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Report: Arctic Oil Spill Readiness Virtually Nonexistent

Sea ice in the Arctic Circle is currently melting at a pace far greater than scientists had originally projected.  While this is bad news for the planet — sea ice helps reflect the sun’s rays and keeps the arctic cooler — it has created new paths for the oil industry to exploit the resources hidden deep under the icy water.

Drilling activities in the Arctic have currently stalled, but this stall isn’t going to last forever.  The Arctic is estimated to hold about 13% of the world’s oil reserves, and at least one-third of the total oil within U.S. territory.  This means that the oil companies don’t need to worry with drilling on foreign lands or about the prospect of not hitting a massive payday.  They will return.

That’s the problem – they will return.  According to a new report by the National Research Council, that is a very scary scenario for both the climate and the environment.  The report says that increased drilling and the placement of oil pipelines make oil spills a question of “when,” not “if.”

The report lays out two very specific themes with regards to Arctic drilling. The first is that there is no discernable oil spill response plan, and the second is that the history of oil companies tells us with great certainty that there will be a massive spill as a result of the increased activity in the region.

Very Little Cheap Natural Gas in New York Marcellus Shale, New Report Concludes

For years, the shale industry has touted the economic benefits it can provide. An overflowing supply of domestic natural gas will help keep heating and electric bills low for American consumers, they argue, while drilling jobs and astounding royalty windfalls for landowners will reinvigorate local economies. These tantalizing promises have caught the attention of politicians in Washington, D.C. who argue that the rewards of relying on shale gas outweigh the risks, especially because harm can be minimized by the industry or by regulators.

But across the U.S., communities where drilling has taken place have found that the process brings along higher costs than advertised. Even when properly done, drilling carries with it major impacts — including air pollution, truck traffic, and plunging property values — and when drillers make mistakes, water contamination has left residents without drinking water or cleaning up from disastrous well blow-outs.

And as the shale drilling boom moves into its 12th year, the most crucial benefit claimed by drillers — cheap and abundant domestic fuel supplies — has come increasingly into question. The gas is there, no doubt, but most of it costs more to get it out than the gas is worth.

A new report from New York state, where a de facto shale drilling moratorium has persisted since 2008, concludes that unless natural gas prices double, much of the shale gas in the state cannot be profitably accessed by oil and gas companies.

Deepwater Horizon: BP’s Toxic Legacy

It has now been four years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 men and leaking an estimated 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  The media attention has disappeared, but the oil that continues to wash up along the Gulf Coast is a constant reminder to those who call this area home of BP’s toxic legacy.

In spite of the massive evidence of fraud and malfeasance on behalf of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, only one set of criminal charges was filed in the four years since the disaster.  Those charges were filed against BP engineer Kurt Mix, who has since been found guilty of obstruction of justice for deleting text messages about the true size of the oil leak.  However, Mix has yet to be sentenced, and the judge is currently weighing a defense motion to dismiss the charges altogether. 

The three companies involved — BP, Transocean, and Halliburton — have paid criminal fines for their actions, money that is supposed to go to states and individuals for the damage they suffered as a result of the spill.  But thanks to the dirty tricks employed by BP, those payments have slowed to a trickle.

Late last year, as their fines and legal payments began to exceed their original expectations, BP launched a massive PR blitz to demonize “greedy” oil spill victims who were seeking compensation.  The oil giant took out full-page ads in major newspapers like the Washington Post claiming that the spill claims process was riddled with fraud, and that the company was being raked over the coals by fraudulent payments.  The company successfully managed to stall payments for a while, with a judge recently ordering the company to continue making payments.

But for all of their crying over allegedly unfair payments, BP has made out like a bandit in the years since the company destroyed the Gulf of Mexico.  For starters, they avoided charges of manslaughter for criminal negligence that led to the death of the 11 rig workers.  Since the spill, the company has pulled in a net income of $38 billion over the last three years, and was recently granted the ability to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  For BP, everything has returned to normal.

