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Revealed: Heather Zichal Met with Cheniere Executives as Obama Energy Aide Before Board Nomination

9:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Portrait of Heather Zichal

Zichal through the revolving door?

Heather Zichal, former deputy assistant for energy and climate change to President Barack Obama and nominee to sit on the board of directors of LNG export company Cheniere Energy Inc., held two meetings with Cheniere executives while working for the White House.

White House meeting logs show Zichal attended the meetings with three executives from Cheniere, owner of the Sabine Pass LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facility, the first terminal to receive a final approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) during the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom.

The meetings appear to have taken place just over two weeks apart from one another, according to the meeting logs. The first meeting was on January 14, 2013, and the second on January 29, 2013. Just over eight months later, Zichal resigned from her White House job, with Reuters citing “plans to move to a non-government job.”

Cheniere CEO Charif Souki — who is facing a major ongoing class-action lawsuit— sat in on both of those meetings. He was joined by Cheniere executives Patricia Outtrim, vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs, and Ankit Desai, vice president of government relations.

Desai, a Cheniere lobbyist, formerly worked with Zichal on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, serving as his budget director. Desai also formerly served as political director for then-U.S. Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden.

Zichal served as Kerry’s energy and environment policy adviser for the 2004 campaign and in 2006, became his legislative director, a job she held until becoming policy director for energy, environment and agriculture for President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“Ms. Zichal served as the top energy advisor to the President of the United States at a time when Cheniere was beginning construction on [Sabine Pass LNG],” Katie Pipkin, Cheniere’s senior vice president of business development and communications told DeSmogBlog. “The meeting was simply to inform and update the administration on that project.”

Pipkin also denied that two separate meetings took place in January 2013 between Cheniere and Zichal, telling DeSmogBlog, “Our records indicate only one meeting with Zichal on the 29th.” She did not respond to repeated requests for clarification on that claim.

While at the White House, Zichal earned a salary of $140,000 per year. If elected to the Cheniere board, she will make $180,000 per year, plus own 6,000 shares of Cheniere stock.

White House Open Door for Cheniere

According to a DeSmogBlog review of White House meeting logs, between 2009 and 2013, the Obama White House held 32 meetings with Cheniere board members and lobbyists, including the two attended by Souki, Desai and Outtrim.

Together, Souki and Outtrim attended four other meetings with White House officials and eight more each, either on their own or as part of other meeting blocs.

The Obama White House door has remained open to Outtrim even though she donated $10,000 to Republicans running in the the 2014 mid-term elections, according to OpenSecrets.org. Outtrim has also co-hosted a fundraiser for U.S.Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

Just 10 days after Cheniere landed its final approval from FERC to export LNG from Sabine Pass on April 16, 2012, the White House hosted a meeting with Outtrim and fellow board member R. (Robert) Keith Teague.

Majida Mourad, vice president of government relations for Cheniere, also met five times with the White House.

Two of those meetings were held directly with President Barack Obama himself, one on December 4, 2011, and another on January 18, 2013. First Lady Michelle Obama also attended the second meeting.

Prior to becoming a lobbyist for Cheniere, Mourad served as a senior aide for Spencer Abraham, former secretary of energy during the first term of the Bush Administration.

“Not Uncommon”

Some wonder whether Zichal will provide Cheniere even further top-level access to the Obama Administration if elected to the company’s board.

“Heather Zichal taking a position on Cheniere’s board of directors would be another example of the revolving door between those who set energy policies and the corporations that reap financial benefits from those policies,” Emily Wurth, water program director at Food & Water Watch, told DeSmogBlog.

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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.

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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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

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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.

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ANR Pipeline: Introducing TransCanada’s Keystone XL for Fracking

2:14 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog   

When most environmentalists and folks who follow pipeline markets think of TransCanada, they think of the proposed northern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Flying beneath the public radar, though, is another TransCanada-proposed pipeline with a similar function as Keystone XL. But rather than for carrying tar sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast, this pipeline would bring to market shale gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Meet TransCanada’s ANR Pipeline System.

