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Oil-By-Rail: A Battle Between “Right to Know” & “Need to Know”

11:35 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

BNSF Oil Train preparing to head north.

BNSF claims their oil train routes are secrets protected by law.

Since the first major oil-by-rail explosion occurred on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, citizens in communities across the U.S. have risen up when they’ve learned their communities are destinations for volatile oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin.

As the old adage goes, ignorance is bliss. It’s also one of the keys to how massive oil-by-rail infrastructure was built in just a few short years — the public simply didn’t know about it.

Often, oil companies are only required to get state-level air quality permits to open a new oil-by-rail facility.

Terry Wechsler, an environmental attorney in Washington, recently explained to Reuters why there was no opposition to the first three oil-by-rail facilities in the area.

“There was no opposition to the other three proposals only because we weren’t aware they were in formal permitting,” he said

The same thing unfolded in Albany, N.Y., where there is an ongoing battle over expansion of the major oil-by-rail facility set to process tar sands crude sent by rail from Alberta. The initial permits for the oil rail transfer facility, which would allow two companies to bring in billions of gallons of oil a year, were approved with no public comment.

Oil and rail companies know well that they can proceed with their planned expansions more easily if communities remain unaware of their plans.

And now that some states — including North Dakota — have defied their efforts to keep the public in the dark about the crude-carrying trains, the public will have a much clearer idea of what’s going on.

A case in point, DeSmogBlog recently revealed crude-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) moves up to 45 trains a week in some North Dakota counties and up to three dozen in others.

Big Rail’s Big Bluff

The rail industry has enjoyed a long history of legal protections, allowing it to operate in secrecy with regards to carrying hazardous materials. Indeed, Big Rail pushed hard to fight the release of information to the public on the transportation of Bakken crude oil.

This time around, the rail industry said that information it was compelled to give the federal government on its Bakken oil shipments under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) May 7 Emergency Order could not be released to the public under state-level open records laws.

Why? Because it fell under the category of “sensitive security information.”

In boilerplate letters and contract proposals sent to heads of State Emergency Response Commissions — one of which was obtained via Idaho’s Public Records Act by DeSmogBlog — BNSF deployed this argument.

This legal designation means BNSF and other companies could withhold information regarding the movements of Bakken crude from the public — by exempting it from state-level open records laws — and would only have to release it to the emergency response commissions.

“It is important to note that this information is subject to several restrictions on its release and exemptions from both state and federal applicable Freedom of Information laws and should only be provided to persons meeting with the appropriate need-to-knows discussed below,” BNSF wrote in its boilerplate letter.

BNSF considers this information commercial confidential and business confidential information and Security Sensitive Information pursuant to Federal law, and the documents have been marked accordingly.

But despite BNSF’s legal claims, some states have released this information in response to open records requests. And the federal government has also leaned toward advocating for greater transparency.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confirmed by e-mail to the Sacramento Bee that the administration did not consider this information “security sensitive,” stating, “TSA has not made a finding as to whether or not information concerning the volume of crude oil train traffic or the routes used by these trains is considered security-sensitive information.

The Federal Railroad Administration also concluded information about Bakken crude was not considered sensitive security information.

Community’s Right to Know

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website contains a section on right to know laws. That section opens by stating, “Every American has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living.”

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Exxon Awarded Gulf of Mexico Oil Leases Days Before Obama Announced CO2 Rule

5:58 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Exxon Logo

Steve Horn uncovers “last minute” energy deals at Exxon.

On Friday May 30, just a few days before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced details of its carbon rule proposal, the Obama Administration awarded offshore oil leases to ExxonMobil in an area of the Gulf of Mexico potentially containing over 172 million barrels of oil.

The U.S. Department of Interior‘s (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proclaimed in a May 30 press release that the ExxonMobil offshore oil lease is part of “President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production.”

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell formerly worked as a petroleum engineer for Mobil, purchased as a wholly-owned subsidiary by Exxon in 1998.

Dubbed a “Private Empire” by investigative reporter Steve Coll, ExxonMobil will now have access to oil and gas in the Alaminos Canyon Area, located 170 miles east of Port Isabel, Texas. Port Isabel borders spring break and tourist hot spotSouth Padre Island.

