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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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No Turning Back: Mexico’s Looming Fracking, Offshore Oil & Gas Bonanza

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Pemex

A look at the Pemex energy boom.

After generations of state control, Mexico’s vast oil and gas reserves will soon open for business to the international market.

In December 2013, Mexico’s Congress voted to break up the longstanding monopoly held by the state-owned oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos — commonly called Pemex — and to open the nation’s oil and gas reserves to foreign companies.

The constitutional reforms appear likely to kickstart a historic hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and deepwater offshore oil and gas drilling bonanza off the Gulf of Mexico.

“This reform marks a major breakthrough in Mexico’s economic history only comparable to the signing of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992,” international investing and banking giant Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) wrote in a January 2014 economic analysis.

What does this mean for the oil and gas industry in Mexico? And for the workers and those who live above these oil and gas plays or along the pipeline routes that will funnel the liquids to refineries? And how about for the Earth’s atmosphere?

Can Mexico’s fossil fuel infrastructure handle the boom? Can the country spare the precious freshwater supplies needed for thirsty fracking operations in an era of increasingly severe droughts and drinking water shortages? Can environmental, safety and public health regulations possibly keep up with this industrial boom?

DeSmogBlog will examine all these issues and more as Mexico opens its fossil fuel reserves to international exploitation in the weeks and months ahead. But, first, an overview of the state of play in Mexico’s energy reforms.

Full Circle: History of Mexican Energy Reforms

The contemporary history of Mexico’s energy industry started in 1938 when the federal government kicked out foreign oil companies and nationalized the oil and gas sector under the Pemex banner.

As a recent report published by the Congressional Research Service explains, nationalization occurred in the aftermath of a bitter labor dispute between Mexican workers and the international oil and gas firms who wanted to gain a foothold in the country.

“Tensions culminated in President Lázaro Cárdenas’ historic 1938 decision to abandon efforts to mediate a bitter labor dispute between Mexican oil workers and foreign companies and instead follow through on his threat to expropriate allU.S. and other foreign oil assets in Mexico,” the report explains.

Upon its creation in 1938, Pemex became a symbol of national pride and…united a disparate Mexican society against foreign intervention.

For 75 years, Pemex alone had access to Mexico’s massive oil and gas reserves. Mexico is the world’s 9th largest producer of oil and revenues from developing the resource fund roughly one-third of the country’s budget.

But Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), elected in July 2013, has made the “open door” energy reforms — on top of reforms in a whole host of other policy spheres — a top priority for his administration as part of his “Pact for Mexico.”

There’s some historical irony at play here: Nieto’s PRI is the party that originally nationalized the Mexican oil industry to begin with.

And the constitutional amendments also bring labor relations full circle, as the new board of directors for Pemex won’t include union representation, even though a labor dispute served as the rationale for nationalization of the Mexican energy industry back in 1938.

All five union representatives have been removed from the board of Pemex, which is shrinking from 15 to ten members.

Gold Rush

Proponents for Mexico’s energy reforms envision a gold rush. They argue the constitutional amendments and accompanying secondary legislation still up for debate in the Mexican legislature could add as much as $35 billion in outside investment into the national coffers.

Pemex says $25 to $60 billion could come its way as a result of joint ventures it can now sign with international oil and gas companies, while the industry-funded Manhattan Institute says 2.5 million jobs and more than $1 trillion in revenue could be created by 2025.

Texas Observer investigative journalist Shannon Young is skeptical of the numbers and figures being tossed around, however:

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For First Time, TransCanada Says Tar Sands Flowing to Gulf in Keystone XL South

11:56 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

TransCanada admitted for the first time that tar sands oil is now flowing through Keystone XL‘s southern leg, now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project. The company confirmed the pipeline activity in its 2014 quarter one earnings call.

Asked by Argus Media reporter Iris Kuo how much of the current 300,000-400,000 barrels per day of oil flowing from the Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas pipeline is tar sands (“heavy crude,” in industry lingo), TransCanada CEO Russ Girling confirmed what many had already suspected.

“I don’t have that exact mix, but it does have the ability to take the domestic lights as well as any heavies that find a way down to the Cushing market, so it is a combination of the heavies and the lights,” said Girling. “I just don’t know what the percentage is.”

The Keystone Pipeline System — of which Keystone XL’s northern leg is phase four of four phases — is and always has been slated to carry Alberta’s tar sands to targeted markets. So the announcement is far from a shocker.

More perplexing is why it took so long for the company to tell the public that tar sands oil now flows through the half of the pipeline approved via a March 2012 Executive Order by President Barack Obama.

“Oil is Oil”

When DeSmogBlog reported TransCanada had begun injecting oil into the pipeline’s southern leg in December, the company would not reveal what type of oil it was.

