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Sand Land: Minnesota Mayor and Frac Sand Lobbyist Resigns

5:36 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan

Usually “revolving door” connotes a transition from a stint as a public official into one as a corporate lobbyist or vice versa.

In the case of Red Wing, MN - a southeastern Minnesota town of 16,459 located along the Mississippi River - its Mayor Dennis Egan actually obtained a gig as head lobbyist for the frac sand industry trade group Minnesota Industrial Sand Council while serving as the city’s Mayor. The controversy that unfolded after this was exposed has motivated Egan to resign as Red Wing’s Mayor, effective April 1.

Without the fine-grained silica frac sand found within “Sand Land” (or manufactured ceramnic proppants resembling it), there is no hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for the oil and gas embedded within shale rock deposits. In other words, frac sand mining is the “cradle” while burning gas for home-heating and other purposes is the “grave.”

Egan is also the former head of Red Wing’s Chamber of Commerce and the public relations firm he runs, Egan Public Affairs, is a Chamber member both at the Red Wing- and state-level. One of his other lobbying clients is Altria, which Big Tobacco’s Phillip Morris renamed itself in Feb. 2003 during its rebranding process with the help of PR powerhouse, Burson-Marsteller.

Many citizens living within the conflines of ”Sand Land” in MinnesotaWisconsinIowa,Texas, and Arkansas are deeply concerned about the ecological impacts of frac sand mining and the fracking at-large the sand enables.

Direct respiratory exposure to silica sand can lead to development of silicosis, a lung disease that can lead to lung cancer, akin to exposure to the tobacco smoke that Egan lobbies on behalf of. Exposure to silica sand was deemed a workplace hazard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in a June 2012 report.

Egan’s Frac Sand Ties Engender Citizen, City Council Backlash

Given this “price of sand,” residents reacted with outrage about the conflict-of-interest and started circulating a recall petition to send Egan packing as Mayor.

So too did Red Wing’s City Council, with three of its members demanding Egan resign at a Feb. 11 meeting and the City Council at-large voting unanimously at that same meeting to hire an outside investigator to dig deeper into the entirety of Egan’s conflicts-of-interest.

The brewing dramatic three-week-old scandal has come to a close, though, as Egan announced he will step down from his mayoral post.

“I believe that a mayor must live to a higher standard than just avoiding conflicts of interest,” he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “If a mayor’s activities serve as a distraction or roadblock for the city, the public is not well-served.”

Red Wing’s City Council, in turn, decided to drop the investigation on Egan and the recall petition is now null-and-void.

“We understand his decision and wish him well in his new position,” Red Wing City Council President Lisa Bayley told Minnesota Public Radio. “I think he had to make that decision — what we wanted to do. I just don’t think the two positions were compatible and he needed to pick something.”

Red Wing resident and recall petitioner Dale Hanson told the Star-Tribune that he believes this investigation should proceed regardless of Egan’s choice to step down as Mayor “to ensure that if there was corruption, ethics violations, or other vital issues that we have an accurate sense of how much damage may have been done.”

The announcement comes in the aftermath of a major Feb. 20 MN state Senate hearing on frac sand mining. Another one is slated for Feb. 26.

“Heads in the Sand”: Egan Not Alone in Cashing in on Frac Sand Boom

As it turns out, the sordid truth is that corruption and ethics violations with regards to frac sand mining and local governments go far above and beyond Egan and Red Wing. In a Dec. 26 story, the Star-Tribune explained that “at least five public officials in three counties are trying to make money from frac sand.”

Despite this reality and the enormous cradle-to-grave ecological costs and consequences of fracking, public officials have their “heads in the sand” – both literally and figuratively - with regards to the frac sand mining boom.

Second US Tar Sands Mine, Owned by Former ExxonMobil and Chevron Exec., Approved in Utah

8:37 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

MCW Enterprises Ltd., a Canada-based corporation, announced on Nov. 19 that it has received all necessary permits to streamline tar sands extraction at its Asphalt Ridge plant located in Vernal, Utah starting in December.

Protest Banner: All Markets Peak, All Pipelines Leak

Tar Sands protest in New Orleans

The announcement comes just weeks after U.S. Oil Sands Company received the first ever green light to extract tar sands south in the United States.

Recently changing its name from MCW Energy, MCW Enterprises Ltd. owns MCW Oil Sands Recovery LLC as a wholly owned subsidiary. The company’s CEO, R. Gerald Bailey – often also referred to as Raymond Bailey or Jerry Bailey - is the former President of Exxon Arabian Gulf and also served as an Executive for Texaco (since purchased by Chevron) for 15 years.

MCW’s website explains that its stake in the Asphalt Ridge is a “proven/probable resource of over 50+ million barrels of oil” and that it “is seeking other oil sands leases in Utah, which contains over 32 billion barrels of oil within 8 major deposits.”

Bailey told Flahrety Financial News that he sees this first project as a crucible, or testing grounds, with the potential for more extraction to come down the road.

“This is really going to be a technology play,” he stated. “I don’t plan to build another Exxon out there in the desert.”

The Frac Sand Connection

In June 2012, Temple Mountain Energy (TME) – also based in Vernal, UT – cut a five-year oil sands supply agreement deal with MCW.

“Under this five year Supply Agreement, Temple Mountain will supply MCW with 8,333 tons of oil sands material per month until the year 2016,” MCW’s website explains.

Once the bitumen is extracted, TME plans on selling the fine-grained sand under which it sits to unconventional oil and gas companies forhydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

“The recent rapid expansion of shale gas and shale oil drilling…has greatly increased the need for fracking sand in this region,” TME wrote on it website. “Asphalt Ridge is well-positioned to serve this high-volume market—both in terms of geographic location and in terms of sand quality.”

To date, frac sand mining companies have targeted five states - WisconsinMinnesotaTexasArkansas, and Iowa - transforming tens of thousands of acres of land into “Sand Land.” Utah is soon to become number six.

Race for What’s Left: End of “Easy Oil,” Heavy Price to Pay

With domestic unconventional oil and gas wells under-producing, setting the stage for the shale gas bubble to burst, the push to extract tar sands in the United States is a depiction of the oil and gas industry’s reckless push to extract every last drop in a “race for what’s left.”

The age of “easy oil,” to borrow the term from scholar Michael Klare, is over. In a May 2012 interview with FutureMoneyTrends.com, Bailey acknowledged this as well, stating that the “cheap, easy oil is pretty much behind us.”

Bailey defines “cheap” here with regards to the price of extracting the “tough oil” from a production point-of-view.

But as the Alberta tar sands north of the border have shown, it’s the ecosystem and climate that really pays the heaviest price of all. Read the rest of this entry →