BP Lake Michigan Oil Spill: Did Tar Sands Spill into the Great Lake?

Is it conventional crude or tar sands? That is the question. And it's one with high stakes, to boot. 

The BP Whiting refinery in Indiana spilled between 470 and 1228 gallons of oil (or is it tar sands?) into Lake Michigan on March 24 and four days later no one really knows for sure what type of crude it was. Most signs, however, point to tar sands. 

The low-hanging fruit: the refinery was recently retooled as part of its “modernization project,” which will “provide Whiting with the capability of processing up to about 85% heavy crude, versus about 20% today.”

As Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Midwest Program Director Henry Henderson explained in a 2010 article, “heavy crude [is] code for tar sands.”

Albeit, “heavy crude” is produced in places other than Alberta's tar sands, with Venezuela serving as the world's other tar sands-producing epicenter. So, in theory, if it's heavy crude that spilled into Lake Michigan, it could be from Venezuela.

But in practice, the facts on the ground tell a different story. As a January 2014 article in Bloomberg outlined, the combination of the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom and the Canadian tar sands boom has brought U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil to 28-year lows.

Which brings us to the next question: how does the Canadian “heavy crude” get to BP's Whiting refinery to begin with? Enter: Enbridge's Line 6A pipeline.

BP Doubles Initial Size Estimate of Lake Michigan Oil Spill

Three days after spilling crude oil into Lake Michigan, BP has doubled its spill estimate to between 470 and 1228 gallons. The leak happened at its refinery in Whiting, Ind.

Although some of the oil has been cleaned up, it's unclear how much is left in the lake, a drinking water source for about seven million Chicagoans.

Located just across the Illinois-Indiana state border, Whiting is home to the sixth largest refinery in the U.S. The refinery just went through a $4 billionmodernization project,” giving it “the capability of processing up to about 85 percent heavy crude.” That's up from its original 20 percent, says BP's website.

“Frigid temperatures caused some of the oil to harden into a waxy consistency that made it easier to collect,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told The Chicago Tribune. “Crews used vacuum trucks to suck up any liquid oil that washed ashore.”

The day after the spill, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) issued press releases in which they pledged to hold BP accountable for the spill. Durbin and Kirk also wrote a follow-up letter to BP, requesting a meeting with BP.

“Any unanticipated spill is cause for concern, but given the Whiting refinery’s recent expansion of its operations to double the amount of heavy oil sands being processed, this spill raises questions about the long-term safety and reliability of BP's new, expanded production at Whiting,” they wrote

Mardi Gras: Beads, Bands…And BP Oil

More than one million tourists have flocked to the South for Mardi Gras, and hundreds of thousands of those revelers have settled in for a few days along the Gulf Coast.  Those who decided to enjoy the festivities along the Gulf of Mexico might be in for something they didn’t expect: oil tar mats.

On Thursday of last week, workers on Pensacola Beach, Florida spotted and brought to shore a 1,200 pound oil tar mat, which officials say accounted for about 90% of the total size of the mat.  While the bulk of the mat was a mixture of sand and other debris, scientists ran tests and were quickly able to determine that the oil in the mat was a perfect match for the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, as the Pensacola News Journal explains:

The weathered oil from the tar mat was confirmed to be MC-252 oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Although the waters of the Gulf of Mexico were once scoured regularly for residual oil from the spill, physical searches were phased out as the number of sightings began to dwindle.

In the summer of 2013, BP pulled their cleanup crews from the Gulf Coast, assuring residents and tourists alike that the oil spill was all cleaned up.  A few months later, the U.S. Coast Guard made similar claims to the public.

Furthermore, the public was assured as early as May 2010 — just one month after the oil leak began — that the majority of the oil would simply “dissolve” into the Gulf of Mexico.  This latest tar mat is undeniable evidence that oil from BP’s disaster still remains in the Gulf.

