secrecy

Mon, 2014-05-05 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Fine Print on Baker Hughes New Fracking Fluid Disclosure Policy Draws Skepticism

Back in 2008, Cathy Behr, a nurse who worked at a Durango, Colorado hospital was hospitalized after suffering a cascade of organ failures. Days earlier, Ms. Behr had treated an oil and gas field worker who arrived in the emergency room doused in a fracking chemical mix called Zeta-Flow, the fumes from which were so powerful that the emergency room had to be evacuated. All told, 130 gallons of the apparently noxious fluid had spilled onto the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, an EPA report later noted, although the spill was never reported to local officials.

So what's in Zeta-Flow? Because the formula for the chemical, marketed as increasing gas production by 30 percent, is considered a trade secret, oilfield services company Weatherford International was never required to make the full answer public.

This secrecy was one of the first issues to be raised by public health officials investigating fracking pollution claims, who pointed out that without knowing what chemicals are used by the industry, it’s difficult or impossible to know what toxins to test for.

So at first blush, it seems like a major development that Baker Hughes, a major oil field services company, has agreed to stop asserting that the ingredients in its fracking fluids are “trade secrets” when it voluntarily provides information on the website FracFocus.

Indeed, the Department of Energy recently lauded the move by Baker Hughes to voluntarily disclose the chemicals used in its fracking formulas without invoking the controversial exemption commonly claimed by drillers. Deputy Assistant Energy Secretary Paula Gant called Baker Hughes' move “an important step in building public confidence,” adding that the department “hopes others will follow their lead.”

But a look at the fine print on that promise — and the company’s track record on disclosures — suggests that Baker Hughes' new policy may not be enough to keep the public adequately informed about the chemicals used in its fracturing fluids.

Wed, 2012-10-17 14:23Carol Linnitt
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China Investment Treaty "a Straitjacket" for Canada: Exclusive Interview with Trade Investment Expert Gus Van Harten

This post is the first of a series on the Canada-China Investment “Straitjacket:” Exclusive Interview with Gus Van Harten. You can access Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

I recently picked up a copy of Francis Fukuyama's 2011 book, The Origins of Political Order. Sitting on the bedside table at the house I was staying at, the book made for some 'light' bedtime reading. I heaved the enormous tome onto my lap and, opening it to a random page, read this alarming passage: 

There is no rule of law in China today: the Chinese Communist Party does not accept the authority of any other institution in China as superior to it or able to overturn its decisions. Although the People's Republic of China has a constitution, the party makes the constitution rather than the reverse. If the current Chinese government wanted to nationalize all existing foreign investments, or renationalize the holdings of private individuals and return the country to Maoism, there is no legal framework preventing it from doing so (Pg 248)

My concerns with China's treatment of foreign investments arose in light of China's recent bid for Nexen, a Canadian company with large holdings in the Alberta tar sands. Since Canada is having trouble with the management of the tar sands now, what would it look like if we had Chinese state-owned enterprises like the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) in the mix?

It turns out the problem is of magnitudes greater than I had originally conceived, and concerns not only Canada's management of its resources, but its sovereignty, its democracy, and the protection of the rights and values of its citizens.

Perhaps most strikingly, Canada is embracing this threat, showing telltale signs the real culprit in this dangerous deal isn't China at all.

In order to untangle the web of an international trade deal as complex as the China-Canada Investment Treaty, which establishes the terms of the Nexen deal - the biggest overseas takeover by a Chinese company -  I spoke with Professor Gus Van Harten of Osgoode Law School, an expert on foreign investment deals of this sort.

Below is Part 1 of our interview:

Thu, 2012-10-11 10:45Carol Linnitt
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Foreign Funding? So Glad You Asked: Enbridge Renews Attack Against Canadian Environmental Groups

Enbridge recently launched a renewed attack on Canadian environmental organizations, demanding the panel overseeing the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearing squeeze funding information from the project's critics.

In early 2012, a campaign - coordinated by the conservative government, the oil industry and the astroturf Ethical Oil Institute - sought to undermine the credibility of groups opposing the pipeline by suggesting they are “foreign interest groups” that “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda” as Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver so forcefully put it.

Now Enbridge is renewing that egregious attack by requesting the panel investigate funding granted to Canadian environmental groups from a number of prominent American foundations renowned for their work in social and environmental equity, including poverty reduction, aboriginal issues, conservation, resource management, international development, and children and peace initiatives.

But Enbridge's ploy to redirect public attention away from tar sands, pipeline and oil spill issues toward the meddling of foreign interests in Canadian affairs is misguided, to say the least. The lion's share of foreign funding that guides the Canadian resource economy does not come in the form of conservation or environmental efforts: it comes through foreign investment in the resource sector.

And in the instance of the tar sands and related pipelines, foreign investments can be a politically, environmentally and socially dangerous affair.

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