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Smoke and Mirrors: Obama DOE Fracked Gas Export Study Contractor’s Tobacco Industry Roots

4:19 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

At first, it was kept secret for months, cryptically referred to only as an “unidentified third-party contractor.”

Finally, in November 2012, Reuters revealed the name of the corporate consulting firm the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) hired to produce a study on the prospective economic impacts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

LNG is the super-chilled final product of gas obtained – predominatly in today’s context – via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process taking place within shale deposits located throughout the U.S. This “prize” is shipped from the multitude of domestic shale basins in pipelines to various coastal LNG terminals, and then sent on LNG tankers to the global market.

The firm: National Economic Research Associates (NERA) Economic Consulting, has a long history of pushing for deregulation. Its claim to fame: the deregulation “studies” it publishes on behalf of the nuclear, coal, and oil/gas industry – and as it turns out, Big Tobacco, too.

Alfred E. Kahn, the late “Father of Deregulation,” founded NERA in 1961 along with Irwin Stelzer, now a senior fellow and director of the right-wing Hudson Institute’s Center for Economic Policy. 

The NERA/Obama DOE LNG export economic impact study, released in early-December 2012, concluded that exporting the U.S. shale gas bounty is in the best economic interest of the country. 

This conclusion drew metaphorical hisses from many analysts, including prominent shale gas market economist and former Wall Street investor Deborah Rogers, who now maintains the blog Energy Policy Forum. Her critique cut straight to the very foundation of the study itself, stating that “economic model[s] are only as good as their inputs.”

She proceeded to explain,

In fact, it is neither difficult nor unusual for models to be designed to favor one outcome over another. In other words, models can be essentially reverse engineered. This is especially true when the models have been commissioned by industries that stand to gain significantly in monetary terms. Or government agencies which are perhaps pushing a political agenda.

Beyond its history working as a hired gun for the fossil fuel industry, NERA also has deeper historical roots producing “smoke and mirrors” studies on behalf of the tobacco industry. The long view of the firm’s past is something NERA would likely rather see “go up in smoke,” forever buried in the historical annals. But that would be a disservice to U.S. taxpayers since NERA continues to receive government contracts to produce tobacco-era disinformation to this day. 

NERA and the “Tobacco Playbook”

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Keystone XL North: TransCanada’s Controversial Shale Gas Export Pipeline Plan

3:07 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

The battle continues over the future of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, with the Tar Sands Blockade continuing and a large forthcoming President’s Day anti-Keystone XL rally set to take place in Washington, DC.

pipelineIn a nutshell: Keystone XL, if approved by the U.S. State Department, will carry viscous and dirty tar sands crude – also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” – from Alberta, Canada down to Port Arthur, TX. From Port Arthur, the tar sands crude will be exported to the global market.

Muddying the waters on the decision is the fact that The Calgary Herald recently revealed that prospective Secretary of State, John Kerry, has financial investments in two tar sands corporations: Suncor and Cenovus. Kerry has $750,000 invested in Suncor and another $31,000 invested in Cenovus.

Which of course all begs the question: Is this another episode of State Department Oil Services all over again?

North America’s Shale Gas Industry’s Keystone XL

North of the border, TransCanada is proposing another export pipeline for the shale gas industry.

Dubbed the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission project, the $5.1 billion project will carry gas obtained via the controversial fracking process from the Montney Shale basin westward to the coast of British Columbia. From there, the gas will be exported in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia starting in 2018.

“Gas producers in British Columbia’s Montney Shale, far from North American population centers, are seeking Asian markets for the heating and power-plant fuel,” the Houston Chronicle‘s “Fuel Flex” explained.

US Debate Over Shale Gas Exports Also Continues

Meanwhile, south of the border, debate continues over the future of U.S. gas markets.

On Jan. 24, the comment period closes for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) study on LNG exports.

That study, contracted out to the oil, gas and coal industry-friendly NERA Economic Consulting concluded that exports are a net benefit for the U.S. economically. The Sierra Club has filed a Freedom of Information Act to discern how the Obama DOE went about choosing NERA as the contractor.

“Deciding to export the U.S. gas supply is a major public decision,” Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign said in a press release. “We deserve a full and fair conversation about it. That’s why we deserve to know how and why DOE picked this anti-environmental, pro-corporate consultant for this crucial report.”

On top of its looming decision on the Keystone XL, it’s likely that the Obama Administration will make a final decision on whether or not to greenlight shale gas exports sometime in 2013.

Though it’s still the dead of winter, the policy agenda is about to heat up in the energy and environment policy arenas inside the Beltway in the coming weeks.

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
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