilling applications on public park and forest lands…"

"The policy was just a common-sense approach to mitigating or avoiding any environmental, recreational and aesthetic impacts from the well drilling."

Governor Corbett’s decision to weaken gas regulations is a poor one that wagers the future of Pennsylvania’s families, communities and ecosystems on a filthy fossil fuel.

February 03 2011


Oil Industry Spins Subsidies Discussion In Wake of President Obama's State of the Union Address

In his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to stop subsidizing oil companies and set a goal for 80% of electricity generated by 2035 to come from "clean" energy sources. While there is much dispute over some of the technologies included in the "clean" category, the President is proposing some wise investments in genuine cleantech. To pay for low-carbon energy alternatives, the President proposed $302 million for solar energy research and development (up 22 percent); $123 million for wind energy (a 53 percent increase); and $55 million for geothermal energy (up 25 percent).

But fossil fuels subsidies are holding back growth in burgeoning clean energy industries, which face a momumental challenge to compete with entrenched industries that receive far greater government subsidies.

And when it comes to oil subsidies, the President says enough is enough:

"...I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s."<!--break-->

Building on that speech, in about two weeks, President Obama will release his 2011 budget (which covers the 2012 fiscal year beginning October 1st, 2011), which is expected to include the end to some $4 billion a year in oil and possibly gas subsidies. A fossil fuel subsidy, according to the NY Times, colloquially refers to incentives, tax credits, preferences and loan guarantees. Over a 10-year period, if the President succeeds in eliminating both oil and gas subsidies, the US will save approximately $36.5 billion.

That's a great move to cut truly wasteful spending on a mature industry that is collecting massive profits on its own.  But this figure only scratches the surface of dirty energy subsidies. In September 2009, the Environmental Law Institute released a study [PDF] stating that from 2002-2008, federal subsidies for fossil fuels and 'renewable' energies with high global warming pollution content totaled some $72 billion.

Assuming the President follows through with his suggested oil subsidy cuts, this will build on his earlier efforts to do the same thing in last year’s budget, as well as international momentum sustained at the G20 Summits in Pittsburgh (2009) and Toronto (2010). In Pittsburgh, Obama and other world leaders noted that:

"Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, distort markets, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with climate change. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the IEA have found that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 by ten percent."

At that meeting, they committed to:

"Rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption."

The US submission to the G20 in Toronto also included a phasing out process of fossil fuel subsidies.

According to Reuters, removing the subsidies will not have significant financial impact on energy companies, with $36.5 billion accounting for a mere 1% of expected domestic oil and gas revenues in the 10-year period.

Not surprisingly, in spite of the negligible implications for energy companies, the fossil fuel industry and their lobbyists came out against the President’s proposal.

Devon Energy Corporation spokesman Bill Whitsitt said that repealing the tax breaks would "slow down a real revolution" in natural gas exploration – not such a bad thing according to EPA figures.

Charles Drevna, President of the Oil Refiners Trade Group said:

"We applauded the president last week during his State of the Union address for stating his desire to increase domestic energy production." 

"The additional taxes on our businesses run counter to those stated objectives, however, and will do nothing to stimulate increased investment.”

Jack Gerard, President of the American Petroleum Institute, also opposed the end of subsidies to his industry. He, however, offered some spectacular spin on the subject:

“This is a tired old argument we’ve been hearing for two years now…”

“The federal government by no stretch of the imagination subsidizes the oil industry. The oil industry subsidizes the federal government at a rate of $95 million a day.”

Despite the oil industry's rhetorical gymnastics, nothing could be further from the truth.  The oil industry has received immense support from taxpayers, all while polluting our air and water as we saw with the Exxon Valdez disaster and the BP blowout, to name just a few examples.

January 19 2011


Hawk Survives but Is Not Yet Flying

"Its attitude is coming back, it's eating well, but it's not beating its wings, so we're thinking it's still in pain," a wildlife rescue worker says.

July 13 2010


NY Times 'Climategate' Editorial A Reminder That Media Have Failed Miserably Covering Climate Science

The New York Times deserves praise for its excellent editorial on Sunday, “A Climate Change Corrective,” which rightly confirms that the “Climategate” non-scandal has been thoroughly investigated and revealed as a political attack on scientists, not the grand United Nations conspiracy concocted by industry front groups and the right wing echo chamber.

Five separate reviews have found no evidence whatsoever to back up the outrageous claims made by skeptics and deniers that the state of climate science has in any way been weakened by the theft and public airing of years’ worth of emails and documents from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit last winter. 

The Times’ editorial correctly calls on all the media outlets that amplified the bogus conspiracy theories from the Climategate noise machine to return to the subject and set the record straight for their viewers.  Far too much ink and airtime was spent on inflating the mythical Climategate conspiracy, and ever since there has been hardly any effort made to explain this episode accurately – as a baseless political attack on climate science.  It is imperative that all the outlets that fell into this trap and perpetuated the Climategate nonsense now spend the time necessary to ensure that their audiences know the truth.  

The Times editorial expresses hope that the “debunking of Climategate, will receive as much circulation as the original, diversionary controversies.”

Aside from the difficulty associated with correcting a lie once it has circulated this widely, editors at media outlets who lent credence to the Climategate myth must do some deep soul-searching to figure out why none of their reports initially probed the real conspiracy in this matter – the coordinated, political attack on climate scientists ginned up by a network of climate change skeptics who turned the mountain of stolen material into a sensational global news story. 
Why did none of the media outlets that covered Climategate attempt to identify the real perpetrators behind the theft of the CRU materials?  Why didn’t they question the fact that the wild allegations about the integrity of climate science - which surfaced almost immediately after the emails were posted online - was coming from a small network of notorious climate deniers and oil-industry funded skeptic groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute

Those are just two questions left unanswered; there are many more related questions that media outlets have failed to investigate.