ExxonMobil originally won the three leases at the Western Planning Area Sale 233, held on March 19. BOEM records show ExxonMobil was the only company to participate in the bid and paid over $21.3 million.

Transboundary Agreement Opens Floodgates

The U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement signed into law by President Obama on December 23, 2013 — a key precursor to the ongoing debate over Mexico’s oil and gas industry reforms — served as the legal backdrop for BOEM awarding ExxonMobil with the lease.

“With the Agreement now in full force, we can make additional oil and gas along the resource-rich boundary between the United States and Mexico available and we have a clear process by which both governments can provide the necessary oversight to ensure exploration and development activities are conducted safely and responsibly,” Secretary Jewell said in a press release.

“These leases represent a significant step forward in U.S.-Mexico cooperation in energy production and pave the way for future energy and environmental collaboration.”

Over 1.5 million offshore acres opened for business as a result of the Transboundary Agreement.

Through the Agreement, U.S. companies agreed to develop the area jointly with Mexican state-owned company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

Mexico’s legislature is now debating the details of secondary legislation, coming after the country signed constitutional amendments in December 2013. The constitutional amendments-secondary legislation one-two punch will open up the rest of Mexico’s onshore and offshore oil and gas reserves to international oil and gas companies, working in partnership with Pemex.

According to a May 6 article appearing in Upstream Online, the legislature will open up an “extraordinary session” to debate the secondary legislation sometime this month.

Five Year Program

Beyond the Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement, in February the Obama Administration announced it would be opening up over 40 million acres of offshore land for oil and gas development, also doing so under the “all-of-the-above” banner.

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Southwestern Energy Exec Mark Boling Admits Fracking Link to Climate Change

8:03 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Fracking Rig

Even energy executives admit the high environmental cost of fracking.

An Executive of a major shale gas development company has conceded what scientists have been saying for years: global shale gas development has the potential to wreak serious climate change havoc.

Best known for his company’s hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) activity,Southwestern Energy Executive Vice President Mark Boling admitted his industry has a methane problem on the May 19 episode of Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously in a segment titled, “Chasing Methane.”

“I think some of those numbers, they certainly concern me,” Boling says on the show. “How could you say that that methane emission rate was one and a half percent – very, very difficult to there from here for that.”

Boling goes toe to toe in the segment with Cornell University Professor Anthony Ingraffea, who co-authored the 2011 paper now best known as the “Cornell Study.”

That study was the first to say that over its entire lifecycle, shale gas production is dirtier than coal due to the greenhouse gas trapping capacity of leaking methane. Numerous studies since then have depicted high leakage rates throughout the production lifecycle.

Brendan DeMelleDeSmogBlog Executive Director and Managing Editor, is also a featured guest on tonight’s episode. He discusses the well-funded climate change denial machine and attacks on renewable energy development in a segment titled, “Against the Wind.”

The Years of Living Dangerously episode coincides with the release of a new paper on fracking’s climate change impacts by Cornell Study co-author Professor Robert Howarth.

Howarth’s latest paper is titled, “A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas,” a wordplay on the industry’s self-promotional pitch about gas being a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future.

“Smoking is Addictive” Redux

Over 16 years ago, then Philip Morris chairman Geoffrey Bible testified before Congress that “tobacco is a risky product,” “plays a role in lung cancer” and that “cigarette smoking is addictive.”

It was a watershed moment for Big Tobacco. Only four years before that hearing, several tobacco industry CEOs testified under oath to Congress that nicotine is not addictive.

While not stated under congressional oath, Boling’s statement depicts the reality of shale gas development. That reality is denied by those such as former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, who says shale gas is “clean” and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who once said gas is both “clean” and not even a fossil fuel.

Put another way, history has repeated itself, with Mark Boling serving as fracking’s Geoffrey Bible. But does that mean Southwestern Energy plans to stop fracking? Hardly.

“No question, there’s work to be done,” he said on the show. “But we can all waste our time about ‘is it 4%, is it 8%, is it 1%’ or we could all just say ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks it is, let’s go out and fix the problem.’”

“Green Completions” the Fix?

Boling, along with others such as industry front group Energy in Depth and theEnvironmental Defense Fund, believe “green completions” of wells during the fracking process are the fix to the problem of methane leakage and accompanying climate change impacts.

