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University of Tennessee “Frackademia” Program Put to Rest, For Now

6:11 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Frackmaster Bill Haslam

University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s “frackademia” program proposal - set to transform UT’s Institute of Agriculture into a de facto fracking land leasing agency – has been put to rest for now, according to The Tennesseean. In short: the university’s premiere leasing proposal for acreage didn’t recieve a single bid.

UT-Knoxville’s proposed program – as revealed in a DeSmogBlog investigation - intended to research wells fracked on 8,600 acres of Cumberland Forest land owned by UT that sits on top of the Chattanooga Shale basin. UT-Knoxville would lease the acreage off to Big Oil under the nullified plan.

The proposal called for an initial fee of $300,000 paid by companies interested in fracking, an additional $300,000 per year, 15-percent royalties on any gas sold and a minimum of $35 per acre paid to UT-Knoxville.

“It would create a rare, controlled environment in which experts could study the environmental impact of the controversial drilling technique, while also generating revenue to finance research,” explained a March 2013 New York Times article on the proposal.

For now, the “controlled environment” conception serves as merely a prologue, its future at UT-Knoxville — if any at all — still undetermined.

“At this point, I am unsure of the next steps, if any,” Kevin Hoyt, Director of UT’s Forest Resources Ag­Research and Education Center — which manages the Cumberland Forest – said in a press statement. “Those decisions will be up to UT Institute of Agriculture leadership.”

It might also be up to other key important players, too: the Haslam family.

Haslam Family Connections to Fracking

Republican Governor Bill Haslam — the former Mayor of Knoxville - took $398,110 from Big Oil before his Nov. 2010 gubernatorial race victory.

Further, the Haslam family owns Pilot Flying J truck fueling stations, a corporation for which Bill Haslem used to serve as president and currently owned by Bill’s brother, Jimmy. It’s currently the 6th most profitable corporation in the U.S., earning over $29 billion in 2012.

Pilot Flying J also has 63 of its stations nationwide retrofitted with natural gas pumps for 18-wheelers owned by T. Boone Pickens’ Clean Energy Fuels Corporation(CEF) as part of CEF’s “America’s Natural Gas Highway.” Some perspective: CEF currently has 67 U.S. fueling stations in total.

By the end of this year — an EcoWatch article explains – Pilot Flying J “plan[s] to have 100 truck stops capable of fueling 18-wheelers with … natural gas.”

Bill Haslam’s father and Pilot founder, Jim Haslem - a co-chair of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Tennessee campaign and former member of the UT-Knoxville Board of Trustees – gave a $32.5 million donation to UT-Knoxville in 2006. It was the largest ever private donation to the university from an individual.

Icing on the cake: Bill Haslam Chairs UT-Knoxville’s Board of Trustees, overseer of UT’s fundraising efforts.

It remains to be seen whether fracking on UT-Knoxville’s land will morph into a centerpiece of the university’s funding drives — led by Gov. Bill Haslam — going forward. For now, the Cumberland Forest lives another day unfracked. Read the rest of this entry →

Frackademia: University of Tennessee Set to Lease Forest For Fracking, Enriching Governor’s Family

3:34 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Gov. Bill Haslam

8,600 acres of the Cumberland Forest owned by University of Tennessee-Knoxville will be leased off to the oil and gas industry this August in a new form of “frackademia” – and one of the top financial beneficiaries will be the family of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who sits on UT-Knoxville’s Board of Trustees.

“Frackademia” is usually thought of as “studies” conducted by university-based “frackademic” researchers and funded by Big Oil, the old “Tobacco Playbook” in action. But UT-Knoxville has taken the game to a whole new level, leasing off land it owns so that it can study “best practices” for fracking in the Volunteer State.

“It would create a rare, controlled environment in which experts could study the environmental impact of the controversial drilling technique, while also generating revenue to finance research,” explained a New York Times article on the proposal.

The deal with the oil and gas industry for the acerage includes an initial fee of $300,000, plus $300,000 per year, 15-percent royalties on any gas sold and aminimum of $35 per acre paid to UT-Knoxville.

The 8,600 acres sits within the Chattanooga Shale basin, a field still untapped by the industry via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drilling process through which oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins. Atlas Energy – purchased as a subsidiary by Chevron in Nov. 2010 - owns 105,000 acres in the Chattanooga, a clear example the industry has its cross-hairs on the untapped Chattanooga basin.

UT-Knoxville’s new “leasing agency” program will be run under the auspices of the university’s Institute of Agriculture, officially referred to as the UT Institute of Agriculture Gas and Oil Research Initiative and a pre-bid proposal conference for prospective industry partners is set for June 21. Leases will be five years long, with a maximum allowance of three renewals, or 20 years total.

