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Russia with Love: Alaska Gas Scandal Is Out-of-Country, Not Out-of-State

12:25 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A legal controversy — critics would say scandal — has erupted in Alaska’s statehouse over the future of its natural gas bounty.

It’s not so much an issue of the gas itself, but who gets to decide how it gets to market and where he or she resides.

The question of who owns Alaska’s natural gas and where they’re from, at least for now, has been off the table. More on that later.

At its core, the controversy centers around a public-private entity called the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) created on April 18, 2010 via House Bill 369 for the “purpose of planning, constructing, and financing in-state natural gas pipeline projects.”AGDC has a $400 million budget funded by taxpayers.

AGDC was intially built to facilitate opening up the jointly-owned ExxonMobil-TransCanada Alaska Pipeline Project for business. That project was set to be both a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export pipeline coupled with a pipeline set to bring Alaskan gas to the Lower 48.

TransCanada

Things have changed drastically since 2010 in the U.S. gas market though, largely due to the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom. And with that, the Lower 48 segment of the Alaska Pipeline Project has become essentially obsolete.

Dreams of exporting massive amounts of Alaskan LNG to Asia, however, still remain. They were made much easier on April 14, when the Kenai LNG export facility received authorization to export gas from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Enter the latest iteration of AGDC. This phase began in January 2014 after Governor Sean Parnell, formerly a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips, signed Senate Bill 138 into law.

The bill served as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Alaska, the AGDC, ConocoPhillips, BP, ExxonMobil, and TransCanada, with the four companies now serving as co-owners of the South Central LNG Pipeline Project.

Gov. Parnell also announced who would serve on the AGDC Board of Directors in September 2013, which began meeting in October 2013. And that’s where the story starts to get more interesting.

Meet Richard “Dick” Rabinow

Under Alaska state law, you have to be a state citizen to serve on state commissions like AGDC. But one of the seven Board members, Richard “Dick” Rabinow, is a citizen of a state far from Alaska: Texas.

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ANR Pipeline: Introducing TransCanada’s Keystone XL for Fracking

2:14 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog   

When most environmentalists and folks who follow pipeline markets think of TransCanada, they think of the proposed northern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Flying beneath the public radar, though, is another TransCanada-proposed pipeline with a similar function as Keystone XL. But rather than for carrying tar sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast, this pipeline would bring to market shale gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Meet TransCanada’s ANR Pipeline System.

Although not actually a new pipeline system, TransCanada wants ANR retooled to serve domestic and export markets for gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale basin and the Utica Shale basin via its Southeast Main Line.

“The [current Southeast Main Line] moves gas from south Louisiana (including offshore) to Michigan where it has a strong market presence,” explains a March 27 article appearing in industry publication RBN EnergyBecause of the immense amount of shale gas being produced in the Marcellus and Utica, TransCanada seeks a flow reversal in the Southeast Main Line of itsANR Pipeline System. 

TransCanada spokeswoman Gretchen Krueger told DeSmogBlog that ANR’s flow reversal is a “more efficient use of the system based on market demand.”

TransCanada has already drawn significant interest from customers in the open seasons and negotiations held to date, so much so it expects to begin the flow reversal in 2015.

“ANR Pipeline system has secured almost 2.0 billion cubic feet a day (Bcf/d) of firm natural gas transportation commitments on its Southeast Main Line (SEML) at maximum rates for an average term of 23 years,” reads a March 31 TransCanada press release. ”ANR secured contracts on available capacity on the [South East Mainline] to move Utica and Marcellus shale gas to points north and south on the system.”

Like Keystone XL, an Export Pipeline

Like Keystone XL, ANR’s flow reversal will serve — among other things — the global export market.

“This project will…allow more natural gas to move south to the Gulf Coast, where markets are experiencing a resurgence of natural gas demand for industrial use, as well as significant new demand related to natural gas exports from recently approved liquefaction terminals,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in his company’s March 31 press release.

ANR will continue to be an attractive transportation option due to its strategic foot print, interconnections, on-system storage and access to high demand markets.

With the debate over liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports heating up in the U.S.,ANR has arrived on scene right in the knick of time for the oil and gas industry.

Other Keystone XL: Cove Point or Sabine Pass?

Some recent media coverage of the prospective Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility located in Lusby, Maryland has drawn comparisons to the Keystone XLdebate because both involve key pipeline systems, with accompanying plans to export product globally and the Obama Administration has final say over approval (or disapproval) of the pipeline.

Yet, while Cove Point awaits final approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNG export facility wasapproved by FERC in April 2012 and opens for business in late 2015.

Enter TransCanada into the mix with ANR and it’s the perfect storm: a KeystoneXL pipeline for fracking run by the same company that owns Keystone XL.