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BP Doubles Initial Size Estimate of Lake Michigan Oil Spill

7:37 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Three days after spilling crude oil into Lake Michigan, BP has doubled its spill estimate to between 470 and 1228 gallons. The leak happened at its refinery in Whiting, Ind.

Although some of the oil has been cleaned up, it’s unclear how much is left in the lake, a drinking water source for about seven million Chicagoans.

Located just across the Illinois-Indiana state border, Whiting is home to the sixth largest refinery in the U.S. The refinery just went through a $4 billion “modernization project,” giving it “the capability of processing up to about 85 percent heavy crude.” That’s up from its original 20 percent, says BP’s website.

“Frigid temperatures caused some of the oil to harden into a waxy consistency that made it easier to collect,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told The Chicago Tribune. “Crews used vacuum trucks to suck up any liquid oil that washed ashore.”

The day after the spill, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) issued press releases in which they pledged to hold BP accountable for the spill. Durbin and Kirk also wrote a follow-up letter to BP, requesting a meeting with BP.

“Any unanticipated spill is cause for concern, but given the Whiting refinery’s recent expansion of its operations to double the amount of heavy oil sands being processed, this spill raises questions about the long-term safety and reliability ofBP’s new, expanded production at Whiting,” they wrote.

Chicago Mayor (and President Obama’s former Chief-of-Staff) Rahm Emanuel had similar things to say.

“I expect a full accounting to the public,” said Emanuel. “I want a report on what happened, how it happened, why did it happen, how much happened and how do you prevent it from ever happening again.”

Though BP claims it’s “recovered the vast majority of oil that had been visible on the surface,” questions remain.

For one, what type of oil was spilled? The refinery processes tar sands bitumen, which sinks in freshwater, a point alluded to in Kirk and Durbin’s letter to BP.

Video Shows Cleanup Crew Offshore

According to a March 25 EPA press release, the “U.S. Coast Guard has flown over the area and has not observed any visible sheen.”

EPA has also deployed a “Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team,” which consists of employees of the Coast Guard, EPA and BP. The team says it “saw minimal oiling of the shoreline and recommended a small manual removal crew conduct maintenance along the shoreline” and posted some pictures of its cleanup efforts online.

The EPA’s account has become the widely accepted one in local and national media. But a video placed on The Chicago Tribune’s website calls some of it into question.

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Documents: ALEC’s Looming Attacks on Clean Energy, Fracking Laws, Greenhouse Gas Regulations

4:05 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Guardian has released another must-read piece about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), this time laying bare its anti-environmental agenda for 2014.

The paper obtained ALEC’s 2013 Annual Meeting Policy Report, which revealed that ALEC — dubbed a “corporate bill mill” for the statehouses by the Center for Media and Democracy — plans more attacks on clean energy laws, an onslaught of regulations pertaining tohydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and waging war against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas regulations.

“Over the coming year, [ALEC] will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action,” explained The Guardian. “Details of ALEC’s strategy to block clean energy development at every stage, from the individual rooftop to the White House, are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.”

The documents also reveal ALEC’s boasting of introducing myriad “model resolutions” nationwide in support of fast-tracking approval for the northern half of Transcanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, along with another “model bill” — the “Transfer of Public Lands Act” already introduced in Utah — set to expropriate federally-owned public lands to oil, gas and coal companies.

Attacks from Household to White House

Among the more interesting discoveries by The Guardian: ALEC has plans to attack clean energy from the household-level to the White House-level, working in service to its utility industry members’ unfettered profits.

John Eick, legislative analyst for ALEC’s Energy, Environmental and Agriculture Task Force, told The Guardian that ALEC is closely scrutinizing “how individual homeowners with solar panels are compensated for feeding surplus electricity back into the grid.”

“As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system,” Eick told The Guardian. “They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non direct generation customers are being penalised.”

Yet, far from a “free ride,” a report commissioned by the Arizona Public Service found household solar panels offer a “range of benefits.” Distributed energy generation defers the need for capital allocation into utility investments, saving ratepayers money in avoiding investments into expensive utility projects.

