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Meeting Logs: Obama Quietly Coddling Big Oil on “Bomb Trains” Regulations

8:53 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The exploding CSX Corporation oil-by-rail train in Lynchburg, Virginia owned by Plains All American was on its way to the Yorktown facility. Yorktown has been marked a potential export terminal if the ban on exporting U.S. oil is lifted.

When Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, introduced Howard Shelanski at his only public appearance so far during his tenure as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Revesz described Shelanski as, “from our perspective, close to the most important official in the federal government.”

OIRA has recently reared its head in a big way because it is currently reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

During his presentation at NYU, Shelanski spoke at length about how OIRA must use “cost-benefit analysis” with regards to regulations, stating, “Cost-benefit analysis is an essential tool for regulatory policy.”

But during his confirmation hearings, Shelanski made sure to state his position on how cost-benefit analysis should be used in practice. Shelanski let corporate interests know he was well aware of their position on the cost of regulations and what they stood to lose from stringent regulations.

“Regulatory objectives should be achieved at no higher cost than is absolutely necessary,” Shelanski said at the hearing.

With the “cost-benefit analysis” regarding environmental and safety issues for oil-by-rail in OIRA’s hands, it appears both the oil and rail industries will have their voices heard loudly and clearly by the White House.

A DeSmogBlog review of OIRA meeting logs confirms that in recent weeks, OIRAhas held at least ten meetings with officials from both industries on oil-by-rail regulations. On the flip side, it held no meetings with public interest groups.

“Cost-Benefit”: A Brief History

OIRA was created in 1980 by President Ronald Reagan with the goal of getting rid of “intrusive” regulations.

“By instructing agencies to clear drafts of regulations through OIRA, Presidents have made the agency…a virtual choke point for federal regulation,” explains theCenter for Progressive Reform, a think-tank critical of OIRA and its cost-benefit analysis.

Cost-benefit analysis was put on the map by Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, “regulatory czar” and head of OIRA for President Barack Obama before Shelanski. Read the rest of this entry →

Revealed: Emails Show ND Ethics Law Potentially Broken on Petraeus Fracking Trip

9:18 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A digital envelope

Emails obtained through a standard Open Records Statute request in North Dakota show Petraeus’ fracking field trip’s ethical & legal issues.

DeSmogBlog has obtained emails via North Dakota’s Open Records Statute revealing facts that could be interpreted as indicating that North Dakota Treasurer Kelly Schmidt broke State Investment Board ethics laws.

The potential legal breach occurred during a late-April fracking field trip made to the state by former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus.

In a radio interview responding to DeSmogBlog’s original investigation about the trip, Schmidt said rolling out the red carpet for Petraeus — who now works at Manhattan-based private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), which holds over $1 billion in oil and gas industry assets and calls itself a “mini oil and gas company“ — was “not unusual.”

KKR initially told DeSmogBlog it followed all state and federal laws during the Petraeus visit.

But new emails obtained by DeSmogBlog from both the North Dakota State Investment Board and the Office of the North Dakota State Treasurer call that and much more into question.

Rewinding back to where it all began, for the final stops of the two-day Petraeus visit to North Dakota, he and his KKR colleagues Ari Barkan and Vance Serchuk met with representatives from the North State Investment Board and the North Dakota Department of Land Trusts.

Banal convenings at face-value, what preceded and followed the meetings tells a bigger story: first a crucial plane flight and then a follow-up invitation to come to New York City to talk business.

Looked at on the whole, the plane flight and what came after it raises fundamental legal and ethical questions about the burgeoning — and much-touted in some circles — North Dakota oil and gas Legacy Fund.

Fly Like an Eagle

On day one of the Petraeus visit, Schmidt flew on a private plane chartered byKKR from the Bakken Shale oil fracking fields in Watford, North Dakota out to Bismarck, North Dakota.

In introducing Petraeus in Bismarck for a speaking engagement with the North Dakota National Guard, Schmidt thanked the troops for fighting in oil wars, as seen in a video obtained by DeSmogBlog from a Freedom of Information Act request. It was skewered in a recent episode of comedian Lee Camp‘s show, “Redacted Tonight.”

“David and I have been out in the western portion of North Dakota where we have shared with him the challenges we’ve been facing to help make our nation and our world an energy independent country so that you and your fellow officers and enlisted folks never have to go over there again in order to fight for the oil we all need,” said Schmidt.

KKR — as we discovered in an earlier Open Records Statute request — required Schmidt to get legal clearance to fly on the private plane. Schmidt got the clearance within a couple of hours from Assistant Attorney General Janilyn Murtha.

Murtha gave Schmidt the legal clearance because — although Schmidt sits on the Board of the State Investment Board by legal mandate — “KKR does not have any current or pending business relationship with the [State Investment Board],”Murtha wrote.

Therefore, Murtha continued, “the conflict of interest provisions of the aforementioned code of conduct and associated fiduciary responsibilities are not implicated by the benefit described herein.”

Most important is what Murtha wrote next.

“If in the future the [State Investment Board] considers entering into a business relationship with KKR, and Treasurer Schmidt is then an acting board member, she may bring the prior contact with KKR to the attention of both the board and legal counsel and determine at that time if a conflict exists.”

New emails obtained by DeSmogBlog demonstrate Schmidt knew KKR had an April 30 breakfast with the State Investment Board to talk business. In fact, the new emails reveal Schmidt helped set the meeting up.

Further, other emails show Murtha forwarded the legal clearance she wrote for Schmidt off to David Hunter and Darren Schulz, Chief Investment Officer (CIO) and Deputy CIO for the State Investment Board, respectively.

In other words, all parties involved were “in the know.”

The new documents also portray that, in the trip’s aftermath, KKR and the State Investment Board have kept in touch and scheduled a mid-July meeting to discuss ”entering into a business relationship” with one another.

New York, New York

A few days after the April 30 breakfast meeting held between the KKR team and both Hunter and Schulz, Hunter sent a thank you email to KKR’s Ari Barkan. Barkan serves as Director for KKR’s Client and Partner Group.

“I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know I truly enjoyed our meeting last week and found our conversation with David, Vance, Darren and yourself to be truly compelling,” Hunter wrote to Barkan. “As your schedule permits over the next few weeks, let’s attempt to set up a meeting in New York during the first two weeks of July or August.”

After kicking back-and-forth a few emails, Barkan told Hunter a mid-July business meeting date would work best for a meeting at KKR’s New York City office.

“Please also keep in mind that, at the moment, I am envisioning two separate topics of discussions – one connected to private markets and one to credit – so really we are talking about 1.5 hours for each one,” Barkan wrote in an email.

Emails show Hunter invited Schmidt to the mid-July gathering, though she had to decline the invitation due to other commitments.

Breaking the Law?

So, did Schmidt engage in breaking the law?

Read the rest of this entry →

Exxon Awarded Gulf of Mexico Oil Leases Days Before Obama Announced CO2 Rule

5:58 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Exxon Logo

Steve Horn uncovers “last minute” energy deals at Exxon.

On Friday May 30, just a few days before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced details of its carbon rule proposal, the Obama Administration awarded offshore oil leases to ExxonMobil in an area of the Gulf of Mexico potentially containing over 172 million barrels of oil.

The U.S. Department of Interior‘s (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proclaimed in a May 30 press release that the ExxonMobil offshore oil lease is part of “President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production.”

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell formerly worked as a petroleum engineer for Mobil, purchased as a wholly-owned subsidiary by Exxon in 1998.

Dubbed a “Private Empire” by investigative reporter Steve Coll, ExxonMobil will now have access to oil and gas in the Alaminos Canyon Area, located 170 miles east of Port Isabel, Texas. Port Isabel borders spring break and tourist hot spotSouth Padre Island.

