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Gulf Stream: Williams Nixes Bluegrass Gas Export Pipeline, Announces New Export Line

12:45 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Williams Companies logo

Under grassroots pressure, Williams pivots toward new pipeline plan.

Right before the champagne bottles began popping for activists engaged in agrassroots struggle to halt the construction of Williams Companies‘ prospective Bluegrass Pipeline project — which the company suspended indefinitely in an April 28 press release — Williams had already begun raining on the parade.

The pipeline industry giant took out the trash on Friday, April 25, announcing its intentions to open a new Louisiana pipeline named Gulf Trace.

Akin to TransCanada’s ANR Pipeline recently reported on by DeSmogBlog, Gulf Trace is not entirely “new,” per se. Rather, it’s the retooling of a pipeline system already in place, in this case Williams’ Transco Pipeline system.

The retooling has taken place in the aftermath of Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNGexport facility receiving the first ever final gas export permit from the U.S.Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) during the fracking era.

Both ANR and Gulf Trace will feed into Sabine Pass, the Louisiana-based LNGexport terminal set to open for business in late 2015. Also like ANR, Transco will transform into a gas pipeline flowing in both directions, “bidirectional” in industry lingo.

Bluegrass, if ever built, also would transport fracked gas to the Gulf Coast export markets. But instead of LNG, Bluegrass is a natural gas liquids pipeline (NGL).

“The project…is designed to connect [NGLs] produced in the Marcellus-Utica areas in the U.S. Northeast with domestic and export markets in the U.S. Gulf Coast,” itexplained in an April 28 press release announcing the project’s suspension.

With Bluegrass tossed to the side for now, Williams already announced in a press release that the company has launched an open season to examine industry interest in Gulf Trace. It closes on May 8, 2014.

“Although we recognized the suspension of the Bluegrass could impact non-conventional drilling here in Western Pennsylvania, we should all know better than to get too excited about this announcement,” Carrie Hahn, a Pennsylvania-based activist told DeSmogBlog. “There is too much at stake here for them to give up that easily.”

The announcement follows in the aftermath of the flurry of federal-level lobbying activity by Williams during the first quarter of 2014.

Williams Spends Big Lobbying for Exports

First-quarter lobbying disclosure forms indicate Williams spent $450,000 lobbying at the federal level for both shale gas exports and pipeline permitting issues. It has done so utilizing both its in-house lobbyists and outside lobbying firms.

In-House Lobbyists 

In-house, Williams spent $410,000 on its own to advocate for gas exports and pipeline permitting issues during the first quarter. Williams’ lobbying efforts were headed by its vice president for governmental affairs, Deborah Lawrence anddirector of governmental affairs, Glenn Jackson.

Outside Lobbying Firms

No smart corporation makes a big announcement of this sort without first greasing the skids and Williams is no different in that regard, utilizing the age-old government-industry revolving door to curry favor.

In that vein, meet Ryan, MacKinnon, Vasapoli and Berzok, LLP, which Williams paid $40,000 to lobby on its behalf during the first quarter.

Lobbyist Thomas Ryan formerly served as chief counsel for the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee. That committee has pushed forward shale gas exports in a big way so far in 2014. Ryan is one of the lobbyists listed on the firm’s first-quarter disclosure form on the Williams file.

Jeffrey MacKinnon, another lobbyist listed on the firm’s lobbying disclosure form, also has close ties to the Energy & Commerce Committee. MacKinnon formerly served as legislative director for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the climate change denier and former chairman of the Energy &Commerce Committee.

Add Joseph Vasapoli to the list, as well.

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NY Fracking Decision Delayed by Cuomo, Too Early to Pop Champagne Bottles

3:41 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Andrew Cuomo

Fracktivists stand firm while Cuomo waffles.

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration – led by a potential 2016 Democratic Party nominee for president - has announced it won’t achieve the late-Feb. deadline it set on whether or not it would green light shale gas drilling, known by most as “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing).

This announcement fell a day after DeSmogBlog released what “fracktivists” have now dubbed the “New York Fracking Scandal” documents, also housed on NYFrackingScandal.com.

These documents reveal that Cuomo’s chief-of-staff, Larry Schwartz, has thousands of dollars in stock portfolio investments in oil and gas corporations with a financial stake in fracking proceeding in New York, a possible violation of the state’s conflict-of-interest law and potentially a form of insider trading. The documents also detailed that lobbyists from these very same corporations have also had VIP meetings with Cuomo’s top-level aides in the past several months, granted prime access to the Administration to influence-peddle in the run-up to the looming fracking decision.

Yesterday, citing the necessity to “let the science determine the outcome,” NY Department of Health Commisioner (DOH) Nirav Shah wrote that the DOH ”will require additional time to complete based on the complexity of the issues” in a letter to NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner, Joe Martens.

