Department of Energy

Tue, 2013-09-03 14:37Steve Horn
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"Frackademia" By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

With the school year starting for many this week, it's another year of academia for professors across the United States - and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law. 

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”). 

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.” 

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding - $100 million per year - between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling. 

The Energy Policy Act of 2005's ”Halliburton Loophole” - which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” - is by far the bill's most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush's cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Tue, 2013-08-06 06:00Steve Horn
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Fracking's Myriad Ties to Flawed State Dept Keystone XL Environmental Review

fracking keystone xl pipeline ERM

Most don't think of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) when pondering the future of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline - but they should. 

There are numerous ties between key members of the fracking industry and groups pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. And these threads all lead back, one way or another, to Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group).

ERM Group did the official U.S. State Department's environmental review for Keystone XL pipeline. The review, published in March 2013, determined the pipeline will have negligible climate change impacts (the review dealt with the northern segment of the pipeline as the southern half, now known as the “Gulf Coast Pipeline,” received an expedited Executive Order permit by President Barack Obama in March 2012).

ERM is also a paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on Keystone XL since June 2008

In its bid to provide the environmental review for the Keystone XL pipeline, ERM overtly lied on its conflict-of-interest form, saying it has no current business ties to TransCanada. ERM has an ongoing consulting relationship with the company responsible for the Alaska South Central LNG Project, also known as Alaska Gas Pipeline Project. The company, South Central LNG, is co-owned by TransCanada.

On top of lying about its current business ties, ERM stated on the conflict-of-interest form it had no “direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.” In so doing, ERM may have broken federal law - 18 USC § 1001 - by making a false claim on a federal contract.

The State Department's Office of Inspector General has officially launched an inquiry into how and why State overlooked ERM's omission, allowing ERM to potentially commit a crime. 

In addition to potentially fraudulent claims about its connection to TransCanada, ERM also has significant ties to major gas industry groups and major players supporting the fracking boom in the US.

Fri, 2013-06-28 14:21Sharon Kelly
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Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz Relies on Dubious Coal Tech for Obama Climate Strategy

The key takeaway from President Obama's major climate change announcement this week was his intent to batten down on coal. But if history is any indication, the man Mr. Obama selected to run the Department of Energy may have different plans.

Ernest J. Moniz has a long history of supporting coal-powered electricity, staking his arguments in favor of coal on a technology that remains entirely unproven: carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Mr. Moniz will be in a uniquely influential position when it comes to confronting these problems. President Obama announced that he would rely on executive agencies instead of Congress, so Mr. Moniz's Energy Department will play a crucial role in determining precisely how Obama’s strategy is administered.  

The day after Obama's speech, Moniz told Congress  “the President advocates an all-of-the-above energy strategy and I am very much in tune with this.”

What’s wrong with an all-of-the-above strategy? It extends reliance on fossil fuels, at a time when scientists warn that we can only burn twenty percent of current reserves before the world tips past the crucial 2 degree Celsius point. Beyond two degrees, some of the most devastating impacts of global warming will be felt. Keep in mind that, if all of the world’s coal is burned, global temperatures could rise by a jaw-dropping 15 degrees Celsius, a study published in the prestigious journal Nature last year concluded.

The stakes, when it comes to controlling American greenhouse gas emissions, are huge.

Sat, 2013-05-18 06:00Steve Horn
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Friday Trash Dump: Obama DOE Approves 2nd Fracked Gas LNG Export Terminal

Friday is the proverbial “take out the trash day” for the release of bad news among public relations practitioners and this Friday was no different. 

In that vein, yesterday the Obama Department of Energy (DOEannounced a conditional approval of the second-ever LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal. 

LNG is the super-chilled final product of gas obtained - predominantly in today's context - via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process taking place within shale deposits located throughout the U.S. Fracked gas is shipped from the multitude of domestic shale basins in pipelines to various coastal LNG terminals, and then sent on LNG tankers to the global market.

The name of the terminal: Freeport LNG.

Freeport LNG is 50-percent owned by ConocoPhillips and located in Freeport, Texas, an hour-long car ride south of Houston. The export facility is the second one approved by the Obama DOE, with the first one - the Sabine Pass terminal, owned by Cheniere and located in Sabine Pass, Louisiana - approved in May 2011

DOE gave its rubber stamp of approval to Freeport LNG to export up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of LNG per day from its terminal. 

Tue, 2013-04-09 05:00Steve Horn
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Ties That Bind: Ernest Moniz, Keystone XL Contractor, American Petroleum Institute and Fracked Gas Exports

Congress will review the Obama Administration's nomination of Ernest Moniz for Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) in hearings that start today, April 9.

Moniz has come under fire for his outspoken support of nuclear power, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas and the overarching “all-of-the-above” energy policy advocated by both President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent in the last election, Mitt Romney

Watchdogs have also discovered that Moniz has worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He has also received the “frackademic” label for his time spent at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At his MIT job, Moniz regularly accepted millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry to sponsor studies under the auspices of The MIT Energy Initiative, which has received over $145 million over its seven-year history from the oil and gas industry. 