Creole Trail: ANR’s Connection to Sabine Pass

ANR feeds into the same Gulf Coast export and refinery markets Keystone XL is set to feed into (and the same ones its already-existing southern half, the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project feeds into).

Port Arthur, Texas — the end point for Keystone XL — is a mere 20 minute drive away from Sabine Pass, Louisiana.

That’s where Cheniere’s Creole Trail Pipeline comes into play, a 94-mile pipeline completed in 2008. Cheniere proposed an expansion project in September 2013 to FERC for Creole Trail, which FERC is still currently reviewing.

If granted the permit by FERC, the expansion would allow Creole Trail to connect to TransCanada’s ANR pipeline at the Mamou Compressor Station located in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana. 

Mamou Compressor Station already received an expedited air permit in October 2013 from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Exports Gone Wild, Climate Disruption Gone Wild

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“Our Energy Moment:” The Blue Engine Behind Fracked Gas Exports PR Blitz

11:52 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Our Energy Moment log

Blue Engine Media’s pro-fracking moment

Behind nearly every major corporate policy push there’s an accompanying well-coordinated public relations and propaganda campaign. As it turns out, the oil and gas industry’s push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) plays the same game.

And so on February 5, “Our Energy Moment” was born. The PR blitz is described in a press release announcing the launch as a “new coalition dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating the many benefits of expanded markets for liquefied natural gas.”

Its member list includes industry heavy hitters such as Cheniere Energy, Sempra Energy, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and Freeport LNG.

Since its launch, “Our Energy Moment” has disseminated press releases about theU.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) conditional approval of Jordan Cove LNGexport facility in Coos Bay, Oregon and its conditional approval of Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry, Louisiana.

So the industry is funding a PR campaign clearly in its self interest. But so what? You have to read all the way to the bottom of the press releases to find what’s perhaps the most interesting tidbit.

At the very bottom of “Our Energy Moment’s” releases, a contact person named Tiffany Edwards is listed with an email address ending in @blueenginemedia.com. If you visit blueenginemedia.com you’ll find the website for PR and advertising firm Blue Engine Message & Media.

Further, a domain name search for ourenergymoment.org reveals the website was registered by another PR and web development firm called Liberty Concepts by its founder and president Jonathan Karush. Karush registered the site on May 8, 2013, a full ten months before the campaign’s official launch date.

Who are these firms and why do they matter? That’s where the fun begins.

Blue Engine Media

According to its website, Blue Engine helps “develop and implement strategic public policy campaign plans for corporations, coalitions, non-profits and national trade associations, particularly when reputation, brand or market position face a threat or opportunity.”

Clients past and present include Citibank, Ford, Delta, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions and Obama for President in 2008 and 2012, among others.

The firm was founded by Erik Smith — self-described “recovering political hack & aspiring corporate hack“ — served as senior advisor for advertising and message development for President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and former Communications Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Smith also founded and helped coordinate the Common Purpose Project, set up to “discuss White House plans, priorities, and messages with [progressive] groups,” according to Mother Jones’ David Corn. “But some of the outside participants considered the meetings mostly sessions where the administration tossed out talking points and marching orders.”

Common Purpose has received strong criticism from both investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill and founder of FireDogLakeJane Hamsher.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 tax forms show Common Purpose was run out of Blue Media’s office as of 2012 (the phone number listed on its IRS 990 formsmatches the one listed on Blue Engine’s website, as well) and Erik Smith received over $1.3 million between 2009 and 2012 to work on this account.

Other Blue Engine luminaries include:

  • Adam Abrams: The former regional communications director and spokesperson for President Barack Obama, Abrams was also on the communications team at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and sat on the communications staff for both the Obama 2008 and John Kerry 2004 presidential campaigns.
  • Amber McDowell and Jacob Sittig: McDowell formerly served as Communications Director for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the new head of theU.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sittig was Landrieu’s former Deputy Press Secretary.
  • Jessica Borchert: Borchert worked on the Obama 2012 campaign. In that capacity, she did “production of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina and [worked] on the ground in Colorado coordinating press operations.”
  • Catherine Lavelle: Lavelle worked on the Obama for President team in 2012 and also was the Media Logistics Manager for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Further, Laura Burton Capps — former Assistant to George Stephanopoulos in the Bill Clinton White House and speechwriter for Clinton — was a Blue Engine principal until 2013. Capps also formerly worked on the staff for the Common Purpose Project and is listed as the principal officer on its 2011 IRS 990 form.

Laura Capps is married to Bill Burton, former Deputy Press Secretary for Obama and co-founder of Priorities USA, a “dark money” Democratic Super-PAC set up to compete with Republican “dark money” Super-PAC Crossroads GPS.