Shah closed his letter by stating, “Whatever the ultimate decision on [fracking] going ahead, New Yorkers can be assured that it will be pursuant to a rigorous review that takes the time to examine the relevant health issues.”

Martens offered a brief response, concurring with Shah and writing that ”the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome.”

Front-line fracktivists see the Administration’s reprieve as a positive development – at least for now.

“Commissioner Shah is correct that the state needs to take the time to do a comprehensive study of the health effects of fracking to protect the public health,” said Sandra Steingraber, previously interviewed on DeSmogBlog in late-2011 about her latest book, “Raising Elijah.”

“As he notes, no comprehensive studies have been done to date and New York must do so before making a decision about fracking. We are confident that such a review will show that the costs of fracking in terms of public health are unacceptable.”

A recent webinar hosted by one of the outside peer reviewers of the delayed DOH study, though, reveals that the water here is a bit muddier than it appears on the surface.

Concerned Health Professionals of NY: DOH Review Fatally Flawed

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NY Fracking Scandal: 7 Groups Demand Conflict of Interest Investigation of Cuomo Administration

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

New York could soon become the newest state in the union to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the controversial technique used to enable shale oil and gas extraction. The green light from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could transpire in as little as “a couple of weeks,” according to journalist and author Tom Wilber.  

That timeline, of course, assumes things don’t take any crazy twists or turns.

Enter a press conference today in Albany, where seven groups, including Public Citizen, Food and Water WatchFrack Action, United for ActionCatskill Citizens for Safe Energy, and Capital District Against Fracking, called for an Albany County District Attorney General investigation of the Cuomo Administration.

They are asking “whether Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has a conflict of interest between his stock investments and his involvement in the state’s decision on whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.”

Schwartz – dubbed “the ringleader” of Governor Cuomo’s administration – potentially has what these groups describe as a legal conflict-of-interest. A months-long DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Cuomo’s chief-of-staff actually has a direct financial interest in fracking going forward in New York state, potentially falling under the sphere of insider trading.  

Above and beyond Schwartz’s annual oil and gas industry stock holdings in corporations ranging from Occidental Petroleum, Williams Companies, ExxonMobil/XTO, and General Electric (GE) for the past decade, the Cuomo Administration has also held numerous meetings with lobbyists representing some of these same corporations dating back to when Cuomo assumed office in Jan. 2011, records obtained under New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) by DeSmogBlog reveal.

Dirty Details: Oil/Gas Industry Stock Holdings, Meetings with Lobbyists from Same Corporations

The details are dirty, both figuratively and literally.

A September 2012 investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) examined Schwartz’s past three financial disclosure forms. That probe revealed that he had stock holdings of $1,000+ each in Occidental, Williams, Exxon/XTO, and GE in both 2010 and 2011, respectively. All four of these corporations possess a financial stake in Cuomo approving fracking in New York.

2009 saw much of the same, a year in which Schwartz had $1,000+ in his stock portfolio invested in GE, Williams, and Burlington Resources (purchasd as a subsidiary by ConocoPhillips in 2005).

DeSmogBlog followed in the footsteps of the EWG investigation by filing both an Executive Chamber FOIL request, as well a FOIL request to Schwartz’s former employer, the Westchester County Executive Office, asking for his financial disclosure forms dating back to 2002.

That latter request revealed that Schwartz has had stock holdings in the oil and gas industry dating back to 2002. At that time he was working as chief-of-staff to then-Westchester County Executive, Andrew J. Spano.

In 2002 and 2003, Schwartz had over $1,000 in stock holdings in Chevron and GE. Until 2001, Texaco – purchased in 2000 as a subsidiary by Chevron – was headquarted in Westchester. The Westchester County Executive Chamber did not possess Schwartz’s forms for 2004 or 2005.

His 2006 filings reveal $1,000 or more in his stock portfolio invested in Burlington Resources, GE, and Williams Companies.

Records obtained from Cuomo’s Executive Chamber also revealed that lobbyists from the very corporations Schwartz has thousands of dollars of stock holdings in have earned the ear of Cuomo in the form of exclusive meetings with his high-level aides.  

One case in point: Both in April 2012 and in Sept. 2012, Williams Companies lobbyists had meetings with Cuomo aides on the status of its proposed Constitution Pipeline, a joint venture between Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and Williams Companies. That 120-mile long, 30-inch prospective pipeline, if approved, will carry gas produced in NY’s section of the Marcellus Shale to markets throughout the northeastern U.S.

The latter meeting was held between two Williams’ lobbyists – Tonio Burgos and John Charlson – and upper level Cuomo aides.

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