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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CEQ showed signs it would utilize NEPA in its policy decision-making process with regards to climate change, issuing a “Draft Guidance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change Impacts” and opening up a 90-day public comment period.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 →

New “Frackademia” Report Co-Written by “Converted Climate Skeptic” Richard Muller

11:46 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

MyFDL Editor’s Note: Read more about the Muellers on Firedoglake.

Richard Muller in class

The conservative UK-based Centre for Policy Studies recently published a study on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas. The skinny: it’s yet another case study of “frackademia,” and the co-authors have a financial stake in the upstart Chinese fracking industry.

Titled “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking“ and co-authored by Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth “Liz” Muller, it concludes that fracking’s climate change impacts are benign, dismissing many scientific studies coming to contrary conclusions.

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Richard Muller — a self-proclaimed “converted skeptic” on climate change — said he and Liz had originally thought of putting together this study “about two years ago.”

“We quickly realized that natural gas could be a very big player,” he said. “The reasons had to do with China and the goal of the paper is to get the environmentalists to recognize that they need to support responsible fracking.”

The ongoing debate over fracking in the UK served as the impetus behind the Centre for Policy Studies — a non-profit co-founded by former right-wing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1974 — hosting this report on its website, according to Richard Muller.

“They asked for it because some environmentalists are currently opposing fracking in the UK, and they wanted us to share our perspective that fracking is not only essential for human health but its support can be justified for humanitarian purposes,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Liz Muller has unapologetically sung the praises of fracking and promoted bringing the practice to China. In April, she penned an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “China Must Exploit Its Shale Gas.”

The Mullers co-head the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST), a non-profit that at one time received funding from the Koch brothers. BEST published a study in 2011 affirming that climate change is real and caused by humans.

There is an important detail buried on the last page of the Centre for Policy Studies report: Liz Muller’s position as founder and Managing Director of the China Shale Fund. One copy of the study is even published on the China Shale Fund’s website.

EDF Study, “FrackNation,” PM2.5

In their paper, the Mullers rely heavily on the recent University of Texas-Austin fracking climate change study published in October in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund. DeSmogBlog characterized that study as another example of “frackademia,” science funded by Big Oil with accompanying results favoring the industry’s bottom line.

The Mullers’ report also cites the Koch Brothers-funded documentary “FrackNation” to dispute the veracity of fracking causing water contamination.

They also juxtapose the PM (particulate matter) 2.5-emitting Chinese coal industry (named such because the PM is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) with a powerful source of energy they claim does not emit PM2.5: shale gas. They do so both in the report itself and in an accompanying YouTube video.

Unmentioned is the fact that fracking has all kinds of accompanying air quality issues of its own, documented comprehensively in Earthworks’ recent report, “Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale.”

Also unmentioned is the issue of frac sand mining — the fine-grained cyrstaline sillica sand shot down a well to facilitate fracking - which emits immense amounts of PM2.5.

“We were not trying to make a comprehensive review of the subject. Our goal was to alert people to the fact that shale gas, if responsibly developed, can mitigate both air pollution and global warming,” Richard Muller told DeSmogBlog when asked why frac sand went undiscussed in his study. “There is nothing intrinsic about the mining of sand that means it cannot be responsibly extracted.”

China Shale Fund

Though the title of the report says nothing about China, “China” and/or “Chinese” appears 58 times in the report. BEST is also currently a partner of the non-profit organization Future 500, teaming up to bolster China’s rising tiger shale gas industry.

Read the rest of this entry →

Big Oil PR Pros, Lobbyists Dominate EDF Fracking Climate Study Steering Committee

9:35 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Norman Hackerman Building, University of Texas

Alongside releasing its controversial findings on fugitive methane emissions caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on September 16, University of Texas-Austin also unveiled an industry-stacked Steering Committee roster for the study it conducted in concert with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Stacked with former and current oil industry lobbyists, policy professionals and business executives, the Steering Committee is proof positive of the conflicts of interest evident in the roster of people and funding behind the “frackademia” study.

Only two out of the 11 members of the Steering Committee besides lead author and UT-Austin Professor David Allen have a science background relevant to onshore fracking.

That study found fugitive methane emissions at the well pad to be 2%-4% lower than discovered by the non-industry funded groundbreaking April 2011 Cornell University study co-authored by Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth.

The Cornell study concluded fracking is worse for the climate than coal combustion when measured over its entire lifecycle.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as “a committee, especially of a deliberative or legislative body, that prepares the agenda of a session.”

In the case of the EDF study – based on the oddly rosy findings – it seems plausible the industry-stacked Committee drove the report in a direction beneficial to oil industry profits rather than science.

Steering Committee: PR Pros, Lobbyists, Policy Wonks

The following is a list of Steering Committee members working for Big Oil.