Fracking could become a major source of revenue for UT-Knoxville during a time of severe budget cuts to the UT System. In 2010, the state government slashed $56 million from the UT-Knoxville budget, following another $75 million in budget cuts in 2009 for the UT System at-large.

And one of the top beneficiaries of the fracking frenzy – overlooked thus far – will be the powerful Haslam family.

Haslam Family: Leveraging UT-Knoxville Ties for Fracking Profits

Gov. Haslam, the former Mayor of Knoxville, took $398,110 from the oil and gas industry before his Nov. 2010 gubernatorial race victory.

The Haslam family is an oil and gas family through and through, standing to profit immensely from a fracking boom in Tennessee and nationwide.

In 2012, the Haslam family – owners of Pilot Flying J truck fueling stations, a corporation where Bill Haslem used to serve as president - purchased Western Petroleum and Maxum Petroleum. Both Western and Maxum are major suppliers of fuel and lubricants for fracking operations. Pilot Flying J is the nation’s No. 1 retailer of diesel fuel and is the 6th most profitable corporation in the U.S., earning over $29 billion in 2012.

Pilot Flying J also has 63 of its stations nationwide retrofitted with natural gas pumpsfor 18-wheelers owned by T. Boone Pickens‘ Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (CEF) as part of CEF’s “America’s Natural Gas Highway.” Some perspective: CEF currently has 67 U.S. fueling stations in total.

By the end of 2013 - an article in EcoWatch explains - Pilot Flying J ”plan[s] to have 100 truck stops capable of fueling 18-wheelers with … natural gas.”

Read the rest of this entry →

Former Clinton and Bush Cabinet Members, Now Oil and Gas Lobbyists, Expect Keystone XL Green Light

12:18 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Tar Sands Blockade of TransCanada Corporation’s “Keystone XL South” continues in Texas, but former members of the Clinton and George W. Bush cabinets believe the northern half will soon be green-lighted by President Barack Obama.

In a Nov. 13 conference call led by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), an oil and gas industry front group, CEA Counsel John Northington said he believes a “Keystone XL North” rubber stamp is in the works by the Obama Administration.

“I think the Keystone will be approved in fairly short order by the administration,” Northington said on the call.

Northington has worn many hats during his long career:

[He] served in the Clinton Administration at the Department of the Interior as Senior Advisor to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management with energy policy responsibility for the former Minerals Management Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington began his government service at the Department of Energy, where he served as White House Liaison, Chief of Staff for the Office of Fossil Energy and Senior Advisor for Oil and Natural Gas Policy.

After his tenure working for the Clinton Administration, he walked through the revolving door and became a lobbyist, representing many clients over the past decade, including the oil and gas industry. Northington has represented ExxonMobilDevon EnergyCONSOL Energy, and StatoilExxonMobilDevon and Statoil all have a major stake in the tar sands.

Northington was joined on the call by Michael Whatley, CEA’s Executive Vice President. Whatley seved as senior policy advisor for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Energy under George W. Bush and as Chief of Staff of former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC).

CEA fronts for HBW Resources, a lobbying firm run by David Holt, Andrew Browning and Whatley (hence the “HBW”), with a developed speciality of lobbying on behalf of the tar sands industry.

Whatley, above and beyond working for the Bush Administration, Sen. Dole and CEA, has also lobbied on behalf ofExxonMobil and General Electric (GE). GE, like ExxonMobil, also has a fiscal present and future interest in tar sands production.

Win, Win for Some; Lose, Lose for Most: Tar Sands With Or Without Keystone XL

Though outfits like CEA are working overtime to ensure “Keystone XL North” is built soon, there are other ways to skin the cat and bring tar sands crude to market. The most important one, covered here on DeSmogBlog and in a recent story published by the Calgary Herald, is freight rail.

Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Obama,” has a major financial stake both in tar sands production, as well as in moving tar sands to market via the Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) freight trains he owns under the auspices of his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffett gave over $60,000 to the Democratic National Committee during the 2012 election cycle, as well as another $70,000 to President-elect Barack Obama, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.

“Railroads too present environmental issues. Moving crude on trains produces more global warming gases than a pipeline,” explained Bloomberg in January 2012.

BNSF isn’t the only rail company eager to move tar sands crude to market. Southern Pacific also envisions a major market opening for freight rail transport. A recent Calgary Herald story explains,

While Canadian and U.S. railways are scrambling to meet demand, opening small terminals close to production in locations such as the Bakken area of southern Saskatchewan and North Dakota, the Athabasca oilsands have not been part of the rush. Until now….Unlike pipelines, that means no public hearings and no environmental protests.

The verdict is in.

Chock it up to yet another win-win for the oil and gas industry and a lose-lose for all who have to suffer the consequences of the ecological damage in Alberta, as well as the climate change amplified disasters it’s engendering around the world.