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Sun, 2014-08-31 11:00Mike Gaworecki
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Is California’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan Really About Conservation?

To understand what California Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan is all about, you have to understand a bit of history.

Back in 1982, once and future governor Jerry Brown pushed through a plan to build a canal that would divert water from the Sacramento River before it gets to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in order to feed the voracious appetite for water among farmers in California’s Central Valley and municipalities in Southern California.

The canal plan was defeated by a state-wide referendum in a stinging rebuke of Brown’s plan. Californians’ objections were based largely on concerns about the impact it would have on the fragile estuary ecosystem of the delta.

Now, 30 years later, the same Governor Jerry Brown is pushing for the same plan, but he wants to build two tunnels instead of a canal, and is estimated to cost between $25 billion and $54 billion. Many Californians are once again questioning the wisdom of Brown’s plan, especially environmentalists, who worry that if you take away the Sacramento River — which supplies some 80% of fresh water to the delta — you will do irreparable harm to the estuary.

There’s a larger concern, too: Many Californians feel that, at a time of record drought, when we’re all being asked to think about how much water we’re consuming and make a concerted effort to use less, those billions in taxpayer money would be better spent upgrading outdated infrastructure to ensure we’re using water more efficiently and lowering our overall water usage.

Sun, 2014-08-31 05:00Farron Cousins
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Swapping Farmland For Coal Trains: Union Pacific’s Texas Land Grab

Railroad giant Union Pacific has some big plans for a tiny Texas community.  According to locals in the Brazos River Valley, the railroad company is hoping to turn some of the most fertile farmland in Texas into a massive, 72-line rail yard.

Union Pacific’s plan would consume as much as 1,800 acres of farmland in the region, effectively putting numerous family-owned farming operations out of business.  The toxic loads that Union Pacific’s trains would be hauling in and out of the area on a daily basis would then threaten the remaining farms in the region.

The Brazos River Valley, named after the Brazos River, is considered some of the richest farmland in the state, thanks to the city’s namesake river feeding fresh water and nutrients to the area.  Taking this land out of the hands of farmers — many of whom are the descendants of early generation of farm settlers in the area — would not only have devastating effects on the local economy, but they could also put a huge hole in the nation’s food supply.

But Union Pacific is not concerned with the well being of the Brazos Valley community or their environment, and they are hoping to move forward with their plan.  And the land grab only represents half of the danger. 

According to a letter from the Brazos River Bottom Alliance that was sent to state and federal representatives, there will be no environmental review of the project:

Fri, 2014-08-29 05:00Mike Gaworecki
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Stealth Carbon Bombs Stopped In Their Tracks

North America is now the biggest producer of oil in the world thanks largely to Canada’s tar sands and North Dakota’s Bakken shale, and West Coast refineries are looking to cash in.

But not all crude is created equal, and oil companies hoping to import tar sands oil and Bakken crude — known as “cost-advantaged crude” in industry parlance — are deliberately disguising the true nature of upgrades they’re making to their facilities in California when seeking the necessary permits from regulatory agencies or speaking about the projects to the public.

“We’re seeing this all over the state,” says Yana Garcia, a staff attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

CBE, which is one of several green groups calling out refineries that appear to be acting in bad faith, was notified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District last Friday that the permitting process for a Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, CA had been put on hold after the group filed numerous comments in opposition to the “negative declaration” the SCAQMD had made.

A “negative declaration” is essentially a rubber stamp ruling from the regulatory body, meaning it agreed with Tesoro that no significant impacts to the environment and human health were likely and the oil company could go ahead with its plans to build a new shipyard pipeline which, the company said, was only intended to speed up offloading of crude from ships to shore-based storage tanks.

In a press release, CBE explains:

There was no mention of the corrosive and explosive crude oils Tesoro plans to import, or its plans to combine its Wilmington refining operation with its newly acquired BP refinery in Carson; omitting major increases in greenhouse gases that result from tar sands crude oil refining, and other key impacts. Based on Tesoro’s omissions, the environmental document for the project incorrectly concluded that there was not even the potential for significant impacts.


At its best, it’s just business being business, they want to get these crudes out to the refineries and start profiting from them,” Yana Garcia says. “At its worst, that gaming of the system is essentially about lying to the public and letting these pretty nasty projects go through in predominantly low-income communities of color.”