ExxonMobil originally won the three leases at the Western Planning Area Sale 233, held on March 19. BOEM records show ExxonMobil was the only company to participate in the bid and paid over $21.3 million.

Transboundary Agreement Opens Floodgates

The U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement signed into law by President Obama on December 23, 2013 — a key precursor to the ongoing debate over Mexico’s oil and gas industry reforms — served as the legal backdrop for BOEM awarding ExxonMobil with the lease.

“With the Agreement now in full force, we can make additional oil and gas along the resource-rich boundary between the United States and Mexico available and we have a clear process by which both governments can provide the necessary oversight to ensure exploration and development activities are conducted safely and responsibly,” Secretary Jewell said in a press release.

“These leases represent a significant step forward in U.S.-Mexico cooperation in energy production and pave the way for future energy and environmental collaboration.”

Over 1.5 million offshore acres opened for business as a result of the Transboundary Agreement.

Through the Agreement, U.S. companies agreed to develop the area jointly with Mexican state-owned company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

Mexico’s legislature is now debating the details of secondary legislation, coming after the country signed constitutional amendments in December 2013. The constitutional amendments-secondary legislation one-two punch will open up the rest of Mexico’s onshore and offshore oil and gas reserves to international oil and gas companies, working in partnership with Pemex.

According to a May 6 article appearing in Upstream Online, the legislature will open up an “extraordinary session” to debate the secondary legislation sometime this month.

Five Year Program

Beyond the Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement, in February the Obama Administration announced it would be opening up over 40 million acres of offshore land for oil and gas development, also doing so under the “all-of-the-above” banner.

Read the rest of this entry →

ND Treasurer: Red Carpet Rollout for Gen. Petraeus Fracking Field Trip “Not Unusual”

3:19 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Petreaus drinking coffee

Petraeus’ pro-fracking mission received a hero’s welcome in North Dakota.

North Dakota Treasurer Kelly Schmidt has responded to DeSmogBlog’s investigation of the Bakken Shale basin fracking field trip her office facilitated for former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, who now works at the Manhattan-based private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR).

Schmidt expanded on the initial comments she provided to DeSmogBlog in response to our findings obtained via North Dakota Open Records Statute. Among other things, she described the blurred lines existing between the North Dakota government, the oil industry and private equity firms like KKR as “not unusual.”

Schmidt’s comments came on May 23 on WDAY’s Jay Thomas Show, guest hosted that day by Rob Port, just over three weeks after her office hosted Petraeus.

DeSmogBlog’s May 22 investigative piece revealed that KKR — which has ties to North Dakota’s hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom via Samson Resources and The Ridge housing complex and considers itself a “mini oil and gas company” — wrote the press release for the Office of North Dakota State Treasurer announcing Petraeus’ visit, closely counseled Schmidt’s office on media strategy and hosted Schmidt on a company chartered private jet. 

Radio host Port was the “winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence” according to his biography on his Say Anything blog, and is also a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council, a wing of the State Policy Network “stink tanks.”

Prior to interviewing Schmidt, Port had previously written an article on the same day the DeSmogBlog piece was published in response to it, exonerating Schmidt for what unfolded during the trip. His interview with Schmidt on the Jay Thomas Show did much the same.

KKR Press Release Writing “Not Unusual”

After explaining how she initially met Petraeus — who on top of his role at the KKR Global Institute, also works as an adjunct professor teaching KKR’s curriculum at CUNY Honors College, USC and Harvard University — Schmidt responded to a question by Port, saying it was “not something unusual” for KKRto draft the press release now published on the treasurer’s office website.

“We worked collaboratively with KKR to set things up. When you’re working with someone who has the caliber and in some cases security issues that I may not be aware of nor my staff, we always work together with staff of someone who’s coming to visit or someone of his caliber,” she said. “So to have them create a press release was not something unusual.”

Schmidt also cited another tie Petraeus has to North Dakota, which served as a major impetus for KKR and the treasurer’s office to co-manage the media scrupulously: Paula Broadwell.

