Sierra Club

Mon, 2014-12-15 06:00Justin Mikulka
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Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations

ban bomb trains

Earthjustice has challenged the Department of Transportation’s denial of a petition by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics to ban the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars.

Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” explained Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The National Transportation Safety Board called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the Department of Transportation’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.” 

At the same time Earthjustice was bringing this challenge, the Canadian government was announcing that it will ban 3,000 of the riskiest DOT-111s from carrying materials like Bakken crude.

Sun, 2014-12-14 15:38Steve Horn
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Revealed: How Big Oil Got Expedited Permitting for Fracking on Public Lands Into the Defense Bill

The U.S. Senate has voted 89-11 to approve the Defense Authorization Act of 2015, following the December 4 U.S. House of Representatives' 300-119 up-vote and now awaits President Barack Obama's signature.

The 1,616-page piece of pork barrel legislation contains a provision — among other controversial measures — to streamline permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on U.S. public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a unit of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Buried on page 1,156 of the bill as Section 3021 and subtitled “Bureau of Land Management Permit Processing,” the bill's passage has won praise from both the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and comes on the heels of countries from around the world coming to a preliminary deal at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

We applaud the Senate…and are hopeful the president signs this measure in a timely fashion,” said Dan Naatz, IPAA lobbyist and former congressional staffer, in a press release

Alluding to the bottoming out of the global price of oil, Naatz further stated, “In these uncertain times of price volatility, it’s encouraging for America’s job creators to have regulatory certainty through a streamlined permitting process.”

Streamlined permitting means faster turn-around times for the industry's application process to drill on public lands, bringing with it all of the air, groundwater and climate change issues that encompass the shale production process. 

At the bottom of the same press release, IPAA boasted of its ability to get the legislative proposal introduced initially by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NMas the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act of 2014 after holding an “educational meeting” with Udall's staffers. Endorsed by some major U.S. environmental groups, Udall took more than $191,000 from the oil and gas industry during his successful 2014 re-election campaign.

IPAA's publicly admitted influence-peddling efforts are but the tip of the iceberg for how Big Oil managed to stuff expedited permitting for fracking on U.S. public lands into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015.

Mon, 2014-12-01 16:10Steve Horn
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State Department Keystone XL Contractor ERM Bribed Chinese Agency to Permit Project

Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group), the consultancy selected by TransCanada to conduct the environmental review for Keystone XL's northern leg on behalf of the U.S. State Department, is no stranger to scandal.

Exhibit A: ERM once bribed a Chinese official to ram through major pieces of an industrial development projectERM was tasked to push through the project in Hangzhou Bay, located near Shanghai.

Accepting the bribe landed Yan Shunjun, former deputy head of the Shanghai Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, an
11-year prison sentence.

Yan “allegedly took bribes of 864,000 yuan (126,501 U.S. dollars), 20,000 U.S. dollars and 4,000 euros from seven contractors,” explained Xiuhuanet. “Yan was also accused of illegally setting up a channel to speed up environmental impact assessment processes, which are essential for companies wanting to build factories.”

BP, one of the companies standing to gain if Keystone XL North receives a presidential permit from the Obama administration as a major Alberta tar sands producer, was also mired in the Chinese ERM Group scandal. 

“Two firms on ERM's bluechip client list, BP and Sinopec, are big investors in a petrochemical complex on the site, but the Chinese authorities apparently saw no conflict of interest in awarding the environmental evaluation to ERM,” explained London's Sunday Times.

In a sense, history has repeated itself.

Thu, 2014-11-13 04:00Julie Dermansky
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Texas Regulators Sidestep Connection Between Fracking Industry and Earthquakes

XTO wastewater disposal plant

New rules for Texas injection wastewater well operators offer no relief to people impacted by more than 30 earthquakes that hit Azle, Reno and Springtown almost a year ago. Many buildings in the three small cities, 50 miles west of Dallas, Texas, suffered broken windows, cracked walls, damaged plumbing and foundations. 

Seismic activity is not something the region is known for. It was only after deep injection disposal wells used to house fracking's toxic wastewater went into operation that the earthquakes started. There are several injection wells in the area — three of which some suspect to be the cause of the quakes due to their proximity to impacted neighborhoods and the volume of disposal operations. 


Crack in an Azle, Texas, residence that opened after an earthquake. ©2014 Julie Dermansky 

“Injection raises the underground pressure and can effectively lubricate fault lines, weakening them and causing earthquakes, according to the U.S Geological Survey,” reports McClatchy Washington Bureau

The Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, was met with public outcry after the first earthquake swarm. The commissioners acted fast (by the agency’s standards), coming up with new rules to address the situation released on Oct. 28.  

The new rules require oil and gas companies to check local seismic data from the U.S. Geological Survey before opening a new waste disposal well. They also give the agency the power to change, suspend or revoke an injection operator’s permit if the commission determines the well is contributing to seismic activity.

Fri, 2014-10-31 13:22Sharon Kelly
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Oil and Gas Industry's "Endless War" on Fracking Critics Revealed by Rick Berman

Leave it to Washington's top attack-dog lobbyist Richard Berman to verify what many always suspected: that the oil and gas industry uses dirty tricks to undermine science, vilify its critics and discredit journalists who cast doubt on the prudence of fossil fuels.

In a speech at an industry conference in June, surreptitiously recorded by an energy executive, Rick Berman, the foremost go-to guy for Republican smear campaigns, gave unusually candid advice to a meeting of drilling companies.

Think of this as an endless war,” he told executives in a speech, which was leaked to The New York Times by an attendee at the conferenece who was offended by Berman's remarks.

And you have to budget for it.” He said the industry needs to dig up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, exploit the public’s short attention span for scientific debate, and play on people’s emotions.

Fear and anger have to be a part of this campaign,” Berman said. “We’re not going to get people to like the oil and gas industry over the next few months.”

Berman also advised that executives continue to spend big. “I think $2 to $3 million would be a game changer,” he said. “We’ve had six-figure contributions to date from a few companies in this room to help us get to where we are.”

But always cover your tracks, he suggested, adding that no is better equipped at doing so than his firm. “We run all this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity,” he said. “People don’t know who supports us. We’ve been doing this for 20-something years in this regard.”

Berman, whose tobacco ties were profiled yesterday by DeSmog contributor John Mashey, is the founder and chief executive of the Washington-based Berman & Company consulting firm. He attended the conference in Colorado, hat in hand, looking to raise money from energy companies for an advertising and public relations campaign he started called Big Green Radicals.

Fri, 2014-10-24 14:44Mike Gaworecki
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Crude Oil Transport Project Halted In California After Environmentalists Sue

Back in August, DeSmog reported on California environmentalists stopping “stealth carbon bombs” in their communities. Now they're celebrating another victory as a dangerous—and illegal—crude oil transport project in Sacramento has been halted as well.

According to a report by the Sacramento Bee last March, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District first caught InterState Oil Company, a fuel distributor, offloading ethanol without a permit in the fall of 2012. Inspectors with the AQMD then caught InterState transloading crude oil from trains to trucks bound for Bay Area refineries in September of last year, again without a permit.

InterState was not fined for these violations and was even allowed by the AQMD to continue importing ethanol and crude oil into California by train while it sought the necessary permits.

InterState received the permit to transload crude from trains to trucks in March of this year. On September 23, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of the Sierra Club challenging what it called the AQMD's “furtive approval” of the permit.

Thu, 2014-09-04 06:00Sharon Kelly
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Shale Oil Drillers Deliberately Wasted Nearly $1 Billion in Gas, