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Big Rail Cites Bin Laden, Al Qaeda to Fight Oil-by-Rail Route Transparency

8:21 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

oil train

Big Rail done little to halt the very terrorism threats it claims a desire to stop

While many states around the U.S. have released information to the public about the frequency and routes of trains carrying oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, holdouts still remain.

Why the delay? Homeland security concerns, claim some companies.

In an ongoing Maryland court case over the issue of transparency for in-state oil-by-rail routes, a July 23 affidavit from Carl E. Carbaugh — director of infrastructure security for Norfolk Southern — goes into extensive detail about the supposed risk presented by terrorism attacks on “Bomb Trains.”

In so doing, Carbaugh mentions Al-Qaeda.

“The most recent edition of Inspire magazine, March 2014, the online, English-language propaganda publication of [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], presents a full-page collage depicting varied images…in order to construct an explosive device,” reads Carbaugh’s affidavit.

“Among these images are a derailed passenger train and a partly covered note paper listing cities in the [U.S.] as well as the terms ‘Dakota’ and ‘Train crude oil.’”

Carbaugh also cited Osama bin Laden, the late Al-Qaeda international ring-leader, in his affidavit.

“Among the materials seized in the May 1, 2011, raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were notes indicating interest in ‘tipping’ or ‘toppling’ trains — that is causing their derailment,” Carbaugh wrote.

Jay Apperson, director of communications for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), told DeSmogBlog that no hearing date has been set yet for Norfolk Southern’s legal complaint nor the companion complaint filed by CSXCorporation.

In its lawsuit filed against the Maryland environment department, CSX deployed similar arguments.

Apperson says both lawsuits were redundant because “we reiterated [to both companies] that we would not release the documents under state open records law until the court challenge is resolved.”

MDE filed a response arguing such in July 25 legal motions issued to CSX and Norfolk Southern.

CSX, according to its website, does not even have any oil-by-rail lines running through Maryland.

Like Old Dominion, Like Garden State

Big Rail has used a similar approach in New Jersey, another state that has not yet publicly-disclosed oil-by-rail route information.

Lee Moore, a New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety spokesman, explained why to The Record.

“Releasing all of the records, which include the rail lines on which Bakken crude oil is being transported, would pose a homeland security risk,” said Moore.

“Clocks and Windows”

William Larkin Jr., a Republican member of the New York Senate, believes the argument put forward in both Maryland and New Jersey is flawed on its face.

“I feel that both the U.S. Department of Transportation and a number of critics seemed to have missed the point, at least the larger point,” Larkin Jr. told the Poughkeepsie Journal on July 20. “[People] already know which rail lines oil companies are utilizing. Clocks and windows provide this information.”

As reported on DeSmogBlog, Big Rail has historically shored up exemptions from “right to know” laws and they have pushed hard to keep it that way.

Security Concerns: Holes in the Story

If the rail companies have serious concerns about terrorism threats to Bakken oil trains, their recent actions call such concerns into question.

Prior to the release of the new proposed oil-by-rail regulations, Big Rail lobbied against any regulations requiring the trains to be attended at all times. And they were successful, as this is not included in the proposed regulations.

Further, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) — owned by Warren Buffet, a major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama — is currently in the midst of a stand-off against organized labor. The battle centers around BNSF’s push for single person train operation, trains driven by a one-man ‘crew’ rather than the traditional two member crews.

Other ways experts have suggested to reduce risks of oil trains include lowering speed limits and stripping volatility of the oil prior to shipping via a process called stabilization.

However, prior to the release of the new proposed DOT regulations, the American Association of Railroads and the American Petroleum Institute both said two things should be off the table: train speeds and mandatory stabilization.

“Citizens for Rail Security”

Despite holes in its narrative about national security risks associated with disclosure of oil-by-rail routes, one measure some companies have taken is to create citizen volunteer security groups.

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Oil-By-Rail: A Battle Between “Right to Know” & “Need to Know”

11:35 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

BNSF Oil Train preparing to head north.

BNSF claims their oil train routes are secrets protected by law.

Since the first major oil-by-rail explosion occurred on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, citizens in communities across the U.S. have risen up when they’ve learned their communities are destinations for volatile oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin.

As the old adage goes, ignorance is bliss. It’s also one of the keys to how massive oil-by-rail infrastructure was built in just a few short years — the public simply didn’t know about it.

Often, oil companies are only required to get state-level air quality permits to open a new oil-by-rail facility.

Terry Wechsler, an environmental attorney in Washington, recently explained to Reuters why there was no opposition to the first three oil-by-rail facilities in the area.

