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Firm with History of Spill Cover-Ups Hired to Clean Up North Dakota Oil Spill

3:54 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Tesoro Logistics — the company whose pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of fracked Bakken Shale oil in rural North Dakota in September — has hired infamous contractor Witt O’Brien’s to oversee its clean-up of the biggest fracked oil spill in U.S. history.

The oil was obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale basin.

As revealed after ExxonMobil hired the same firm in the aftermath of a 210,000-gallon tar sands oil spill in April 2013, Witt O’Brien’s —formerly known as OOPS, Inc. — is a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups dating back to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It also oversaw the spraying of toxic oil dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico during BP’s summer 2010 mega-spill and a literal cover-up of Enbridge’s massive “dilbit disaster” tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan.

Witt O’Brien’s also won a $300,000 contract to develop an emergency response plan for TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline in August 2008.

The same firm is now maintaining Tesoro’s website dedicated to offering updates — also known as crisis communications management — for the massive spill’s recovery efforts at TesoroAlert.com.

Buried at the bottom of the website is a mention that the site is “powered by the PIER System.” PIER — short for “Public Information Emergency Response” — is owned by Witt O’Brien’s.

PIER in a Nutshell

A glance at PIER’s website suggests it is much more focused on image clean-up than it is on actually cleaning up oil spills.

“We believe that responding effectively and communicating your efforts are two sides of the same coin,” explains Witt O’Brien’s website. “And since others will be telling your story, from the professional media to citizen reporters with camera phones, you must be prepared and ready to respond.”

“PIER™ (Public Information Emergency Response) provides flexible solutions for handling internal and external communications, making it easier to deliver messages, streamline processes, automate tasks, and prevent inaccuracy during routine events, minor incidents, and major catastrophes.”

Brad Johnson, at the time a writer for Think Progress, explained BP used PIER for “media and public information management” during the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster.

Winter Whitewash in the Works?

In a November 1 DeSmogBlog article covering the North Dakota fracked oil spill, Kris Roberts, environmental response team leader for the North Dakota Department of Health’s Division of Water Quality, said his department would be “putting [the oil] to bed for the winter” in an interview.

“We’ll continue to recover any free oil, but essentially because winter is days away if not already there, they’re basically just putting it back to bed, ensuring it’s properly contained and monitored,” Roberts said.

“They will hopefully get some natural remediation over the winter below the frost zone when the indigenous bacteria start flourishing, that’ll probably help a little bit cleaning up. But for the most part, everything is pretty much on hold and active remediation is going to be on hold until next spring.”

In the midwest, winter has arrived. The question remains: will the massive amount of snow allow for a literal and figurative whitewash by Tesoro — working with Witt O’Brien’s — of the largest fracked oil spill in U.S. history?

Fracking Lobby’s Tax Forms: Big Bucks to Media, “Other ALECs,” Democratic PR Firms

12:07 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA)- the public relations arm of the oil and gas fracking industry – has released its 2012 Internal Revenue Services (IRS) 990 form, and it’s rich with eye-opening revelations, some of which we report here for the first time.

Incorporated as American Natural Gas Alliance, Inc., ANGA received $76.7 million from its dues-paying members for fiscal year 2012. Not strictly a lobbying force alone at the state-level and federal-level, ANGA has pumped millions of dollars into public relations and advertising efforts around the country and hundreds of thousands more into other influence-peddling avenues.

The Nation Magazine‘s Lee Fang revealed in a recent piece that ANGA gave $1 million in funding to Truthland, a pro-fracking film released to fend off Josh Fox’s Gasland: Part II.

On its website, Truthland says it is a project of both industry front group Energy in Depth and the trade association, Independent Petroleum Association of America. The Truthland website was originally registered in Chesapeake Energy’s office, Little Sis revealed.