“As you’ve likely seen me quoted before, oil is oil and this pipeline is designed to handle both light and heavy blends of oil, in accordance with all U.S. regulatory standards,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told DeSmogblog at the time.

I am not able to provide you the specific blend or breakdown as we are not permitted (by our customers) from disclosing that information to the media. There are very strict confidentiality clauses in the commercial contracts we enter into with our customers, and that precludes us from providing that.

Now, though, it appears the company has let the proverbial cat out of the bag.

“Texas Bound and Flyin’”

In the first quarter of 2014, Keystone XL’s southern half has opened up the floodgates for what was once a glut of oil in Cushing to reach Gulf Coast refineries at record levels.

To borrow the title of Jerry Reed’s 1980 country song classic, it’s “Texas Bound and Flyin.’” An April 17 Energy Information Agency communiqué lays out the dirty details.

“The main driver of the recent crude oil inventory builds on the [Gulf Coast] is start-up of TransCanada’s [Gulf Coast Pipeline] which runs from the Cushing, Oklahoma storage hub to the Houston area,” explained the EIA. “In late January, TransCanada completed the first delivery of crude oil via [Gulf Coast Pipeline] to [Gulf Coast] refineries.”

In short, the glut of oil has teleported from Cushing to Texas in the aftermath ofKeystone XL’s southern leg opening for business in January, as explained in another EIA March 27 update.

“Crude oil inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma, the primary crude oil storage location in the United States, decreased 13 million barrels (32%) over the past two months,” the EIA wrote. “On March 21, Cushing inventories were less than 29 million barrels, more than 20 million barrels lower than a year ago.”

Northern Leg and Rail

Keystone XL’s northern leg, or what many know simply as Keystone XL, also came up on the earnings call.

Girling voiced frustration with how long the process has taken and with President Obama’s April 18 announcement to delay a decision on the northern leg until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

“In our view this delay is inexplicable. The first leg of our Keystone system took just over 600 days to review and approve,” said Girling. “Now after more than 2,000 days, five exhaustive environmental reviews and over 17,000 cases of scientific data, the review process continues to be delayed.”

The prospect of moving tar sands oil by rail to Cushing was also discussed on the call.

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Interview: “Big Men” Director Rachel Boynton on Oil, Ghana and Capitalism

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

 

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The subtitle of the newly released documentary film Big Men is “everyone wants to be big” and to say the film covers a “big” topic is to put it mildly.

Poster for Big Men shows a giant suited man holding a oil derrick

“Everyone wants to be big …”

Executive produced by Brad Pitt and directed by Rachel Boynton, the film cuts to the heart of how the oil and gas industry works and pushes film-watchers to think about why that’s the case. Ghana’s burgeoning offshore fields — in particular, the Jubilee Field discovered in 2007 by Kosmos Energy — serve as the film’s case study.

Boynton worked on the film for more than half a decade, beginning the project in 2006 and completing it in 2013. During that time, the Canadian tar sands exploded, as did the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom — meanwhile, halfway around the world, Ghana was having an offshore oil boom of its own.

Kosmos Energy (KOS), previously a privately held company, led the way. Adding intrigue to the film, Kosmos went public while Boynton was shooting. Kosmos didn’t do it alone, though: the start-up capital to develop the Jubilee Field came from private equity firm goliaths Blackstone Group and Warburg Pincus, a major part of the documentary.

What makes Big Men stand above the rest is the access Boynton got to tell the story. Allowed into Kosmos’ board room, the office of Blackstone Group, encampments of Nigerian militants and the office of the President of Ghana, the film has a surreal quality to it.

Now screening in Dallas, New York City and Portland, the film will soon open in theaters in Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.

After seeing the film at Madison’s Wisconsin Film Festival, I reached out to Boynton to talk to her about Big Men, what it had in common with her previous film (one of my favorites) Our Brand is Crisis and what other documentary projects she has on the go.

Steve Horn: I’ve seen your first film, Our Brand is Crisis, and there seems to be a continuity in a way between Our Brand and Big Men because Bolivian ex-president “Goni” (Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada) was chased out of Bolivia eventually because he attempted to privatize Bolivia’s gas and was basically in office to begin with because people from the outside came in and helped place him there (U.S. Democratic Party political consultants and electioneers) to begin with.

One could see a similarity between the PR efforts led by those electioneers, which serves as the premise of Our Brand, and a western oil company like Kosmos coming into Ghana to bring offshore oil and gas drilling to the country.

Did what eventually happened in Bolivia with their gas market — because these U.S. consultants came in and helped get “Goni” elected —move you to start thinking about energy (oil, gas, etc.) as a documentary film topic?

Rachel Boynton: No, not at all. In that sense they’re totally unrelated. The origin of both projects is completely unrelated.