In fact, there has been a coordinated attempt to manipulate public understanding of climate science, but it certainly didn’t originate with Al Gore or the United Nations.  There is vast evidence confirming such a coordinated effort has been underway for the past two decades, led by groups like CEI and others who collect large sums from oil and coal industry sources to manufacture doubt about climate change science

Overall, the mainstream media has earned an F for failing to expose that very real conspiracy.  Few outlets identify financial conflicts of interest when quoting such ‘experts’ in their misguided attempt at ‘balance.’  And fewer still have taken the time to educate the public about the orchestrated crusade to deny global warming by polluter-supported front groups.

While climate scientists have been thoroughly investigated recently and had their scientific findings confirmed independently under intense scrutiny, the same cannot be said for the skeptics who loudly proclaimed that Climategate proved global warming is a myth.

Where are the investigations into the broad network of polluter-funded skeptic groups who make these outlandish claims about climate science without any proof?  Where are the corrections and retractions from those media outlets that promoted their false Climategate allegations? 

How will the public ever understand the very real threat of climate change when so many mainstream media outlets fail so miserably at covering the subject accurately? 

Much like the Times’ editorial urges, my hope is that editors at every outlet who botched the Climategate story will revisit the issue and correct the record, and then take a deeper look at how they cover climate change in general so they don’t keep perpetuating the manufactured ‘debate.’

But the damage has already been done.  Public understanding about climate science is moving in the wrong direction, and the mainstream media shoulder a lot of the blame for that. 

Each media outlet can demonstrate their grasp of this fact by moving quickly to dispel the Climategate myth and working to educate the public about the robust body of knowledge confirming man’s impact on the climate. 

One outlet in particular that should review its coverage is the Wall Street Journal, which trumpeted the Climategate myths early on and just today ran an opinion piece by climate skeptic and Cato Institute senior fellow Pat Michaels whining about a “whitewash.”  Michaels doesn’t like the fact that the five reviews exonerating climate scientists didn’t match up to the scandalous version that he and others tried to sell.  Rather than focus on educating its readers about the facts, the Wall Street Journal provided Michaels, who has admitted receiving funding from various fossil fuel industry sources over the years, more than 1,000 words to resuscitate his thoroughly-debunked Climategate conspiracy theory.

That is the type of misguided media attention that has aided and abetted the 20-year disinformation campaign waged by polluter-funded front groups and kept the public needlessly confused about climate change science.

April 21 2010


Green: A New Name, a Broader Mission

As Earth Day observes its 40th anniversary, we're introducing a new and more ambitious online effort that broadens our lens to include all areas where people and planet meet.

November 21 2009


Big Pharma Lobbyists Script Speeches In U.S. Congress, Industry Fights Against Generic Drugs

While our focus here at DeSmogBlog is to expose the public relations and lobbying antics that hinder effective responses to climate change, we are always on the lookout for other examples of how lobbying and PR impede progress on critical legislative efforts to protect people instead of profits.

The health care reform bill in front of the U.S. Congress provides several noteworthy examples, perhaps none so appalling as that described in a front-page New York Times article this week about the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to script the floor speeches delivered by members of the House of Representatives.

The article, “In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’”, describes how lobbyists working on behalf of Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies, succeeded in having their ghostwritten talking points repeated, often verbatim, by over 40 lawmakers on the House floor - 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats.

Genentech also succeeded in getting many of its willing spokespeople in Congress to mention the issue of generic drugs, a critical item on the industry’s lobbying agenda in the health care reform debate.  Genentech no doubt hoped to drum up additional support for an amendment put forth by Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), in whose district Genentech is located.  Rep. Eshoo’s provision would have granted pharmaceutical companies up to 12 years of monopoly advantage – and perhaps longer – to sell their profitable cancer, diabetes and AIDS drugs without competition from cheaper generic forms.
Taxpayers have already paid for the development of many of these drugs, yet reports of sick Americans losing their houses or going bankrupt due to overwhelming drug costs are seemingly everywhere in the news these days.
Undeterred by such heart-wrenching tales of woe, the pharmaceutical industry is moving in the opposite direction, raising prices on life-saving medicines at frantic rates in anticipation that health care reform measures will limit their profits at some future point.

And the industry has deployed its lobbyist army to weaken the legislative effort to make these life-saving drugs more affordable for the public through the development of cheaper generic versions.  Arguing passionately against allowing generics onto the market, the industry actually wants Congress to grant patent extensions on their highly-profitable (taxpayer-funded) biologic drugs.

Never mind that this lobbying effort is designed to continue the pattern of bankruptcy and lost years of life for breast cancer, AIDS and rheumatoid arthritis patients.  To hell with the victims, this industry wants to ensure endless profit streams.

Big Pharma, just like the climate denial industry, is willing to sell future generations down the river in exchange for a few more years of blockbuster profits for entrenched corporate powers.  (While the climate denial machine’s victims are mostly the unborn generations who will experience the worst effects of global warming, the pharmaceutical industry’s victims have names and faces today.) 

Such grotesque lobbying tactics, coupled with huge cash outlays from industry to elected officials, are designed to protect short-term profits at the expense of human health and the planet.

Is this really the best we can do for our children and grandchildren?

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