fracking

Wed, 2014-06-18 07:06Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn
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White House Meeting Logs: Big Rail Lobbying Against "Bomb Train" Regulations It Publicly Touts

Lynchburg, Virginia Oil Train Explosion

The Obama White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has held the majority of its meetings on the proposed federal oil-by-rail safety regulations with oil and gas industry lobbyists and representatives.

But OIRA meeting logs reviewed by DeSmogBlog reveal that on June 10, the American Association of Railroads (AAR) and many of its dues-paying members also had a chance to convene with OIRA

Big Rail has talked a big game to the public about its desire for increased safety measures for its trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale. What happens behind closed doors, the meeting logs show, tells another story. 

At the June 12-13 Railway Age Oil-by-Rail Conference, just two days after rail industry representatives met with OIRA, American Association of Railroads President Edward Hamberg, former assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), made the case for safety. 

“Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving,” said Hamberg.

The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”

Yet despite public declarations along these lines, proactive safety measures were off the table for all four of Big Rail's presentations to OIRA.  

Though private discussions, the documents made public from the meeting show one consistent message from the rail industry: safety costs big bucks. And these are bucks industry is going to fight against having to spend.

Sun, 2014-06-15 07:00Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn
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Meeting Logs: Obama White House Quietly Coddling Big Oil on “Bomb Trains” Regulations

When Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, introduced Howard Shelanski at his only public appearance so far during his tenure as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Revesz described Shelanski as, “from our perspective, close to the most important official in the federal government.”

OIRA has recently reared its head in a big way because it is currently reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).   

During his presentation at NYU, Shelanski spoke at length about how OIRA must use “cost-benefit analysis” with regards to regulations, stating, “Cost-benefit analysis is an essential tool for regulatory policy.”

But during his confirmation hearings, Shelanski made sure to state his position on how cost-benefit analysis should be used in practice. Shelanski let corporate interests know he was well aware of their position on the cost of regulations and what they stood to lose from stringent regulations. 

Regulatory objectives should be achieved at no higher cost than is absolutely necessary,” Shelanski said at the hearing.

Sat, 2014-06-14 12:35Guest
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Why Are Pipeline Spills Good For the Economy?

oil spill

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Energy giant Kinder Morgan was recently called insensitive for pointing out that “Pipeline spills can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies, both in the short- and long-term.” The company wants to triple its shipping capacity from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby, in part by twinning its current pipeline. Its National Energy Board submission states, “Spill response and cleanup creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers.”

It may seem insensitive, but it’s true. And that’s the problem. Destroying the environment is bad for the planet and all the life it supports, including us. But it’s often good for business. The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico added billions to the U.S. gross domestic product! Even if a spill never occurred (a big “if”, considering the records of Kinder Morgan and other pipeline companies), increasing capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day would go hand-in-hand with rapid tar sands expansion and more wasteful, destructive burning of fossil fuels — as would approval of Enbridge Northern Gateway and other pipeline projects, as well as increased oil shipments by rail.

Fri, 2014-06-13 08:25Sharon Kelly
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Over $48 Trillion Energy Investment Needed by 2035, IEA Report Concludes

It will cost $48 trillion to keep up with rising energy demand worldwide over the next two decades, a newly released report by the International Energy Agency concludes.

That's a massive jump from the $16 trillion predicted the last time the report was fully updated in 2003.

“The headline numbers revealed by this analysis are almost too large to register,” the IEA World Energy Investment Outlook special report notes.

The costs of supplying the world with energy, the report finds, have already more than doubled since 2000. And the costs of fossil fuels are projected to rise, even without accounting for any increase in demand. By 2035, the world's energy will require a $2 trillion investment every year. The vast majority of the $1.6 trillion spent on energy last year – a total of $1.1 trillion – went to extracting fossil fuels, oil refining and building power plants that burn fossil fuels.

Over the next two decades, the world would need to invest over $20 trillion to replace production from aging, declining oil and gas fields.

To put that $20 trillion into perspective, the Iraq war cost the U.S. government $1 trillion over its nine years, according to White House estimates. That means the financial investment needed by fossil fuel projects over the next two decades would equal the cost to U.S. taxpayers of twenty Iraq wars.

An alternate plan, aimed at limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius, would add another $250 billion to the average yearly price tag, the IEA adds, and require a focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources and reduced spending on oil, gas and coal.

But this approach could ultimately be less expensive, because less will need to be spent compensating for the harmful effects of global warming.