“There was no opposition to the other three proposals only because we weren’t aware they were in formal permitting,” he said

The same thing unfolded in Albany, N.Y., where there is an ongoing battle over expansion of the major oil-by-rail facility set to process tar sands crude sent by rail from Alberta. The initial permits for the oil rail transfer facility, which would allow two companies to bring in billions of gallons of oil a year, were approved with no public comment.

Oil and rail companies know well that they can proceed with their planned expansions more easily if communities remain unaware of their plans.

And now that some states — including North Dakota — have defied their efforts to keep the public in the dark about the crude-carrying trains, the public will have a much clearer idea of what’s going on.

A case in point, DeSmogBlog recently revealed crude-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) moves up to 45 trains a week in some North Dakota counties and up to three dozen in others.

Big Rail’s Big Bluff

The rail industry has enjoyed a long history of legal protections, allowing it to operate in secrecy with regards to carrying hazardous materials. Indeed, Big Rail pushed hard to fight the release of information to the public on the transportation of Bakken crude oil.

This time around, the rail industry said that information it was compelled to give the federal government on its Bakken oil shipments under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) May 7 Emergency Order could not be released to the public under state-level open records laws.

Why? Because it fell under the category of “sensitive security information.”

In boilerplate letters and contract proposals sent to heads of State Emergency Response Commissions — one of which was obtained via Idaho’s Public Records Act by DeSmogBlog — BNSF deployed this argument.

This legal designation means BNSF and other companies could withhold information regarding the movements of Bakken crude from the public — by exempting it from state-level open records laws — and would only have to release it to the emergency response commissions.

“It is important to note that this information is subject to several restrictions on its release and exemptions from both state and federal applicable Freedom of Information laws and should only be provided to persons meeting with the appropriate need-to-knows discussed below,” BNSF wrote in its boilerplate letter.

BNSF considers this information commercial confidential and business confidential information and Security Sensitive Information pursuant to Federal law, and the documents have been marked accordingly.

But despite BNSF’s legal claims, some states have released this information in response to open records requests. And the federal government has also leaned toward advocating for greater transparency.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confirmed by e-mail to the Sacramento Bee that the administration did not consider this information “security sensitive,” stating, “TSA has not made a finding as to whether or not information concerning the volume of crude oil train traffic or the routes used by these trains is considered security-sensitive information.

The Federal Railroad Administration also concluded information about Bakken crude was not considered sensitive security information.

Community’s Right to Know

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website contains a section on right to know laws. That section opens by stating, “Every American has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living.”

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Revealed: Emails Show ND Ethics Law Potentially Broken on Petraeus Fracking Trip

9:18 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A digital envelope

Emails obtained through a standard Open Records Statute request in North Dakota show Petraeus’ fracking field trip’s ethical & legal issues.

DeSmogBlog has obtained emails via North Dakota’s Open Records Statute revealing facts that could be interpreted as indicating that North Dakota Treasurer Kelly Schmidt broke State Investment Board ethics laws.

The potential legal breach occurred during a late-April fracking field trip made to the state by former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus.

In a radio interview responding to DeSmogBlog’s original investigation about the trip, Schmidt said rolling out the red carpet for Petraeus — who now works at Manhattan-based private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), which holds over $1 billion in oil and gas industry assets and calls itself a “mini oil and gas company“ — was “not unusual.”

KKR initially told DeSmogBlog it followed all state and federal laws during the Petraeus visit.

But new emails obtained by DeSmogBlog from both the North Dakota State Investment Board and the Office of the North Dakota State Treasurer call that and much more into question.

Rewinding back to where it all began, for the final stops of the two-day Petraeus visit to North Dakota, he and his KKR colleagues Ari Barkan and Vance Serchuk met with representatives from the North State Investment Board and the North Dakota Department of Land Trusts.

Banal convenings at face-value, what preceded and followed the meetings tells a bigger story: first a crucial plane flight and then a follow-up invitation to come to New York City to talk business.

Looked at on the whole, the plane flight and what came after it raises fundamental legal and ethical questions about the burgeoning — and much-touted in some circles — North Dakota oil and gas Legacy Fund.

Fly Like an Eagle

On day one of the Petraeus visit, Schmidt flew on a private plane chartered byKKR from the Bakken Shale oil fracking fields in Watford, North Dakota out to Bismarck, North Dakota.

In introducing Petraeus in Bismarck for a speaking engagement with the North Dakota National Guard, Schmidt thanked the troops for fighting in oil wars, as seen in a video obtained by DeSmogBlog from a Freedom of Information Act request. It was skewered in a recent episode of comedian Lee Camp‘s show, “Redacted Tonight.”

