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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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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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The Geopolitics of Energy: An Interview with Steve Horn

9:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from Frack the Media

If there is an up-and-coming investigative journalist to follow, it’s Steve Horn of DeSmog Blog. If you follow any of Frack The Media’s social media, you’ve been exposed to Steve. What draws us to Steve (and others like him) is his attention to detail surrounding the energy issue. It’s a multifaceted, highly complex and propagated geopolitical issue — regular reports often miss these intricacies (as mainstream media outlets tend to gloss over complex topics ). Long story short, we got to pick Steve’s brain and highlight some of the important investigative work he does.

Frack The Media: A lot of your reporting has focused on fracking and tar sands. What draws you to these particular issues?

Steve Horn: I focus on these issues for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the majority of the reporting on these issues by U.S. and Canadian reporters only grazes the surface, treating them as only environmental issues or only as energy issues. That’s not the case.

Given my academic background is in sociology and history and my keen interest in geopolitics, there is far more to these issues than meets the eye at face-value. I use my “sociological imagination,” as C. Wright Mills put it, when doing reporting on these issues. That means being an ecologist and looking at how the local interconnects with the global and looking at energy as not only an environmental issue, but also as a geopolitical issue.

In the case of fracking and tar sands, they’re the two biggest sources of energy that have transformed the U.S. and Canada into the “New Saudi Arabia” for oil and gas, huge players in the geopolitical “great game,” as Zbiginiew Brzezinski once put it. Not only are these important issues because they’re ravaging ecosystems and racing us to climate change catastrophe, but they’re also reshaping geopolitics as we know it.

There will still be wars for oil of course, as it’s a cornerstone of U.S. geopolitical planning. But given tar sands and fracking are both seen as political pawn chips on the “Grand Chessboard” to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market and Saudi/Russian dominance of the global oil market, these issues aren’t going away anytime soon without a hell of a fight by grassroots activists, regardless of the idealism of some well-meaning environmentalists. That means busy times for an investigative journalist and endless stories to tell, an incredible time to be in the business to say the least.

FTM: You’ve reported on the industry influence of academic research on fracking (“frackademia”). Can you explain this issue and it’s significance?

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Russia vs. U.S. Gas “Cold War” Underlying Edward Snowden Asylum Standoff

12:26 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Nearly two months ago, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden handed smoking-gun documents on the international surveillance apparatus to The Guardian and The Washington Post in what’s become one of the most captivating stories in recent memory.

Snowden Portrait

Is Snowden caught in an oil war between US & Russia?

Snowden now lives in Russia after a Hollywood-like nearly six-week-long stint in a Moscow airport waiting for a country to grant him asylum.

Journalists and pundits have spent countless articles and news segments conveying the intrigue and intensity of the standoff that eventually resulted in Russia granting Snowden one year of asylum. Attention now has shifted to his father, Lon Snowden, and his announced visit of Edward in Russia.

Lost in the excitement of this “White Bronco Moment,” many have missed the elephant in the room: the “Great Game”-style geopolitical standoff between the U.S. and Russia underlying it all, and which may have served as the impetus for Russia to grant Snowden asylum to begin with. What’s at stake? Natural gas.

Russia, of course, has its own surveillance stateand has been described by The Guardian’s Luke Harding as a “Mafia State” due to the deep corruption that reportedly thrives under Putin’s watch.

It all comes as the U.S. competes with Russian gas production thanks in part to the controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” – transforming the United States into what President Barack Obama has hailed as the “Saudi Arabia of gas.”

Russia produced 653 billion cubic meters of gas in 2012, while the U.S. produced 651 billion cubic meters,making them the top two producers in the world.

Creating a “gas OPEC”

Illustrating this elephant in the room is the fact that when, on July 1, Russian President Vladimir Putin first addressed whether he would grant Snowden asylum, he did so at the annual meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) in Moscow, which unfolded July 1-2.

“If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: he must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips,” Putin stated at GECF’s annual summit.

Paralleling the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — The New York Times calls it a “gas OPEC” — GECF is a bloc of countries whose mission is to fend off U.S. and Western power dominance of the global gas trade. The 13 member countries include Russia, Iran, Bolivia, Venezuela, Libya, Algeria and several others.

GECF has held informal meetings since 2001, becoming an official chartered organization in 2008 and dominated in the main by Russia. GECF Secretary General Leonid Bokhanovskiy is also the former VP of Stroytransgaz, a subsidiary of Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom.

Depicting the close proximity between Putin’s regime and GECF’s leadership is the fact that Gennady Timchenko – a member of “Putin’s inner circle,” according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism –owns an 80-percent stake in Stroytransgaz.

A 21st-century “gas Cold War” has arisen between the U.S. and Russia, with Edward Snowden serving as the illustrative protagonist. President Obama, upset over Russia’s asylum offer to Snowden, recently cancelled a summit with President Putin.

With access to the free flow of oil and gas resources a central tenet of U.S. national security policy under the Carter Doctrine, there’s no guarantee this new Cold War will end well.

Fracked gas exports fend off Russia, but for how long?

Fracking is in the process of transforming the U.S. from a net importer of gas to a net exporter, with three liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals on the Gulf Coast already rubber-stamped for approval by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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