Tue, 2014-08-26 07:30Mike Gaworecki
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Oil Industry Front Group Sets Sights On Santa Barbara County Measure That Would Ban “Extreme Oil Extraction”

Local activists in California’s Santa Barbara County have placed Measure P on the November ballot to ban “extreme oil extraction” practices such as fracking, acidization, and steam injection over concerns that they make global warming worse, cause earthquakes, pollute aquifers, and waste massive amounts of water at a time when the state is experiencing extreme drought.

The LA Times label for these same practices is a bit less rhetorically provocative: the paper calls them “high intensity petroleum operations.”

But according to Jim Byrne, a spokesman for Santa Barbara County Coalition Against the Oil and Gas Shutdown Initiative, which is running a No On Measure P campaign, both “extreme oil extraction” and “high intensity oil operations” are labels applied by activists seeking to ban practices that have been used in the county “for the past 50 years.”

The real purpose of Measure P? “It’s a shutdown initiative,” Byrne argues.

Byrne is echoing the sentiments of many in the oil industry who argue that Measure P would effectively end all oil operations in Santa Barbara County despite the measure being explicitly worded to allow existing projects to continue operating.

Mon, 2014-08-25 13:58Farron Cousins
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BP Wins Big In Offshore Oil Drilling Lease Auction

For all of his administration’s tough talk on protecting our environment, President Obama doesn’t seem to have any problem increasing the nation’s dependence on dirty energy.  Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced plans to open up an astounding 112 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration, setting a bidding war in motion for some of the worst environmental offenders in America.

It should come as no surprise then to find out that the big winner in the lease auction earlier this month was BP, the main culprit behind the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) put 21.6 million acres up for auction, with area blocks ranging everywhere from 9 miles offshore, to 250 miles offshore.  Overall, the auction brought in close to $110 million, with as much as 90 million acres still waiting to be auctioned off.

BP bid on a total of 31 lots, and was successful in winning 27 of those lots, more than any other energy company.  The company had previously been barred from bidding on new oil and gas exploration leases following the 2010 Macondo well blowout, but that ban was lifted in March of this year.

Many of the areas that the company won are for deepwater exploration, an unpleasant scenario for areas of the Gulf Coast still reeling from the company’s 2010 disaster.

But the British oil giant BP plc has very little to fear with their new leases, even if another blowout were to occur, and that’s the part of the story that has been routinely missed by the media. 

Wed, 2014-08-20 07:00Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn
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Big Rail Cites Bin Laden, Al Qaeda to Fend Off Oil-by-Rail Route Transparency

While many states around the U.S. have released information to the public about the frequency and routes of trains carrying oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, holdouts still remain. 

Why the delay? Homeland security concerns, claim some companies. 

In an ongoing Maryland court case over the issue of transparency for in-state oil-by-rail routes, a July 23 affidavit from Carl E. Carbaugh — director of infrastructure security for Norfolk Southern — goes into extensive detail about the supposed risk presented by terrorism attacks on “Bomb Trains.” 

In so doing, Carbaugh mentions Al-Qaeda. 

The most recent edition of Inspire magazine, March 2014, the online, English-language propaganda publication of [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], presents a full-page collage depicting varied images…in order to construct an explosive device,” reads Carbaugh’s affidavit

Among these images are a derailed passenger train and a partly covered note paper listing cities in the [U.S.] as well as the terms ‘Dakota’ and ‘Train crude oil.’” 

Carbaugh also cited Osama bin Laden, the late Al-Qaeda international ring-leader, in his affidavit.

Among the materials seized in the May 1, 2011, raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were notes indicating interest in ‘tipping’ or ‘toppling’ trains — that is causing their derailment,” Carbaugh wrote.

Osama Bin Laden Compound Diagram; Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fri, 2014-08-01 06:00Mike Gaworecki
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Fracking Is Making California’s Drought Worse, Say Activists

California is in the middle of an epic water shortage, with nearly 80% of the state experiencing “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions. Check out this animated map to get a sense of how extensively the drought has impacted the Golden State.

Things have gotten so bad that California enlisted Lady Gaga to record a public service announcement (PSA)

Given the situation, anti-fracking activists say it’s time for Governor Jerry Brown to put a stop to water-intensive fracking, claiming that the controversial oil and gas production method is exacerbating the problem.

