Obama administration

California State of Emergency: Up To 105,000 Gallons of Oil Spill in Santa Barbara from Plains All American Pipeline

Up to 105,000 gallons of oil obtained via offshore drilling have spilled from a pipeline owned by Plains All American at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County in California. At least 21,000 gallons have poured into the Pacific Ocean and the spill's impacts stretch nine miles, according to the Associated Press.

US Could Slash Global Warming Emissions By Curbing Fossil Fuels Extraction On Public Lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior this week announced new fracking regulations that will serve as the only federal rules enforcing any kind of safety measures on the controversial drilling technique when they go into effect in a few months.

The rules only apply to oil and gas wells on public lands, however, and most fracking is done on private or state-owned land. The Obama Administration says it is hoping to set an example for states to follow when setting their own fracking standards, but if that’s the case, the federal government actually has plenty of opportunity to lead by example when it comes to reining in carbon emissions from fossil fuel development.

According to a new report by the Center for American Progress and The Wilderness Society, there is “a blind spot in U.S. efforts to address climate change.” Fossil fuel extraction on public lands, the source of almost 30% of U.S. energy production, is responsible for more than a fifth of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon equivalent of having 280 million more cars on the road. But the DOI “has no comprehensive plan to measure, monitor, and reduce the total volume of GHG emissions that result from the leasing and development of federal energy resources.”

“The Department of the Interior has long been in the business of approving well after well, mine after mine, without assessing the impacts of its energy policies on U.S. carbon pollution levels,” Matt Lee-Ashley, senior fellow and director of the public lands project at the Center for American Progress, told FuelFix.

Public Interest Groups File FOIA Request To Compel Disclosure Of Crude Oil Export Ban Exceptions

Last month, DeSmogBlog broke the news that the Obama Administration was quietly letting oil companies export crude under the guise of “exceptions” to the crude oil export ban.

Now a coalition of public interest groups including Earthjustice, Oil Change International, and Sightline Institute says the public has a right to know what criteria the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) used in determining which crude oil streams were exempt from the ban, and has filed a Freedom Of Information Act request to find out.

With the price of oil cratering and that trend not likely to reverse soon thanks in large part to the glut of production in the US, oil companies are desperate to sell their crude on the global market, where it can potentially fetch higher prices. The catch, of course, is the crude oil export ban, a policy that’s been in place since 1975.

The oil industry has apparently decided that its usual means of influencing public policy—lobbying and advertising to sway public opinion in its favor—would take too much time and money, as Justin Mikulka wrote here on DeSmog.

So if you are the oil industry, you innovate. You call the oil you are producing condensate, get the regulators at the little known Bureau of Industry and Security to agree to not define what condensate actually is and then have them tell you that you as an industry are free to “self classify” your oil as condensate and export it.

Problem solved. Billions in profits made.

Obama Administration Hopes Third Time’s A Charm For Chukchi Sea Lease Despite Major Risks

The US Department of the Interior released the final supplemental environmental impact statement for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 yesterday, continuing to move the process of affirming the leases originally sold in 2008 forward despite acknowledging the major risks of allowing drilling in the Arctic.

The story of the US government's attempts to sell off its stake in the Arctic Ocean to oil companies eager to exploit the oil reserves beneath the waters is a strange and sordid saga.

The Bush Administration originally leased 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea for oil drilling in 2008 while relying on incomplete information about the local wildlife. A judge with the Federal District Court in Alaska determined the leases violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) in 2010.

The judge ordered the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to reconsider the leases, but a year later, the Obama Administration made the decision to let them stand and issued the first Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 in 2011.

In January of 2014, the Court Of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled once again that the leases violated the law by failing to adequately consider the potentially catastrophic effects of drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. A new draft analysis was released by BOEM in October 2014, and this time it conceded that there was a 75% chance of one or more large oil spills (defined as more than 1,000 barrels) occurring if the leases were developed.

In response, the environmental group Earthjustice issued a statement saying, “There is no way effectively to clean up or contain an oil spill in Arctic Ocean conditions.” The group also says that millions of Americans responded to the draft analysis by calling on the Obama Administration to stop drilling in the Arctic Ocean once and for all.

Instead, BOEM released the second final supplemental environmental impact statement, marking the federal government’s third attempt to justify Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 even while acknowledging how disastrous oil drilling in the region could be. Environmentalists were quick to point out that the new analysis did not correct the problems identified in the initial draft.

“Today’s impact statement confirms again that drilling in the Chukchi Sea puts Arctic people and wildlife at risk from major oil spills,” Earthjustice staff attorney Erik Grafe said in a statement. “It concludes there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major oil spills if the Chukchi Sea is developed, and there is no way to clean or contain such a spill.”

Social Cost Of Carbon Drastically Underestimated: Report

The U.S. government could be drastically underestimating how much climate change is going to cost us, according to a study published by Stanford researchers in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers concluded that the Obama Administration is using a Social Cost of Carbon estimate that may be just one-sixth of the true cost—and that the true cost is high enough to justify aggressive measures for lowering emissions enough to limit global temperature rise to the 2 degrees Celsius that scientists tell us is the threshold for averting catastrophic climate change.

The Social Cost of Carbon is an official estimate of how much economic damage will be caused per metric ton of carbon emitted into our atmosphere—damages like lower crop yields and higher healthcare costs. It is used by the EPA and other federal agencies to calculate the benefits of policies intended to improve energy efficiency, lower emissions, and combat climate change. It is also often used to justify not taking action if the proposed action would cost more than the damage it is intended to mitigate.