And then there’s Tiffany Edwards, the point person for the “Our Energy Moment” file and where this whole inquiry began.

Before coming to Blue Engine, Edwards served as Deputy Press Secretary at the Department of Energy — the agency with final legal decisionmaking power overLNG export proposals — for the first two years of the Obama Administration. Prior to that, she worked for the 2008 Obama campaign’s press staff in the Chicago headquarters.

Roll Call reported she was hired on February 3, meaning “Our Energy Moment” was likely the first file on her Blue Engine account. Edwards hasn’t responded to questions sent to her via email by DeSmogBlog.

Liberty Concepts

Like Blue Engine, Liberty Concepts maintains tight ties with the Democratic Party and groups with close ties to the party, describing itself as a “full service digital communications agency that specializes in helping create brands and develop online communities around them.”

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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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Follow the Money: Three Energy Export Congressional Hearings, Climate Undiscussed

9:33 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A joint meeting of the US Congress

Congress keeps talking, but not about climate change.

In light of ongoing geopolitical tensions in Russia, Ukraine and hotly contested Crimea, three (yes, three!) U.S.Congressional Committees held hearings this week on the U.S. using its newfangled oil and gas bounty as a blunt tool to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market.

Though 14 combined witnesses testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power and U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, not a single environmental voice received an invitation. Climate change and environmental concerns were only voiced by two witnesses.

Using the ongoing regional tumult as a rationale to discuss exports of U.S. oil and gas obtained mainly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the lack of discussion on climate change doesn’t mean the issue isn’t important to national security types.

Indeed, the Pentagon’s recently published Quadrennial Defense Review coins climate change a “threat force multiplier” that could lead to resource scarcity and resource wars. Though directly related to rampant resource extraction and global oil and gas marketing, with fracking’s accompanying climate change and ecological impacts, “threat force multiplication” impacts of climate change went undiscussed.

With another LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal approved by the U.S.Department of Energy (DOE) in Coos Bay, Ore., to non-Free Trade Agreement countries on March 24 (the seventh so far, with two dozen still pending), the heat is on to export U.S. fracked oil and gas to the global market.

So, why wasn’t the LNG climate trump card discussed in a loud and clear way? Well, just consider the source: ten of the witnesses had ties in one way or another to the oil and gas industry.

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Headed by recently named chair U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the March 25 U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing featured four of five witnesses with industry ties, all of which went undisclosed. It was titled, “Importing Energy, Exporting Jobs. Can it be Reversed?”

“The last thing Putin and his cronies wants (sic) is competition from the United States of America in the energy race,” Landrieu declared in her opening statement. “Tyrants and dictators throughout history have had many reasons to fear revolutions, and this U.S. energy revolution is one they should all keep their eyes on!” More on that later.

Given the enthusiasim conveyed in her statement, perhaps it’s unsurprising Landrieu — whose state of Louisiana is an oil and gas industry hub like few others — also has close industry ties.

Up for re-election in 2014, Landrieu has already taken close to half a million dollars from the industry to the chagrin of environmentalistsCommittee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has taken $40,600 during this campaign cycle, as well, even though she isn’t up for re-election until 2016.

Daniel Adamson, senior counsel for the committee, worked as a lobbyist fornatural gas utility company Avista Corporation from 2004-2010.

And now for the witnesses:

Adam Sieminski: Before taking the seat as head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2012, Sieminski worked in the fossil fuel finance sector.

“From 2005 until March 2012, he was the chief energy economist for Deutsche Bank, working with the bank’s global research and trading units,” explains his EIAbiography. “From 1998 to 2005, he served as the director and energy strategist for Deutsche Bank’s global oil and gas equity team.”

- W. David Montgomery: Testifying at both this committee hearing and the U.S.House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing, Montgomery is the senior vice president of NERA (National Economic Research Associates) Economic Consulting.

NERA penned a study on behalf of the DOE published in December 2012concluding LNG exports will be economically beneficial to the U.S. It recently published an updated follow-up study funded by Cheniere — the first company to receive a permit to export fracked U.S. gas in Sabine Pass, La., in 2012 — concluding “unlimited LNG exports benefit U.S.

Author of a 2009 paper titled, “Organized Hypocrisy as a Tool of Climate Diplomacy,” commissioned by the fossil fuel funded American Enterprise Institute, Montgomery is not a climate change denier. He just doesn’t think anything should be done to tackle climate change.

“Trying to bribe or coerce unwilling countries into curtailing their GHG emissions threatens to cause more harm than good,” he wrote in the American Enterprise Institute paper.

