Louisiana

Sun, 2014-09-07 08:00Julie Dermansky
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Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish Comes One Step Closer to Fracking

St Tammany Parish Fracking

The Department of Louisiana Natural Resources (DNRhas approved a unit permit for Helis Oil & Gas Company for a site in St. Tammany Parish that the company plans to frack. 

The department’s decision came on Friday, August 29, the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the beginning of the Labor Day weekend.

Releasing the news on Friday is typical of Louisiana's government. It is another demonstration of how DNR is an advocate for the oil industry, not the people,” retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, founder of the Green Army, told DeSmogBlog. “They know the majority of the parish do not want fracking and that they are doing something the people don't want. Releasing the news like that is disrespectful.”

Sun, 2014-08-31 13:37Julie Dermansky
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Nine Years After Katrina, Coastal Restoration Plans Remain Distant Dream for New Orleans

The scars of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans that remain nine years later are a reminder of the city’s vulnerability to rising tides and storm surges. Both Katrina and Rita, a hurricane that followed just weeks later, washed away miles of coastal marshland, the state’s first line of defense from storms. 

The landscape in Plaquemines Parish’s Braithwaite neighborhood is still that of a ghost town two years after Hurricane Isaac hit, underscoring the need to restore the coast. 
  


Blighted homes in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward on August 22. © 2014 Julie Dermansky

Home in Braithwaite, Louisiana destroyed by Hurricane Isaac. ©Julie Dermansky

The day after Hurricane Katrina’s nine-year anniversary on Friday, former Lt. General Russel Honoré and his Green Army held a commemorative breakfast. The army, a coalition of environmental and social justice groups, reflected on work they had done during the last legislative session and discussed their path forward. Saving Louisiana’s coast was on top of the agenda.

Thu, 2014-08-28 11:06Steve Horn
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Obama Opened Floodgates for Offshore Fracking in Recent Gulf of Mexico Lease

In little-noticed news arising out of a recent Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas lease held by the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the floodgates have opened for Gulf offshore hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

With 21.6 million acres auctioned off by the Obama Administration and 433,822 acres receiving bids, some press accounts have declared BP America — of 2010 Gulf of Mexico offshore oil spill infamy — a big winner of the auction. If true, fracking and the oil and gas services companies who perform it like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger came in a close second.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Lease Map August 2014
Map Credit: U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

On the day of the sale held at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, an Associated Press article explained that many of the purchased blocks sit in the Lower Tertiary basin, coined the “final frontier of oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico” by industry analysts.

“The Lower Tertiary is an ancient layer of the earth's crust made of dense rock,” explained APTo access the mineral resources trapped within it, hydraulic fracturing activity is projected to grow in the western Gulf of Mexico by more than 10 percent this year, according to Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc., which operates about a third of the world's offshore fracking rigs.”

Fri, 2014-08-08 05:00Steve Horn
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Green Billionaires Club? David Vitter Owns Stock in Coal Utilities Fighting EPA Carbon Rules

On July 30, the Republican minority of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, headed by Sen. David Vitter, released a report titled “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Critics of the report say it is propaganda designed to skewer the Obama EPA and environmental philanthropists for “conspiring to help the environment.”

Vitter's chief source of campaign cash is the oil and gas industry and he recently called the billionaire Koch Brothers “two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth.” 

What the 92-page report leaves out is that Vitter — an esteemed member of the Senate “Millionaires Club” — owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks of the electric utility Wisconsin Energy Corporation (We Energies), which owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisc. and Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.

We Energies says it stands to lose economically if the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules are implemented, citing the potential risks related to legislation and regulation in its most recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-Q.

“Any legislation or regulation that may ultimately be adopted, either at the federal or state level, designed to reduce GHG emissions could have a material adverse impact on our electric generation and natural gas distribution operations,” We Energies stated on the form.

“Such regulation could make some of our electric generating units uneconomic to maintain or operate, and could adversely affect our future results of operations.”

We Energies CEO Gale Klappa also voiced dissatisfaction with the proposed rule during his company's most recent earnings call, saying the company will submit comment to the EPA as part of the public comment period.

Thu, 2014-07-31 13:42Steve Horn
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Documents: Cheniere Fuels ALEC’s New Push for Fracked Gas Exports

Today, legislative and lobbyist members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) voted on model legislation promoting both exports of gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG)

Dubbed a “corporate bill mill” by its critics, ALEC is heavily engaged in a state-level effort to attack renewable energy and grease the skids for exports of U.S. oil and gas. Today's bills up for a vote — as conveyed in an ALEC mailer sent out on June 25 by ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force — are titled “Resolution In Support of Expanded Liquefied Natural Gas Exports“ and “Weights and Measures and Standards for Dispensing CNG and LNG Motor Fuels.” 