Wed, 2014-06-11 13:09Steve Horn
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Revealed: Emails Show ND Ethics Law Potentially Broken on Petraeus Fracking Trip

DeSmogBlog has obtained emails via North Dakota's Open Records Statute revealing facts that could be interpreted as indicating that North Dakota Treasurer Kelly Schmidt broke State Investment Board ethics laws.

The potential legal breach occurred during a late-April fracking field trip made to the state by former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus.

In a radio interview responding to DeSmogBlog's original investigation about the trip, Schmidt said rolling out the red carpet for Petraeus — who now works at Manhattan-based private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), which holds over $1 billion in oil and gas industry assets and calls itself a “mini oil and gas company“ — was “not unusual.”

KKR initially told DeSmogBlog it followed all state and federal laws during the Petraeus visit. 

But new emails obtained by DeSmogBlog from both the North Dakota State Investment Board and the Office of the North Dakota State Treasurer call that and much more into question. 

Rewinding back to where it all began, for the final stops of the two-day Petraeus visit to North Dakota, he and his KKR colleagues Ari Barkan and Vance Serchuk met with representatives from the North State Investment Board and the North Dakota Department of Land Trusts.

Banal convenings at face-value, what preceded and followed the meetings tells a bigger story: first a crucial plane flight and then a follow-up invitation to come to New York City to talk business.

Looked at on the whole, the plane flight and what came after it raises fundamental legal and ethical questions about the burgeoning — and much-touted in some circles — North Dakota oil and gas Legacy Fund.  

Thu, 2014-06-05 13:00Mike G
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California State Senators Who Voted Against Fracking Moratorium Took 370% More From Oil Industry

Even though a sizable majority of Californians favor a moratorium on fracking until its impacts on the environment and human health are better understood, California's fracking moratorium bill, SB 1132, died in the state Senate last week, voted down for the final time on Friday evening.

Four Democrats joined all 12 Republicans in voting nay on Friday, while five more Dems abstained, making the final vote 16 to 16. A simple majority of the 40-member body was needed to pass (three Senators are currently suspended and unable to vote).

Big Oil spent big to defeat this bill. The Western States Petroleum Agency, widely regarded as the most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, spent $1.5 million lobbying the state government in the first three months of 2014 alone (and according to Truth Out, the WSPA spent $4.7 million in 2013, more than any other group). A statewide coalition of environmental groups called Californians Against Fracking estimates that, all told, the oil industry has spent $15 million lobbying state legislators to stop SB 1132 from becoming law.

It would appear that Big Oil got what it paid for. According to a DeSmogBlog analysis of contributions from fossil fuel interests to California State Senators, those who voted no have taken some 370% as much money in campaign contributions from the oil industry as did those voting yes.

Over their lifetime, the 16 Senators who voted against SB 1132 have taken $590,185 from the oil industry, while the 16 who voted no have taken $159,250.

This data is via Oil Change International's Dirty Energy Money database, and only tallies contributions made through 2012, the last year campaign contribution numbers are available.

Mon, 2014-06-02 11:53Justin Mikulka
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Earthjustice to Defend Right of Dryden, NY, to Ban Fracking Within Town Limits

Don't Frack New York

On June 3rd, lawyers from Earthjustice will argue to New York’s highest court that the town board of Dryden, NY, has the right to ban fracking within its borders.   

Gas company Norse Energy has sued the Town of Dryden to try to negate its town council’s 2011 unanimous vote to ban fracking. Dryden’s decision has withstood challenges at two lower levels of New York’s judicial system, but this decision in the state’s highest court will be the one that sets precedent.

Dryden’s initial efforts to ban fracking were organized by a group of citizens with legal help from Helen Slottje, a lawyer who has since won the prestigious Goldman Prize for her work on this issue. Once the gas industry sued the Town of Dryden, Earthjustice volunteered to take on the case and has represented the town in this legal battle.

Earthjustice has produced a video, narrated by actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, which tells the story of the Dryden residents who organized the petition drive that led to the unanimous town board vote establishing the ban on fracking. 

Mon, 2014-06-02 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Loopholes Enable Industry to Evade Rules on Dumping Radioactive Fracking Waste

As the drilling rush proceeds at a fast pace in Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale, nearby states have confronted a steady flow of toxic waste produced by the industry. One of Pennsylvania's most active drilling companies, Range Resources, attempted on Tuesday to quietly ship tons of radioactive sludge, rejected by a local landfill, to one in nearby West Virginia where radioactivity rules are still pending. It was only stopped when local media reports brought the attempted dumping to light.