“David and I have been out in the western portion of North Dakota where we have shared with him the challenges we’ve been facing to help make our nation and our world an energy independent country so that you and your fellow officers and enlisted folks never have to go over there again in order to fight for the oil we all need,” said Schmidt.

KKR — as we discovered in an earlier Open Records Statute request — required Schmidt to get legal clearance to fly on the private plane. Schmidt got the clearance within a couple of hours from Assistant Attorney General Janilyn Murtha.

Murtha gave Schmidt the legal clearance because — although Schmidt sits on the Board of the State Investment Board by legal mandate — “KKR does not have any current or pending business relationship with the [State Investment Board],”Murtha wrote.

Therefore, Murtha continued, “the conflict of interest provisions of the aforementioned code of conduct and associated fiduciary responsibilities are not implicated by the benefit described herein.”

Most important is what Murtha wrote next.

“If in the future the [State Investment Board] considers entering into a business relationship with KKR, and Treasurer Schmidt is then an acting board member, she may bring the prior contact with KKR to the attention of both the board and legal counsel and determine at that time if a conflict exists.”

New emails obtained by DeSmogBlog demonstrate Schmidt knew KKR had an April 30 breakfast with the State Investment Board to talk business. In fact, the new emails reveal Schmidt helped set the meeting up.

Further, other emails show Murtha forwarded the legal clearance she wrote for Schmidt off to David Hunter and Darren Schulz, Chief Investment Officer (CIO) and Deputy CIO for the State Investment Board, respectively.

In other words, all parties involved were “in the know.”

The new documents also portray that, in the trip’s aftermath, KKR and the State Investment Board have kept in touch and scheduled a mid-July meeting to discuss ”entering into a business relationship” with one another.

New York, New York

A few days after the April 30 breakfast meeting held between the KKR team and both Hunter and Schulz, Hunter sent a thank you email to KKR’s Ari Barkan. Barkan serves as Director for KKR’s Client and Partner Group.

“I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know I truly enjoyed our meeting last week and found our conversation with David, Vance, Darren and yourself to be truly compelling,” Hunter wrote to Barkan. “As your schedule permits over the next few weeks, let’s attempt to set up a meeting in New York during the first two weeks of July or August.”

After kicking back-and-forth a few emails, Barkan told Hunter a mid-July business meeting date would work best for a meeting at KKR’s New York City office.

“Please also keep in mind that, at the moment, I am envisioning two separate topics of discussions – one connected to private markets and one to credit – so really we are talking about 1.5 hours for each one,” Barkan wrote in an email.

Emails show Hunter invited Schmidt to the mid-July gathering, though she had to decline the invitation due to other commitments.

Breaking the Law?

So, did Schmidt engage in breaking the law?

Read the rest of this entry →

Revealed: Former Energy in Depth Spokesman John Krohn Now at EIA Promoting Fracking

9:11 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

For those familiar with U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) work, objectivity and commitment to fact based on statistics come to mind. Yet as Mark Twain once put it, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Untitled
That’s where John Krohn comes into play. A former spokesman for the gas industry front group Energy in Depth (EID), Krohn now works on the Core Team for EIA’s “Today in Energy!

Krohn has been at EIA since at least January 2014, when his name first appeared on the EIA website. On his Twitter account, he describes himself as an EIA communications manager.

As DeSmog revealed in February 2011, Energy In Depth was launched with a heavy injection of funding from oil and gas industry goliaths such as BP, Halliburton, Chevron, Shell and XTO Energy (now owned by ExxonMobil).

With its public relations efforts conducted by FTI Consulting, EID now serves as a key pro-industry front group promoting unfettered hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to the U.S. public.

Krohn follows in the footsteps through the government-industry revolving door of the man President Barack Obama named to head the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for his second term, former Massachusetts Institute of Technology “frackademic,” Ernest Moniz. DOE is the parent agency for EIA.

Further, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski, another second-term appointee of President Obama, also passed through the same revolving door as Krohn and Moniz in his pathway to heading EIA. He formerly worked in the world of oil and gas finance. 

“From 1998 to 2005, he served as the director and energy strategist for Deutsche Bank’s global oil and gas equity team,” his EIA biography explains. “Prior to that, from 1988 to 1997, Mr. Sieminski was the senior energy analyst for NatWest Securities in the United States, covering the major U.S. international integrated oil companies.”

The revolving door, though, is as American as apple pie. What makes the Krohn appointment more alarming to some observers is what this means in the context of the potential looming shale gas and oil bubble.