Although not actually a new pipeline system, TransCanada wants ANR retooled to serve domestic and export markets for gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale basin and the Utica Shale basin via its Southeast Main Line.

“The [current Southeast Main Line] moves gas from south Louisiana (including offshore) to Michigan where it has a strong market presence,” explains a March 27 article appearing in industry publication RBN EnergyBecause of the immense amount of shale gas being produced in the Marcellus and Utica, TransCanada seeks a flow reversal in the Southeast Main Line of itsANR Pipeline System. 

TransCanada spokeswoman Gretchen Krueger told DeSmogBlog that ANR’s flow reversal is a “more efficient use of the system based on market demand.”

TransCanada has already drawn significant interest from customers in the open seasons and negotiations held to date, so much so it expects to begin the flow reversal in 2015.

“ANR Pipeline system has secured almost 2.0 billion cubic feet a day (Bcf/d) of firm natural gas transportation commitments on its Southeast Main Line (SEML) at maximum rates for an average term of 23 years,” reads a March 31 TransCanada press release. ”ANR secured contracts on available capacity on the [South East Mainline] to move Utica and Marcellus shale gas to points north and south on the system.”

Like Keystone XL, an Export Pipeline

Like Keystone XL, ANR’s flow reversal will serve — among other things — the global export market.

“This project will…allow more natural gas to move south to the Gulf Coast, where markets are experiencing a resurgence of natural gas demand for industrial use, as well as significant new demand related to natural gas exports from recently approved liquefaction terminals,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in his company’s March 31 press release.

ANR will continue to be an attractive transportation option due to its strategic foot print, interconnections, on-system storage and access to high demand markets.

With the debate over liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports heating up in the U.S.,ANR has arrived on scene right in the knick of time for the oil and gas industry.

Other Keystone XL: Cove Point or Sabine Pass?

Some recent media coverage of the prospective Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility located in Lusby, Maryland has drawn comparisons to the Keystone XLdebate because both involve key pipeline systems, with accompanying plans to export product globally and the Obama Administration has final say over approval (or disapproval) of the pipeline.

Yet, while Cove Point awaits final approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNG export facility wasapproved by FERC in April 2012 and opens for business in late 2015.

Enter TransCanada into the mix with ANR and it’s the perfect storm: a KeystoneXL pipeline for fracking run by the same company that owns Keystone XL.

Creole Trail: ANR’s Connection to Sabine Pass

ANR feeds into the same Gulf Coast export and refinery markets Keystone XL is set to feed into (and the same ones its already-existing southern half, the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project feeds into).

Port Arthur, Texas — the end point for Keystone XL — is a mere 20 minute drive away from Sabine Pass, Louisiana.

That’s where Cheniere’s Creole Trail Pipeline comes into play, a 94-mile pipeline completed in 2008. Cheniere proposed an expansion project in September 2013 to FERC for Creole Trail, which FERC is still currently reviewing.

If granted the permit by FERC, the expansion would allow Creole Trail to connect to TransCanada’s ANR pipeline at the Mamou Compressor Station located in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana. 

Mamou Compressor Station already received an expedited air permit in October 2013 from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Exports Gone Wild, Climate Disruption Gone Wild

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“Our Energy Moment:” The Blue Engine Behind Fracked Gas Exports PR Blitz

11:52 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Our Energy Moment log

Blue Engine Media’s pro-fracking moment

Behind nearly every major corporate policy push there’s an accompanying well-coordinated public relations and propaganda campaign. As it turns out, the oil and gas industry’s push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) plays the same game.

And so on February 5, “Our Energy Moment” was born. The PR blitz is described in a press release announcing the launch as a “new coalition dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating the many benefits of expanded markets for liquefied natural gas.”

