President Obama

Wed, 2014-04-16 13:09Sharon Kelly
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Study Finds Methane Leaks 1,000 Times EPA Estimates During Marcellus Drilling

This week, a United Nations panel on climate change issued one of its most urgent warnings to date, explaining that unless major changes to greenhouse gas emissions are made within the next few years, it will become extraordinarily difficult to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.

We cannot afford to lose another decade,” Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee, told The New York Times

With the time to cut emissions running out, the Obama administration has seized upon the hope that greenhouse gasses can be cut dramatically by switching from coal to natural gas, because gas gives off half as much carbon dioxide as coal when it’s burned. Indeed, when the EPA published its annual greenhouse gas inventory this Tuesday, it credited a switch from coal to natural gas with helping to cut carbon emissions nationwide.

But a new scientific paper, also published Tuesday in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, further upends the notion that the current shale gas drilling rush is truly helping the U.S. cut its total greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, the evidence suggests, the Obama administration has understated the full climate impacts of natural gas, focusing too much on only carbon dioxide and failing to take into account another key greenhouse gas: methane.

The paper, the first to directly measure methane plumes above natural gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, recorded methane leaks far more powerful than EPA estimates. Methane is especially important because its global warming effects are at their strongest during the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere — in other words, during the small window of time identified as crucial by the U.N.’s climate panel.

Tue, 2014-03-18 06:00Sharon Kelly
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A Record Year of Oil Train Accidents Leaves Insurers Wary

Spurred by the shale drilling rush that has progressed at breakneck speed, the railroad industry has moved fast to help drillers transport petroleum and its byproducts to consumers. Last year, trains hauled over 400,000 carloads of crude oil, up from just 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to railroad industry estimates.  Each carload represents roughly 30,000 gallons of flammable liquids, and some trains haul over 100 oil cars at a time.

But with this fast expansion has come some astounding risks — risks that have insurance companies and underwriters increasingly concerned.

A string of oil train explosions have highlighted the potential for harm. A train hauling 2.9 million gallons of Bakken oil derailed and exploded on November 8 in Aliceville, Alabama, and the oil that leaked but did not burn continues to foul the wetlands in the area.

On December 30th, a train collision in Casselton, North Dakota 20 miles outside of Fargo, prompted a mass evacuation of over half the town’s residents after 18 cars exploded into fireballs visible for miles. 400,000 gallons of oil spilled after that accident, which involved two trains traveling well below local speed limits.

Those crashes are all on the radar of the insurance industry,” attorney Dean Hansell recently told Law360.

All told, railcar accidents spilled more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013, federal data shows, compared with an average of just 22,000 gallons a year from 1975 through 2012 — a fifty-fold spike.

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:59Sharon Kelly
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Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“It's our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We're expecting to hear the same conclusion that we've heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”

Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.

In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House.  This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.

While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.

There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.

The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.

Thu, 2013-11-07 09:00Sharon Kelly
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Could California's Shale Oil Boom Be Just a Mirage?

Since the shale rush took off starting in 2005 in Texas, drillers have sprinted from one state to the next, chasing the promise of cheaper, easier, more productive wells. This land rush was fueled by a wild spike in natural gas prices that helped make shale gas drilling attractive even though the costs of fracking were high.

As the selling price of natural gas sank from its historic highs in 2008, much of the luster wore off entire regions that had initially captivated investors, like Louisiana’s Haynesville shale or Arkansas’s Fayetteville, now in decline.

But unlike natural gas prices, oil prices remain high to this day, and investors and policymakers alike remain dazzled by the heady promise of oil from shale rock. Oil and gas companies have wrung significant amounts of black gold from shale oil plays like Texas’s Eagle Ford and North Dakota’s Bakken.

Shale oil, they say, is the next big thing.

“After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future,” President Obama said in his most recent State of the Union address. “We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”

But once again, the reality may be nothing like the hype. Consider California.

Wed, 2013-10-09 05:00Steve Horn
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Obama's Former Communications Director Anita Dunn Pitches "Ethical Oil" Keystone XL Ad

Ezra Levant is the man behind an attempt to re-frame the Alberta tar sands as “ethical oil.” “Ethical” - Levant's deceptive public relations campaign argues of the tar sands “carbon bomb” - because it doesn't come from the war-ridden and human rights-abusing Middle East. 

Now, the “ethical oil” campaign has a new backer: Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama and current Principal of SKDKnickerbocker, a public relations firm with offices in Washington, D.C.; New York City and Albany.

SKDK - as covered here on multiple occasions by DeSmogBlog - does PR for Transcanada, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. Transcanada has paid SKDK - and by extension, Dunn - to place ads in strategic television and radio markets in the Washington, D.C. area. 

America imports millions of barrels of oil from the Middle East every week,” a narrator says in an ominous tone in the most recent ad, as images of violent protests in the Middle East blare across the screen. “But we don’t have to.”

The T.V. ad then switches to serene music and landscape views with pipeline stretched across it, alluding to “ethical oil” coming from Canada if the northern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL pipeline is approved by both the U.S. State Department and President Barack Obama.

The radio ad - also singing the “ethical oil” tune - claims that building the northern half of the Keystone XL will create “over 40,000 good American jobs.” Independent studies point to it creating 35 full-time jobs and 3,950 temporary construction jobs

The New York Times explained that Transcanada paid Dunn and SKDK to place the “ethical oil“-style ad “to reach power players in Washington’s media market.”