Montgomery sang a similar tune during a March 2011 U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology hearing:

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Exxon’s Russia Partnerships Challenge US Energy Weapon Narrative

4:42 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Exxon Logo

Is Exxon playing both sides in the “new cold war?”

In a long-awaited moment in a hotly contested zone currently occupied by the Russian military, Ukraine’s citizens living in the peninsula of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia.

Responding to the referendum, President Barack Obama and numerous U.S. officials rejected the results out of handand the Obama Administration has confirmed he will authorize economic sanctions against high-ranking Russian officials.

“As I told President Putin yesterday, the referendum in Crimea was a clear violation of Ukrainian constitutions and international law and it will not be recognized by the international community,” Obama said in a press briefing. “Today I am announcing a series of measures that will continue to increase the cost on Russia and those responsible for what is happening in Ukraine.”

But even before the vote and issuing of sanctions, numerous key U.S. officials hyped the need to expedite U.S. oil and gas exports to fend off Europe’s reliance on importing Russia’s gas bounty. In short, gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is increasingly seen as a “geopolitical tool” for U.S. power-brokers, as The New York Times explained.

Perhaps responding to the repeated calls to use gas as a “diplomatic tool,” the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced it will sell 5 million barrels of oil from the seldom-tapped Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Both the White House and DOE deny the decision had anything to do with the situation in Ukraine.

Yet even as some say we are witnessing the beginning of a “new cold war,” few have discussed the ties binding major U.S. oil and gas companies with Russian state oil and gas companies.

The ties that bind, as well as other real logistical and economic issues complicate the narrative of exports as an “energy weapon.”

The situation in Ukraine is a simple one at face value, at least from an energy perspective.

“Control of resources and dependence on other countries is a central theme connecting the longstanding tension between Russia and Ukraine and potential actions taken by the rest of the world as the crisis escalates,” ThinkProgress explained in a recent article. “Ukraine is overwhelmingly dependent on Russia for natural gas, relying on its neighbor for 60 to 70 percent of its natural gas needs.”

At the same time, Europe also largely depends on Ukraine as a key thoroughfare for imports of Russian gas via pipelines.

“The country is crossed by a network of Soviet-era pipelines that carry Russian natural gas to many European Union member states and beyond; more than a quarter of the EU’s total gas needs were met by Russian gas, and some 80% of it came via Ukrainian pipelines,” explained The Guardian.

Given the circumstances, weaning EU countries off Russian gas seems a no-brainer at face value. Which is why it’s important to use the brain and look beneath the surface.

ExxonMobil and Rosneft

The U.S. and Russian oil and gas industries can best be described as “frenemies.” Case in point: the tight-knit relationship between U.S. multinational petrochemical giant ExxonMobil and Russian state-owned multinational petrochemical giant Rosneft.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson sung praises about his company’s relationship with Rosneft during a June 2012 meeting with Vladimir Putin.

“I’m pleased that you were here to be part of the signing today, and very much appreciate the strong support and encouragement you have provided to our partnership,” said Tillerson. “[N]othing strengthens relationships between countries better than business enterprise.”

A year later, in June 2013, Putin awarded ExxonMobil an Order of Friendship. But what does the friendship entail?

In 2012, ExxonMobil and Rosneft signed an agreement ”to share technology and expertise” with one another. Some of the details:

In 2013, ExxonMobil and Rosneft announced a partnership to conquer the Arctic for oil and gas, creating the Arctic Research and Design Center for Continental Shelf Development.

ExxonMobil put down the first $200 million for the initial research and development work, while Rosneft threw down $250 million later. Officially, Rosneft owns 66.67 percent of the venture and ExxonMobil owns 33.33 percent.

“[S]taff will be located with the Rosneft and ExxonMobil joint venture teams in Moscow to promote resource efficiency and interaction between technical and management staffs,” explained a press release. “The [Arctic Research Center] initially will be staffed with experts from ExxonMobil and Rosneft.”

Also part of the 2013 deal, ExxonMobil gave Rosneft a 25 percent stake inAlaska’s Point Thomson natural gas field. Further, the two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding to study the possibility of jointly building a LNG (liquefied natural gas) facility in the Russia’s far east.

Then at the end of 2013, ExxonMobil and Rosneft inked a deal to start a pilot project for tight oil reserves development in Western Siberia’s shale basins. Rosneft owns a 51 percent stake, ExxonMobil a 49 percent stake.

Tillerson recently said the ongoing events in Crimea and Ukraine at-large will have no expected impact on his company’s partnerships with Rosneft.

“There has been no impact on any of our plans or activities at this point, nor would I expect there to be any, barring governments taking steps that are beyond our control,” he said at the company’s recent annual meeting, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. “We don’t see any new challenges out of the current situation.”

