oklahoma

How a Senator Turned Exxon Lobbyist Limits Access to His Public University-Based Archives

Emails and documents obtained from Oklahoma State University (OSU) under the state's open records law depict an arrangement in which former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) donated his U.S. Senate papers to OSU, a public university, but still maintains full control of the papers and who gets permission to view them. 

A high-level staffer of Nickles at the time who was arranging the deposit of his records to OSU, GT Bynum — now running for Mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma — wrote in a November 2004 email that a large part of the rationale for the set-up was “because Senator Nickles is dramatically younger than your average retiring senator” and there exists “potential for…something in the archive which might embarrass the senator, his staff, or a colleague.”

Nickles, now 67 and principal of the lobbying firm Nickles Group, currently lobbies for ExxonMobil, Anadarko Petroleum, Exelon and other companies. He formerly served on the Board of Directors of Chesapeake Energy and currently serves on that of Valero Energy

This year alone, Nickles has lobbied for exports of gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), expedited permitting for domestic oil and gas and other oil and gas-related policy issues on behalf of those three companies.

Oil and Gas Activities Behind Texas Earthquakes Since 1925, Scientists Conclude

If you've felt an earthquake in Texas at any point over the last four decades, odds are that quake wasn't naturally occurring, but was caused by oil and gas industry activities, according to a newly published scientific report.

Just 13 percent of Texas earthquakes larger than magnitude 3 since 1975 were the result of natural causes alone, according to scientists from the University of Texas who published their peer-reviewed paper in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

In recent years, fracking wastewater injection wells have become the primary cause of tremblors in the state, the report adds.

Top Drillers Shut Down U.S. Fracking Operations as Oil Prices Continue to Tank

It was a tumultuous week in the world of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale oil and gas, with a few of the biggest companies in the U.S. announcing temporary shutdowns at their drilling operations in various areas until oil prices rise again from the ashes.

Among them: Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources and Whiting Petroleum. Chesapeake formerly sat as the second most prolific fracker in the U.S. behind ExxonMobil, while Continental has been hailed by many as the “King of the Bakken” shale basin located primarily in North Dakota.

Congress-backed Interstate Oil Commission Call Cops When Reporter Arrives To Ask About Climate

On October 1, I arrived at the Oklahoma City headquarters of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC)  a congressionally-chartered collective of oil and gas producing states  hoping for an interview.

There to ask IOGCC if it believed human activity (and specifically oil and gas drilling) causes climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, my plans that day came to a screeching halt when cops from the Oklahoma City Police Department rolled up and said that they had received a 9-1-1 call reporting me and my activity as “suspicious” (listen to the audio here). 

What IOGCC apparently didn't tell the cops, though, was that I had already told them via email that I would be in the area that day and would like to do an interview.

Court Says Residents Can Sue Frackers For Earthquake Damage

The Oklahoma State Supreme Court delivered a devastating blow to the fossil fuel industry last week when it unanimously decided that homeowners in Oklahoma could sue the industry for earthquake damage linked to hydraulic fracturing.

While the justices on the Court did not necessarily endorse the link between fracking and earthquakes — or frackquakes — they did acknowledge the fact that increased fracking activities have correlated with an increase in earthquakes, and that existing tort laws would allow plaintiffs to sue the industry if damage can be proven.

New Research Confirms Earthquake Swarms Caused by Oil and Gas Industry

The evidence establishing that the oil and gas industry is causing earthquakes grew much stronger last week, as two scientific papers clarified exactly how human activity is driving the swarm of quakes that has afflicted Oklahoma for the past six years.

For decades, earthquakes were rare in the central US. Since the 1970’s, two dozen quakes over magnitude 3.0 shook the region in an average year and larger quakes were even more rare.

But since 2009, right when the drilling industry’s wastewater production started spiking, the number of earthquakes has been skyrocketing, with 688 quakes that size hitting the region in 2014 — and 2015 is on track to be even more seismically active.

This means, Oklahoma has been hit by more quakes in the past year and a half than were felt in the entire 36 year-span from 1973 through 2008.

Breaking: No Action Taken on a Proposal to Repeal Denton, Texas Fracking Ban

Julie Dermansky

Denton's city council decided not to vote on a repeal of the city's fracking ban, after almost six hours of discussion on the topic at a public meeting last night. 