Gulf Of Mexico: Open For Dirty Energy Exploitation Again

It has been nearly four years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and neither the dirty energy industry nor politicians in Washington, D.C. have learned anything from that tragedy.  Even with new evidence showing that the entire ecosystem in the Gulf has been disrupted as a result of the oil spill, companies are about to receive a massive gift in the form of new oil drilling leases.

Both the Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have agreed to lease 40 million acres of water space in the Gulf of Mexico next month to support President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which is quickly beginning to look more like a “drill, baby, drill” policy.  The leases will be good for five years’ worth of exploration in the Gulf.

Oil Industry Profited Off Polluting Oil Spills, Fraud Investigation Underway

When an oil company’s negligence leads to an oil spill, the financial costs incurred by the company can be crippling.  They have to pay clean up costs, federal fines, and, in many cases, settlements to victims who have been affected by the spill.  Since these costs can be such a burden to the multi-billion dollar industry, they’ve figured out a way to recoup some of their losses by deceiving all the players involved.

Of course, these aren’t the massive oil spills that we’ve seen from Exxon and BP; these are the smaller ones that most people don’t hear about that typically occur when storage containers leak.  That’s where the industry has learned that oil spills can actually be good for their bottom line.

The scheme is known as “double dipping,” and it involves oil companies receiving both insurance funds for spill cleanup along with state funds to clean up oil leaks from underground tankers.  This allows the company to use funds for cleanup, and usually have a little left over to put in their pockets.

A new report by Reuters succinctly captures the essence of what’s happening in a single quote:  “When I first saw these cases, I thought this is kind of incredible,” said New Mexico assistant attorney general Seth Cohen, who handled the lawsuit for the state. “The oil companies have, in effect, profited off polluting.”

BP Attempts To Misdirect Public With Claims Of Fraud

Oil giant BP is again attempting to convince the public that the oil spill settlement process for their destruction of the Gulf of Mexico resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and leak, is completely riddled with fraud.

The company filed a fraud lawsuit earlier this week to stop payments on the claim process while investigators look into the fraud allegations. According to BP, one of the law firms representing oil spill victims has been submitting and receiving payment for claimants who don’t actually exist. 

The specific payments that BP is hoping to stop come from the Seafood Compensation Fund, a fund that was set up to pay fishermen and others who rely on the seafood industry as their source of income. The company says that Louisiana attorney Mikal Watts has filed 648 claims on behalf of seafood industry workers, and that 8 of those have been verified as accurate with 17 more still pending approval. 

Watts’ attorney has fired back at BP, saying that Watts did nothing illegal during the spill process, and submitted the appropriate documentation for every spill claim that he has filed. BP insists that at least half of Watts’ clients don’t exist.

Carbon Emissions And Financial Risk Concentrated In 90 Top Emitters Responsible For 60% Of Emissions

A survey released last week indicates many major institutional investors, such as retirement funds and insurance companies, are putting their investments at risk by neglecting to address the negative financial impacts posed by climate change.

It’s no wonder that some of these investments are dicey when you consider the findings of another paper released last month, which indicated 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of manmade carbon emissions. That’s not just a huge concentration of carbon emissions — it’s a concentrated dose of financial risk.

Published in the journal of Climatic Change, the report, “Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010,” uses public records and data from the U.S. Department of Energy to calculate emissions based on the companies’ entire supply chains.

All but seven of the 90 companies identified are part of the fossil fuel industry.

Nearly 30 percent of emissions were produced by just the top 20 companies. Together, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Peabody Energy, all investor-owned companies, are responsible for more than 13 percent of manmade carbon emissions.

These companies also have a disproportionate amount of political influence in North America. In the United States alone, ExxonMobilChevron and BP have contributed more than $12 million to lawmakers since 1999.

Half of the emissions traced by the report were produced in the last 25 years, when awareness of global warming was increasing. Concerted efforts to deny climate science and halt climate policy began in the early 1990s. As an updated Greenpeace report released in September 2013 shows, the climate denial machine has its roots in Exxon’s funding of front groups.

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