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ALEC’s Fracking Chemical Disclosure Bill Moving Through Florida Legislature

2:16 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A sticker of the Monopoly game's mascot, Uncle Moneybags, labelled ALEC

ALEC is polluting environmental law in Florida.

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) model bill for disclosure of chemicals injected into the ground during the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process is back for a sequel in the Sunshine State legislature.

ALEC’s model bill was proposed by ExxonMobil at its December 2011 meeting and is modeled after a bill that passed in Texas’ legislature in spring 2011, as revealed in anApril 2012 New York Times investigative piece. ALEC critics refer to the pro-business organization as a “corporate bill mill” lending corporate lobbyists a “voice and a vote” on model legislation often becoming state law.

The bill currently up for debate at the subcommittee level in the Florida House of Representatives was originally proposed a year ago (as HB 743) in February 2013 and passed in a 92-19 vote, but never received a Senate vote. This time around the block (like last time except for the bill number), Florida’s proposed legislation is titled the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 71), introduced by Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues. It is attached to a key companion bill: Public Records/Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 157).

HB 71 passed on a party-line 8-4 vote in the Florida House’s Agriculture and Environment Subcommittee on January 14, as did HB 157. The next hurdle the bills have to clear: HB 71 awaits a hearing in the Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and HB 157 awaits one in the Government Operations Subcommittee.

Taken together, the two bills are clones of ALEC’s ExxonMobil-endorsed Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act. That model — like HB 71 — creates a centralized database for fracking chemical fluid disclosure. There’s a kicker, though. Actually, two.

First kicker: the industry-created and industry-owned disclosure database itself —FracFocus — has been deemed a failure by multiple legislators and by an April 2013 Harvard University Law School study. Second kicker: ALEC’s model bill, like HB 157, has a trade secrets exemption for chemicals deemed proprietary.

First “Halliburton Loophole,” then “ExxonMobil Loophole”

Back when the ALEC model bill was debated in the Texas legislature in spring 2011 (and before it was endorsed by ExxonMobil and eventually adopted as a model by ALEC), the bill was touted as an antidote to the lack of transparency provided at the federal level on fracking chemicals by both industry and environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Texas League of Conservation Voters (LCV).

“[T]his is proof positive that the public, environmental groups, and the state’s energy industry can work together to ensure the health and safety of Texans,” the Texas LCV said in May 2011.

Rep. Rodrigues said he was impressed by these dynamics when researching the bill online in comments provided by email to DeSmogBlog.

“I was pleased to see the Environmental community and the Energy community jointly draft this legislation,” he said.

The lack of federal level transparency is mandated by law via the Energy Policy Act of 2005, as outlined in a sub-section of the bill best known as the “Halliburton Loophole.”

The “Halliburton Loophole” — named such because Halliburton is an oil services company that provides fracking services and because when it was written, the company’s former CEO, Dick Cheney, was vice president of the United States and oversaw the industry-friendly Energy Task Force — gives the oil and gas industry a free pass on fracking chemical disclosure, deeming the chemicals injected into the ground during the process a trade secret.

Yet, far from an antidote to the “Halliburton Loophole,” a new loophole has been created in its stead at the state level — the “ExxonMobil Loophole” — which now has the backing of ALEC. The results haven’t been pretty.

An August 2012 Bloomberg News investigation revealed FracFocus merely offers the façade of disclosure, or a “fig leaf” of it, as U.S. Rep. Diane DiGette (D-CO) put it in the piece.

“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year,” wrote Bloomberg. “The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site.”

As we reported on DeSmogBlog in December 2012, FracFocus is a public relations front for the oil and gas industry:

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State Dept. Keystone XL Contractor Also OK’d Explosive, Faulty Peruvian Pipeline Project

8:08 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Macchu Pichu

The same consulting firm responsible for evaluating the Tar Sands Pipeline also worked on a troubled Peruvian project.

Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the State Department consulting firm that claims TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposal is safe and sound, previously provided a similarly rosy approval for the expansion of a Peruvian natural gas project that has since racked up a disastrous track record.

On March 1, the U.S. State Department declared KXL’s proposed northern half environmentally safe and sound in its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), part of TransCanada’s Presidential Permit application for the proposed tar sands pipeline.

KXL is a 1,179-mile tube set to blast 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude a day – also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta down to Port Arthur, TX. After it reaches Port Arthur, the crude will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market. “XL” is shorthand for “expansion line,” named such because it would expand the marketability of tar sands crude to foreign buyers.

Because the Obama State Dept. has the final say on the project due to its crossing the Canada-U.S. border, clearing State’s EIS hurdle was crucial for TransCanada. Just days later, though, watchdogs revealed that State had outsourced the EIS out to oil and gas industry-tied consulting firms hand-picked by TransCanada itself.

One of those firms – Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group - has historical ties to Big Tobacco; published a study declaring “safe” a Caspian Sea pipeline that ended up spilling 70,000 barrels of oil; and has a client list that includes Koch Industries, ConocoPhilips and ExxonMobil – corporations all with skin in the tar sands game. ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline recently spilled 189,000 gallons of tar sands crude into a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood.