“We’re talking about a triple threat to our water from fracking,” says Adam Scow, the California Director for Food & Water Watch.

The first threat: The fracking process requires a lot of water, which then becomes unsuitable for any other use.

While it’s true that fracking in California doesn’t require as much water as it does in Texas and Pennsylvania, Scow contends that any amount lost to fracking is unacceptable: “In the middle of the worst drought in 50 years, they’re taking 140,000 to 150,000 gallons of water out of the water cycle per frack job. They’re destroying that amount of water on a daily basis.”

It’s also possible that fracking fluid could leach into underground aquifers, and of course the toxic wastewater left over from fracking has to be disposed of somehow — and therein lies the second threat to California’s water supply.

The California Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources (known as DOGGR) recently ordered 11 fracked wells shut down over fears that they were contaminating potential sources of potable water. As many as 100 other fracking sites are under review, as well.


An unlined pit of unknown neon green fluid leading to a fracking injection well. This pit is in the middle of almond fields and chicken coops. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

Mon, 2014-07-28 16:00Farron Cousins
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Has The Gulf Of Mexico Hit Peak Oil?

There are enough articles on the “myth of peak oil” floating around the Internet to fill a book; and there are enough books on the subject to fill a small library.  One of the common threads throughout these publications is their lack of credible sources, because not only is peak oil real, but we’re rapidly approaching that threshold. 

An example that is smacking the United States and the oil industry in the face right now is floating in the Gulf of Mexico. 

According to a new government report, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf has been steadily declining for the last decade. The report looked at oil production in the Gulf of Mexico on federal lands only, not any privately-held lands where production is taking place. Since 2010, according to the report, the annual yield of oil from the Gulf has fallen by almost 140 million barrels. 

While the Gulf region still accounts for 69% of U.S. oil produced on federal lands, the dramatic decline in production tells a story that the oil industry doesn’t want us to hear.  Peak oil is clearly beginning to play a role in U.S. exploration.

Contrary to what some of the peak oil deniers want the public to believe, peak oil does not mean that we’re about to run out of oil. What it means is that the United States is running out of easily accessible, financially viable oil. As that easy to retrieve oil disappears, companies have to drill deeper and deeper or in otherwise inaccessible places in order to get their oil. 

This makes the process much more expensive and drives costs up to the point that profits are hard to come by. And this is what we’re beginning to see in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mon, 2014-07-21 14:26Justin Mikulka
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Maine Residents Fight American Petroleum Institute Lobbyists Over Ban on Tar Sands Shipments

Portland, Maine, has become the latest battleground in the fight against tar sands oil, with local residents facing off against energy industry forces in an attempt to ban tar sands oil from the city’s port.

The South Portland Clear Skies Ordinance, would ban tar sands oil from being loaded on to ships at the local port. City council will take a final vote on the measure today.

Three weeks ago, about 200 people attended a presentation on the proposed ordinance, many wearing blue “clear skies” t-shirts to show their support. Only three people spoke against the ordinance at that meeting.

But on July 7, when many of the same 200 people in blue t-shirts showed up at the meeting when the city council was set to vote on the ordinance, they were met with a surprise. The meeting room was packed with people in red shirts that read “American Energy” on the front and “SoPo Jobs” on the back.

Wed, 2014-07-02 10:42Carol Linnitt
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PHOTOS: Famed Photographer Alex MacLean’s New Photos of Canada’s Oilsands are Shocking

Alex MacLean, oilsands, keystone xl, tar sands

Alex MacLean is one of America’s most famed and iconic aerial photographers. His perspective on human structures, from bodies sunbathing at the beach to complex, overlapping highway systems, always seems to hint at a larger symbolic meaning hidden in the mundane. By photographing from above, MacLean shows the sequences and patterns of human activity, including the scope of our impact on natural systems. His work reminds us of the law of proximity: the things closest to us are often the hardest to see.

Recently MacLean traveled to the Alberta oilsands in western Canada. There, working with journalist Dan Grossman, MacLean used his unique eye to capture some new and astounding images of one of the world’s largest industrial projects. Their work, funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will form part of a larger, forthcoming report for GlobalPost.

DeSmog Canada caught up with MacLean to ask him about his experience photographing one of Canada’s most politicized resources and the source of the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines.

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