MIT's “The Future of Natural Gas” report, covered by many mainstream media outlets without any effort to question who bankrolled it, was funded chiefly by the American Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for the shale gas industry's number two domestic producer, Chesapeake Energy. That report concluded that gas is a “bridge fuel” for a renewable energy future and said that shale gas exports were in the best economic interests of the United States, which should “not erect barriers to natural gas imports and exports.” 

As first revealed on DeSmogBlog, Moniz is also on the Board of Directors of ICF International, one of the three corporate consulting firms tasked to perform the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) for TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. KXL is slated to bring tar sands - also known as “diluted bitumen,” or “dilbit” - from Alberta to Port Arthur, TX, where it will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market

Moniz earned over $300,000 in financial compensation in his two years sitting on the Board at ICF, plus whatever money his 10,000+ shares of ICF stock have earned him. 

Tue, 2013-01-22 13:38Steve Horn
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Keystone XL North: TransCanada's Controversial Shale Gas Export Pipeline Plan

The battle continues over the future of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, with the Tar Sands Blockade continuing and a large forthcoming President's Day anti-Keystone XL rally set to take place in Washington, DC.

In a nutshell: Keystone XL, if approved by the U.S. State Department, will carry viscous and dirty tar sands crude - also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta, Canada down to Port Arthur, TX. From Port Arthur, the tar sands crude will be exported to the global market

Muddying the waters on the decision is the fact that The Calgary Herald recently revealed that prospective Secretary of State, John Kerry, has financial investments in two tar sands corporations: Suncor and Cenovus. Kerry has $750,000 invested in Suncor and another $31,000 invested in Cenovus. 

Which of course all begs the question: Is this another episode of State Department Oil Services all over again?

Mon, 2012-11-19 17:43Steve Horn
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Revealed: NERA Economic Consulting is Third Party Contractor for DOE LNG Export Study

Reuters has revealed the identity of the mysterious third party contractor tasked to publish the economic impact study on LNG (liquefied natural gas) exports on behalf of the Department of Energy (DOE). Its name: NERA Economic Consulting.

NERA” is shorthand for National Economic Research Associates, an economic consulting firm SourceWatch identifies as the entity that published a June 2011 report on behalf of coal industry front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). ACCCE's report concluded, “clean-air rules proposed by the Obama administration would cost utilities $17.8 billion annually and raise electricity rates 11.5 percent on average in 2016.”

That report went so far to say that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations of the coal-generated electrcity sector would amount to some 1.5 million lost jobs over the next four years.

NERA was founded by Irwin Stelzer, senior fellow and director of the right-wing Hudson Institute’s Center for Economic Policy. In Oct. 2004, The Guardian described Stelzer as the “right-hand man of Rupert Murdoch,” the CEO of News Corp., which owns Fox News. 

According to NERA's website, the late Alfred E. Kahn, the “father of deregulation,” advised NERA's 1961 foundation

Sat, 2012-11-17 12:21Steve Horn
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Former Clinton and Bush Cabinet Members, Now Oil and Gas Lobbyists, Expect Keystone XL Green Light

The Tar Sands Blockade of TransCanada Corporation's “Keystone XL South” continues in Texas, but former members of the Clinton and George W. Bush cabinets believe the northern half will soon be green-lighted by President Barack Obama. 

In a Nov. 13 conference call led by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), an oil and gas industry front group, CEA Counsel John Northington said he believes a “Keystone XL North” rubber stamp is in the works by the Obama Administration. 

I think the Keystone will be approved in fairly short order by the administration,” Northington said on the call.

Northington has worn many hats during his long career:

[He] served in the Clinton Administration at the Department of the Interior as Senior Advisor to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management with energy policy responsibility for the former Minerals Management Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington began his government service at the Department of Energy, where he served as White House Liaison, Chief of Staff for the Office of Fossil Energy and Senior Advisor for Oil and Natural Gas Policy.

After his tenure working for the Clinton Administration, he walked through the revolving door and became a lobbyist, representing many clients over the past decade, including the oil and gas industry. Northington has represented ExxonMobil, Devon Energy, CONSOL Energy, and Statoil. ExxonMobil, Devon and Statoil all have a major stake in the tar sands. 

Fri, 2012-09-07 03:00Farron Cousins
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Return Of The Republican Gas Price Lies

After many weeks of silence, Republican politicians and the dirty energy industry have re-launched their attacks on President Obama and Democrats over the price of gasoline. The silence from these groups was the result of a price drop for most of the summer, but a price increase over the last few weeks has once again caused the old familiar, and debunked, talking points about Obama raising gas prices to resurface.

Leading the charge is the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which this week issued a press release claiming that “Democrats aren’t working” for America because gas prices are at an all-time high. Their solution? Immediately approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Wed, 2012-05-02 10:04Steve Horn
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ALEC Wasn't First Industry Trojan Horse Behind Fracking Disclosure Bill - Enter Council of State Governments

19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.

State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.

On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.

A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.

The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.

Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, ColoradoPennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill. 

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