Its member list includes industry heavy hitters such as Cheniere Energy, Sempra Energy, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and Freeport LNG.

Since its launch, “Our Energy Moment” has disseminated press releases about theU.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) conditional approval of Jordan Cove LNGexport facility in Coos Bay, Oregon and its conditional approval of Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry, Louisiana.

So the industry is funding a PR campaign clearly in its self interest. But so what? You have to read all the way to the bottom of the press releases to find what’s perhaps the most interesting tidbit.

At the very bottom of “Our Energy Moment’s” releases, a contact person named Tiffany Edwards is listed with an email address ending in @blueenginemedia.com. If you visit blueenginemedia.com you’ll find the website for PR and advertising firm Blue Engine Message & Media.

Further, a domain name search for ourenergymoment.org reveals the website was registered by another PR and web development firm called Liberty Concepts by its founder and president Jonathan Karush. Karush registered the site on May 8, 2013, a full ten months before the campaign’s official launch date.

Who are these firms and why do they matter? That’s where the fun begins.

Blue Engine Media

According to its website, Blue Engine helps “develop and implement strategic public policy campaign plans for corporations, coalitions, non-profits and national trade associations, particularly when reputation, brand or market position face a threat or opportunity.”

Clients past and present include Citibank, Ford, Delta, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions and Obama for President in 2008 and 2012, among others.

The firm was founded by Erik Smith — self-described “recovering political hack & aspiring corporate hack“ — served as senior advisor for advertising and message development for President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and former Communications Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Smith also founded and helped coordinate the Common Purpose Project, set up to “discuss White House plans, priorities, and messages with [progressive] groups,” according to Mother Jones’ David Corn. “But some of the outside participants considered the meetings mostly sessions where the administration tossed out talking points and marching orders.”

Common Purpose has received strong criticism from both investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill and founder of FireDogLakeJane Hamsher.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 tax forms show Common Purpose was run out of Blue Media’s office as of 2012 (the phone number listed on its IRS 990 formsmatches the one listed on Blue Engine’s website, as well) and Erik Smith received over $1.3 million between 2009 and 2012 to work on this account.

Other Blue Engine luminaries include:

  • Adam Abrams: The former regional communications director and spokesperson for President Barack Obama, Abrams was also on the communications team at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and sat on the communications staff for both the Obama 2008 and John Kerry 2004 presidential campaigns.
  • Amber McDowell and Jacob Sittig: McDowell formerly served as Communications Director for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the new head of theU.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sittig was Landrieu’s former Deputy Press Secretary.
  • Jessica Borchert: Borchert worked on the Obama 2012 campaign. In that capacity, she did “production of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina and [worked] on the ground in Colorado coordinating press operations.”
  • Catherine Lavelle: Lavelle worked on the Obama for President team in 2012 and also was the Media Logistics Manager for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Further, Laura Burton Capps — former Assistant to George Stephanopoulos in the Bill Clinton White House and speechwriter for Clinton — was a Blue Engine principal until 2013. Capps also formerly worked on the staff for the Common Purpose Project and is listed as the principal officer on its 2011 IRS 990 form.

Laura Capps is married to Bill Burton, former Deputy Press Secretary for Obama and co-founder of Priorities USA, a “dark money” Democratic Super-PAC set up to compete with Republican “dark money” Super-PAC Crossroads GPS.

And then there’s Tiffany Edwards, the point person for the “Our Energy Moment” file and where this whole inquiry began.

Before coming to Blue Engine, Edwards served as Deputy Press Secretary at the Department of Energy — the agency with final legal decisionmaking power overLNG export proposals — for the first two years of the Obama Administration. Prior to that, she worked for the 2008 Obama campaign’s press staff in the Chicago headquarters.

Roll Call reported she was hired on February 3, meaning “Our Energy Moment” was likely the first file on her Blue Engine account. Edwards hasn’t responded to questions sent to her via email by DeSmogBlog.

