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Green Billionaires Club? David Vitter Owns Stock in Coal Utilities Fighting EPA Carbon Rules

10:26 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A caricature of the Charles & David Koch as clowns

“The most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth?”

On July 30, the Republican minority of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, headed by Sen. David Vitter, released a report titled “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Critics of the report say it is propaganda designed to skewer the Obama EPA and environmental philanthropists for “conspiring to help the environment.”

Vitter’s chief source of campaign cash is the oil and gas industry and he recently called the billionaire Koch Brothers “two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth.”

What the 92-page report leaves out is that Vitter — an esteemed member of the Senate “Millionaires Club” — owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks of the electric utility Wisconsin Energy Corporation (We Energies), which owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisc. and Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.

We Energies says it stands to lose economically if the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules are implemented, citing the potential risks related to legislation and regulation in its most recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-Q.

“Any legislation or regulation that may ultimately be adopted, either at the federal or state level, designed to reduce GHG emissions could have a material adverse impact on our electric generation and natural gas distribution operations,” We Energies stated on the form.

“Such regulation could make some of our electric generating units uneconomic to maintain or operate, and could adversely affect our future results of operations.”

We Energies CEO Gale Klappa also voiced dissatisfaction with the proposed rule during his company’s most recent earnings call, saying the company will submit comment to the EPA as part of the public comment period.

Not Just Wisconsin Energy

Financial disclosure forms for 2013 obtained by DeSmogBlog show that, beyond We Energies, Vitter also owns stock in other companies with “skin in the game” on fossil fuel investments, such as General ElectricNextEra Energy and Emerson Electric.

Like We Energies, NextEra Energy — which owns Florida Light & Power — said greenhouse gas regulations at either the federal or state level could hurt its corporate bottom line in its most recent SEC Form 10-Q.

“[NextEra] business could be negatively affected by federal or state laws or regulations mandating new or additional limits on the production of greenhouse gas emissions,” reads the Form 10-Q.

“Extensive federal regulation of the operations of [the company] exposes [it] to significant and increasing compliance costs and may also expose them to substantial monetary penalties and other sanctions for compliance failures.”

Vitter also owns stock in oil majors ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Vitter owns $250,000-$500,000 in Chevron stock alone, not including ownership in other related holdings, such as the company’s mutual funds. When that is tallied, Vitter owns hundreds of thousands more dollars worth of Chevron holdings.

Spokespeople for U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Sen. Vitter’s office did not respond to a request for comment from DeSmogBlog sent via email.

Transparency is in the Eye of the Beholder

In the opening section of the report, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works wrote that “the Billionaire’s Club is not, and seemingly does not, want to be transparent about the groups they fund and how much they are supporting them.”

Yet the hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments owned by Vitter in companies that stand to lose from the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules go unmentioned anywhere in the report.

Transparency, some would say, is in the eye of the beholder.

Read the rest of this entry →

Former Obama Energy Aide Named to Board of Fracked Gas Exports Giant Cheniere

11:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Face photo of Heather Zichal

Revolving door: An Obama energy aide may join a fracking giant.

Heather Zichal, former Obama White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, may soon walk out of the government-industry revolving door to become a member of the board of directors for fracked gas exports giant Cheniere, who nominated her to serve on the board.

The announcement, made through Cheniere’s U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K and its Schedule 14A, comes just as a major class-action lawsuit was filed against the board of the company by stockholders.

In reaction to the lawsuit, Cheniere has delayed its annual meeting. At that meeting, the company’s stockholders will vote on the Zichal nomination.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by plaintiff and stockholder James B. Jones, who alleges the board gave stock awards to CEO Charif Souki in defiance of both a stockholders’ vote and the company’s by-laws.

Souki — a central character in Gregory Zuckerman‘s book The Frackers — became the highest paid CEO in the U.S. as a result of the maneuver, raking in $142 million in 2013, $133 million of which came from stock awards.

Zichal was nominated to join Cheniere’s audit committee of the board, and will be paid $180,000 per year for the gig if elected.

Among the audit dommittee duties: “Prepare and review the audit committee report for inclusion in the proxy statement for the company’s annual meeting of stockholders,” which is now set for September 11 after the push-back following the filing of the stockholder class-action lawsuit.

“The audit committee’s responsibility is oversight, and it recognizes that the company’s management is responsible for preparing the company’s financial statements and complying with applicable laws and regulations,” Cheniere’s audit committee charter further explains.

