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Tue, 2014-11-18 16:12Mike Gaworecki
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Shell Knew Of Pipeline Problems Years Before 2008 Oil Spill In Nigeria

Oil giant Shell was warned by its own staff that the Trans Niger Pipeline had a “risk and likelihood of rupture” years before two spills in 2008 spewed as much as 500,000 barrels of oil in the town of Bodo in Southern Nigeria.

The BBC reported these revelations after viewing internal company documents submitted to a court in London, where some 15,000 Nigerians are suing Shell over a separate spill from the same pipeline.

The documents uncovered in the London court may lead to a much bigger penalty against the company for the 2008 spills. A court in the Hague found Shell only partly responsible for those spills after four farmers sued the company in 2012. Shell's lawyers argued that the company had taken the necessary precautions, including installing leak detection systems, prior to the rupturing of the pipeline, and blamed acts of sabotage and attempted thefts for the spills.

But internal emails, letters, and reports show not only that no leak detection system was ever installed, according to the BBC, but also that Shell employees were warning management of the pipeline's decrepit state and the risk it posed to the surrounding communities. One study conducted by Shell's Nigeria business and a consulting arm as far back as 2000 had concluded that the pipeline's life expectancy was “more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard.”

Sun, 2014-11-16 14:00Mike Gaworecki
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Walton Family, Owners of Walmart, Using Their Billions To Attack Rooftop Solar

A recent trend has seen utilities deciding that since they haven't been able to beat back the rise of rooftop solar companies, they might as well join them (or at least steal their business model). But the Walton Family, owners of Walmart as well as a stake in a manufacturer of solar arrays for utilties, aren't ready to give up the fight.

A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has found that, through their Walton Family Foundation, the Waltons have given $4.5 million dollars to groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Americans for Prosperity—groups that are attacking renewable energy policies at the state level and, specifically, pushing for fees on rooftop solar installations. The head of ALEC has even gone so far as to denigrate owners of rooftop solar installations as “freeriders.”

But support for groups seeking to halt the rise of clean energy is only half the story. According to Vice News, the Waltons own a 30% stake in First Solar, a company that makes solar arrays for power plants as “an economically attractive alternative or complement to fossil fuel electricity generation,” per its 2013 annual report, which also identifies “competitors who may gain in profitability and financial strength over time by successfully participating in the global rooftop PV solar market” as a threat to First Solar's future profitability.

Perhaps it was that threat to its long-term strategic plan that led First Solar CEO James Hughes to publish an op-ed in the Arizona Republic voicing his support for a proposal by Arizona Public Service, the state's biggest energy utility, to charge owners of rooftop solar installations a fee of $50 - $100 a month, which would effectively wipe out any economic benefits of generating one's own power. A compromise was eventually reached to adopt a lower fee of roughly $5 per household, but even that has had a chilling effect on the growth of rooftop solar in Arizona, as residential solar installations subsequently dropped 40% in APS territory.

Bryan Miller, president of the Alliance for Solar Choice, said at the time that First Solar's move was unprecedented: “no solar company has publicly advocated against solar until First Solar did it.”

Having collected its scalp in Arizona, First Solar is now attacking policies that foster rooftop solar in California and Nevada, according to the ILSR report.

Thu, 2014-11-13 14:59Mike Gaworecki
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Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship Indicted Over 2010 Mine Disaster

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges for his role in the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.

According to a statement by US Attorney Booth Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia: “The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and securities fraud.” You can read the full indictment online.

Blankenship has long been a controversial figure. News of the indictment validates charges that have been made against him by environmentalists for years, not only over the poor safety and environmental record of Massey Energy but also his union busting tactics, his opposition to government regulations on extractive industries, and his outspoken belief that climate change does not exist.

Blankenship donated to just one federal candidate in this year's midterm elections: future Senate Environment Committee Chairman James Inhofe, who infamously called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” (h/t Lee Fang).

Thu, 2014-11-13 14:17Mike Gaworecki
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China-U.S. Climate Deal Is Historic, But On Its Own Is Not Enough

Despite the fact that they've been using the “climate action is useless because China won't act” canard as one of their favorite arguments for years now, Republicans' outraged response to the historic climate deal between China and the U.S. probably took noone by surprise.