The vote to repeal the ban was called for shortly after Texas Governor Greg Abbott singed HB40 into law, making Denton’s fracking ban illegal. 

Emails: How State Department Secretly Approved Expanding Piece of Enbridge's "Keystone XL Clone"

State Department Enbridge Emails

DeSmogBlog has obtained dozens of emails that lend an inside view of how the U.S. State Department secretly handed Enbridge a permit to expand the capacity of its U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta to midwest markets. 

The State Department submitted the emails into the record in the ongoing case filed against the Department by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Collectively, the emails show that upper-level State Department officials hastened the review process on behalf of Enbridge for its proposed Alberta Clipper expansion plan, now rebranded Line 67, and did not inform the public about it until it published its final approval decision in the Federal Register in August 2014.

According to a March 17, 2014 memo initially marked “confidential,” Enbridge's legal counsel at Steptoe & Johnson, David Coburn, began regular communications with the State Department on what the environmental groups have dubbed an “illegal scheme” beginning in at least January 2014. 

Enbridge State Department Emails
Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

Environmental groups have coined the approval process an “illegal scheme” because the State Department allowed Enbridge to usurp the conventional presidential permit process for cross-border pipelines, as well as the standard National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which allows for public comments and public hearings of the sort seen for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.

Further, the scheme is a complex one involving Enbridge's choice to add pressure pump stations on both sides of the border to two pipelines, Enbridge Line 3 and Enbridge Line 67, to avoid fitting under the legal umbrella of a “cross-border” pipeline.

Hastening the approval process — and thus dodging both the conventional presidential permit and NEPA process — came up in a June 6, 2014 memo written by Coburn and his Steptoe co-counsel Josh Runyan. Enbridge's legal argument centered around ensuring profits for its customers “consistent with its obligations as a common carrier.”

State Department Enbridge Emails
Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

USGS: Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells Are Causing Oklahoma Earthquakes

Some of the most heavily fracked parts of the US have experienced an unprecedented wave of earthquakes in recent years even though they’ve long been considered geologically stable. But the oil and gas industry is quick to reject any suggestion that fracking is to blame.

The United States Geological Survey, for its part, has said in the past that the injection of fracking wastewater into deep geologic formations was a likely cause of the increased seismic activity in Oklahoma.

Now the agency has made it official.

“Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.,” the USGS said in a press release.

Several scientists and seismologists with the USGS, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have published a paper in the journal Science that calls for greater transparency from the oil and gas industry, as well as collaboration between industry, government, and the public, in order to mitigate the impacts of these “human-induced earthquakes.”

There were more earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher in Oklahoma last year than in California. Several were of a magnitude greater than 5 and caused considerable damage.

The problem has become so prevalent that Oklahomans have started seeking earthquake insurance, which insurers used to dismiss with a laugh. But even as seismic activity increased since the rise of fracking in 2008, the industry and Oklahoma regulators took no meaningful action to protect residents, which is no surprise given how integral the oil and gas industry is to Oklahoma’s economy.

Sued by Chesapeake Energy for Stealing Trade Secrets, Aubrey McClendon Hires PR Giant Edelman

Chesapeake Energy has sued its former CEO, Aubrey McClendon, for allegedly stealing its trade secrets in the months between his resignation and the formation of his new company, American Energy Partners. To defend itself outside of the courtroom, American Energy Partners has hired Edelmanthe 'world's largest' and often controversial public relations firm.

Filed on February 17 at the District Court of Oklahoma County, Chesapeake's legal complaint alleges McClendon covertly took map-based data owned by the company in the time between resigning from the company and then officially leaving the company in early 2013. Chesapeake also alleges that he then utilized that same confidential data for business and investment decisions at his new startup in deciding which land to purchase for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas.

AEP used confidential information and trade secrets stolen by McClendon from Chesapeake as a basis for their decision to acquire certain acreage in the Utica Shale Play,” alleges the lawsuit. “Further, in acquiring this acreage…AEP interfered with Chesapeake's business plans and its negotiations for its own acquisition of acreage in the Utica Shale play.”

Chesapeake Energy alleges that, before taking the data with him, McClendon asked a former company vice president of land, whose name is redacted in the complaint, to optimize and update the data.

Chesapeake Energy v. American Energy Partners Complaint
Image Credit: District Court of Oklahoma County

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