The Obama Administration raised its official estimate of the economic cost of a metric ton of CO2 from $21 to $37 in November 2013. Even back then, however, many experts challenged that estimate as far too low.

According to the team at Stanford, that estimate was way too low—they calculate the true Social Cost of Carbon as $220 per metric ton.

Obama Signals Keystone XL "No" on Colbert Report As Enbridge "KXL Clone" He Permitted Opens

In his December 8 “Colbert Report” appearance, President Barack Obama gave his strongest signal yet that he may reject a presidential permit authorizing the Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Yet just a week earlier, and little noticed by comparison, the pipeline giant Enbridge made an announcement that could take the sails out of some of the excitement displayed by Obama's “Colbert Report” remarks on Keystone XL North. That is, Enbridge's “Keystone XL Clone” is now officially open for business

“Keystone XL Clone,” as first coined here on DeSmogBlog, consists of three parts: the U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline; the Flanagan, Illinois to Cushing Flanagan South pipeline; and the Cushing to Freeport, Texas Seaway Twin pipeline.

Enbridge announced that Flanagan South and its Seaway Twin connection are now pumping tar sands crude through to the Gulf of Mexico, meaning game on for tar sands to flow from Alberta to the Gulf through Enbridge's pipeline system.

Alberta Clipper, now rebranded Line 67, was authorized by Hillary Clinton on behalf of the Obama State Department in August 2009 and got a quasi-official permit to expand its capacity by the State Department over the summer. That permit is now being contested in federal court by environmental groups.

Flanagan South, meanwhile, exists due to a legally contentious array of close to 2,000 Nationwide Permit 12 permits handed out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which — as with Alberta Clipper expansion — has helped Enbridge usurp the more democratic and transparent National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process

Like Canada's Harper Government, Obama Administration Muzzling Its Scientists

In recent years, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come under fire for disallowing scientists working for the Canadian government to speak directly to the press

An article published in August by The New Republic said “Harper's antagonism toward climate-change experts in his government may sound familiar to Americans,” pointing to similar deeds done by the George W. Bush Administration. That article also said that “Bush's replacement,” President Barack Obama, “has reversed course” in this area.

Society for Professional Journalists, the largest trade association for professional journalists in the U.S., disagrees with this conclusion. 

In a December 1 letter written to Gina McCarthy, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the society chided the Obama administration for its methods of responding to journalists' queries to speak to EPA-associated scientists. 

“We write to urge you again to clarify that members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the twenty other EPA science advisory committees have the right and are encouraged to speak to the public and the press about any scientific issues, including those before these committees, in a personal capacity without prior authorization from the agency,” said the letter.

“We urge you…to ensure that EPA advisory committee members are encouraged share their expertise and opinions with those who would benefit from it.”

Introducing "Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat"

DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn and Republic Report's Lee Fang have co-written an in-depth report on the influence the government-industry revolving door has had on Big Oil's ability to obtain four liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits since 2012 from the Obama Administration.

Titled “Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat,” the report published here on DeSmogBlog and on Republic Report serves as the launching pad of an ongoing investigation. It will act as the prelude of an extensive series of articles by both websites uncovering the LNG exports influence peddling machine. 

The report not only exposes the lobbying apparatus that has successfully opened the door for LNG exports, but also the PR professionals paid to sell them to the U.S. public. It also exposes those who have gone through the “reverse revolving door,” moving from industry back to government and sometimes back again.

It reveals that many former Obama Administration officials now work as lobbyists or PR professionals on behalf of the LNG exports industry, as do many former Bush Administration officials. So too do those with ties to potential 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. 

They include:

Gulf-Bound Tar Sands for Export? Follow the Oiltanking Trail

The U.S. Senate failed to get the necessary 60 votes to approve the northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, but incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) already promised it will get another vote when the GOP-dominated Senate begins its new session in 2015.

Though the bill failed, one of the key narratives that arose during the congressional debate was the topic of whether or not the tar sands product that may flow through it will ultimately be exported to the global market. President Barack Obama, when queried by the press about the latest Keystone congressional action, suggested tar sands exports are the KXL line's raison d'etre.

Obama's comments struck a nerve. Bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and supporter U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) both stood on the Senate floor and said Keystone XL is not an export pipeline in the minutes leading up to the bill's failure.

“Contrary to the ranting of some people that this is for export…Keystone is not for export,” said Landrieu, with Hoeven making similar remarks.

But a DeSmog probe into a recent merger of two major oil and gas industry logistics and marketing companies, Oiltanking Partners and Enterprise Products Partners, has demonstrated key pieces of the puzzle are already being put together by Big Oil to make tar sands exports a reality. 

And both Keystone XL and Enbridge's “Keystone XL Clone” serve as key thoroughfares for making it happen.

Rail CEOs to Investors: "Bomb Trains" Safe At Almost Any Speed

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) recently said it would proceed with plans to increase speeds for oil-by-rail unit trains in Devil’s Lake, N.D. to 60 MPH from 30 MPH, despite opposition from local officials

BNSF’s announcement came merely a week after the Obama Administration announced its proposed regulations for trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin.  

The rail industry’s position on speed limits for “bomb trains” is simple: they continuously claim velocity has nothing to do with oil-by-rail accidents or safety.

For example, Big Rail — as revealed by DeSmogBlog — lobbied against all proposed oil train speed reductions in its dozen or so private meetings at the Obama White House before the unveiling of the proposed oil-by-rail regulations. 

Recent statements by rail industry CEOs during investor calls put the heads of many companies on record opposing oil-by-rail speed limits for the first time.

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