“We are still seeking information about what happened at the Pennsylvania landfill two months ago when the waste was rejected, and about the radiation test results the company received from the lab,” Kelly Gillenwater, a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which had tracked the waste after it was rejected by a Chartiers, PA landfill because it was too radioactive. “For now this is still under investigation.”

It's one of a series of incidents involving the disposal of fracking's radioactive waste. Collectively these incidents illustrate how a loophole for the oil and gas industry in federal hazardous waste laws has left state regulators struggling to prevent the industry from disposing its radioactive waste in dangerous ways.

Sun, 2014-06-01 15:59Ben Jervey
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How Your Town Can Ban Fracking: A Q&A with Goldman Prize Winner Helen Slottje

Helen Slottje has redrawn the map of fracking in upstate New York.

Since 2010, Slottje and her husband David, both attorneys, have battled to keep fracking out of New York communities using local zoning laws. Since pioneering this novel legal strategy in the town of Ulysses, near their home town of Ithaca, the Slottjes have traveled town to town, helping communities understand language in the state’s constitution that gives municipalities the right to make and enforce these local land use decisions.

Today, more than 175 communities in New York have fracking bans on the books, so that even if the statewide moratorium on fracking were to be lifted tomorrow, oil and gas companies would be barred from plunging their drills within those municipalities' borders.

Their efforts were recognized last month with the Goldman Environmental Prize, which some call the “Green Nobel.” The prize committee celebrated Slottje’s pro-bono legal assistance for “helping towns across New York defend themselves from oil and gas companies by passing local bans on fracking.”

Of course, the fracking industry has fought back, challenging the bans in many towns, all of which have been decided in the towns’ favor in the state’s lower courts. Two cases, in the towns of Dryden and Middlefield, are up before the Court of Appeal which will hear oral arguments on June 3 in Albany.

DeSmogBlog spoke with Helen Slottje about how she got into the fracking fight, how to talk about fracking to communities that are being promised so much wealth by industry, how to go face-to-face with big oil and gas flacks, and what lessons could be learned from the success of the town bans for other battles against the fossil fuel industry. The hour-long conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Thu, 2014-05-29 18:05Mike G
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Californians Aim to Halt Fracking Even If the State Senate Won't

A second vote on California's fracking moratorium bill—SB 1132—fell short in the State Senate today, just twenty-four hours after it was first defeated by a margin of 18-16, three votes shy of the majority it needed to pass. We're still awaiting the official word on how today's vote shook out exactly.

But many Californians are not waiting for the State Senate to take action, anyway.

Last week, Santa Cruz County's Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to pass the state's first-ever permanent ban on fracking. Earlier this month, the city council of Beverly Hills passed its own fracking ban with another unanimous vote. Several other counties and cities are scheduled to hold votes of their own on similar measures in the near future.

These local efforts to win fracking bans and moratoria are undoubtedly a response to the tremendous popular support for a halt to poorly understood but increasingly more common practices like fracking and acidization, which eats away at rock.

A poll commissioned by two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows that more than two-thirds of Californians want a moratorium on fracking until its impacts to the environment and human health have been studied more closely by the scientific community. A poll by USC and the LA Times had similar results, finding that more than 70% of Californians favored banning or heavily regulating fracking.

While environmental groups have been organizing support for SB 1132, some of the fiercest opposition has come from groups just as concerned with health, safety, and justice as with the environment. And they are certainly not backing down, even after SB 1132 was voted down for a second time.

“It's disappointing to see our leaders in Sacramento fail to pass a moratorium on fracking, siding with the powerful oil and gas industry at the expense of the health of our families and climate,” said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org, the largest Latino online organizing group in the nation. “Latinos will bear the brunt of the worst effects of fracking in California–from poisoned water to asthma, and are in the areas worst affected by climate change across the nation.”  

Polls have shown wide support for a moratorium among Latinos in California. In fact, the USC/LA Times poll found that Latinos favored an outright ban or at least a moratorium on fracking by substantially larger margins than whites, perhaps due to the fact that Latinos are far more likely to live in communities suffering the adverse impacts of fracking operations.

“We will remember who stood with us today, and who chose to poison our families for the sake of corporate profits,” Carmona says. “Shame on every member of the California Senate today who voted to throw Latino families under the bus.”

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