Cheniere (stock symbol LNG, shorthand for “liquefied natural gas”) is currently awaiting a final decision on Corpus Christi LNG, its proposed LNG exports facility. That terminal would send gas obtained predominantly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to the global market.

The company already received the first ever final approval to export fracked gas from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in April 2012 for itsSabine Pass LNG export terminal, which is scheduled to be operational by late-2015.

The nature of what role Zichal will play on the board and audit committee of the first company to make a major bet on LNG exports remains unclear. But one thing remains clear: she joins a politically well-connected cadre of Cheniere board members.

Other prominent Cheniere board members include John Deutch, former head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Vicky Bailey, a FERC commissioner, both of whom worked for the Clinton administration.

And given Zichal’s former role as liaison between the oil and gas industry at the White House and her track record serving in that role, it raises the question: was she working for the industry all along?

Zichal Oil and Gas Services

Zichal was best known to many as the main mediator between the oil and gas industry and the White House during her time working for the Obama administration. In fact, Cheniere cites that experience as the rationale for nominating her to serve on the board.

“Zichal has extensive knowledge of the domestic and global energy markets as well as the U.S. regulatory environment,” reads the “skills and qualifications” portion of her nomination announcement on Cheniere’s Schedule 14A. “She brings a diversified perspective about the energy industry to our board having served in significant government positions during her career.” 

As Obama’s “climate czar,” Zichal headed up the effort — mandated via an April 13, 2012 Obama Executive Order — to streamline regulatory oversight of the gas industry in the U.S.

Titled, “Supporting Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources,” the Executive Order signed in the form of a “Friday news dump” created “a high-level, interagency working group that will facilitate…domestic natural gas development” overseen by Zichal.

Obama signed the Executive Order after meeting with Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute (API), and other industry leaders. According to EnergyWire, API requested the creation of that working group.

“We have called on the White House to rein in these uncoordinated activities to avoid unnecessary and overlapping federal regulatory efforts and are pleased to see forward progress,” Gerard told the Associated Press in response to a question about the order.

A month later on May 15, Zichal spoke to API about her efforts and those of the Obama administration on fracking.

“It’s hard to overstate how natural gas — and our ability to access more of it than ever — has become a game-changer and that’s why it’s been a fixture of the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy,” she told API.

Just think about it: a few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that the United States would need to build more terminals to import natural gas overseas. And today, America is the world’s leading producer of natural gas and we’re actually exploring opportunities for exports.

As a May 2012 Bloomberg article explained, among Zichal’s tasks was wooing API head Jack Gerard, which she appears to have succeeded at.

Similar to the interagency working group created by the April 13, 2012, Executive Order, Zichal also oversaw the Bakken Federal Executives Group, which was created through the signing of Executive Order 13604 on March 22, 2012. That order was part of the same package that called for expedited building of the southern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Executive Order 13604 created an interagency steering committee with a goal “to significantly reduce the aggregate time required to make federal permitting and review decisions on infrastructure projects while improving outcomes for communities and the environment.”

Zichal was also instrumental in legalizing the American Legislative Exchange Council‘s (ALEC) approach for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands, overseen by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

“Zichal met more than 20 times in 2012 with industry groups and company executives lobbying on the proposed rule,” reported EnergyWire. “Among them were the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), along with BP America Inc., Devon Energy Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp.”

Beyond overseeing streamlined permitting for fracking sites on both public and private lands, Zichal also oversaw the White House file for the Pavillion, Wyo., fracking groundwater contamination study.

Conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many believe the White House — counseled by Zichal — made a political calculus to cancel the ongoing investigation, the first of three major major studies on the subject shutdown by the EPA.

“Deeply Embedded”

The Zichal nomination is taking place alongside the deployment of the Obama Administration regulating coal-fired power plants through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rule is a de facto endorsement of fracking and gas-fired power plants as part of the “all of the above” energy policy.

As the Zichal case makes clear with regards to climate change-causing fracked gas, LNG exports flow through the revolving door in Washington, DC, and beyond.

“The fact that one of Obama’s top climate advisors is now helping expand fossil fuel use raises questions about how deeply embedded oil and gas industry interests are in the administration,” Jesse Coleman, a researcher for Greenpeace USA told DeSmogBlog.