Schmidt Thanks ND National Guard for Oil War

Petraeus resigned from the CIA in November 2012 after it got out that he had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Broadwell — author of the book, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus — is a native of Bismarck, ND, the final destination of Petraeus’ late-April trip to the state.

Bismarck, in turn, was a key part of the trip. While there, Petraeus gave a lecture on leadership to the North Dakota National Guard.

In introducing Petraeus at the National Guard event, Schmidt thanked the troops in attendance for fighting in a war “over there for the oil we all need.”

“David and I have been out in the western portion of North Dakota where we have shared with him the challenges we’ve been facing to help make our nation and our world an energy independent country so that you and your fellow officers and enlisted folks never have to go over there again in order to fight for the oil we all need,” said Schmidt in a video obtained via Freedom of Information request by DeSmogBlog from the North Dakota National Guard.

Schmidt also told Port the North Dakota treasurer’s office was happy to do the media bidding of both Petraeus and KKR to ensure the National Guard speaking event went smoothly.

“Most people are familiar with the indiscretion that [Petraeus] had and its relationship to North Dakota,” she told Port. “And I was concerned this would take on legs and have a life of its own and that was something none of us wanted to see happen…I did not want this to become something it was never intended to be.”

“Smell Test”

Port also said on the show that DeSmogBlog’s alleged claim that “[Petraeus] was kept from the media doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Read the rest of this entry →

Revealed: Former Energy in Depth Spokesman John Krohn Now at EIA Promoting Fracking

9:11 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

For those familiar with U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) work, objectivity and commitment to fact based on statistics come to mind. Yet as Mark Twain once put it, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Untitled
That’s where John Krohn comes into play. A former spokesman for the gas industry front group Energy in Depth (EID), Krohn now works on the Core Team for EIA’s “Today in Energy!

Krohn has been at EIA since at least January 2014, when his name first appeared on the EIA website. On his Twitter account, he describes himself as an EIA communications manager.

As DeSmog revealed in February 2011, Energy In Depth was launched with a heavy injection of funding from oil and gas industry goliaths such as BP, Halliburton, Chevron, Shell and XTO Energy (now owned by ExxonMobil).

With its public relations efforts conducted by FTI Consulting, EID now serves as a key pro-industry front group promoting unfettered hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to the U.S. public.

Krohn follows in the footsteps through the government-industry revolving door of the man President Barack Obama named to head the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for his second term, former Massachusetts Institute of Technology “frackademic,” Ernest Moniz. DOE is the parent agency for EIA.

Further, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski, another second-term appointee of President Obama, also passed through the same revolving door as Krohn and Moniz in his pathway to heading EIA. He formerly worked in the world of oil and gas finance. 

“From 1998 to 2005, he served as the director and energy strategist for Deutsche Bank’s global oil and gas equity team,” his EIA biography explains. “Prior to that, from 1988 to 1997, Mr. Sieminski was the senior energy analyst for NatWest Securities in the United States, covering the major U.S. international integrated oil companies.”

The revolving door, though, is as American as apple pie. What makes the Krohn appointment more alarming to some observers is what this means in the context of the potential looming shale gas and oil bubble.

This revelation comes after EIA downgraded its Monterey Shale oil reserves estimate from 13.7 billion barrels to 600 million barrels, a 96-percent decrease

EIA: “Seriously Exaggerating Shale Gas Production”

Read the rest of this entry →

Documents: Petraeus Fracking Field Trip Reveals ND Government, Oil, Private Equity Nexus

3:22 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A large part of Petraeus’ visit centered around a tour of the state’s Bakken Shale basin.

DeSmogBlog has obtained hundreds of documents portraying the blurred lines between North Dakota’s government, the oil and gas industry and the private equity world. They also offer one of the first looks inside the professional life of former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus after he resigned from the agency in 2012.

