Did DeSmog's Coverage of Coal Baron Bob Murray v. Fracker Aubrey McClendon Lawsuit Lead To Sealing of Court Records?

On December 12, Magistrate Judge Mark R. Abel issued an order for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to place five sets of court records under seal for the ongoing case pitting coal baron Robert E. Murray against Aubrey McClendon, one of the godfathers of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom.

DeSmogBlog published parts of two sets of the five sets of documents ordered under seal by Abel in an October 2014 article about the Murray v. McClendon case. The documents we published revealed a lease for McClendon's new venture — American Energy Partners — for the first time. 

Bob Murray, owner of American Energy Corporation Century Mine in Ohio, sued Aubrey McClendon for allegedly infringing upon his company's copyright in August 2013. He claimed McClendon commandeered the “American Energy” brand.

Both sides have now gone back-and-forth over discovery related issues for months. The dispute has shaken loose many newsworthy documents revealing much about McClendon's new company in particular.

This includes the American Energy Partners lease; a local newspaper advertisement pushing readers to apply for an American Energy Partners job; heavily redacted depositions of officials representing both companies; a redacted document revealing some of the companies to which McClendon's new venture sells the gas it produces; and more.

Lord Ridley: Make Mine A Large One!

Lord Ridley, the landed aristocrat and prominent climate denier, will start work this year on two new profitable opencast coal mines close to his Grade I listed stately home and acres of beautiful national park that make up his 8,500-acre estate.

The White-Ridley family has owned the stunning Blagdon Estate in Northumbria since 1700, where they have mined coal and fireclay to amass a considerable fortune while fuelling the Industrial Revolution and British Empire.


The peer’s property, held by a family trust, today covers a significant part of the open mines at Shotton and Brenkley Lane, north of Newcastle, which together contain 8.3m tonnes of coal, worth an estimated £607m on the spot market.

New EPA Coal Ash Regulations Are Not Enough To Stop The Next Coal Ash Spill

The Environmental Protection Agency released long-awaited coal ash regulations today, the first rules ever to be imposed on the storage and disposal of the toxic waste left over after burning coal for electricity—the second largest industrial waste stream in the U.S.

But according to Earthjustice and the 10 environmental and public interest groups it represented in suing to force the release of the regulations in the first place, the EPA’s new rules are not nearly stringent enough to stop the next coal ash spill before it happens.

The new rules will not phase out the practice of storing massive quantities of coal ash—which contains highly toxic substances like arsenic, mercury, lead and radioactive uranium—in unlined ponds shored up by earthen dams that are often unstable and likely to fail. This is exactly what happened in the case of the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina this past February and the spill in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008 that released 1.1 billion gallons of coal fly ash slurry, covering up to 300 acres of surrounding land.

The typical coal ash dam is built from soil and ash and is used to impound millions of tons of coal ash and wastewater. The majority are over 40 years old, according to Earthjustice, and most do not have monitoring systems in place for detecting leaks of the toxic coal ash slurry they contain.

Newspapers Complicit In Selling Phony “War On Coal”

U.S. newspapers are helping conservatives push their misleading “war on coal” narrative, according to a new report.

There are a number of reasons why the tide has turned against the coal industry around the globe. Mining and burning coal for energy poses huge risks for human health and the environment, for instance, mainly due to the vast amounts of air and water pollution created throughout coal’s lifecycle.

Then of course there’s the fact that coal is the single largest source of global warming pollution—while coal-fired power represents only 39% of all electricity generated in the U.S, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is responsible for 75% of carbon emissions.

And of course the health of coal miners and the safety of mining operations is a cause for concern, as well. The indictment of coal baron Don Blankenship is proof enough of that—a U.S. attorney recently pressed conspiracy charges against Blankenship for violating federal mine safety and health standards and impeding federal mine safety officials, among other offenses committed before and after the explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010 that took the lives of 29 workers.

If you need more proof, there was a study conducted this year that found a severe form of black lung is affecting miners in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia at levels not seen in four decades.

But it’s not just the dangers of the job that are driving coal miners out of work: greater automation in coal mining operations and the rise of cheap, abundant natural gas thanks to fracking have also taken a heavy toll on the coal industry.

Yet a Media Matters analysis of the 233 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year that mentioned the phrase “war on coal” found that more than half ignored all of these underlying causes of the coal industry’s decline.