Meeting Logs: Obama Quietly Coddling Big Oil on “Bomb Trains” Regulations

8:53 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The exploding CSX Corporation oil-by-rail train in Lynchburg, Virginia owned by Plains All American was on its way to the Yorktown facility. Yorktown has been marked a potential export terminal if the ban on exporting U.S. oil is lifted.

When Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, introduced Howard Shelanski at his only public appearance so far during his tenure as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Revesz described Shelanski as, “from our perspective, close to the most important official in the federal government.”

OIRA has recently reared its head in a big way because it is currently reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

During his presentation at NYU, Shelanski spoke at length about how OIRA must use “cost-benefit analysis” with regards to regulations, stating, “Cost-benefit analysis is an essential tool for regulatory policy.”

But during his confirmation hearings, Shelanski made sure to state his position on how cost-benefit analysis should be used in practice. Shelanski let corporate interests know he was well aware of their position on the cost of regulations and what they stood to lose from stringent regulations.

“Regulatory objectives should be achieved at no higher cost than is absolutely necessary,” Shelanski said at the hearing.

With the “cost-benefit analysis” regarding environmental and safety issues for oil-by-rail in OIRA’s hands, it appears both the oil and rail industries will have their voices heard loudly and clearly by the White House.

A DeSmogBlog review of OIRA meeting logs confirms that in recent weeks, OIRAhas held at least ten meetings with officials from both industries on oil-by-rail regulations. On the flip side, it held no meetings with public interest groups.

“Cost-Benefit”: A Brief History

OIRA was created in 1980 by President Ronald Reagan with the goal of getting rid of “intrusive” regulations.

“By instructing agencies to clear drafts of regulations through OIRA, Presidents have made the agency…a virtual choke point for federal regulation,” explains theCenter for Progressive Reform, a think-tank critical of OIRA and its cost-benefit analysis.

Cost-benefit analysis was put on the map by Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, “regulatory czar” and head of OIRA for President Barack Obama before Shelanski. Read the rest of this entry →

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.

Read the rest of this entry →

Mayflower: 1st ExxonMobil Tar Sands Pipeline Spill, Now Deadly Tornado Destroys Arkansas Town

6:53 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

 

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

On March 29, 2013, ExxonMobil‘s Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) pouring down the town’s streets.

Now, just over a year after the massive spill, devastation has come to Mayflower and neighboring towns again, this time in the form of a lethal tornado. On the evening of April 27, the twister destroyed huge pockets of the town of just over 2,300 citizens in a wholesale manner, with 14 confirmed dead and likely many more still not counted.

“Sadly, we don’t expect it to stay at 14,” tweeted Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe. At least 10 died in Faulkner County alone, which houses Mayflower, according to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock has given the tornado that hit Mayflower an EF-3 rating on a preliminary basis. EF3 (the highest rating is anEF5) equates to 136–165 mile per hour winds and KATV weatherman Todd Yakoubian tweeted that National Weather Service will have its final rating in by April 30.

On the whole, Arkansas Geographic Information Office has reported that 3,200 addresses in Faulkner County have had various levels of impact.

Fate of Pegasus Pipeline Spill Neighborhoods

According to Mayflower resident Genieve Long, the iconic Mayflower Pegasus pipeline spill cul-de-sac where oil flowed through residents’ backyards and into the streets, was spared.

But the RVs located by the cove connected to Lake Conway — where tar sands oil spilled in the aftermath of the ExxonMobil pipeline rupture and became a key part of an ongoing class action lawsuit — were not so lucky.

Just before she was forced to shower at a truck stop because there is currently no water or electricity in Mayflower, Long told DeSmogBlog “the RVs located along the cove were all taken out.”

A picture tracked down on Twitter by DeSmogBlog testifies to this damage.

Oil and Gas Infrastructure Damage

Soon after the tornado touched ground, gas utilities giant CenterPoint Energyreported gas leaks out of its infrastructure in the area.

“Our company technicians worked primarily in Mayflower and Vilonia to secure nearly 100 natural gas leaks caused primarily by uprooted trees,” Greg Strickland, CenterPoint’s manager in the area said in a press release. “Today we will continue to perform leak surveys in the area to ensure the safety of our customers and our distribution system.”

Another gas utilities giant, Entergy, also reported major infrastructure damage in the area.

“[The] Mayflower 500kv high voltage yard…no longer [has] any switches or breakers left after tornado’s path of destruction,” Entergy wrote on Facebook.