The documents reveal Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) — a private equity firm where Petraeus now works at the KKR Global Institute — wrote a press release for North Dakota’s State Treasurer announcing the Petraeus visit, meticulously counseled the state treasurer’s office on media strategy and hosted the state treasurer on its company plane.

A large part of Petraeus’ visit centered around a tour of the state’s Bakken Shale basin, where upwards of 1 million barrels of oil are extracted each day via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). The Bakken pumped out its billionth barrel of oil during his stay.

KKR, with $87 billion in assets, owns two major Bakken entities: The Ridge in Williston, ND, and Samson Resources.

The Ridge is a KKR-owned housing complex for Bakken oil and gas workers, while Samson Resources is a major company fracking for oil and gas throughout theU.S., including in the Bakken.

With over $4 billion sitting in an energy investment fund as of June 2012, KKR also owns over $950 million in oil and gas industry assets. Marc Lipschultz, head of energy and infrastructure for KKR, called the firm a “mini oil and gas company“ in an April 2013 interview with Privcap.

“We have our own technical abilities attached to the firm we have our own back office [and] we can manage the daily flows of oil and gas in drilling wells and managing our own hedges,” said Lipschultz. 

KKR’s Stage-Managing

At face value, the Petraeus visit seemed rather banal, garnering no national press attention and little local media coverage.

Amy Dalrymple, a reporter for the Oil Patch Dispatch, was the only one to cover it. Her short piece devoted but a single paragraph to Petraeus’ KKR connection.

“Petraeus has a tie to the Bakken through private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts…which is partnering with other investors on a 164-acre housing development in Williston,” Dalrymple wrote. “Petraeus works for KKR as chairman of the KKR Global Institute.”

But e-mails reveal KKR stage-managed the entire event from start to finish, doing so quietly and behind the scenes.

According to the emails, planning began on March 18, when Ari Barkan, director of KKR’s client and partner group, reached out to treasurer Kelly Schmidt to share a draft agenda for the forthcoming Petraeus visit. In a March 24 email, Barkan explained to Schmidt the rationale behind Petraeus’ visit.

“Gen. Petraeus would ideally like to learn as much as possible about realities on the ground connected with development of our shale gas/oil resources, including a sense of the challenges that operators, local/state governments, business leaders, and other community leaders are experiencing,” Barkan wrote.

“The development of these resources is one of the key underpinning (sic) of the nation’s renaissance, in his view, and he would be delighted to gain additional insights into what the benefits (sic) as well as the issues people are faced with.”

The draft and final agenda included a tour of a Bakken Shale oil field and a meeting with North Dakota community leaders at KKR’s The Ridge, as well as aPetraeus speaking event hosted by the North Dakota National Guard and other meetings.

KKR facilitated how these events would unfold, breaking down the Petraeus visit minute-by-minute. And North Dakota’s government was pleased to facilitate KKR’s plans. Read the rest of this entry →

Southwestern Energy Exec Mark Boling Admits Fracking Link to Climate Change

8:03 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Fracking Rig

Even energy executives admit the high environmental cost of fracking.

An Executive of a major shale gas development company has conceded what scientists have been saying for years: global shale gas development has the potential to wreak serious climate change havoc.

Best known for his company’s hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) activity,Southwestern Energy Executive Vice President Mark Boling admitted his industry has a methane problem on the May 19 episode of Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously in a segment titled, “Chasing Methane.”

“I think some of those numbers, they certainly concern me,” Boling says on the show. “How could you say that that methane emission rate was one and a half percent – very, very difficult to there from here for that.”

Boling goes toe to toe in the segment with Cornell University Professor Anthony Ingraffea, who co-authored the 2011 paper now best known as the “Cornell Study.”

That study was the first to say that over its entire lifecycle, shale gas production is dirtier than coal due to the greenhouse gas trapping capacity of leaking methane. Numerous studies since then have depicted high leakage rates throughout the production lifecycle.