Thu, 2013-09-26 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Shale Gas and Foreign Policy: A "Highly Uncertain" Gamble for America

The Obama administration has systematically ignored the environmental risks of fracking and on several occasions it has even suppressed science to pave the way for increased shale drilling, according to a recent report by the environmental group Earthworks. The report focuses on Karnes County, TX, in the heart of the Eagle Ford shale region, where state regulators found levels of airborne contaminants so high that inspectors evacuated themselves – but failed to fine the companies involved or warn residents living nearby.

From the regulators in Texas to the United States EPA, government agencies are running away from their own data showing that fracking pollution is harming communities,” said Jennifer Krill, Executive Director of Earthworks. “We are seeing a pattern from Karnes County TX to Dimock PA to Pavilion WY - where oil and gas is being produced, oil and gas impacts are being ignored.”

For the past several years the oil and gas industry has enticed Republicans and Democrats alike with promises that shale reserves can offer the U.S. renewed energy independence. The hope is that vast and newly-tapped supplies of domestic gas and oil will help shift the geopolitical balance, lessening American and European reliance on Russia and countries in the Middle East. This newly perceived leverage has even emerged recently as a bargaining chip in trade talks and negotiations with gas-importers like Japan.

The Obama administration has hailed the drilling boom, sending strong signals about its support for continued fracking. “The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” President Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union address. “We need to encourage that.”

But banking on the continued shale boom is a major gamble, as productivity has already fallen in shale gas plays across the U.S.

Fri, 2013-08-23 14:22Brendan DeMelle
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Keystone XL Decision Delayed Again? Inspector General Pushes Report on ERM Scandals to January

Did the Obama administration's decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline just get delayed again? Quite possibly, since the State Department Inspector General announced today that it has delayed until January the release of its review of the scandals surrounding Environmental Resources Management, Inc., the contractor chosen by TransCanada to perform State's Keystone XL environmental review. 

Although the State Department was evasive about whether the IG's announcement signals a delay in the administration's decision, it would seem odd for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to decide on the fate of the KXL export pipeline without waiting for the results of this critical report.  

Bloomberg News and The Hill broke the news about the delay, and all signs point to the fact that State's “inquiry” has morphed into a thorough conflicts-of-interest investigation into ERM's financial ties to TransCanada and other scandals. 

Ever since the March 2013 release of the State Department's environmental impact statement, critics have pointed to ERM Group's historical ties to Big Tobacco, its green-lighting of controversial projects in Peru and the Caspian Sea, and its declaration that a tar sands refinery in Delaware made the air “cleaner,” among many other industry-friendly rulings.  

Worst of all, perhaps - and potentially in violation of federal law - ERM Group lied on its State Department contract, claiming it had no business ties to TransCanada and the tar sands industry. The facts showed otherwise. 

This latest development certainly raises the prospect of a further delay, if not another sign that the Keystone XL will be rejected by President Obama.   

Thu, 2013-08-15 07:00Farron Cousins
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Coal Industry Waging War Against EPA

After playing the victims of an allegedly unfair, and completely fabricated, “war on coal,” the coal industry has gone on the offensive by launching their own war on federal regulators.  Specifically, the group has their sights set on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Coal lobbyists, led by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), have been meeting with White House officials to weaken EPA standards on CO2 emissions.  The lobbyists claim that a rule requiring carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at all new coal-burning power plants should be removed because the technology is “not available.” 

Once you move past their talking points, their real agenda is clearly visible.  After claiming that the required technology is not available, the lobbyists then admitted that their goal was to completely exempt the industry from any form of emissions standards put forth by the EPA through the Clean Air Act.

The EPA is currently working on draft proposals that would significantly reduce the amount of allowable carbon pollution from existing power plants, a move that the coal industry views as too costly.  The lobbyists' meeting with White House officials is, according to The Hill, the most recent in a string of meetings between industry and administration officials this summer.

Sun, 2013-08-11 14:03Farron Cousins
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Kentucky Lawmakers Still Fighting Nonexistent War On Coal

Even the coal industry itself has conceded that there is no “war on coal”, but lawmakers in the coal-dependent state of Kentucky are still fighting this imaginary battle.

In the wake of President Obama’s speech earlier this summer where he discussed the need to reduce our dependence on coal and work on ways to control coal plant pollution, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in Kentucky sent a letter to the president last week, warning him that his “war on coal” would be devastating to their state.

The 50 state legislators who signed onto the letter accuse the president of launching an “unfair attack on coal,” which the lawmakers argue will have a devastating effect on their state economy.

The bi-partisan group told the president that the coal industry is responsible for as much as $10 billion in “yearly” economic activity, although that number only represents the year 2010, and subsequent years have seen a sharp decline in the profitability of the industry’s operations in Kentucky.

Mon, 2013-01-21 05:00Steve Horn
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They BuyPartisan: ExxonMobil Donates $260,000 to Obama Inauguration

President Barack Obama will be publicly sworn in today - on Martin Luther King Jr. Day - to serve his second term as the 44th President of the United States.

Today is also the three-year anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that - in a 5-4 decision - deemed that corporations are “people” under the law. Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) - who now runs Progressives United (a rhetorical spin-off of Citizens United) - said in Feb. 2012 that the decision “opened floodgates of corruption” in the U.S. political system. 

Unlike for his first Inauguration, Obama has chosen to allow unlimited corporate contributions to fill the fund-raising coffers of the entity legally known as the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Last time around the block, Obama refused corporate contributions for the Inauguration Ceremony as “a commitment to change business as usual in Washington.”

But not this time. With a fundraising goal of $50 million in its sights, the Obama Administration has “opened floodgates” itself for corporate influence-peddling at the 57th Inaugural Ceremony. 

A case in point: the Obama Administration's corporate backers for the Inaurguation have spent over $283 million on lobbying since 2009, the Center for Public Integrity explained in a recent report

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