“Not a U.S. Company”

In Steve Coll‘s book Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, he documents that Lee Raymond — former CEO of ExxonMobil from 1993-2005 — was asked if his company would build more U.S. refineries to fend off gasoline shortages.

Raymond’s reply: “I’m not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.”

So what does this all mean when looked at in aggregate?

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Testimony: Record 36% of North Dakota Fracked Gas Was Flared in December

10:29 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Fracking Rig

Why do fracking sites continue to flare gas?

The recent March 6 House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing titled “Benefits of and Challenges to Energy Access in the 21st Century: Fuel Supply and Infrastructure” never had over 100 online viewers watching the livestream at any point in time. And it unfolded in an essentially empty room.

But the poor attendance record had no relation to the gravity of the facts presented by testifiers. Among other things, one presenter revealed 36 percent of the gas by-product from oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin was flared off as waste during a brutally cold midwest winter with no end in sight.

These damning facts were brought forward by Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (Ceres) Oil & Gas and Insurance Programs Director Andrew Logan, one of eight people called to testify around topics ranging from domestic propane markets to fossil fuels-by-rail markets, to pipeline markets and flaring.

A topic covered previously by DeSmogBlog, Logan submitted to the Subcommittee that flaring “is getting worse, not better.”

“Flaring in North Dakota hit 36% in December, a new record,” Logan told the subcommittee. ”This means that more than 1/3 of all natural gas produced in the state is going up in smoke, at the same time as consumers around the country are seeing price spikes from natural gas in this cold winter, along with actual shortages of propane in many places.”

Logan also said that wasteful flaring is also a growing quagmire in Texas, which has seen a 10-fold increase in flaring permits since 2010.

At least one influential Subcommittee member has taken notice.

U.S. Rep. Waxman: Flaring “Wasteful and Unnecessary”

During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman(D-CA) chimed in with his thoughts on flaring, calling for a follow-up hearing to focus exclusively on this issue.

“The wasteful and unnecessary flaring of natural gas is a serious problem and has no place in a modern energy infrastructure. I believe the Subcommittee should a hearing to get the facts regarding flaring and to develop real solutions to the problem,” said Waxman.

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Logan said he believed that a hearing on this issue would go a long way toward tackling the flaring problem.

“Flaring, at least at the level we are currently seeing in the Bakken, is so obviously indefensible that simply shining a light on the problem should get us well on the way to a solution,” said Logan. “That being said, the Republicans obviously control the House — and therefore the subject of hearings at present — and so I don’t know how likely it is that we will see hearings anytime soon.”

“Wasteful” is an understatement given how much gas is flared off in the Bakken Shale. The amount flared off could heat over half a million homes per day, according to a New York Times investigation.

“In 2012 alone, flaring resulted in the loss of approximately $1 billion in fuel and the GHG emissions equivalent of adding one million cars to the road,” explained Ceres’ July 2013 report titled, “Flaring up: North Dakota Natural Gas Flaring More Than Doubles in Two Years.”

According to World Bank data, the U.S. is now one of the top five flarers in the world.

So, what’s being wasted? Not just methane gas, but also “rich [and] valuable natural gas liquids like propane and butane [which are] about the last gas you would want to flare,” according to Logan’s testimony.

The propane is being flared at the same time North and South Dakota face a propane crisis and accompanying price spike.

“In North and South Dakota, the shortage has become so acute that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has opened shelters to serve its population, most of whom rely on propane,” explained The New York Times.

Logan says the situation in the Dakotas epitomizes why strong federal regulations are needed.

“It’s outrageous that propane is being flared off as a waste product when Dakotans are shivering in the cold due to artificial propane shortages,” he said. “The only real solution is regulation that forces the industry to curtail flaring once and for all.”

“Flaring in North Dakota will only be solved when the regulatory structure changes so that flaring is no longer the easiest option. For that to change, the incentive structure needs to change.”

Why Flare? Profits

At the hearing, Waxman asked Logan why he thinks companies choose to flare at all.

“Well, it’s really all about the relative economics and also the state of regulation in places like North Dakota. So while it’s profitable to capture the gas, it’s more profitable to drill the next oil well,” Logan testified. “So if you’re an oil company with a limited amount of money to spend — as they all are — it’s a somewhat rational short-term choice to say, ‘Well look, if I don’t have to capture that gas, I’d rather spend that money to drill another well.’”

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ALEC’s Fracking Chemical Disclosure Bill Moving Through Florida Legislature

2:16 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A sticker of the Monopoly game's mascot, Uncle Moneybags, labelled ALEC

ALEC is polluting environmental law in Florida.

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) model bill for disclosure of chemicals injected into the ground during the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process is back for a sequel in the Sunshine State legislature.