Fang also revealed ANGA gave $25,000 to “ASGK Strategies, a political consulting firm founded by White House advisor David Axelrod,” as well as “$864,673 to Edventures Partners, an education curriculum company that has partnered with ANGA to produce classroom materials that promote the use of natural gas.”

In his piece, Fang also points out ANGA has given millions of dollars to Democratic Party-affiliated PR firms, perhaps unsurprising given its new CEO is Martin “Marty” Durbin, nephew of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the U.S. Senate’s Majority Whip.

“The 990 shows that ANGA paid the Glover Park Group over $2.9 million for ‘research/advertising’ and Dewey Square Group $738,957 for ‘grassroots communications.,’” wrote Fang. “Both firms are run by mostly former Clinton administration officials.” ANGA donated another $6,500 to Dewey Square for general operational support.

Donations to Media Outlets

ANGA also gave big to media outlets, a DeSmog review of the 990 reveals. It doled out $165,000 to The Texas Tribune, $100,000 to Bloomberg Businessweek, $50,000 to National Journal and another $25,000 to the Environmental Media Association, co-founded by Norman Lear, also the co-founder of the liberal group People For the American Way.

Departing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – owner and namesake of Bloomberg Businessweek – is also a major financial supporter of fracking, giving $6 million to the Environmental Defense Fund in August 2012 to promote “responsible regulation” in 14 states. He also gave money to EDF’s recently-published controversial fracking climate study.

ANGA also recently became a founding partner of MSNBC.com‘s newly launched website, on whose platform it will regularly publish “native advertisements,” sometimes also referred to as “branded content.” Axelrod – whose PR firm also gets money from ANGA - works as a paid senior political analyst for MSNBC and NBC.

Bipartisanship, Attacks on Renewables, Money to Green Group

One thing is crystal clear in ANGA’s 990 forms: they “buypartisan.” That is, they donate money to both sides of the political aisle, although the bulk of the dollars flows to the right.

ANGA donated $25,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association, while giving nine times as much to the Republican Governors Association to the tune of $225,000. It then tossed another $200,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, throwing $25,000 more to Third Way, a think-tank of sorts of the corporate Blue Dog Democrats.

Not content with its vast market share of the U.S. utilities market, ANGA gave $100,000 to the “Care for Michigan Coalition,” an industry-funded nonprofit created to defeat Michigan’s Proposal 3 in the November 2012 elections. Proposal 3 would have mandated 25-percent of Michigan’s energy portfolio come from renewable energy sources by 2025, known by energy policy wonks as 25×25.

Other major Care for Michigan Coalition donors included Warren Buffett’s BNSF (whose trains carry vast amounts of frac sand and oil fracked from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale), DTE Energy, CMS Energy and the Michigan Manufacturers’ Association.

ANGA didn’t limit its patronage to sworn enemies of renewable energy, though. It also handed $30,000 to the Texas League of Conservation Voters.

Donations to “Other ALECs”

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Oops, Inc.: Firm with History of Cover-Ups Hired to Clean Up Arkansas Tar Sands Spill

5:50 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Arkansas’ Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has contracted out the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill to Witt O’Brien’s, a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups, a DeSmogBlog investigation reveals.

At his April 10 press conference about the Mayflower spill response, AG McDaniel confirmed that Exxon had turned over 12,500 pages of documents to his office resulting from a subpoena related to Exxon’s response to the March 29 Pegasus disaster. A 22-foot gash in the 65-year-old pipeline spewed over 500,000 gallons of tar sands dilbit through the streets of Mayflower, AR.

McDaniel also provided the media with a presser explaining that his office had“retained the assistance of Witt O’Brien’s, a firm whose experts will immediately begin an independent analysis of the cleanup process.”

Witt O’Brien’s describes itself as a “global leader in preparedness, crisis management and disaster response and recovery with the depth of experience and capability to provide services across the crisis and disaster life cycle.”

But the firm’s actual performance record isn’t quite so glowing. O’Brien’s has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history, including the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy.