I finished Our Brand is Crisis in 2005 and it had its theatrical run in 2006 and so back in 2005 I started thinking about what I wanted to do next and at the time, oil prices were going through the roof and everyone was freaking out about peak oil.

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Admiral Dennis Blair: “We Sent Troops to Middle East…Because of Oil-Based Importance of Region”

1:02 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Official portrait of Dennis Blair

A former Director of National Intelligence blatantly admitted the real Middle East agenda.

At the just-completed U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing titled, “The Geopolitical Potential of theU.S. Energy Boom,” Admiral Dennis Blair— former Director of National Intelligence, President and CEO of Institute for Defense Analyses and Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Command — admitted what’s still considered conspiratorial to some.

Put tersely: the U.S. and allied forces launched the ongoing occupation in Iraq and occupy large swaths of the Middle East to secure the flow of oil to the U.S. and its global allies, explained Blair.

Blair began his analysis lasting just over a minute after a line of questioning (beginning at 1:02:56 in the video below) coming from U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) about TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, “energy as an instrument of geopolitical power” and geopolitical tensions in Venezuela.

In response, though never asked about the Middle East specifically, Blair offered up his take on things:

We did not send troops into the Middle East to take possession of oil fields [or] to take over the oil. But we sent them there in large numbers because of the oil-based importance of that region to the world economy and therefore to the U.S. economy and the stability and security of that region was important to us from a national security point of view.

Had we not been so dependent on the Middle East in that sense, we would have treated the troubles there the way we do in other parts of the world where they’re going through turmoil, where there’s suffering going on, where there may be a combination of interests and opportunities. But this huge investment in military force there was caused by the oil-importance of that region, so I agree completely that energy security for this country — more flexibility in terms of our energy picture — would make a huge difference in terms of the position of the United States in the world.

Though investigative reporters have covered the topic closely, many books have been written about it and movies have been made about it, it’s rare a member of the U.S. national security establishment will say it as bluntly as Blair did in the hearing.

For more on the people who testified at the hearing and at two other related congressional committee hearings this week, check out DeSmogBlog’s article following the money trail behind the witnesses.

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North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiatives Under Attack by ALEC

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Duke Energy

Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal Plant

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Renewable energy is under attack in the Tar Heel State. That’s the word from Greenpeace USA‘s Connor Gibson today in a report that implicates King Coal powerhouse, Duke Energy and the fossil fuel industry at-large.

The vehicle Duke Energy is utilizing for this attack is one whose profile has grown in infamy in recent years: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is described as a “corporate bill mill” by its critics. It’s earned such a description because it passes “model bills” written by corporate lobbyists and to boot, the lobbyists typically do so behind closed doors at ALEC’s annual meetings.

The ALEC-Duke Alernative Energy Attack

Gibson puts it bluntly in his exposé, explaning that North Carolina Republican Rep. Mike Hager “says he is confident that he has the votes needed to weaken or undo his state’s [renewable] energy requirements during his second term.” 

Hager is a former Duke employee, where he worked as an engineer. Duke maintains its corporate headquarters in Charlotte, NC. 

The model bill Hager appears likely to push is called the Electricity Freedom Act,” a piece of legislation calling for the nullification of any given state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Passed in October 2012 by ALEC, the bill was actually co-written with the fossil fuel-funded think tank, the Heartland Institute (of “Heartland Exposed” fame). 

“We wrote the model legislation and I presented it. I didn’t have to give that much of a case for it,” James Taylor of Heartland told The Washington Post in a November 2012 investigative report.

Taylor’s claims are backed by economic analyses of a sort.

That is, the sort one would expect from a group heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry (Heartland) teaming up with a group receiving 98 percent of its funding from corporate interests (ALEC). As The Post explained back in November:

As part of its effort to roll back renewable standards, ALEC is citing economic analyses of state policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. Both groups have received donations from foundations funded by the Koch brothers.

Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project described ALEC’s game plan as a deceptive “one-two punch” against renewable energy to The Post.

“You push the legislation to state legislators and then you fund reports to support the argument and convince state lawmakers and all without any transparency or disclosure about the sources of this funding,” he said back in November.

North Carolina’s GOP (which according to the Center for Media and Democracy‘s (CMD)  SourceWatch has 45 ALEC members) appears set to go on the offensive against the state’s existing renewable energy standards. 

More to Come?

There’s far more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead in statehouses nationwide.

As Gibson explains, “According to its own documents, ALEC spent the last couple years monitoring states attempting to introduce state-level renewable energy portfolio standards in West Virginia, Vermont and Virginia as well as legislative attacks on REPS laws in New Hampshire and in Ohio.”

Renewable energy is under attack. That is, of course, unless its advocates fight back.

Photo by Rainforest Action under Creative Commons license