ALEC’s model bill was proposed by ExxonMobil at its December 2011 meeting and is modeled after a bill that passed in Texas’ legislature in spring 2011, as revealed in anApril 2012 New York Times investigative piece. ALEC critics refer to the pro-business organization as a “corporate bill mill” lending corporate lobbyists a “voice and a vote” on model legislation often becoming state law.

The bill currently up for debate at the subcommittee level in the Florida House of Representatives was originally proposed a year ago (as HB 743) in February 2013 and passed in a 92-19 vote, but never received a Senate vote. This time around the block (like last time except for the bill number), Florida’s proposed legislation is titled the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 71), introduced by Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues. It is attached to a key companion bill: Public Records/Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 157).

HB 71 passed on a party-line 8-4 vote in the Florida House’s Agriculture and Environment Subcommittee on January 14, as did HB 157. The next hurdle the bills have to clear: HB 71 awaits a hearing in the Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and HB 157 awaits one in the Government Operations Subcommittee.

Taken together, the two bills are clones of ALEC’s ExxonMobil-endorsed Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act. That model — like HB 71 — creates a centralized database for fracking chemical fluid disclosure. There’s a kicker, though. Actually, two.

First kicker: the industry-created and industry-owned disclosure database itself —FracFocus — has been deemed a failure by multiple legislators and by an April 2013 Harvard University Law School study. Second kicker: ALEC’s model bill, like HB 157, has a trade secrets exemption for chemicals deemed proprietary.

First “Halliburton Loophole,” then “ExxonMobil Loophole”

Back when the ALEC model bill was debated in the Texas legislature in spring 2011 (and before it was endorsed by ExxonMobil and eventually adopted as a model by ALEC), the bill was touted as an antidote to the lack of transparency provided at the federal level on fracking chemicals by both industry and environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Texas League of Conservation Voters (LCV).

“[T]his is proof positive that the public, environmental groups, and the state’s energy industry can work together to ensure the health and safety of Texans,” the Texas LCV said in May 2011.

Rep. Rodrigues said he was impressed by these dynamics when researching the bill online in comments provided by email to DeSmogBlog.

“I was pleased to see the Environmental community and the Energy community jointly draft this legislation,” he said.

The lack of federal level transparency is mandated by law via the Energy Policy Act of 2005, as outlined in a sub-section of the bill best known as the “Halliburton Loophole.”

The “Halliburton Loophole” — named such because Halliburton is an oil services company that provides fracking services and because when it was written, the company’s former CEO, Dick Cheney, was vice president of the United States and oversaw the industry-friendly Energy Task Force — gives the oil and gas industry a free pass on fracking chemical disclosure, deeming the chemicals injected into the ground during the process a trade secret.

Yet, far from an antidote to the “Halliburton Loophole,” a new loophole has been created in its stead at the state level — the “ExxonMobil Loophole” — which now has the backing of ALEC. The results haven’t been pretty.

An August 2012 Bloomberg News investigation revealed FracFocus merely offers the façade of disclosure, or a “fig leaf” of it, as U.S. Rep. Diane DiGette (D-CO) put it in the piece.

“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year,” wrote Bloomberg. “The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site.”

As we reported on DeSmogBlog in December 2012, FracFocus is a public relations front for the oil and gas industry:

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Documents: MD County Housing First East Coast LNG Export Facility Signs Non-Disclosure Deal

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Co-authored by Steve Horn and Caroline Selle

DeSmogBlog has obtained documents revealing that the government of Calvert County, MD, signed a non-disclosure agreement on August 21, 2012, with Dominion Resources — the company proposing the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal in Lusby, MD. The documents have raised concerns about transparency between the local government and its citizens.

The proposal would send gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from the Marcellus Shale basin to the global market. The export terminal is opposed by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland Sierra Club and a number of other local environment and community groups.

The Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Council (AMP Council), an environmental group based in Accokeek, MD, obtained the documents under Maryland’s Public Information Act and provided them to DeSmogBlog.

Cornell University’s Law School explains a non-disclosure agreement is a “legally binding contract in which a person or business promises to treat specific information as a trade secret and not disclose it to others without proper authorization.”

Upon learning about the agreement, Fred Tutman, CEO of Patuxent Riverkeeper — a group opposed to the LNG project — told DeSmogBlog he believes Calvert County officials are working “in partnership with Dominion to the detriment of citizen transparency.”

“We’re unhappy that it does seem to protect Dominion’s interest rather than the public interest,” Tutman said. “The secrecy surrounding this deal has made it virtually impossible for anyone exterior to those deals, like citizens, to evaluate whether these are good transactions or bad transactions on their behalf.”

