Brendan DeMelle's blog

Wed, 2012-08-01 08:05Brendan DeMelle
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A "War on Shale Gas"?

Since late 2009, there’s been a slowly-growing wave of attacks from the unconventional oil and gas industry on media outlets that cover the controversies surrounding hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and other shale gas practices. Reporters who write for publications ranging from Rolling Stone to Reuters to the New York Times have had their professional bona fides called into question after unearthing documents and facts that challenge claims that fracked shale gas is cheap, abundant, and clean.

These industry attacks on media occur against the backdrop of a larger campaign to establish unconventional oil and gas at the forefront of the nation’s energy options.

Only a few years ago, it seemed likely that gas would increasingly be a mainstay of power generation, especially in the wake of high profile disasters like the Massey Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster and the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. The industry (at the time) received support from surprising allies like the Sierra Club and the Center for American Progress. Fukushima tarnished the nuclear industry, further shifting momentum towards shale gas for utility-scale electricity generation.

But a popular movement fueled by growing concerns about water contamination and public health impacts posed by fracking, coupled with a clearer look by press and by Wall Street analysts at the industry’s claims, has threatened to derail the ascendency of unconventional gas.

Quite often, rather than responding to the issues raised in a responsible fashion, industry PR shops have questioned the motives and qualifications of journalists who investigate the problems with shale gas development, and especially those who delve into the industry’s economic prospects.

Wed, 2012-07-18 11:02Brendan DeMelle
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UK Police Cease Botched Investigation into Stolen UEA Climate Scientists' Emails

“Our Priority is You,” reads the tagline of the Norfolk Constabulary. The rest of the sentence ought to read, “unless you are a climate scientist.”

The Norfolk Constabulary announced today that it has called off its investigation into the criminal hacking of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit. The November 2009 breach of servers at the University led to the publication of private emails between climate scientists, an event that climate change deniers whipped up into a phony controversy they called “Climategate.” 

As DeSmogBlog has previously reported, the UK police appear to have spent an astonishingly inadequate amount of money and resources on their investigation into the criminal hacking. Now that they've given up entirely on finding the perpetrators, there will be many more questions about who should be held accountable for the failed effort. 

The Norfolk Constabulary confirmed in its announcement that there is no evidence to support the claims made by climate deniers that the stolen information was released from within the university, noting in the statement that the crime was the “result of a sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack on the CRU’s data files, carried out remotely via the internet.”

But apparently the UK police have no intention of following through to mete out justice for the crime. We will have a lot more to say about this in the coming days, but for now you can read the full statement released by the Norfolk Constabulary below:

Tue, 2012-07-17 05:00Brendan DeMelle
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Scientists Tell US State Department Excluding Climate Impacts in Keystone XL Review 'Neither Wise nor Credible'

Ten of the nation’s top climate scientists penned a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today questioning why the State Department isn't considering the enormous climate change impacts of developing the Alberta tar sands in its review of the controversial Keystone XL export pipeline project

“At the moment, your department is planning to consider the effects of the pipeline on ‘recreation,’ ‘visual resources,’ and ‘noise,’ among other factors,” the scientists wrote. “Those are important—but omitting climate change from the considerations is neither wise nor credible.” 
 
The State Department is currently accepting comments on the scoping evaluation that will determine what environmental considerations will be included in the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) required for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.The public comment period ends July 30.
 
The department’s previous draft EIS downplayed the climate risks of Keystone XL, arguing that the Alberta tar sands would be developed with or without it, so therefore the Obama administration has no accountability for the additional global warming pollution that will result from burning dirty tar sands oil. 
 
Wed, 2012-07-11 03:00Brendan DeMelle
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Science Trumped by Politics In Cuomo's NY Fracking Plans?

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said repeatedly that, in making the decision on whether to allow horizontal hydrofracking in New York State, he wants to rely on “science, and not emotion.” He is relying on the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to give him that science - but an array of documents suggest the Governor is being badly served.

Documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group shine a unique spotlight on privileged access granted to gas industry lobbyists by DEC officials with regards to fracking.

Some of the most important conversations revealed in those pages have little to do with debate over the science of fracking’s environmental footprint – and everything to do with the politics of ending New York’s temporary moratorium and allowing shale gas fracking to move forward in the state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has gone to great lengths to present the course his state will take with regards to fracking as the opposite of Pennsylvania’s drill-baby-drill approach, which has left regulators scrambling to keep up and allowed a growing list of problems to emerge. By contrast, New York will make an incremental, guarded entry into fracking, Cuomo alleges. And his regulators will take an approach that rises above the fray of conflicts between industry and environmentalists.

We have a process. Let’s get the facts,” Governor Cuomo said last year, with regards to ending the state’s temporary moratorium on fracking. “Let the science and the facts make the determination, not emotion and not politics.”

But it’s increasingly clear that the process has actually been based on anything but science. Politics, legal considerations and economic concerns have instead predominated. Most tellingly, documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group show that industry representatives allowed access to drafts of the state’s permit plans, and used that information to lobby hard against testing for radioactivity in wastewater, for example.

But the documents also show a regular pattern of behind-the-scenes communication between the industry and regulators, at the same time as environmental advocates and others were struggling to be heard through public comments and similar official channels.

Sat, 2012-06-30 08:00Brendan DeMelle
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Aspen Ideas Festival Fracking Debate Livestream - Tune in Sunday

This Sunday, July 1, FORA.tv is hosting a free, online debate at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “No Fracking Way: Is The Natural Gas Boom Doing More Harm Than Good?

The debate will feature Deborah Goldberg and Katherine Hudson arguing for the motion, Joe Nocera and Susan Tierney arguing against. (See below for brief bios.)

The debate will be streaming live online at 6pm PDT (3pm EDT), and you can tune in here at DeSmogBlog to watch as well.

Wed, 2012-06-27 22:09Brendan DeMelle
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Fracking Industry Enjoyed Privileged Access To Controversial New York DEC Environmental Review

Documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show that bureaucrats within the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) granted the oil and gas industry premature access to highly controversial draft regulations for shale gas fracking in the state. New York placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for gas in order to evaluate the science on the risks posed to drinking water, air quality and the health of New York's citizens and the environment. 

The documents, obtained by EWG through New York's Freedom of Information Law, show that the fracking industry received an unfair advantage thanks to DEC officials who provided detailed summaries of their proposed rules exclusively to oil and gas industry representatives. This allowed industry a six-week head start to lobby state officials to weaken the proposed standards before the public was granted access to the plan.

Of particular concern, a lobbyist for scandal-ridden gas giant Chesapeake Energy used the exclusive access to the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) to attempt to weaken the proposed rules restricting discharges of radioactive wastewater.

Thomas West, a prominent oil and gas industry lobbyist representing Chesapeake and other industry clients, made “one last pitch” – in an email to DEC Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Steven Russo – to “reduce or eliminate radionuclide testing” of fluids that could migrate from drilling sites during storms, according to the documents.

NY DEC has previously found concentrations of cancer-causing radioactive pollution at shale gas drilling sites that exceeded safe drinking water standards by hundreds of times or more, according to EWG's report “Inside Track: Cuomo Team Gives Drillers Jump Start to Influence Fracking Rules.” 

“This is like giving the drilling industry three laps around the track while everyone else was left waiting on the starting block,” said Thomas Cluderay, EWG assistant general counsel. “The public needs to know whether New York regulators compromised the integrity of the state's drilling plan months ago, despite promises of keeping the process fair and transparent.”

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