An exclusive investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog reveals that Cheniere — the first U.S. company to receive a final liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permit by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — has acted as the lead corporate backer of the LNG exports model resolution. 

Further, Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, owned by energy baron T. Boone Pickens, of Pickens Plan fame, and trade associations it is a member of, served as the main pusher of the CNG model resolution.

ALEC has served as a key vehicle through which the fracking industry has curried favor and pushed for policies favorable to their bottom lines in statehouses nationwide. Now ALEC and its corporate backers have upped the ante, pushing policies that will lock in downstream demand for fracked gas for years to come. 

With Cheniere becoming an ALEC dues-paying member in May 2013 and with America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) — the fracking industry's tour de force — crowned an ALEC member in August 2013, it looks like many more fracking-friendly model bills could arise out of ALEC in the months and years ahead.

Fri, 2014-06-20 10:25Steve Horn
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Heather Zichal, Former Obama Energy Aide, Named to Board of Fracked Gas Exports Giant Cheniere

Heather Zichal, former Obama White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, may soon walk out of the government-industry revolving door to become a member of the board of directors for fracked gas exports giant Cheniere, who nominated her to serve on the board. 

The announcement, made through Cheniere's U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K and its Schedule 14A, comes just as a major class-action lawsuit was filed against the board of the company by stockholders.

In reaction to the lawsuit, Cheniere has delayed its annual meeting. At that meeting, the company's stockholders will vote on the Zichal nomination.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by plaintiff and stockholder James B. Jones, who alleges the board gave stock awards to CEO Charif Souki in defiance of both a stockholders' vote and the company's by-laws. 

Souki — a central character in Gregory Zuckerman's book “The Frackers“ — became the highest paid CEO in the U.S. as a result of the maneuver, raking in $142 million in 2013, $133 million of which came from stock awards.

Cheniere CEO Charif Souki; Photo Credit: Getty Images

Zichal was nominated to join Cheniere's audit committee of the board, and will be paid $180,000 per year for the gig if elected.

Among the audit committee duties: “Prepare and review the audit committee report for inclusion in the proxy statement for the company's annual meeting of stockholders,” which is now set for September 11 after the push-back following the filing of the stockholder class-action lawsuit.

“The audit committee’s responsibility is oversight, and it recognizes that the company’s management is responsible for preparing the company’s financial statements and complying with applicable laws and regulations,” Cheniere's audit committee charter further explains.

Thu, 2014-05-01 12:06Steve Horn
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Gulf Stream: Williams Suspends Bluegrass Gas Export Pipeline, Announces New Export Line

Right before the champagne bottles began popping for activists engaged in a grassroots struggle to halt the construction of Williams Companies' prospective Bluegrass Pipeline project — which the company suspended indefinitely in an April 28 press release — Williams had already begun raining on the parade.

The pipeline industry giant took out the trash on Friday, April 25, announcing its intentions to open a new Louisiana pipeline named Gulf Trace.

Akin to TransCanada's ANR Pipeline recently reported on by DeSmogBlog, Gulf Trace is not entirely “new,” per se. Rather, it's the retooling of a pipeline system already in place, in this case Williams' Transco Pipeline system

The retooling has taken place in the aftermath of Cheniere's Sabine Pass LNG export facility receiving the first ever final gas export permit from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) during the fracking era.

Williams' Transco Pipeline System; Photo Credit: William Huston

Both ANR and Gulf Trace will feed into Sabine Pass, the Louisiana-based LNG export terminal set to open for business in late 2015Also like ANR, Transco will transform into a gas pipeline flowing in both directions, “bidirectional” in industry lingo.

Bluegrass, if ever built, also would transport fracked gas to the Gulf Coast export markets. But instead of LNG, Bluegrass is a natural gas liquids pipeline (NGL)

“The project…is designed to connect [NGLs] produced in the Marcellus-Utica areas in the U.S. Northeast with domestic and export markets in the U.S. Gulf Coast,” it explained in an April 28 press release announcing the project's suspension. 

Tue, 2014-04-22 11:50Julie Dermansky
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In Celebration of Earth Day: Photos Capture the Beauty of Southeastern Louisiana's Wetlands

Louisiana's wetlands are threatened by coastal erosion, climate change and the oil and gas industry.