Charges Filed Against President Of Freedom Industries, Company That Contaminated Drinking Water Of 300,000 West Virginians

The FBI has filed criminal fraud charges against Gary Southern, former president of Freedom Industries, the company responsible for contaminating the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians with 10,000 gallons of a toxic coal-cleaning chemical called Crude MCHM that leaked into the Elk River.

The charges stem from Southern’s actions in the aftermath of the chemical spill, when the embattled company executive, who drew fierce criticism for drinking from a water bottle during a press conference in which he was attempting to apologize to West Virginians for contaminating their water supply, allegedly lied about his involvement with Freedom Industries in an attempt to shield himself from lawsuits and thus protect his personal fortune.

In a sworn affidavit included in the criminal complaint, FBI Special Agent James Lafferty says “Southern engaged in a pattern of deceitful behavior” centered around his role at Freedom before it was purchased in December 2013 by a company called Chemstream and his knowledge of conditions at Freedom’s Etowah Facility, the chemical storage site responsible for the chemical leak.

BLM Hasn't Performed An Environmental Review of Coal Leasing Program Since 1979

It has been 35 years since the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last performed an environmental review of its coal leasing program.

Two environmental groups are suing the BLM to force a review of the program.

Given advances in scientific knowledge of the risks posed by mining and burning coal to human health and Earth’s climate made since 1979, the groups argue that the review will “compel the Bureau of Land Management to deliver on its legal obligation to promote environmentally responsible management of public lands on behalf of the citizens of the United States.”

Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils filed the lawsuit last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, naming Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and BLM Director Neil Kornze as lead defendants, along with the Department of the Interior and the BLM.

Wall Street Journal Tries to Pour Cold Water On Growing International Climate Action

Climate change

This is a guest post by Climate Nexus.

A recent opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Rupert Darwall paints efforts to address climate change through international policy as doomed from the start, ignores recent progress and dismisses mounting public support for action. 

As countries negotiate in Lima, Peru, this week, long-time climate change skeptic Rupert Darwall seizes the moment to rehash tired critiques of past international efforts on climate.

In fact, the U.S.-China deal will deliver real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the costs of climate impacts clearly outweigh the costs of climate change mitigation and initial national pledges to the Green Climate Fund are meant to spur additional, substantial private sector investment.

Coal Giant Peabody Energy Denies Social Media Poverty Campaign Is Bogus

On the fringes of Brisbane’s G20 summit inside the Queensland capital’s grand city hall, Peabody Energy president Glenn Kellow made a remarkable claim.

Almost half a million people in countries across the globe had supported his coal company’s PR campaign to urge the world to act on “energy poverty”, claimed Kellow. 

Kellow was referring to the company’s “Lights On” project run under his firm’s Advanced Energy for Life (AEfL) campaign.

The AEfL campaign was created with the help of Burson-Marsteller, one of the world’s biggest PR firms and a specialist in crisis communications. 

In a press release, Peabody Energy again claimed about “half-million citizens from 48 nations” had “urged G20 leaders” to have a greater focus on energy poverty through its campaign. 

Peabody Energy, the world's biggest privately owned coal company, has been the leading voice in the coal industry’s attempts to hijack the term “energy poverty” for its own ends.

Walmart’s Reliance On Dirty Energy Responsible For 8 Million Metric Tons of Carbon Pollution Per Year

Recent revelations that the Walton Family, majority owners of Walmart, are funding attacks against the rooftop solar industry called into question the big-box retailer’s very public “100% renewable energy” commitment. A new report by the Institute on Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) documenting Walmart’s massive carbon emissions is likely to add even more fuel to that fire.

According to ILSR, which also exposed the Walton Family’s anti-rooftop solar initiatives, Walmart is one of the heaviest users of coal-fired electricity in the United States, resulting in 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution produced every year by the mega chain’s operations.

Since making its environmental commitments in 2005 with great fanfare, Walmart has done little to honor its pledge to transition to renewable energy and “be a good steward of the environment.”

Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ILSR and co-author of the new report, wrote in April that Walmart's use of renewables peaked in 2011 and has slipped since then.

“Walmart’s progress on renewable power is particularly pitiful when you look at other retailers,” she added. “Staples, Kohl's, and Whole Foods, along with numerous small businesses, have already passed the 100 percent renewable power mark.”

Today, just 3% of the electricity powering Walmart’s U.S. stores comes from renewable sources.

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.


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