Brendan DeMelleDeSmogBlog Executive Director and Managing Editor, is also a featured guest on tonight’s episode. He discusses the well-funded climate change denial machine and attacks on renewable energy development in a segment titled, “Against the Wind.”

The Years of Living Dangerously episode coincides with the release of a new paper on fracking’s climate change impacts by Cornell Study co-author Professor Robert Howarth.

Howarth’s latest paper is titled, “A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas,” a wordplay on the industry’s self-promotional pitch about gas being a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future.

“Smoking is Addictive” Redux

Over 16 years ago, then Philip Morris chairman Geoffrey Bible testified before Congress that “tobacco is a risky product,” “plays a role in lung cancer” and that “cigarette smoking is addictive.”

It was a watershed moment for Big Tobacco. Only four years before that hearing, several tobacco industry CEOs testified under oath to Congress that nicotine is not addictive.

While not stated under congressional oath, Boling’s statement depicts the reality of shale gas development. That reality is denied by those such as former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, who says shale gas is “clean” and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who once said gas is both “clean” and not even a fossil fuel.

Put another way, history has repeated itself, with Mark Boling serving as fracking’s Geoffrey Bible. But does that mean Southwestern Energy plans to stop fracking? Hardly.

“No question, there’s work to be done,” he said on the show. “But we can all waste our time about ‘is it 4%, is it 8%, is it 1%’ or we could all just say ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks it is, let’s go out and fix the problem.’”

“Green Completions” the Fix?

Boling, along with others such as industry front group Energy in Depth and theEnvironmental Defense Fund, believe “green completions” of wells during the fracking process are the fix to the problem of methane leakage and accompanying climate change impacts.

Read the rest of this entry →

Explosive Virginia Train Carried Fracked Bakken Oil, Headed to Potential Export Facility

10:34 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Platts confirmed CSX Corporation’s train that exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia was carrying sweet crude obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin. CSXCEO Michael Ward has also confirmed this to Bloomberg.

“Trade sources said the train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota and was headed to Plains All American’s terminal in Yorktown,”Platts explained. “The Yorktown facility can unload 130,000 b/d of crude and is located on the site of Plains oil product terminal.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a Safety Alert concluding Bakken crude is more flammable than heavier oils. Hence the term “bomb trains.”

At least 50,000 gallons of the oil headed to Yorktown is now missing, according to ABC 13 in Lynchburg. Some of it has spilled into the James River, as previously reported on DeSmogBlog.

map available on CSX’s website displaying the routes for its crude-by-rail trains offers a clear indication of where the train was headed.

Formerly a refinery owned by Standard Oil and then BP/Amoco, Plains All American has turned the Yorktown refinery into a mega holding facility.

Yorktown may become a key future site for crude oil exports if the ban on exports of oil produced domestically in the U.S. is lifted.

Yorktown: Future Oil Export Mecca?

In February, Plains CEO Greg Armstrong said on the company’s quarter four earnings call that Yorktown is ideally situated geographically to become an oil export mecca if the ban is lifted.

When asked by an analyst from Bank of America about the ongoing debate over lifting the crude oil export ban, Armstrong discussed how Plains could stand to profit from exports.

“Ultimately we’re positioned, we think well for either answer if they allow blanket exports we have assets in the right places that can help build that market niche,” said Anderson.

Harry Pefanis, President and COO for Plains, sang a similar tune to Anderson.

“I guess if I also just add to that if there was export…we’ve got couple of locations that we could load ocean-going vessels. Yorktown is a location where we can rail-in and load out an ocean-going vessel,” Pefanis explained.

The industry lobbying effort to lift the U.S.-produced oil export ban has picked up major steam in 2014, with the geopolitical crisis in Ukraine and Russia serving as the hook.

Keystone XL Connection

It’s only a matter of time until the familiar oil industry overture begins. That is, pointing to the Lynchburg disaster as the reason why the northern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline must be built.

Read the rest of this entry →

“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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