Entergy also explained that “There are lines and poles scattered everywhere in the path of [the] tornado.”

Climate Change Connection? Sort Of

How about climate change? Was this gargantuan tornado tied to climate change in any way, shape or form?

Read the rest of this entry →

Joe Biden Turns Fracking Missionary On Ukraine Trip

1:39 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Caricature of Joe Biden

Joe Biden: Global fracking evangelist.

During his two-day visit this week to Kiev, Ukraine, Vice President Joe Biden unfurled President Barack Obama’s “U.S.Crisis Support Package for Ukraine.”

A key part of the package involves promoting the deployment of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Ukraine. Dean Neu, professor of accounting at York University in Toronto, describes this phenomenon in his book “Doing Missionary Work.” And in this case, it involves the U.S. acting as a modern-day missionary to spread the gospel of fracking to further its own interests.

With the ongoing Russian occupation of Crimea serving as the backdrop for the trip, Biden made Vladimir Putin’s Russia and its dominance of the global gas market one of the centerpieces of a key speech he gave while in Kiev.

“And as you attempt to pursue energy security, there’s no reason why you cannot be energy secure. I mean there isn’t. It will take time. It takes some difficult decisions, but it’s collectively within your power and the power of Europe and the United States,” Biden said.

“And we stand ready to assist you in reaching that. Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas. It would be a very different world you’d be facing today.”

The U.S. oil and gas industry has long lobbied to “weaponize” its fracking prowess to fend off Russian global gas market dominance. It’s done so primarily in two ways.

One way: by transforming the U.S. State Department into a global promoter of fracking via its Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program (formerly theGlobal Shale Gas Initiative), which is a key, albeit less talked about, part of President Obama’s “Climate Action Plan.”

The other way: by exporting U.S. fracked gas to the global market, namely EUcountries currently heavily dependent on Russia’s gas spigot.

In this sense, the crisis in Ukraine — as Naomi Klein pointed out in a recent article — has merely served as a “shock doctrine” excuse to push through plans that were already long in the making. In other words, it’s “old wine in a new bottle.”

Gas “Support Package” Details

Within the energy security section of the aid package, the White House promises in “the coming weeks, expert teams from several U.S. government agencies will travel to the region to help Ukraine meet immediate and longer term energy needs.”

That section contains three main things the U.S. will do to ensure U.S. oil and gas companies continue to profit during this geopolitical stand-off.

1) Help with pipelines and securing access to gas at the midstream level of production.

“Today, a U.S. interagency expert team arrived in Kyiv to help Ukraine secure reverse flows of natural gas from its European neighbors,” the White House fact sheet explains. “Reverse flows of natural gas will provide Ukraine with additional immediate sources of energy.”

2) Technical assistance to help boost conventional gas production in Ukraine. That is, gas obtained not from fracking and horizontal drilling, but via traditional vertical drilling.

As the White House explains, “U.S. technical experts will join with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and others in May to help Ukraine develop a public-private investment initiative to increase conventional gas production from existing fields to boost domestic energy supply.”

3) Shale gas missionary work.

“A technical team will also engage the government on measures that will help the Ukrainian government ensure swift and environmentally sustainable implementation of contracts signed in 2013 for shale gas development,” says the White House.

ExxonMobil Teaching Russia Fracking

Read the rest of this entry →

Russia with Love: Alaska Gas Scandal Is Out-of-Country, Not Out-of-State

12:25 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A legal controversy — critics would say scandal — has erupted in Alaska’s statehouse over the future of its natural gas bounty.

It’s not so much an issue of the gas itself, but who gets to decide how it gets to market and where he or she resides.

The question of who owns Alaska’s natural gas and where they’re from, at least for now, has been off the table. More on that later.

At its core, the controversy centers around a public-private entity called the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) created on April 18, 2010 via House Bill 369 for the “purpose of planning, constructing, and financing in-state natural gas pipeline projects.”AGDC has a $400 million budget funded by taxpayers.

AGDC was intially built to facilitate opening up the jointly-owned ExxonMobil-TransCanada Alaska Pipeline Project for business. That project was set to be both a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export pipeline coupled with a pipeline set to bring Alaskan gas to the Lower 48.

TransCanada

Things have changed drastically since 2010 in the U.S. gas market though, largely due to the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom. And with that, the Lower 48 segment of the Alaska Pipeline Project has become essentially obsolete.