Liberty Concepts

Like Blue Engine, Liberty Concepts maintains tight ties with the Democratic Party and groups with close ties to the party, describing itself as a “full service digital communications agency that specializes in helping create brands and develop online communities around them.”

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Follow the Money: Three Energy Export Congressional Hearings, Climate Undiscussed

9:33 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A joint meeting of the US Congress

Congress keeps talking, but not about climate change.

In light of ongoing geopolitical tensions in Russia, Ukraine and hotly contested Crimea, three (yes, three!) U.S.Congressional Committees held hearings this week on the U.S. using its newfangled oil and gas bounty as a blunt tool to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market.

Though 14 combined witnesses testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power and U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, not a single environmental voice received an invitation. Climate change and environmental concerns were only voiced by two witnesses.

Using the ongoing regional tumult as a rationale to discuss exports of U.S. oil and gas obtained mainly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the lack of discussion on climate change doesn’t mean the issue isn’t important to national security types.

Indeed, the Pentagon’s recently published Quadrennial Defense Review coins climate change a “threat force multiplier” that could lead to resource scarcity and resource wars. Though directly related to rampant resource extraction and global oil and gas marketing, with fracking’s accompanying climate change and ecological impacts, “threat force multiplication” impacts of climate change went undiscussed.

With another LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal approved by the U.S.Department of Energy (DOE) in Coos Bay, Ore., to non-Free Trade Agreement countries on March 24 (the seventh so far, with two dozen still pending), the heat is on to export U.S. fracked oil and gas to the global market.

So, why wasn’t the LNG climate trump card discussed in a loud and clear way? Well, just consider the source: ten of the witnesses had ties in one way or another to the oil and gas industry.

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Headed by recently named chair U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the March 25 U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing featured four of five witnesses with industry ties, all of which went undisclosed. It was titled, “Importing Energy, Exporting Jobs. Can it be Reversed?”

“The last thing Putin and his cronies wants (sic) is competition from the United States of America in the energy race,” Landrieu declared in her opening statement. “Tyrants and dictators throughout history have had many reasons to fear revolutions, and this U.S. energy revolution is one they should all keep their eyes on!” More on that later.

Given the enthusiasim conveyed in her statement, perhaps it’s unsurprising Landrieu — whose state of Louisiana is an oil and gas industry hub like few others — also has close industry ties.

Up for re-election in 2014, Landrieu has already taken close to half a million dollars from the industry to the chagrin of environmentalistsCommittee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has taken $40,600 during this campaign cycle, as well, even though she isn’t up for re-election until 2016.

Daniel Adamson, senior counsel for the committee, worked as a lobbyist fornatural gas utility company Avista Corporation from 2004-2010.

And now for the witnesses:

Adam Sieminski: Before taking the seat as head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2012, Sieminski worked in the fossil fuel finance sector.

“From 2005 until March 2012, he was the chief energy economist for Deutsche Bank, working with the bank’s global research and trading units,” explains his EIAbiography. “From 1998 to 2005, he served as the director and energy strategist for Deutsche Bank’s global oil and gas equity team.”

- W. David Montgomery: Testifying at both this committee hearing and the U.S.House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing, Montgomery is the senior vice president of NERA (National Economic Research Associates) Economic Consulting.

NERA penned a study on behalf of the DOE published in December 2012concluding LNG exports will be economically beneficial to the U.S. It recently published an updated follow-up study funded by Cheniere — the first company to receive a permit to export fracked U.S. gas in Sabine Pass, La., in 2012 — concluding “unlimited LNG exports benefit U.S.

Author of a 2009 paper titled, “Organized Hypocrisy as a Tool of Climate Diplomacy,” commissioned by the fossil fuel funded American Enterprise Institute, Montgomery is not a climate change denier. He just doesn’t think anything should be done to tackle climate change.