Details of the Non-Disclosure Agreement

The six-page non-disclosure agreement explains Calvert County “desires to participate in discussions regarding Calvert County property tax credits. During these discussions, [Dominion] may share certain proprietary information with the [county].”

What’s confidential? According to the non-disclosure agreement,

… any data or information…not generally known to the public, whether in tangible or intangible form, and meeting the requirements for mandatory denial of inspections pursuant to the Maryland Public Information Act…whenever and however disclosed, including, but not limited to: (i) marketing strategies, plans, financial information, or projections, operations, sales estimates, business plans and performance results relating to the past, present or future business activities of such party, its affiliates, subsidiaries and affiliated companies; (ii) plans for products or services, and customer supplier lists; (iii) any scientific or technical information, invention, design, process, procedure, formula, improvement, technology or method; (iv) any concepts, reports, data, know-how, works-in-progress, designs, development tools, specifications, computer software, source code, object code, flow charts, databases, inventions, information and trade secrets; and (v) any other information that should reasonably be recognized as confidential information of [DCP].

In a statement provided to DeSmogBlog, Calvert County Commissioner Evan K. Slaughenhoupt, Jr. said it would be the “height of naiveté” to think a government would not sign a non-disclosure agreement in this type of situation, given the stakes involved.

“When businesses have contractual concerns, and meet with elected officials in a lawful duly authorized executive session to discuss expansion of a business, I honor my responsibility to not convey what was discussed in such a session,” he said. “Citizens expect no less of that from us.”

Non-Disclosure Agreements “Normal Part of Negotiations”

The use of non-disclosure agreements by local governments is not unprecedented. Some cases in point:

Queried about Dominion’s non-disclosure agreement with Calvert County, Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle told DeSmogBlog such agreements are “a routine, normal part of negotiations involving multi-billion dollar economic development projects.”

“Companies and counties often use non-disclosure agreements because they each need to share business-sensitive, confidential information that cannot be shared with other businesses or counties for competitive reasons,” Norvelle said. “The result this time around is certainty for both Dominion and the county.”

U.S. Congressmembers Decline Comment

Asked for comment on the agreement on multiple occasions by DeSmogBlog, Maryland’s U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D) and Barbara Mikulski (D) declined to comment, as did U.S. Rep. and Democratic Party Whip Steny Hoyer.

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Citing DeSmogBlog Series, “FrackNation” Screening Cancelled by MN Film Festival

4:39 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

FrackNation,” the documentary film about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) with close conservative movement ties, recently had its showing cancelled at Winona, Minnesota’s annual Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF).

Citing DeSmogBlog‘s two-part investigative series published in May 2013 on “FrackNation,” FRFF Director Mike Kennedy told the Winona Post his rationale for cancelling the film is that it was, “pretty apparent they were paid to make these movies to counter Gasland [Part II].”

“DeSmogBlog.com appears to be the main source of allegations that ‘FrackNation’ was industry-funded,” wrote the Post. “DeSmogBlog claims connections between [film Co-Director Phelim] McAleer and conservative groups, industry groups help[ing] promote the film after its was made, and the fact that McAleer directed an industry-funded documentary in the past, as proof that ‘FrackNation’ is cut from the same cloth.”

The cancellation has caused a major kerfuffle in conservative media circles, covered by outlets ranging from Fox News, Fox BusinessThe Blaze TVTown Hall, Watchdog.orgHot Air and others.

FrackNation issued a press statement in response to the cancellation, spawning the conservative media backlash. 

“The film festival organizers seem to hate alternative points of view, they seem to want to quash diversity. They seem to be scared of the truth,” McAleer said in the press statement. “Basically the Frozen River Film Festival organizers have given in to bullying and taken the easy way out and censored a film that might offend environmental elites who think they know best.”

But an email exchange** provided by film festival organizers to DeSmogBlog shows, far from a case of censorship, “FrackNation” did not agree to the standard operating procedure for screening the film. In turn, festival organizers decided they wouldn’t screen it.

“FrackNation” Rises to Prominence

Co-Directed by Magdalena Segieda, Ann McElhinney and McAleer, “FrackNation” came out a few months before the release of Josh Fox’s “Gasland: Part II” and around the same time as Gus Van Sant’s Hollywood film critical of fracking, “Promised Land,” starring Matt Damon.

Since its release, “FrackNation” has done many screenings nationwide for state-level Americans for Prosperity (AFP) groups. AFP is a front group founded and bankrolled by the Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch. It’s also done many screenings for oil and gas industry trade associations.

“FrackNation” also played in front of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in February 2013, which Dave Weigel of Slate reported ”around 40 Republican staffers and members of Congress” attended.

