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Legal Case: White House Argues Against Considering Climate Change on Energy Projects

9:20 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The White House

The White House

Just over a month before the United Nations convenes on September 23 in New York City to discuss climate change and activists gather for a week of action, the Obama White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) argued it does not have to offer guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to consider climate change impacts for energy decisions.

It came just a few weeks before a leaked draft copy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest assessment said climate disruption could cause “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Initially filed as a February 2008 petition to CEQ by the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) when George W. Bush still served as President, it had been stalled for years.

Six and a half years later and another term into the Obama Administration, however, things have finally moved forward. Or backwards, depending on who you ask.

NEPA and CEQ

The initial February 2008 legal petition issued by the plaintiffs was rather simple: the White House’s Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) should provide guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to weigh climate change impacts when utilizing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on energy policy decisions.

A legal process completely skirted in recent prominent tar sands pipeline cases by both TransCanada and Enbridge, NEPA is referred to by legal scholars as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law.

CEQ oversees major tenets of environmental, energy and climate policy. It often serves as the final arbiter on many major legislative pushes proposed by Congress and federal agencies much in the same way the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) does for regulatory policy.

In February 2010, Obama’s CEQ showed signs it would utilize NEPA in its policy decision-making process with regards to climate change, issuing a “Draft Guidance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change Impacts” and opening up a 90-day public comment period. Read the rest of this entry →

After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch

1:33 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Flag against a blue sky: Green Port Long Beach

The “Green” Port of Long Beach will now export millions of tons of pollutants per year.

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary.

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing.

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City’s leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

But the Long Beach City Council voted “nay” in unanimous fashion to do the environmental impact study. Earthjustice had argued it was required to do an environmental review under the legal dictates of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“It’s disappointing that the City would turn a blind eye to even doing some basic analysis of the impacts of this decision to lock into 15 years of exporting dirty fuels abroad,” said Martinez.

“More than 100 residents showed up at the August 19 hearing to support pausing this deal and are deeply concerned about how climate change and pollution from exporting dirty fuels impacts them and future generations.”

Adding insult to injury, Sierra Club endorsed Vice Mayor and City Council member Suja Lowenthal in her Democratic Party primary race for State Assembly, which she recently lost.

The floodgates have been opened, then, to export massive amounts of coal and petcoke from the self-styled “Green Port.”

It comes at a time when numerous California refineries are retooling themselves to blend more tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”), which gets to the Golden State mainly via rail.

Further, it happens at the same time critics say the Obama Administration is exporting climate change by exporting coal abroad — often to countries without any meaningful regulations — even as his administration regulates U.S.-based coal-fired power plants.

Union, Oxbow Representatives Oppose Enviro Review

While the majority of those who testified at the August 19 hearing before the Long Beach City Council voted spoke in favor of doing an environmental impact statement, several industry executives and union workers spoke out against it.

“First and foremost, you should know the facilities on Pier G are world-class operations that set the bar for environmental excellence in our industries. We are very proud of what we do here with the port,” Clayton Headley, Oxbow’s vice president of supply for the Pacific region stated at the hearing.

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Fracking “Shock Doctrine” Unveiled as 2013 Illinois Legislative Session Nears End

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Fracking

The shale gas industry has performed the “shock doctrine” at the 11th hour of the 2013 Illinois State Legislature’s debateover hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drllling process through which oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins nationwide.

This year, both the Illinois House and Senate are set to adjourn for the year on May 31 and HB 2615 – the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act - will likely receive a full floor vote by adjournment. The regulatory bill has 59 House co-sponsors and eight Senate co-sponsorsDemocratic Party Gov. Pat Quinn said he will sign the bill when it arrives on his desk.

With the deadline looming rapidly, anti-fracking activists – or “fracktivists” – have been protestingsitting intestifying in committee hearings and committing acts of non-violent civil disobedience daily at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

Two days before that deadline, the Associated Press (AP) reported that records from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) indicate fracking already has begun in Illinois’ New Albany Shale Basin.

