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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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Whitewash: SUNY Buffalo Defends Controversial Shale Gas Institute

3:41 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

SUNY Buffalo

On Friday, SUNY Buffalo’s President’s Office released a lengthy and long-awaited 162-page report upon request of the SUNY System Board of Trustees that delved into the substantive facts surrounding the creation of its increasingly controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). The report was published in response to concern among journalists, advocacy groups, “fracktivists,” and SUNY Buffalo professors and faculty that the university is transforming itself from a center of academia to a center for “frackademia.”

In the spirit of “best practices” of politicially-astute public relations professionals, the report came out late on a Friday afternoon, when few people pay close attention to news and reporters have left the office for the weekend. This tactic is known as the “document dump” or “Take Out the Trash Day,” in reference to a title of an episode of The West Wing.

Buck Quigley of ArtVoice noticed the report is actually dated Sept. 27, meaning SUNY Buffalo’s been sitting on it for roughly two weeks, giving the public relations office plenty of time to craft a response narrative to offer to the press.

In actuality, the report is only 13 pages. The rest is Appendices.

The Meat and Potatoes of the Report

Writing with regards to SUNY Buffalo’s Academic Freedom and Conflict of Interest Policy, the President’s Office stated,

To ensure transparency and adherence to rigorous standards of academic integrity, we focus on identifying and managing potential conflicts of interest. If the conflicts are determined to be unmanageable, UB will not accept the funding.

As with all research at UB, regardless of the source of the funding, it is [not] the role…of the funding source to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculty investigators. This core principle is critical to the preservation of academic freedom. UB recognizes that conflicts – both actual and perceived - can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results.

The report fails to discuss the Institute’s long history of courting oil and gas industry funding. As we recently reported, the gas industry explicitly acknowledged that it targets universities as a key front for legitimacy in the eyes of the public in the ongoing shale gas PR battle within the Marcellus Shale basin. This was revealed at the same conference in which the industry acknowledged it was utilizing psychological warfare tactics on citizens.

Later in the report, the President’s Office stated that it has “every expectation that the faculty will conduct their public and policy-related activities as professionals, basing their conclusions on rigourous evidence and methodology.” Yet, the President’s Office has little ground to stand on here, given the flawed methodology of the Institute’s first report, ruthlessly picked apart in May by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI).

Responding to PAI’s report, the President’s Office said, “No concerns were raised by the relevant scientific community about the data used in developing the report’s conclusion.” Given that the scientific community generally doesn’t do rapid-fire responses to reports, it’s not surprising that this is the case.

On the flip side of the coin, given that four of the five peer reviewers for that report were on the payroll of the oil and gas industry, it’s also obvious SRSI had its conclusions made before the “study” was ever conducted to begin with. In other words, it was an exercise in propaganda for the oil and gas industry, rather than science.

In page seven of the report, the President’s Office offers a revelatory nugget: SRSI has been in the works since 2007, predating what was then the looming rapid ascendancy of the North American shale gas boom. The Office wrote [PDF],

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Frackademia: Controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Institute’s Reputation Unraveling

9:31 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Don't Frack NY signs at protest

Photo: CREDO.Fracking / Flickr

A storm is brewing in Buffalo and it’s not the record snow storm typically associated with upstate New York. Rather, it’s taking place in the ivory tower of academia and revolves around hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for unconventional gas in the Marcellus Shale basin.

Public funding has been cut to the tune of over $1.4 billion over the past five years in the State University of New York (SUNY) public university system under the watch of current Democratic Party governor and 2016 presidential hopeful Andrew Cuomo and his predecessor, David Paterson.

These cuts have created new opportunities for the shale gas industry to fill a funding vacuum, with the SUNY system’s coffers hollowed out and starved for cash.

“It’s a growing problem across academia,” Mark Partridge, a professor of rural-urban policy at the Ohio State University, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Universities are so short of money, professors are under a lot of pressure to raise research funding in any manner possible.”

The oil industry’s eagerness to fill the void for its personal gain can be seen through the case study of what we at DeSmog have coined the ongoing “Shill Gas” study scandal at the State University at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo).

Among other findings, a DeSmog investigation reveals that one of the lesser-known offshoots of the Scaife family foundations, key bankrollers of the climate change denial machine, may potentially soothe SUNY Buffalo’s budget woes with funding for the university-connected Shale Resources and Society Institute.

The Prelude to the Storm

A prelude for what’s now transpiring occurred in Spring 2011, when SUNY Buffalo played host to the Marcellus Shale Lecture Series. Throughout the eight-part series, not a single speaker was a university-based scholar and all speakers but one were employed by some element of the oil and gas industry. The Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) arose out of the series, as Daniel Robison of WBFO in Buffalo wrote in a recent article:

The decision to greenlight SRSI came after SUNY Buffalo hosted the Marcellus Shale Lecture Series in mid-2011…Last fall, enthusiasm stemming from the lecture series grew into informal discussions among the speakers, natural gas industry representatives and members of SUNY Buffalo’s geology department.

On Sept. 21, almost a year and a half after the completion of the Lecture Series, the UB Spectrum revealed the Series was also funded in large part by the gas industry, which gave SUNY Buffalo over $12,900 to host it. $5,000 of that cash came from the coffers of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA).

“If the talk series is not part of the institute – if it’s just an independent talk series – then it is unlike any such series I have ever organized or attended in that it fails to acknowledge the moneys that paid for it,” Jim Holstun, Professor of English at SUNY Buffalo and the Chair of SUNY Buffalo Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research, told the UB Spectrum.

Speaking at a gas industry public relations conference thought to be exclusively “among friends” in Houston on Oct 31-Nov. 1, 2011 – the same conference where it was revealed the gas industry is employing psychological warfare tactics on U.S. citizens – S. Dennis Holbrook of IOGA of NY confirmed the SUNY Buffalo relationship. Holbrook stated that it’s crucial for industry to “seek out academic studies and champion with universities—because that again provides tremendous credibility to the overall process.”

Explaining that the gas industry is viewed “very skeptically” by the public, Holbrook said that to gain credibility, IOGA of NY has “aligned with the University at Buffalo (aka SUNY Buffalo)—we’ve done a variety of other activities where we’ve gotten the academics to sponsor programs and bring in people for public sessions to educate them on a variety of different topics.”

Shady SUNY Buffalo Study Opens Backlash Floodgates