Not limiting itself to penalizing those installing solar panels on their homes, ALEC has also joined the right wing echo chamber in waging war against President Barack Obama’s push to regulate coal-fired power plants and has a model resolution that will be voted on at its States and Nation Summit taking place this week in Washington, DC.

“ALEC is very concerned about the potential economic impact of greenhouse gas regulation on electricity prices and the harm EPA regulations may have on the economic recovery,” the resolution reads.

This effort is in line with its previous efforts, coining EPA regulations of greenhouse gases a “regulatory trainwreck” and calling for a two-year regulatory moratorium.

ALEC’s Frack Attack

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US Court Denies Halt on Pipeline Set to Replace Keystone XL Northern Half

2:31 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

It’s like deja-vu, all over again.

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The ever-wise Yogi Berra once quipped “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” a truism applicable to a recent huge decision handed down by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

A story covered only by McClatchy News‘ Michael Doyle, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shot down Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) request for an immediate injunction in constructing Enbridge’s Flanagan South tar sands pipeline in a 60-page ruling.

That 600-mile long, 600,000 barrels per day proposed line runs from Flanagan, Illinois – located in the north central part of the state – down to Cushing, Oklahoma, dubbed the “pipeline crossroads of the world.” The proposed 694-mile, 700,000 barrels per day proposed Transcanada Keystone XL northern half also runs to Cushing from Alberta, Canada and requires U.S. State Department approval, along with President Barack Obama’s approval.

Because Flanagan South is not a border-crossing line, it doesn’t require the State Department or Obama’s approval. If Keystone XL’s northern half’s permit is denied, Flanagan South – along with Enbridge’s proposal to expand itsAlberta Clipper pipeline, approved by Obama’s State Department during Congress’ recess in August 2009 - would make up that half of the pipeline’s capacity and then some.

At issue in the District Court was the legality of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issuing a Nationwide Permit 12 to shove through the Flanagan South (much like the Appeals Court case covered here on DeSmogBlog just weeks ago with Transcanada’s Keystone XL’s southern half, rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by Transcanada).

Sierra Club and NWF argued for an injunction – or halt – in constructing and pumping tar sands through Flanagan South until the legality of issuing a Nationwide Permit 12 is decided, an issue still awaiting the decision of Judge Jackson. Like the Keystone XL southern half case, Nationwide Permit 12 was used instead of going through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA – unlike the fast-track Nationwide Permit 12 - requires the EPA to issue a full draft Environmental Impact Statement and final Environmental Impact Statement, with 1-2 month public commenting periods following each Statement. EPA must take public comments into account when making its final judgments on pipeline projects.

Use of Nationwide Permit 12 has quickly become a “new normal” for fast-track approval of tar sands pipelines and other controversial domestic energy infrastructure projects.

Corporate Profits vs. Environmental Harms

Judge Jackson - an Obama appointee with a legal background predominantly in corporate law - boiled down the competing parties’ arguments into a “harms” balancing test: Enbridge’s corporate profits vs. irreparable environmental and ecological harms Enbridge’s Flanagan South may cause.

She wasted little time getting to the point, issuing her judgment denying Sierra Club’s and NWF’s injunction request by the second paragraph on the second page of the ruling. She then spent the next 58 pages giving in-depth legal justifications as to why.

“Plaintiffs have significantly overstated the breadth of federal involvement in the pipeline project and have failed to establish sufficiently that applicable federal statutes and regulations would require the extensive environmental review process that Plaintiffs seek,” Jackson wrote. “Moreover, Plaintiffs have fallen short of demonstrating that irreparable harm will result if the current construction proceeds during the pendency of this litigation, and the Court is not convinced that the balance of harms and public interest factors weigh in Plaintiffs’ favor.”