“Carmi, Ill.-based Campbell Energy LLC submitted a well-completion report last year to the [DNR] voluntarily disclosing that it used 640,000 gallons of water [fracking] a well in White County,” AP reports. AP also explained the report was first obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The last-minute announcement paves the way for a “buzzer beater” public relations effort by the industry to ram through a regulatory bill deemed the “most comprehensive fracking legislation in the nation” by its proponents and a “worst case scenario” by its detractors. The bill was predominatly written by Illinois Oil and Gas Association (IOGA), working alongside two major environmental groups: the Illinois Sierra Club and NRDC.

NRDC told DeSmogBlog it caught wind of the Campbell Energy well-completion report not from the industry itself at the negotiating table, but through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The FOIA request also showed another company has fracked a well: Strata-X Energy Ltd.

Among other things, the bill allows fracking to take place within 1,500 feet of groundwater sources and 500 feet of schools, houses, hospitals, nursing homes, and places of worship; and within 300 feet of rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs. Necessary context: the horizontal drilling portion of the fracking process extends between 5,000-7,500 feet.

“We need to acknowledge that fracking is legal today in Illinois, and for all we know, may already be occurring as you read this,Sierra Club Illinois‘ Director Jack Darin wrote ambiguously in a Feb. 2013 Huffington Post piece.

Darin’s ominous hypothetical scenario proved true, begging the question: did the industry hide this from those it was at the negotiating table with until the last minute? Darin could not be reached for comment at the time this article went to press.

Fracking Well Owned by IOGA Board Member, Connected to Lake Michigan Oil Drilling

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“Gasland 2″ Grassroots Premiere in Illinois Highlights Industry PSYOPS and Ongoing Fracking Fights

11:10 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Gasland Promo image

Gasland Part 2 continues documenting energy industry spin and climate change.

Gasland 2 screened yesterday in Normal, IL and DeSmogBlog was there to gain a sneak peak of the documentary set for a July 8 HBO national premiere.

Josh Fox’s documentary played at the Normal Theater, the second-ever screening since the film officially premiered on April 21 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City

The movie builds on Fox’s Academy Award-nominated Gasland, further making the case of how the shale industry’s hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom is busting up peoples’ livelihoods, contaminating air and water, polluting democracy and serving as a “bridge fuel” only to propel us off the climate disruption cliff. 

A central theme and question of the film is, “Who gets to tell the story?” That is, industry PR pros and bought-off politicians utilizing the “tobacco playbook” and saying “the sky is pink,” or families directly injured by the industry? Fox explains how the industry has gamed the system, ensuring the communities have their voices drowned out. The Gasland films seek to tell some of the victims’ stories. 

Another theme is the bread and butter of following any big industry’s influence: following the money. In depicting the financial clout of Big Oil, Gasland 2 shows that the oil and gas industry has gone to the lengths of deploying warfare tactics – literally – on U.S. citizens to ram through its agenda. 

PSYOPs Use by Gas Industry PR Flacks Featured

Much of the content in Gasland 2 has also been covered on DeSmogBlog over the past few years.

Robert Howarth’s and Anthony Ingraffea’s prominent “Cornell Study” receives some good play in the film. Howarth and Ingraffea demonstrated that from cradle to grave, fracked gas has a more dangerous global warming effect than coal, a death knell to the “natural gas as a bridge fuel” meme. President Obama’s deployment of American Petroleum Institute “jobs” talking points for fracking is in there too.

Former head of the Dept. of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush and Republican Gov. of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, also takes a beating in the film. His appearance on “The Colbert Report” is righteously roasted, the same appearance in which he lied to U.S. citizens and declared he was “not a lobbyist” even though he was registered to lobby at that time for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Tailsman Terry the Fracosaurus,” which demonstrates the industy’s willingness to utilize propaganda on young children, receives a similar round of ridicule in Gasland 2. Fox also explains the oil industry’s use of Big Tobacco’s Playbook through interviews with Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt, a major theme of our coverage of both the shale gas industry and the Tea Party

Steve Lipsky, who was left in the dust by Range Resouces and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is one of the central characters of the film. The major villain of that tale is former PA Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who helped derail and censor the EPA’s fracking groundwater contamination study motivated by Lipsky’s water contamination in Weatherford, TX.