“Trying to bribe or coerce unwilling countries into curtailing their GHG emissions threatens to cause more harm than good,” he wrote in the American Enterprise Institute paper.

Montgomery sang a similar tune during a March 2011 U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology hearing:

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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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Documents: MD County Housing First East Coast LNG Export Facility Signs Non-Disclosure Deal

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Co-authored by Steve Horn and Caroline Selle

DeSmogBlog has obtained documents revealing that the government of Calvert County, MD, signed a non-disclosure agreement on August 21, 2012, with Dominion Resources — the company proposing the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal in Lusby, MD. The documents have raised concerns about transparency between the local government and its citizens.

The proposal would send gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from the Marcellus Shale basin to the global market. The export terminal is opposed by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland Sierra Club and a number of other local environment and community groups.

The Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Council (AMP Council), an environmental group based in Accokeek, MD, obtained the documents under Maryland’s Public Information Act and provided them to DeSmogBlog.

Cornell University’s Law School explains a non-disclosure agreement is a “legally binding contract in which a person or business promises to treat specific information as a trade secret and not disclose it to others without proper authorization.”

Upon learning about the agreement, Fred Tutman, CEO of Patuxent Riverkeeper — a group opposed to the LNG project — told DeSmogBlog he believes Calvert County officials are working “in partnership with Dominion to the detriment of citizen transparency.”

“We’re unhappy that it does seem to protect Dominion’s interest rather than the public interest,” Tutman said. “The secrecy surrounding this deal has made it virtually impossible for anyone exterior to those deals, like citizens, to evaluate whether these are good transactions or bad transactions on their behalf.”

Details of the Non-Disclosure Agreement

The six-page non-disclosure agreement explains Calvert County “desires to participate in discussions regarding Calvert County property tax credits. During these discussions, [Dominion] may share certain proprietary information with the [county].”

What’s confidential? According to the non-disclosure agreement,

… any data or information…not generally known to the public, whether in tangible or intangible form, and meeting the requirements for mandatory denial of inspections pursuant to the Maryland Public Information Act…whenever and however disclosed, including, but not limited to: (i) marketing strategies, plans, financial information, or projections, operations, sales estimates, business plans and performance results relating to the past, present or future business activities of such party, its affiliates, subsidiaries and affiliated companies; (ii) plans for products or services, and customer supplier lists; (iii) any scientific or technical information, invention, design, process, procedure, formula, improvement, technology or method; (iv) any concepts, reports, data, know-how, works-in-progress, designs, development tools, specifications, computer software, source code, object code, flow charts, databases, inventions, information and trade secrets; and (v) any other information that should reasonably be recognized as confidential information of [DCP].

In a statement provided to DeSmogBlog, Calvert County Commissioner Evan K. Slaughenhoupt, Jr. said it would be the “height of naiveté” to think a government would not sign a non-disclosure agreement in this type of situation, given the stakes involved.

“When businesses have contractual concerns, and meet with elected officials in a lawful duly authorized executive session to discuss expansion of a business, I honor my responsibility to not convey what was discussed in such a session,” he said. “Citizens expect no less of that from us.”

Non-Disclosure Agreements “Normal Part of Negotiations”

The use of non-disclosure agreements by local governments is not unprecedented. Some cases in point:

Queried about Dominion’s non-disclosure agreement with Calvert County, Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle told DeSmogBlog such agreements are “a routine, normal part of negotiations involving multi-billion dollar economic development projects.”

“Companies and counties often use non-disclosure agreements because they each need to share business-sensitive, confidential information that cannot be shared with other businesses or counties for competitive reasons,” Norvelle said. “The result this time around is certainty for both Dominion and the county.”

U.S. Congressmembers Decline Comment

Asked for comment on the agreement on multiple occasions by DeSmogBlog, Maryland’s U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D) and Barbara Mikulski (D) declined to comment, as did U.S. Rep. and Democratic Party Whip Steny Hoyer.

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