Most troubling of all, Witt O’Brien’s won a “$300k+ contract to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project” in Aug. 2008.

Thus, if the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline inevitably suffered a major spill, Witt O’Brien’s would presumably handle the cleanup. That should worry everyone along the proposed KXL route.

From OOPS, Inc. to Witt O’Brien’s

In Dec. 2012, Witt Associates merged with O’Brien’s Response Management to form Witt O’Brien’s. The merger at-large is owned by Seacor Holdings.

O’Brien’s was formed in the early 1980s by Jim O’Brien – a former U.S. Coast Guard officer – as O’Brien Oil Pollution Service, otherwise known by OOPS, Inc. That’s not a joke, it was their actual name.

OOPs, Inc. was acquired by Seacor Holdings Inc. under the auspices of Seacor Environmental Services division in 1997, later renamed The O’Brien’s Group (TOG). TOG was later re-named O’Brien’s Response Management Inc. in Oct. 2008.

Importantly, in Dec. 2009, O’Brien’s acquired a powerful public relations spin machine wing, as its former website explains:

In December of 2009, O’Brien’s completed the successful acquisition of PIER (Public Information Emergency Response) Systems Inc., a crisis communications company that has developed the PIER software application, an all-in-one, web-based solution for communications management, public relations, media monitoring, employee notification, and business continuity.

Witt Associates, meanwhile, was founded by James Witt, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Bill Clinton who also served Gov. Clinton in Arkansas as head of the state’s Office of Emergency Services. He started Witt Associates upon leaving his Clinton Administration post.

Oil and Gas Industry Ties Run Deep at Witt O’Brien’s

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Congressmen Supporting Fracked Gas Exports Took $11.5 Million From Big Oil, Electric Utilities

7:37 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

south texas oil

South Texas Oil Refinery

On Jan. 25, 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives – 94 Republicans and 16 Democrats - signed a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve expanded exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

It was an overt sign of solidarity with the Obama Administration Department of Energy’s (DOE) LNG exports study, produced by a corporate consulting firm with long ties to Big Tobacco named NERA Economic Consulting (NERA is short for National Economic Research Associates), co-founded in 1961 by the “Father of Deregulation,” Alfred E. Kahn. That study concluded exporting gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process - sent via pipelines to coastal LNG terminals and then onto tankers – is in the best economic interests of the United States.

A DeSmogBlog investigation shows that these 110 signatories accepted $11.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and electric utilities in the run-up to the November 2012 election, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Big Oil pumped $7.9 million into the signatories’ coffers, while the remaining $3.6 million came from the electric utilities industry, two industries whose pocketbooks would widen with the mass exportation of the U.S. shale gas bounty. Further, 108 of the 110 signers represent states in which fracking is occurring.

Exhibit A: Human Geography of Campaign Finance Post-Citizens United

Energy issues are almost always questions of infrastructure, geography, and geopolitics. So too is the case of LNG exports, with this letter serving as Exhibit A of the new human geography of campaign finance in the post-Citizens United world.

Texas

The expression always seems to ring true: everything is bigger in Texas.

This letter is no different, as 19 of the 110 signatories represent congressional districts in The Lone Star State, 12 Republicans and seven Democrats. Texas is home to both the Eagle Ford Shale basin and the Barnett Shale basin, as well as prospective LNG export terminals in Sabine Pass (co-owned by ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Qatar Petroleum), Freeport (partially owned by ConocoPhillips) and Corpus Christi (owned by LNG export giant, Cheniere).

The “Texas 19″ alone raked in $2.5 million from Big Oil and electric utilities. 

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX8), a recipient of $166,000 from Big Oil and another $23,000 from the electric utilities industry, oversees a congressional district in part based in Houston, the corporate epicenter for the oil and gas industry and home to the innovative leader in the sphere of LNG exports, Cheniere Energy. ExxonMobil and Chesapeake Energy, the number one and two producers of unconventional gas in the U.S., each gave Brady $10,000 before his 2012 electoral victory. Anadarko, Marathon and Valero also followed suit with $10,000 contributions and ConocoPhillips chipped in an extra $7,500.