While the prospective shale gas export boom is covered in some depth in the film, so too is the concept of the government-industry revolving door, particularly as it pertains to Pennsylvania. The Public Accountability Initiative’s study “Fracking and the Revolving Door in Pennsylvania” is featured in the film, a study we also covered.

Last but certainly not least, Gasland 2 devotes an entire section to the industry’s admitted use of psychological warfare tactics (PSYOPs) on U.S. citizens, as we first revealed in Nov. 2011.

The Houston PR conference referred to in the film is one I attended and covered in some depth. It was a gathering of industry public relations executives talking among friends about how to best manipulate mainstream media journalists, divide and conquer anti-fracking activists, and intimidate local communities to go along with fracking operations that endanger their health and drinking water.

Gasland 2 presents the audio of Range Resouces Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Matt Pitzarella revealing that Range hires PSYOPs Iraq War veterans to use their skills to pressure local communities. The film also features Anadarko Petroleum External Affairs Manager Matt Carmichael advising gas industry PR pros to read the Army “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” and “Rumsfeld’s Rules,” because “we are dealing with an insurgency.”

Both audio clips were obtained by Earthworks’ Sharon Wilson at the conference and provided to media by Earthworks and DeSmogBlog. CNBC first broke the story on Nov. 8, 2011.

Illinois Fracking Fight Wages On

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ALEC Sham Chemical Disclosure Model Tucked Into Illinois Fracking Bill

12:29 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Illinois Capitol Dome

Illinois is the next target for ALEC's environmental tampering.

Illinois is the next state on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)‘s target list for putting the oil industry’s interests ahead of the public interest.

98 percent funded by multinational corporations, ALEC is described by its critics as a “corporate bill mill” and a lobbyist-legislator dating service. It brings together corporate lobbyists and right wing politicians to vote up or down on “model bills” written by lobbyists in service to their corporate clientele behind closed doors at its annual meetings.

These “models” snake their way into statehouses nationwide as proposed legislation and quite often become the law of the land.

Illinois, nicknamed the “Land of Lincoln,” has transformed into the “Land of ALEC” when it comes to a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) regulation bill - HB 2615, the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act - currently under consideration by its House of Representatives. “Fracking” is the toxic horizontal drilling process via which unconventional gas and oil is obtained from shale rock basins across the country and the world.

HB 2615 - proposed on Feb. 21 with 26 co-sponsors - has an ALEC model bill roped within this lengthy piece of legislation: the loophole-ridden Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act.

As covered here on DeSmogBlogthis model bill has been proposed and passed in numerous statehouses to date. If the bill passes, Illinois’ portion of the New Albany Shale basin will be opened up for unfettered fracking, costumed by its industry proponents as the “most comprehensive fracking legislation in the nation.”

“If At First You Don’t Succeed, Dust Yourself Off and Try Again”

This isn’t ALEC’s first fracking-related crack at getting a model bill passed in Illinois. In 2012, the Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act – introduced as SB 3280 - passed unanimously by the Illinois Senate but never passed the House.

SB 3280 isn’t merely an ALEC model, but is a Council of State Government’s (CSG) model, too, as covered here on DeSmog.

The “disclosure” standards’ origins lay in the Obama Department of Energy’s (DOE) industry-stacked fracking subcomittee, formed in May 2011 ”to study the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and determine if there are ways, or even a necessity, to make it safer for the environment and public health.”

As exposed by The New York Times in April 2012, these ”disclosure” standards were originally written by ExxonMobil, first passed in Texas in June 2011, and now serve as both an ALEC and CSG model bill for the states. I say “disclosure” – as opposed to disclosure – because the bill includes loopholes for “trade secrets,” ala the “Halliburton Loophole” written into the industry-friendly federal Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Section 77 of HB 2615, titled “Chemical disclosure; trade secret protection,” also includes the same trade secrets exemption from the ALEC/CSG ExxonMobil-written model bill.

Ever persistent, ALEC has taken the late pop diva Aaliyah’s words to heart with regards to chemical fluids “disclosure,” at first not succeeding and dusting itself off and trying again.

The FracFocus Façade

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Keystone XL Contractor and SUNY Buffalo Shale Institute Conduct LA County’s Fracking Study

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A huge report was published on Oct. 10 by Los Angeles County that’ll likely open the floodgates for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for unconventional oil and gas in the Monterey Shale basin. The report, as it turns out, was done by LA County in name only.