Dreams of exporting massive amounts of Alaskan LNG to Asia, however, still remain. They were made much easier on April 14, when the Kenai LNG export facility received authorization to export gas from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Enter the latest iteration of AGDC. This phase began in January 2014 after Governor Sean Parnell, formerly a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips, signed Senate Bill 138 into law.

The bill served as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Alaska, the AGDC, ConocoPhillips, BP, ExxonMobil, and TransCanada, with the four companies now serving as co-owners of the South Central LNG Pipeline Project.

Gov. Parnell also announced who would serve on the AGDC Board of Directors in September 2013, which began meeting in October 2013. And that’s where the story starts to get more interesting.

Meet Richard “Dick” Rabinow

Under Alaska state law, you have to be a state citizen to serve on state commissions like AGDC. But one of the seven Board members, Richard “Dick” Rabinow, is a citizen of a state far from Alaska: Texas.

Read the rest of this entry →

Interview: “Big Men” Director Rachel Boynton on Oil, Ghana and Capitalism

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

 

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The subtitle of the newly released documentary film Big Men is “everyone wants to be big” and to say the film covers a “big” topic is to put it mildly.

Poster for Big Men shows a giant suited man holding a oil derrick

“Everyone wants to be big …”

Executive produced by Brad Pitt and directed by Rachel Boynton, the film cuts to the heart of how the oil and gas industry works and pushes film-watchers to think about why that’s the case. Ghana’s burgeoning offshore fields — in particular, the Jubilee Field discovered in 2007 by Kosmos Energy — serve as the film’s case study.

Boynton worked on the film for more than half a decade, beginning the project in 2006 and completing it in 2013. During that time, the Canadian tar sands exploded, as did the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom — meanwhile, halfway around the world, Ghana was having an offshore oil boom of its own.

Kosmos Energy (KOS), previously a privately held company, led the way. Adding intrigue to the film, Kosmos went public while Boynton was shooting. Kosmos didn’t do it alone, though: the start-up capital to develop the Jubilee Field came from private equity firm goliaths Blackstone Group and Warburg Pincus, a major part of the documentary.

What makes Big Men stand above the rest is the access Boynton got to tell the story. Allowed into Kosmos’ board room, the office of Blackstone Group, encampments of Nigerian militants and the office of the President of Ghana, the film has a surreal quality to it.

Now screening in Dallas, New York City and Portland, the film will soon open in theaters in Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.

After seeing the film at Madison’s Wisconsin Film Festival, I reached out to Boynton to talk to her about Big Men, what it had in common with her previous film (one of my favorites) Our Brand is Crisis and what other documentary projects she has on the go.

Steve Horn: I’ve seen your first film, Our Brand is Crisis, and there seems to be a continuity in a way between Our Brand and Big Men because Bolivian ex-president “Goni” (Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada) was chased out of Bolivia eventually because he attempted to privatize Bolivia’s gas and was basically in office to begin with because people from the outside came in and helped place him there (U.S. Democratic Party political consultants and electioneers) to begin with.

One could see a similarity between the PR efforts led by those electioneers, which serves as the premise of Our Brand, and a western oil company like Kosmos coming into Ghana to bring offshore oil and gas drilling to the country.

Did what eventually happened in Bolivia with their gas market — because these U.S. consultants came in and helped get “Goni” elected —move you to start thinking about energy (oil, gas, etc.) as a documentary film topic?

Rachel Boynton: No, not at all. In that sense they’re totally unrelated. The origin of both projects is completely unrelated.

I finished Our Brand is Crisis in 2005 and it had its theatrical run in 2006 and so back in 2005 I started thinking about what I wanted to do next and at the time, oil prices were going through the roof and everyone was freaking out about peak oil.

Read the rest of this entry →

Exxon’s Russia Partnerships Challenge US Energy Weapon Narrative

4:42 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Exxon Logo

Is Exxon playing both sides in the “new cold war?”

In a long-awaited moment in a hotly contested zone currently occupied by the Russian military, Ukraine’s citizens living in the peninsula of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia.

Responding to the referendum, President Barack Obama and numerous U.S. officials rejected the results out of handand the Obama Administration has confirmed he will authorize economic sanctions against high-ranking Russian officials.

“As I told President Putin yesterday, the referendum in Crimea was a clear violation of Ukrainian constitutions and international law and it will not be recognized by the international community,” Obama said in a press briefing. “Today I am announcing a series of measures that will continue to increase the cost on Russia and those responsible for what is happening in Ukraine.”