Flanagan Shrouded in Secrecy

One of the major grievances of Sierra Club and NWF had – like Sierra Club had with the Army Corps of Engineers permitting for Keystone XL’s southern half – is that Nationwide Permit 12 generally deals with small projects deemed “single and complete,” usually half an acre in size or less. Read the rest of this entry →

Censored EPA Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Presentation Published

11:32 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

DeSmogBlog has obtained a copy of an Obama Administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fracking groundwater contamination PowerPoint presentation describing a then-forthcoming study’s findings in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

The PowerPoint presentation reveals a clear link between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas in Dimock and groundwater contamination, but was censored by the Obama Administration. Instead, the EPA issued an official desk statement in July 2012 - in the thick of election year – saying the water in Dimock was safe for consumption.
IMG_1283
Titled “Isotech-Stable Isotype Analysis: Determinining the Origin of Methane and Its Effets on the Aquifer,” the PowerPoint presentation concludes that in Cabot Oil and Gas’ Dimock Gesford 2 well, “Drilling creates pathways, either temporary or permanent, that allows gas to migrate to the shallow aquifer near [the] surface…In some cases, these gases disrupt groundwater quality.”

Other charts depict Cabot’s Gesford 3 and 9 wells as doing much of the same, allowing methane to migrate up to aquifers to unprecedented levels – not coincidentally – coinciding with the wells being fracked. The PowerPoint’s conclusions are damning.

“Methane is released during the drilling and perhaps during the fracking process and other gas well work,” the presentation states. “Methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking and other gas well work…Methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.”

Despite the findings, the official EPA desk statement concluded any groundwater contamination in Dimock was “naturally occurring.”

“EPA found hazardous substances, specifically arsenic, barium or manganese, all of which are also naturally occurring substances, in well water at five homes at levels that could present a health concern,” read the EPA desk statement. “EPA has provided the residents with all of their sampling results and has no further plans to conduct additional drinking water sampling in Dimock.”

Two EPA whistleblowers recently approached the American Tradition Institute and revealed politics were at-play in the decision to censor the EPA’s actual findings in Dimock. At the heart of the cover-up was former EPA head Lisa Jackson.

Former EPA Head Lisa Jackson’s Role in Censoring Report

EnergyWire‘s Mike Soraghan explained the studies were dropped – according to one of the unidentified whistleblowers close to the field team in Dimock – “out of fear the inquiries would hurt President Obama’s re-election chances.”

Though the two EPA career employees’ initial findings pointed to water contamination in Dimock – as seen in the PowerPoint presentation – their superiors told them to stop the investigation, in turn motivating them to blow the whistle.

One of the whistleblowers said he came forward due to witnessing “patently unethical and possibly illegal acts conducted by EPA management.”
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Obama EPA Censored Key Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Study

8:05 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A must-read Los Angeles Times story by Neela Banerjee demonstrates that – once again – the Obama administration put the kibosh on a key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) groundwater contamination, this time in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Though EPA said Dimock’s water wasn’t contaminated by fracking in a 2012 election year desk statement, internal documents obtained by LA Times reporter Neela Banerjee show regional EPA staff members saying the exact opposite among friends.

“In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation…staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production,” writes Banerjee.

“The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that ‘methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.’ The presentation also concluded that ‘methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work,” Banerjee further explained.

It’s essentially a repeat of Steve Lipsky’s water contamination by Range Resources in late-2010 in Weatherford, Texas. In that case, EPA conducted a taxpayer funded study, determined Range had contaminated his water, sued Range – and then proceeded to drop the suit and censor the study in March 2012.

EPA also recently kicked the can down the road on a high-profile fracking groundwater contamination study in Pavillion, Wyoming, originally set to come out in 2014. That release is now expected in 2016, another election year. Just days after EPA’s decision, a Duke University study again linked fracking to groundwater contamination in the Marcellus Shale.

“We don’t know what’s going on, but certainly the fact that there’s been such a distinct withdrawal from three high-profile cases raises questions about whether the EPA is caving to pressure from industry or antagonistic members of Congress,” Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told the LA Times.

Ed Rendell and Friends At Work Again?

Located in the heart of the Marcellus Shale basin, Dimock was featured prominently in both Gasland documentaries, as well as in FrackNation, the industry-funded film created to counter Josh Fox’s films, produced and directed by climate change deniers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney.

In the case of FrackNation, McAleer used EPA’s desk statement for propaganda purposes. He portrayed Craig and Julie Sautner – whose water was contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas – as “crying wolf” for expressing anger that EPA privately told them their water was contaminated, then publicly stated that it wasn’t.

The Sautners aren’t alone in their frustration, however, and they’re in good company.