As the Los Angeles Times explained, the study found “no harm from the method” of fracking as it pertains to extracting shale gas and oil from the Inglewood Oil Field, which the Times explains is “the largest urban oil field in the country.”

In the opening paragraphs of his article, Ruben Vives of the Times wrote,

A long-awaited study released Wednesday says the controversial oil extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would not harm the environment if used at the Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills area.

The yearlong study included several issues raised by residents living around the field, such as the potential risks for groundwater contamination, air pollution and increased seismic activity.

It’s not until the middle of the story that Vives says the study wasn’t done by LA County itself, but rather what he describes as a “consulting firm that conducted the study” by the name of Cardno Entrix.

Cardno Entrix isn’t any ordinary “consulting firm.”

It’s the third party contractor that conducted the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), ran the public hearings and made the website all on behalf of the Obama State Department’s review process for the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Cardno Entrix, in turn, was hired by TransCanada to do the EIS, a conflict-of-interest blatant enough that it’s yielded an ongoing Office of the Inspector General investigation of State’s entire review process.

Study By and For Gas Industry, Connected to SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute

Though published under the auspices of LA County, the study wasn’t even paid for by the County at all. Rather, as Vives explained in his Times article, the oil and gas industry paid for the entire enchilada:

Plains Exploration and Production Co., the owner and operator of the oil field, paid for the review as part of a settlement agreement with Culver City and environmental and community groups. The report was reviewed by two independent firms selected by the company and Los Angeles County.

Vives never identified the “independent firms” serving as the peer reviewers, but the study itself, which contains the five-page peer review paper, reveals two reviewers: JP Martin Energy Strategy LLC and Peter Muller.

JP Martin Energy Strategy is a consulting firm run by John Martin. Martin also serves as Director of the increasingly controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). He is credited with publishing “the initial research on the natural gas potential of New York’s Utica Shale that helped stimulate significant industry investment in this resource,” according to the biographical sketch on his consulting firm’s website.

Muller formerly served as a Senior Geologist for Alpha Geoscience, where from Jan. 2010-March 2012, he researched “shale gas development issues” including “flowback treatment, stray gas, [and] permitting,” according to his LinkedIn page. He now serves in a consulting capacity for various hydraulic fracturing projects for the shale gas industry.

Miller and Muller closed their five-page peer review paper by writing, “Upon review, we both feel, based on information provided us and our own experience, that the report is adequate, complete and accurate and reflected thoughtful consideration for our comments and suggestions.”

This situation parallels what DeSmog wrote about in our first ever article on the SRSI, as the “peer review” panel for its first ever study had four out of five members on the payroll of the oil and gas industry.

Stars Aligning for Shale Gas Industry’s California Dreamin’

Concerned that the Inglewood study was conducted by and for the shale gas industry, Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote, “we need additional review from independent experts who have no financial stake in the study’s outcome.” But the recent history of the Keystone XL pipeline review process shows that’s highly unlikely.

The stars, it seems, are aligning quickly in the City of Angels for the oil and gas industry, with “this area…quietly becoming the hottest potential investment in the West,” according to an August 2011 story in San Luis Obispo’s New Times, which reported that the Monterey Shale has upwards of 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

It’s “California Dreamin‘” for the oil and gas industry in the Monterey Shale. Will that mean a “California Nightmare” for everyone else?

Update: In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Paul Ferrazzi, Co-Founder of Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, stated the following:

“Unfortunately, given the Settlement Agreement terms acceptable to all parties involved and the history of the implementation of the agreement by both the County and PXP one could only assume the results would be favorable to the oil operator and industry. We wish we could have some confidence in this study but given the study preparing company’s as well as the peer reviewer’s direct advocacy for the industry we do not feel it was adequately conducted, properly reviewed, or that the public should take comfort in the conclusions of the study.

If anything, this study raises more questions than it answers. The public should be able to ask for clarification and further support for the authors’ contentions. CCSC urges the County to use the study as a starting point for further discussion, and allow public participation and informative responses to test the validity, assumptions and conclusions of the study.”