1.) Ted Wurfel, Health, Safety, Environment and Operational Integrity Manager for Talisman Energy: Wurfel is one of two Steering Committee members besides lead author Allen with a science degree relevant to onshore drilling, with an engineering academic background, according to LinkedIn.

He’s also a registered lobbyist in Pennsylvania - a state located in the heart of theMarcellus Shale basin – and formerly lobbied for Chief Oil and Gas.

2.) Paul Krishna, Manager of Environmental, Health & Safety Issues at ExxonMobil/XTO Energy: Krishna is the other Steering Committee member with a science degree relevant to onshore drilling, with an undergraduate degree in geology and a masters in geosciences.

3.) David McBride, Vice President of Environmental and Human Services at Anadarko Petroleum: McBride earned a degree in Marine Biology before going to law school and pursuing his career in the oil industry.

4.) Jeffrey Kupfer works as a non-registered lobbyist for Chevron – officially titled a “Senior Advisor for Government Affairs.” Kupfer sits on the Executive Board of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the industry’s lobbying arm in Pennsylvania.

He sits on Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s industry-stacked Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission alongside one of the industry’s first “frackademics,”Terry Engelder of Penn State University.

Kupfer also sits on Maryland’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission.

Prior to working for Chevron, Kupfer passed through the government-industry revolving door and worked as Deputy U.S. Secretary of State for President George W. Bush from 2006-2009 under former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also spent time as the State Department’s Chief Operating Officer under Rice.

Chevron is one of the dues-paying members of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development - described as the “Big Green Fracking Machine” by Public Accountability Initiative - alongside EDF.

5.) Dick Francis serves as Manager of Regulatory Policy for Shell Oil, anotherdues-paying member of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

6.) James Bolander serves as Senior Vice President Resource Development for Southwestern Energy.

7.) Susan Spratlen serves as head of Communications at Pioneer Resources and has an accounting undergraduate academic background.

8.) David Keane is BG Group’s Vice President of Policy and Corporate Affairs and has a business school academic background.

Keane testified on behalf of the Alaska Gas Pipeline (now known as the South Central LNG project) - co-owned by Transcanada, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips - in front of the Alaska state legislature in February 2008.

He also serves on the Board of Directors of Center for Liquefied Natural Gas.

9.) Jill Cooper serves as Group Lead for the US Division of the Environment for Encana. Her academic background is in environmental law and she also has a masters in business.

Steering Off the Climate Cliff?

EDF’s study has already won praise from the American Petroleum InstituteEnergy in Depthindustry-funded propaganda film “FrackNation,” and the right-wing news website founded by Glenn Beck, The Blaze.

Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford’s worst case scenario has come true.

“At worst, [the study] will be used as PR by the natural gas industry to promote their pollution,” Radford wrote soon after the study’s release.

“In fact, methane is 105 times more powerful than carbon pollution as a global warming pollutant [during its first 20 years in the atmosphere], so figuring out its real climate impacts has very real consequences for us going forward.”

This raises the key question: could the Steering Committee’s agenda steer us all off the climate cliff? Read the rest of this entry →

Divide And Conquer: Unpacking Stratfor’s Rise To Power

3:55 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

This is Part 1 of a Mint Press News investigation into the story of Stratfor.

Stratfor logo

A look at Strategic Forecasting, the private intelligence agency.

On Christmas Day 2011, the hacktivist collective Anonymous ruined the day for a security firm that, throughout much of its history, enjoyed operating in the shadows.

The firm: Strategic Forecasting, Inc., an Austin, Texas-based intelligence-collecting contracting company better known as Stratfor. Its clients include some of the most profitable multinational corporations on the planet, such as the American Petroleum Institute, Archer Daniels Midland, Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, Northrop Grumman, Intel and Coca-Cola.

Anonymous hacked into the content management system of Stratfor’s computer system, eventually handing over 5.2 million emails and accompanying attachments to WikiLeaks, which coined the database the “Global Intelligence Files.”

Working through an informant named “Sabu,” who posed as a fellow “comrade,” federal officials tracked down the hacktivist responsible for the leak, Chicago’s Jeremy Hammond, just three months later.

In March 2012, the FBI raided Hammond’s apartment and handed him charges. After more than a year of sitting in the Manhattan Correctional Center, Hammond eventually settled out of court in May 2013. He pleaded guilty to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and his sentence will be handed down on Sept. 6. He may serve up to 10 years in prison.

Stratfor’s precursor, Pagan International, built the corporate public relations playbook still utilized by the firm today.

The goal of a corporate PR plan “must be to separate the fanatic activist leaders … from the overwhelming majority of their followers: decent, concerned people who are willing to judge us on the basis of our openness and usefulness,” Pagan stated in 1982, fully understanding that the public should never know this was the game plan.