An examination into the historical annals shows that ERM Group also green-lighted a major pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) expansion project akin to KXL in Peru. The project in a nutshell: a 253-mile-long, 34-inch pipeline carries gas obtained from Peru’s Camisea field - located partly in the Amazon rainforest with the pipeline snaking through the Andes Mountains - to Peru’s west coast. From there, it’s exported primarily to the U.S. and Mexico.Camisea – described by Amazon Watch as the “most damaging project in the Amazon Basin“ - has created a whole host of problems. These include displacing indigenous people, clear-cutting forests that serve as a key global carbon sink to make way for the project, and major pipeline spills, to name a few.

Environmentally Sound…Except for Faulty Pipelines, Explosions

ERM performed the Environmental and Social Review Summary for Peru LNG on behalf of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), one of the tentacles of the World Bank Group. The Review lasted between Sept. 2006 and Jan. 2008.

Peru LNG, which went online in June 2010, is co-owned by an international consortium of corporations including the U.S.-based, Hunt Oil. LNG is a bit of a misnomer: the project is not only the LNG export terminal itself, but also an accompanying 253-mile pipeline carrying Camisea’s gas to Peru’s west coast and is sometimes referred to as “Camisea II.” In so doing, it traverses some of the country’s most pristine areas in the Andes and Amazon.

According to the IFC Corporation, ERM Group reviewed every aspect of the proposed project:

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.

Tar Sands South: First US Tar Sands Mine Approved in Utah

9:46 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

We are more than oil protest sign

Photo: Claytonn Conn / Tarsandsaction / Flickr

The race is on for the up-and-coming U.S. tar sands industry. To date, the tar sands industry is most well-known for the havoc it continues to wreak in Alberta, Canada - but its neighbor and fellow petrostate to the south may soon join in on the fun.

On Oct. 24, the Utah Water Quality Board (UWQB) approved the first ever tar sands mine on U.S. soil, handing a permit to U.S. Oil Sands, a company whose headquarters are based in Alberta, despite it’s name.

In a 9-2 vote, the UWQB gave U.S. Oil Sands the green light to begin extracting bitumen from its PR Spring Oil Sands Project, located in the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah. The UWQB concluded that there’s no risk of groundwater pollution from tar sands extraction for the prospective mining project.

Members of the public were allowed to attend the hearing but “were not permitted to provide input,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“The PR Spring project remains on track for commercial startup late in 2013, and the decision ultimately illustrates the merits that our responsible approach to oil sands development has for the environment and local communities,” Cameron Todd, CEO of U.S. Oil Sands stated in a press release in response to the decision.

Living Rivers, the Moab, Utah-based offshoot of Colorado Riverkeeper says it will likely appeal the decision to the state’s court system, ”arguing that tar sands mining will contaminate groundwater in a largely undeveloped area of Utah’s Book Cliffs region that drains into the Colorado River,” explained the Associated Press.

In an Oct. 9 interview on Democracy Now!, John Weisheit, Conservation Director of Living Rivers said the harms associated with looming tar sands extraction in the Uinta Basin aren’t merely limited to groundwater contimination. Rather, the entire surrounding ecosystem would be endangered. He told Amy Goodman:

Well, we’re concerned because this particular locality is in a high-elevation place called the Tavaputs Plateau, and it’s one of the last wild places in Utah. It’s a huge refuge for elk and deer. It’s also a beautiful watershed. It not only would affect the Colorado River, but it also—at this particular site, it’s at the top of the drainage, so it would also affect the White River and the Green River.

The PR Spring mining site is 5,930 contiguous acres with a “land position totalling 32,005 acres of bitumen extraction rights on leases in the State of Utah,” according to U.S. Oil Sands’ financial statement for the first half of 2012. AP explained that U.S. Oil Sands plans to extract 2,000 barrels of tar sands crude in Utah in 2012, “in the start of what could grow into a much larger operation.”

Two main grassroots activist groups are currently battling Utah’s upstart tar sands industry: Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Before It Starts. “The Utah Water Quality Board is an entirely inappropriate authority for determining the safety of both water safety and water availability for the 30 million people who depend on the Colorado RIver, most of which do not live in Utah,” Kate Finneran, Co-Director of Before It Starts told DeSmogBlog in an interview.

Though Living Rivers will appeal the decision, U.S. Oil Sands isn’t wasting any time in forging ahead, and according to the AP is already “looking to take on a partner, ordering equipment, hiring Utah contractors and preparing the site” for extraction.

5,900+ acres is a drop in the bucket for an industry sitting on some 232,065 acres of land open for tar sands extraction in the state of Utah, according to a Sept. 2012 story by Inside Climate News.

The U.S. tar sands are deemed a “strategically important domestic resource that should be developed to reduce the growing dependence of the United States on politically and economically unstable sources of foreign oil imports” in Sec. 369 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Most well-known for the “Halliburton Loophole,” the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts oil and gas corporations from complying with the dictates of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, making the chemicals injected into the ground (and into groundwater) while hydraulic fractruing (“fracking”) for unconventional gas a “trade secret.” The law was written with the helping hand of oil and gas executives via then Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force in 2001.

By legal mandate, it appears, the race to extract bitumen from “Tar Sands South” has just begun. It’s a race that, like the one being run by its Canadian neighbor to the north, can’t possibly end well for the ecosystem, public health, water quality and the global climate.