Because that's the thing: it is historic. For the first time ever, China has agreed to put a cap on the emissions produced by its rapid, voracious economic expansion. While it's certainly not true that the U.S. taking responsibility for its share of global warming pollution wouldn't have had a meaningful impact anyway, it also can't be ignored that averting runaway climate change would be nearly impossible if China's emissions keep growing unabated.

But to say it's historic that two of the world's biggest economic superpowers—and the world's two largest carbon polluters, together responsible for nearly half of global emissions—have agreed to begin to lower their respective contributions to global warming is not the same thing as saying that the deal President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping struck is enough to get the job done.

The most important issue, of course, is the emissions targets themselves, which come nowhere near what climate scientists say are needed to prevent catastrophic warming. We must lower global warming pollution 80% below 1990 levels by mid-century, yet the US is still using 2005 as its baseline, and has only committed to lowering emissions 26-28% by 2025. China, meanwhile, needs to see its emissions peak by 2020, climate scientists say, but has only committed to doing so by 2030.

Tue, 2014-11-11 10:00Mike Gaworecki
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Peabody Energy Goes On Offense With New PR Campaign Designed To Sell Same Old Dirty Coal

Despite what you may have heard about the death of the coal industry, Peabody Energy is ramping up mining activities and going on the offensive, pushing “clean coal” on the world’s poor with a disingenuous but aggressive PR campaign. And for good reason: Peabody has got to sell the coal from the world's largest coal mine to someone.

Speculation is rife that the new GOP-led Senate will join with its similarly fossil fuel-beholden House colleagues to usher in a new era of coal. Peabody, the world’s largest privately held coal company, isn’t waiting around to find out.

The company has teamed with public relations firm Burson-Marsteller—the notorious PR giant that helped Big Tobacco attack and distort scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking tobacco—to launch Advanced Energy for Life, a desperate attempt to shift the discussion around coal away from its deleterious effects on health and massive contributions to climate change and instead posit the fossil fuel as a solution to global poverty.

The aim of this PR offensive, according to a piece by freelance journalist Dan Zegart and former DeSmog managing editor Kevin Grandia (one of Rolling Stone’s “Green Heroes,” and deservedly so), the reason for Peabody’s charm offensive is simple: there’s money to be made selling coal in Asian markets, and Peabody aims to make it—as long as initiatives to combat global warming emissions don’t intervene. Which makes Burson-Marsteller the perfect ally:

Burson-Marsteller, which has a long history of creating front groups to rehabilitate the images of corporate wrongdoers, helped Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro, tackle the Asian market, where Burson fought anti-smoking regulations and developed crisis drills for Philip Morris personnel in Hong Kong on how to handle adverse scientific reports.
 

As the US produces a glut of cheap natural gas, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan seeks to set emissions standards that would make building new coal-fired power plants all but impossible impossible, and the domestic demand for coal drops, Peabody’s value as a company has dropped as well, from $20 billion to just $3.7 billion in the space of three years. The company is in desperate need of new business if it’s to even stay afloat.

Sun, 2014-11-09 06:00Mike Gaworecki
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Meet The Folks On The Front Lines Of Fracking In California

The oil and gas industry has worked very hard to push the narrative that fracking is completely safe, and that any opposition is led by a small group of full-time activists.

But a new series of in-depth investigative reporting and photography called Faces Of Fracking is profiling the Californians living with, suffering from, and standing up to the fracking industry, and, in the process, showing just how out of touch with reality the industry's preferred narrative is.

Created by the Citizen Engagement Laboratory's Climate Lab in partnership with Grist, the series has a simple goal: “Faces of Fracking was created to share stories from the people on the front lines, to show how they are already impacted or may soon be, and how they are fighting back.”

DeSmog has already posted two stories from the Faces Of Fracking series—“A Farmer Seeks To Protect San Benito County, California From High-Intensity Petroleum Operations” and “Arvin, California Is A Town At The Tipping Point, Thanks To The Local Oil Company”—and will be posting future installments as they become available. But there's an awful lot already there that is well worth digging into, and it's all been released under a Creative Commons license, meaning you can copy and paste and share to your heart's content (as long as you give proper credit).

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