Hammond — perhaps without knowing every detail of the history of the playbook itself — essentially cited it as the rationale behind his Stratfor hack and leak to WikiLeaks.

“I believe in the power of the truth. In keeping with that, I do not want to hide what I did or to shy away from my actions,” he stated in a press release announcing the plea deal. “I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors.”

In this investigation, Mint Press examines Stratfor’s rise to power and its use of the “divide and conquer” philosophy to take on some of the largest boycott movements against multinational corporations.

‘Divide and conquer’

The story of Stratfor begins with a short-lived but deeply influential firm called Pagan International.

If there’s a short description of the modus operandi of Stratfor’s predecessors, military-like “divide and conquer” perceptions management — or rough-and-tumble public relations — is it.

That’s not by accident. Two of Pagan’s co-founders started their careers doing covert work for the U.S. military. Modern public relations got its start in military psychological operations, or psy-ops. “Divide and conquer” is one of the tenets laid out in the “U.S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual.”

Pagan International was named after Rafael D. Pagan Jr., who joined the U.S. Army in 1951 and spent two decades doing upper-level military intelligence work. He used it as a launching point into the corporate PR world.

“A former Army intelligence officer, the Potomac resident briefed Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on the Soviet bloc’s military and economic capabilities. He advised Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush on policies promoting Third World social and economic development,” explains his 1993 obituary in The Washington Times.

Upon leaving the Pentagon, Pagan got three public relations jobs for corporations seeking markets for their products in the developing world.

“Pagan began his international business career in 1970 as a senior executive in new business development with three major multinational companies, International Nickel of Canada (now Inco), Castle & Cooke (now Dole), and Nestle,” according to his obituary. “He specialized in addressing conflicts for multinational companies seeking to invest and operate in Third World countries.”

Pagan followed in the footsteps of the father of modern public relations, Edward Bernays, who helped with the PR surrounding United Fruit Company’s work with the U.S. government to foment a coup in 1954 in HondurasPagan also did PR for Castle & Cooke in Honduras.

Pagan’s experiences working in the Honduran “banana republic” under the U.S.-installed right-wing, corporate-friendly military dictatorship would suit him well for his the next step of his career: doing the PR bidding of multinational corporate behemoth Nestle.

The playbook in action for Nestle

Speaking at the April 1982 Public Affairs Council conference to his colleagues in the PR industry, Pagan revealed the skeleton of the playbook that would last all the way through the Stratfor days.

Read the rest of this entry →

Locking in Dirty Energy Demand: GE Signs Deal with Clean Energy Fuels for Gas-Powered Vehicles

1:31 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

On November 13, Clean Energy Fuels (CEF) signed a deal with General Electric (GE) to purchase its natural gas vehicle fueling assets in an effort to expand what it describes as “America’s Natural Gas Highway.”

CEF is owned on a 20.8 percent basis by T. Boone Pickens, energy magnate and owner of the hedge fund, BP Capital. Andrew Littlefair, President and CEO of CEF, described the deal as one of the “most significant milestones in Clean Energy’s history.”

The deal, “will enable trucks to operate [on natural gas] coast to coast and border to border.”

Forbes dug into the nuts-and-bolts of the deal:

In particular, Clean Energy has agreed to buy two MicroLNG plants from GE Oil and Gas (with up to $200 million in GE financing), to be operational by 2015. These modular units can quickly liquefy natural gas off of any pipeline, producing up to 250,000 gallons per day – enough to fuel 28,000 trucks – while minimizing the associated physical footprint.

In summer 2011, CEF signed another big deal with Chesapeake Energy it coined the “Declaration of Energy Independence,” with Chesapeake giving $150 million in capital to CEF to bolster its natural gas vehicle infrastructure.

Natural gas vehicles are an underexamined side of the battle brewing over the future of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the North America, but a key niche market controlled by the likes of CEF and Chesapeake Energy.

Locking in Demand for Shale Gas, Fracking the Future

According to a recent report published by Food and Water Watch, only 3-percent of vehicles currently on the road in the United States are fueled by natural gas. Though 3-percent may seem trivial, Food and Water Watch believes it’s a key mechanism to ensure the “shale gas bubble” doesn’t pop, writing,

Locking-in future increases in demand for U.S. natural gas — through increased consumption in the transportation and electricity sectors and through increased exports to foreign markets — appears to be part of the industry’s long-term strategy for ensuring that natural gas prices are high enough to make shale gas development profitable.

CEF has big plans for natural gas vehicles and says it hopes to have 150 filling stations by the end of 2013. Shell Oil also has its sights on building 100 stations as well, according to Forbes.

“America’s Natural Gas Highway,” given the climate and ecosystem impacts of fracking the future, looks much more like what the legendary band AC/DC would describe as a “Highway to Hell.”

Photo by lawrence’s lenses under Creative Commons license.