In contrast, Josh Fox was arrested at the same Committee’s hearing a month earlier while filming for his then upcoming film for “unlawful entry.”

Missing Context: “FrackNation” Snubs Festival Screening Terms

McAleer’s claim is that “FrackNation” has been bludgeoned into silence by the FRFF organizers.

“What country am I living in?,” he asked rhetorically in an interview with the Winona Post. “I thought that this was America. I thought that people actually appreciated dissent.”

But that’s not the whole story, according to FRFF organizers, who said it’s the festival’s standard operating procedure that film representatives come for post-film discussions and question-and-answer sessions.

“Upon original acceptance we stated that a filmmaker attend with the film and join in a moderated public forum, as engagement is an important part of our mission,” reads a press release they posted on Facebook about canceling the film’s screening. “We offered to pay travel and lodging to anyone from the film who could attend. They declined to send someone, so we will not be screening the film.”

FRFF provided DeSmogBlog the email exchange between Festival Director Crystal Hegge and “FrackNation” co-director Magdalena Segieda outlined in FRFF’s press release.

“Is there anyone associated with the film that could come to the festival?,” Hegge asked in a December 19 email. “If no one from the film can come to the festival I may have to rethink my arrangement because there will be a lot of dead time in this particular theater without a Q&A or panel.”

Segieda responded, but didn’t address the possibility of the “FrackNation” screening being canceled if a film spokesperson couldn’t attend the festival.

“Unfortunately, no one from the FrackNation team would be able to come,” wrote Segieda in a December 20 email. ”Let me know when you set the the time, I will wait for your laurel to start promoting the screening.”

FRFF told DeSmogBlog it had a local frac sand industry sponsor give $1,000 to the film festival to support a member of the “FrackNation” team coming to the film festival.

But after Segieda informed Hegge that “FrackNation” couldn’t comply with FRFP’s request that they participate in a post-screening panel and after “FrackNation” asked for $10,000 from the sponsor according to Kennedy, the sponsor pulled out. From there, it was game over for screening the film at FRFF.

Initially, Kennedy envisioned a “Super Bowl” of fracking documentaries to take place at FRFF, with a debate between to ensue between McAleer and Fox. Fox couldn’t make it out.

But in his place, Calvin Tillman — the former Mayor of Dish, Texas featured in the second “Gasland” — will be on-site as a representative and speaker for the film, according to Kennedy. 

Film Fest Organizers Not Backing Down

Despite the backlash by the “FrackNation” team, FRFF organizers say they won’t back down.

They told the Winona Post, “true documentaries are independently funded,” pointing out that its role model film festivals, Telluride Mountain Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival have both also snubbed “FrackNation” and concluded, “there is a growing national consensus that the film does not qualify as a documentary.”

In place of screening “FrackNation,” FRFF is hosting a forum titled “Documentaries Today: My Fact Your Fiction,” which will center around the fine line between factual documentary film and propaganda documentary-style film.

Asked if he thought the post-cancellation was manufactured and deceptive, Kennedy told DeSmogBlog, “let’s just say it was likely well thought out and coordinated and leave it there.”

**Update**: In an email interview with “FrackNation” Co-Director Magdalena Segieda, DeSmogBlog has learned additional emails were exchanged (published here with Segieda’s permission) after December 20 between the film festival coordinators and Segieda.

These emails weren’t included in the initial batch sent to DeSmogBlog by the festival organizers. In a January 7 email, Film Festival Director Crystal Hegge informed Segieda the film screening would be at 10:00 AM on January 26.

“Thanks – do you have a laurel by any chance so I can start promoting the screening on our social media?,” Segieda wrote in response to Hegge’s email.

After Hegge told Segieda all she had was a “generic laurel,” on January 10, a week passed. Then, according to the email exchange provided to DeSmogBlog by Segieda, Hegge emailed Segieda to say they had to cancel the screening a week later on January 17.

“I am writing to inform you that we will not be showing FRACKNATION during our 2014 festival,” Hegge wrote. “Due to the high quantity of films at the festival we have decided not to show this feature film without a filmmaker attendant. Thank you for your submission and please consider us in the future.”

It didn’t take long for Segieda to respond.

“But we have already published and promoted the screening with time and address to thousands of our fans on our social media,” Segieda wrote less than ten minutes later in a response email. “I have also just finished create (sic) a promo poster attached here and was going to push it out over the next couple of days.”

Asked about the discrepency in the story versions between the two camps, Phelim McAleer provided this statement to DeSmogBlog:

It is unfair that the Frozen River Film Festival has cancelled the FrackNation screening and misrepresented the true situation in the media. I think its clear that they have caved to political pressure and as a result there will not be diversity of opinion and ideas at the festival. This is not what a film festival should be about.