“What’s surprising is to see this data set and then to see EPA walk away from Dimock,” Robert Jackson, co-author of the June 2013 Duke study that included Dimock water samples, told the LA Times. “The issue here is, why wasn’t EPA interested in following up on this to understand it better?”

Jackson raises the million dollar question: Who from the industry pressured USEPA to censor the actual results of the Dimock study? In Steve Lipsky’s case it was former head of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell.

Rendell – tied to the shale gas industry via Ballard Spahr LLP law firm and venture capital firms Element Partners and Greenhill & Co. - privately lobbied EPA to shut down its study and lawsuit centered on Lipsky’s groundwater contaminated by the Pennsylvania-headquartered Range Resources. His lobbying proved successful, likely in part due to three of his former aides now working as industry lobbyists.

One of those lobbyists is K. Scott Roy, Rendell’s former “top advisor.” Roy not only lobbies for Range Resources, but also sits on the Executive Board of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Prior to serving in the Rendell administration and becoming a fracking lobbyist, Roy worked in the office of former PA Republican Governor Tom Ridge, who went on to serve as “strategic advisor” to the Marcellus Shale Coalition in 2012.

Did Roy contact his old boss Ed Rendell and request the Obama Administration step away from the Dimock study? That’s a question for a follow-up investigation.

Dereliction of Duty, or Par For The Course?

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Two Major Lawsuits Filed Against ExxonMobil for Arkansas Tar Sands Spill

11:40 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

GPTS Lockdown

Protesters locked down at a Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance action.

Two major lawsuits were recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas against ExxonMobil, the “private empire” behind the March 2013Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill of over 1.1 million gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) into the neighborhoods and waterways of Mayflower, AR, located in Faulkner County.

One is a class-action lawsuit filed by the Duncan Firm, Thrash Law Firm and Parker Waichman LLP on June 27. The other is a suit filed on June 13 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in concert with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, led by AG Dustin McDaniel.

Collectively, both lawsuits lay out the damning facts of the second biggest tar sands pipeline spill in U.S. history, caused by a 22-foot gash in the pipeline, second only to Enbridge’s “dilbit disaster” in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The cases also call for the spill’s victims – both people, government bodies and the ecosystem – to receive reparations.

Among other things, both suits clarify that ExxonMobil Pipeline Company dilbit has contaminated Lake Conway, the largest man-made game and fish commission lake in the United States, which serves as a tributary of the Arkansas River.

The class-action tort lawsuit slaps ExxonMobil with willful negligence under Arkansas state law, alleging Exxon knew Pegasus – built in the 1940′s far before the age of “extreme energy” and designed to carry light crude – would spill at some point. The suit also reveals for the first time that the spill was just the biggest of 13 other spills preceding it, meaning it was not just a spill out of the blue.

The joint EPA/Arkansas AG civil lawsuit cites Exxon for violating the Clean Water Act, Arkansas’ Hazardous Waste Management Act and Arkansas’ Water and Air Pollution Control Act.

Taken together, both suits keep the heat on ExxonMobil and on Alberta tar sandsproduction at-large as the battle over the proposed northern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline heats up. U.S. President Barack Obama’s State Department is expected to make a decision on that pipeline’s fate in the next few months.

Class-Action Tort Lawsuit Lays Out Ecological Costs of Exxon’s Negligence

Arkansas’ class-action suit legally covers “all real property owners who have…property abutting Lake Conway…which has been physically contaminated and polluted by ExxonMobil’s toxic and dangerous Tar Sands released from ExxonMobil’s unsafe and deficient oil and gas pipeline.”

A major crux of the suit is that dilbit is more corrosive to pipelines than conventional crude, a fact ExxonMobil knew but allegedly disregarded for the sake of profit when proposing Pegasus’ flow reversal.

“Bitumen blends are more acidic, thick and sulfuric than conventional crude oil,” explains the suit. “[B]itumen contains 15 to 20 times higher acid concentrations than conventional crudes and five to ten times as much sulfur. Bitumen blends are 70 times more viscous…than conventional crudes. Additional sulfur, acid and viscosity in the bitumen leads to weakening or embrittlement of pipelines.”