The Green Army, a group representing environmental and social justice organizations led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore is trying to stop bills they believe stand in the way of preserving Louisiana's disappearing coast, including bills that would kill the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East that would require 97 oil and gas companies to pay for their share of the damage the industry has done to the coast.

Governor Bobby Jindal has pushed to derail the lawsuit by backing legislation that is undermining the levee board. So far the Green Army has not been able to sway the legislators from dismantling the lawsuit that many believe could save the coast.

Many of the bills set to derail the lawsuit have already passed in the Senate but Michael Orr, operations coordinator of Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) points out they haven't been heard in the House yet.  “There is still a chance to kill them” he told DeSmogBlog.  “I feel the battle is RE-enfranchising the public to believe that things can change, that we can win and that they can make a difference. And honestly I do feel like we can win this. And we surely cannot afford to lose. ” Orr says. 

Here is a slideshow celebrating the richness of the coastal wetland environment.

Mon, 2014-04-21 14:14Julie Dermansky
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Four Years After the BP Oil Disaster, A Look Back in Photographs

Just prior to the four-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, BP and the Coast Guard issued press releases. BP announced the  “active cleanup” in Louisiana is over, while the Coast Guard stated the clean up response is far from over.  “We are absolutely committed to continuing the clean-up of Deepwater Horizon oil along the Gulf - for as long as it takes,” Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks wrote. 

The Washington Post reported on the “dueling press releases.”  But Geoff Morrell, BP Senior Vice President for US Communications & External Affairs, told DeSmogBlog,  

“We have never suggested the work of the U.S. Coast Guard or BP is over. Our announcement Tuesday merely highlighted the end of active clean up of the Gulf shoreline. We believe that is a very significant achievement that resulted from four years of sustained work with the USCG. However, that accomplishment has not in any way diminished our commitment to the Gulf. To the contrary, we will continue to work with the USCG, primarily in responding to reports of any residual Macondo oil and taking action where removal is required.”

BP's claim that it would  “make things right” still echoes from its advertising campaign. But scaling back clean-up operations means the burden of oil sighting reports will fall more on the public. The Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit environmental group, is dismayed. GRN spokesman Raleigh Hoke told the Washington Post,  “It’s clearly premature to end the active cleanup.” 

Plaquemines Parish Coastal Zone Director P. J. Hahn, who continues to monitor the effects of the BP spill, pointed out last year that oil sightings come from fishermen and environmental groups more often than from the Coast Guard or BP.

Hahn has led a crusade to save two barrier islands that were bird rookeries before the spill. For the first two years after the spill, the birds returned, but by 2013 the birds had almost nowhere left to nest and abandoned the islands.  

The oil that hit the island killed the roots of marsh grass and mangrove trees that held the islands together, speeding up coastal erosion that was already eating away at the islands.

By now, the islands have all but disappeared.  No birds were found on the two islands this year that have all but disappeared. Instead Hahn and reporter Bob Marshall found some birds nesting on another barrier island nearby in a rookery that is not nearly as large as the ones that Hahn still hopes to restore. 

How prepared are oil companies and the Coast Guard for spills?

DeSmogBlog put that question to Dr. Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist and Exxon Valdez survivor who has been monitoring the Valdez oil spill. Ott says, “We are less prepared now to respond to an oil spill than we were 25 years ago.”

Thu, 2014-04-17 08:00Julie Dermansky
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Insect Population Dwindling in Louisiana Marshlands Four Years After BP Blowout

Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui has been studying the impact of the BP oil spill on insects and spiders for almost four years. She started her study shortly after the Macondo well blew out on April 20, 2010, before any oil washed up on shore. Her work documents the dwindling of the insect population in areas directly hit with the oil.

On April 9th, she returned to Bay Jimmy and Bay Baptiste, areas that were heavily impacted by the oil spill in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

“Insects are the basis of the food chain. They are like nature's Twinkies,” Hooper-Bui says.

Her studies also monitor fish and birds, since they eat insects. She sweeps areas designated for her study by walking back and forth waving a net, catching whatever insects are present.  She then empties the net into alcohol, preserving the insects for testing. She takes note of the wind speed and temperature at each location and collects a sample of sediment to be tested for hydrocarbons.


Weathered oil found coating the surface of the marsh in Bay Baptiste, Louisiana on April 9, 2014. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Back in the lab, Hooper-Bui sorts insects by species. She sends some out for testing and stores the rest so other scientists can study them. The results of the test reveal the nutrients found in them, including carbon, nitrogen and sulfur. Knowing what the insects are eating helps her evaluate changes in the environment. She compares the data from sites that were oiled to those that were not.

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