But even before the vote and issuing of sanctions, numerous key U.S. officials hyped the need to expedite U.S. oil and gas exports to fend off Europe’s reliance on importing Russia’s gas bounty. In short, gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is increasingly seen as a “geopolitical tool” for U.S. power-brokers, as The New York Times explained.

Perhaps responding to the repeated calls to use gas as a “diplomatic tool,” the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced it will sell 5 million barrels of oil from the seldom-tapped Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Both the White House and DOE deny the decision had anything to do with the situation in Ukraine.

Yet even as some say we are witnessing the beginning of a “new cold war,” few have discussed the ties binding major U.S. oil and gas companies with Russian state oil and gas companies.

The ties that bind, as well as other real logistical and economic issues complicate the narrative of exports as an “energy weapon.”

The situation in Ukraine is a simple one at face value, at least from an energy perspective.

“Control of resources and dependence on other countries is a central theme connecting the longstanding tension between Russia and Ukraine and potential actions taken by the rest of the world as the crisis escalates,” ThinkProgress explained in a recent article. “Ukraine is overwhelmingly dependent on Russia for natural gas, relying on its neighbor for 60 to 70 percent of its natural gas needs.”

At the same time, Europe also largely depends on Ukraine as a key thoroughfare for imports of Russian gas via pipelines.

“The country is crossed by a network of Soviet-era pipelines that carry Russian natural gas to many European Union member states and beyond; more than a quarter of the EU’s total gas needs were met by Russian gas, and some 80% of it came via Ukrainian pipelines,” explained The Guardian.

Given the circumstances, weaning EU countries off Russian gas seems a no-brainer at face value. Which is why it’s important to use the brain and look beneath the surface.

ExxonMobil and Rosneft

The U.S. and Russian oil and gas industries can best be described as “frenemies.” Case in point: the tight-knit relationship between U.S. multinational petrochemical giant ExxonMobil and Russian state-owned multinational petrochemical giant Rosneft.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson sung praises about his company’s relationship with Rosneft during a June 2012 meeting with Vladimir Putin.

“I’m pleased that you were here to be part of the signing today, and very much appreciate the strong support and encouragement you have provided to our partnership,” said Tillerson. “[N]othing strengthens relationships between countries better than business enterprise.”

A year later, in June 2013, Putin awarded ExxonMobil an Order of Friendship. But what does the friendship entail?

In 2012, ExxonMobil and Rosneft signed an agreement ”to share technology and expertise” with one another. Some of the details:

In 2013, ExxonMobil and Rosneft announced a partnership to conquer the Arctic for oil and gas, creating the Arctic Research and Design Center for Continental Shelf Development.

ExxonMobil put down the first $200 million for the initial research and development work, while Rosneft threw down $250 million later. Officially, Rosneft owns 66.67 percent of the venture and ExxonMobil owns 33.33 percent.

“[S]taff will be located with the Rosneft and ExxonMobil joint venture teams in Moscow to promote resource efficiency and interaction between technical and management staffs,” explained a press release. “The [Arctic Research Center] initially will be staffed with experts from ExxonMobil and Rosneft.”

Also part of the 2013 deal, ExxonMobil gave Rosneft a 25 percent stake inAlaska’s Point Thomson natural gas field. Further, the two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding to study the possibility of jointly building a LNG (liquefied natural gas) facility in the Russia’s far east.

Then at the end of 2013, ExxonMobil and Rosneft inked a deal to start a pilot project for tight oil reserves development in Western Siberia’s shale basins. Rosneft owns a 51 percent stake, ExxonMobil a 49 percent stake.

Tillerson recently said the ongoing events in Crimea and Ukraine at-large will have no expected impact on his company’s partnerships with Rosneft.

“There has been no impact on any of our plans or activities at this point, nor would I expect there to be any, barring governments taking steps that are beyond our control,” he said at the company’s recent annual meeting, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. “We don’t see any new challenges out of the current situation.”

“Not a U.S. Company”

In Steve Coll‘s book Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, he documents that Lee Raymond — former CEO of ExxonMobil from 1993-2005 — was asked if his company would build more U.S. refineries to fend off gasoline shortages.

Raymond’s reply: “I’m not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.”

So what does this all mean when looked at in aggregate?

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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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