In 2006, Pegasus underwent a transformation from a 20-inch pipeline carrying conventional light crude from Texas up to the northern U.S. into a dilbit line carrying Alberta’s tar sands from Patoka, IL to Nederlands, TX for refining on the Gulf Coast. The pipe wasn’t built to carry tar sands crude and was only meant to carry a maximum of 95,000 barrels of light crude per day, the suit explains, a fact Exxon allegedly knew but proceeded with the tar sands project anyway.

Exhibit A: Enbridge attempted to team up with Exxon in a joint venture partnership that would entail replacing the pipeline. Exxon turned down the deal and instead increased tar sands carrying capacity through the antiquated line to a level surpassing the maximum limit for light crude, an example the class-action cites as willful negligence.

“ExxonMobil discarded this joint plan for a new, safer and larger pipeline to replace the sixty-seven year old…Pegasus Pipeline,” write the plaintiffs. “Instead, ExxonMobil, in order to increase its profits at the expense of public safety, made a deliberate corporate decision to increase…Pegasus Pipeline by 50% [in 2009], from 66,000 barrels per day to 99,000 barrels per day.”

Rather than responding to the spill honestly, ExxonMobil tried to cover the situation up through its “command center,” also running the Federal Aviation Administration’s “no fly zone” on the FAA’s behalf. Thus, the class-action lawsuit also sues Exxon for its response to the spill, in which deployment of crisis communications public relations tactics were favored over a legitimate all-out on-the-ground crisis spill response effort.

“After the [spill], [ExxonMobil] gave false, inconsistent and misleading factual assurances to the media and public…Exxon’s suppression, concealment and omission of material facts gave a false impression to the public that the Pipeline had only experienced a three inch gash…and there was no bitumen in the oil,” the lawsuit filing explains.

The ecological hazards of the spill, which the lawsuit says Exxon actively attempted to cover up in wholesale fashion, are nothing short of catastrophic.

“The hazardous materials being transported through Arkansas and which Mayflower citizens were exposed to are known to pose serious health effects, including lung damage if aspirated, skin cancer, irritant to eyes, mucous membranes and lungs, nausea, unconsciousness, loss of coordination, central nervous system depression, narcosis and death,” the suit states.

The “Lake Conway Class” seeks absolute liability, nuisance, and negligence tort charges for ExxonMobil, demanding a jury trial. They seek tort repayment for damages suffered above $75,000 for each category as individuals and tort repayment for damages suffered above $5 million as a group.

EPA/Arkansas Attorney General Civil Lawsuit

By comparison, the EPA/Arkansas AG civil lawsuit is much more straightforward, though it could end up with ExxonMobil doling out much more money at the end of the day. The two respective bureaucracies have demanded ExxonMobil pay fines for gross violations of bread-and-butter environmental laws, just as a citizen who got a ticket for speeding would have to pay a fine.

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Duke Study Links Fracking to Water Contamination As EPA Drops Study on Fracking Water Contamination

9:14 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming.

A study originally scheduled for release in 2014 and featured in Josh Fox’s “Gasland 2,” it will not be complete until 2016 in a move that appears to be purely politically calculated by the Obama Administration, akin to the EPA’s dropped and censored groundwater contamination study in Weatherford, TX.

Now, just days later, a damning study conducted by Duke University researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences again links shale gas fracking to groundwater contamination. The Duke researchers did so by testing samples of 141 drinking water samples of Pennsylvania’s portion of the Marcellus Shale basin.

This is the Duke professor’s third study linking fracking to groundwater contamination, the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of citizens in the Keystone State. The industry is likely to come out with the familiar chorus that the contaminated water is “naturally occuring,” but the latest Duke study shows otherwise.

“They found that, on average, methane concentrations were six times higher and ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of a shale gas well,” a Duke University press release explains. “Propane was detected in 10 samples, all of them from homes within a kilometer of drilling.”

Robert Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and one of the study’s co-authors, pointed to the the fact that some of the contaminated water samples exhibited the chemical signature of Marcellus Shale gas.

“The methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium content, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners’ water,” said Jackson. “In a minority of cases the gas even looks Marcellus-like, probably caused by poor well construction.”

The Duke study offers food-for-thought in the hours leading up to President Obama’s forthcoming announcement of a climate change legislative plan at Georgetown University, just a month after his Bureau of Land Management adopted the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on public lands.
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