This revelation comes after EIA downgraded its Monterey Shale oil reserves estimate from 13.7 billion barrels to 600 million barrels, a 96-percent decrease

EIA: “Seriously Exaggerating Shale Gas Production”

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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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State Department Keystone XL Study Done by Oil Industry-Connected Firm with Big Tobacco, Fracking Ties

7:42 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Tobacco

Transcanada and the oil industry are borrowing from the Big Tobacco playbook to spin their bad publicity.

On March 1, the U.S. State Department published its long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the TransCanada Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline.

The KXL is slated to bring tar sands crude – also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur, TX. From Port Arthur, it will be refined andexported to the global market.

Flying in the face of the slew of scientific studies both on the harms of burning tar sands and on the KXL itself, State determined that laying down the pipeline is environmentally sound.

Unmentioned by State: the study was contracted out to firms with tar sands extraction clientele, as revealed by InsideClimate News.

“EnSys Energy has worked with ExxonMobil, BP and Koch Industries, which own oil sands production facilities and refineries in the Midwest that process heavy Canadian crude oil. Imperial Oil, one of Canada’s largest oil sands producers, is a subsidiary of Exxon,” InsideClimate News explained. “ICF International works with pipeline and oil companies but doesn’t list specific clients on its website.”

Writing for Grist, Brad Johnson also revealed the name of a third contractor – Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group - which TransCanada hired on behalf of the State Department to do the EIS.

“(ERM) was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the statement, which is now an official government document,” Johnson explained. “The statement estimates, and then dismisses, the pipeline’s massive carbon footprint and other environmental impacts, because, it asserts, the mining and burning of the tar sands is unstoppable.”

ERM, a probe into the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) Tobacco Archives reveals, has deep historical ties to Big Tobacco. Further, a key employee at ICF International – via familial ties – is tied to the future of whether hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale oil and gas becomes a reality in New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale.

TransCanada Utilizes Tobacco Playbook in Hiring ERM Group

ERM Group - headquarted in the City of London - a square mile sub-section of London infamous for its role in serving as a tax shelter for multinational corporations - has aided the tobacco industry in pushing the “Tobacco Playbook.”

Many fossil fuel industry public relations flacks learned the tactics of mass manipulation by reading the “tobacco playbook,” meticulously documented in Naomi Oreskes’ and Erik Conway’s classic book, “Merchants of Doubt.”

Doubt is our product,” a tobacco industry document once laid out the playbook, “since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

ERM has done studies on behalf of both R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, penning a report titled “Fundamentals of Environmental Management” for the latter.

It was also a former member of the American Tort Reform Association, a group that fights to limit the tort law rights of citizens to sue for damages inflicted upon them by corporations and featured in the documentary film, “Hot Coffee.”

ERM: In-Service to Big Oil, like Big Tobacco

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Breaking: NY Assembly Passes Two Year Fracking Moratorium, Senate Expected to Follow

5:17 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

New York Sate Capitol, Albany

In a roll call vote of 95-40, the New York State Assembly has passed a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drilling process through which oil and gas is procured that’s found within shale rock basins across the country and the world.

The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed off by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would close the state’s doors to the oil and gas industry’s desire to begin operating in New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale basin until May 2015. New York has had a moratorium on the books since 2008.

This is the third time the Assembly has passed such a bill, with similar moratorium bills passing in 2010 and 2011, but then dying a slow death in the Senate and never reaching the Governor’s desk, meaning the de facto moratorium has remained in place.

Could the third time be a charm in 2013 in the Empire State?

Signs point to “quite possibly,” because the bipartisan Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) bloc of the Senate - which shares control of the Senate with the Republicans – has come out in support of the bill’s passage, according to the Associated Press (AP).

“We have to put science first. We have to put the health of New Yorkers first,” Sen. David Carlucci (D-38) and an IDC member told the AP.

Activists see it as a temporary reprieve and a victory for now. Alex Beauchamp of Food and Water Watch told the Albany Times-Union:

Hundreds of New York health professionals agree with the State Assembly that we should not move forward without a full, comprehensive examination of the health impacts of fracking…Moving forward would simply enrich oil and gas companies that want to ship their gas overseas and their profits to Texas at the expense of New York’s public health and environment.

The oil and gas industry, unsurprisingly, is up in arms. New York Petroleum Council Executive Director Karen Moreau told the Times-Union:

Today’s vote by the State Assembly to further delay natural gas development is tantamount to telling the people of the Southern Tier to ‘Drop Dead.’ Once again, Albany politicians are putting politics before science, and the special interests before the people. The people of New York deserve better, to say the least

Given New York’s ability to fend off the industry’s desires to enter the state for going on five years, all eyes in the fracking stratosphere will be on the Senate and Cuomo – a potential 2016 Democratic Party presidential candidate - in the coming days and weeks. Read the rest of this entry →

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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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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