Brady’s Texas colleague Joe Barton (R-TX6), whose congressional district in large part overlaps the Barnett Shale basin, took $162,150 from Big Oil and another $124,950 from the electric utilities industry. He received $13,000 from utilities giant Exelon Corporation, $12,500 from ExxonMobil, $10,000 from Koch Industries, $7,000 from Chevron and $5,000 from Chesapeake Energy. Koch Industries’ Koch Pipeline runs from the Eagle Ford Shale basin to Corpus Christi.

The Dirty, Dirty South

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UT-Austin Administration Distances Itself from “Frackademia” Study

9:23 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The UT clock tower rises behind a fountain.

Part of the UT Austin campus. The university is backing away from the 'frackademia' study it published.

Weeks after SUNY Buffalo’s upper-level administration gave the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) the boot due to its gas industry public relations effort masked as a “study,” University of Texas-Austin’s (UT-Austin) administration has somewhat followed suit for its own “frackademia” study.

The decision comes in the aftermath of an independent review of a controversial study completed under UT-Austin’s auspices.

Like SRSI’s “shill gas study,” UT-Austin brought itself attention when it published a “study” in February 2012 titled, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development.” UT-Austin’s study – conducted under the wings of its Energy Institute - claimed that there’s “no scientific proof” that unconventional oil and gas development can be linked to groundwater contamination.

As it turns out, the author’s lead investigator, Charles “Chip” Groat is on the payroll of the oil and gas industry via Plains Exploration & Production, a direct conflict-of-interest under the standards of academia (not to be confused with those of “frackademia”). “Groat earned more than double his University of Texas salary as a PXP board member in 2011 – $413,900 as opposed to $173,273 – and he has amassed over $1.6 million in stock during his tenure there,” Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) explained in a report.

The embarrassment created by these revelations moved Groat to retire after the spring semester, while the head of the Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach, stepped down today as head of the Institute, though he’ll still remain on the UT-Austin faculty.

UT-Austin’s administration, in effect, has decided to distance itself from the report due to its numerous conflicts-of-interest, though unlike the SRSI, the Energy Institute won’t be ended.

“The school said it will undertake six recommended actions, the most significant being the withdrawal of papers from the Energy Institute’s Web site related to the report until they are submitted for fresh expert review,” explained The New York Times.

Kevin Connor, Director of PAI, issued this statement in response to UT-Austin’s decision:

The University of Texas has now joined the University at Buffalo in sending a strong message to the oil and gas industry: our universities are not for sale. This is another major blow to gas industry pseudoscience and a victory for academic integrity in the debate around fracking.

The University of Texas deserves credit for taking a difficult but important stand for transparency and integrity by releasing this review and pursuing these recommendations.

U of Michigan: The Next Frontier for “Frackademia”?

This announcement comes soon after University of Michigan-Ann Arbor stated it would be conducting its own forthcoming two-year studyon the ecological impacts of fracking in Michigan.

“Industry representatives, nongovernmental organizations, state government officials, academic experts and other stakeholders are providing input,” explained University of Michigan in a press release.

Members of the study’s Steering Committee include two representatives of the Michigan Oil and Gas Association and members of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s cabinet, along with several university-affiliated faculty members.

A Dec. 3 story by Energy and Environment News explained that Energy in Depth, the shale gas industry front group, will also be deeply involved with the study.

“Some of those stakeholders are being pulled in as resources for the UM study, said Energy in Depth Field Director Erik Bauss, whom UM researchers have already called on to help facilitate a visit to a Michigan frack site,” wrote E and E.

Given the recent state of play for “frackademics,” DeSmog will be keeping a close eye on the Michigan study in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned. Read the rest of this entry →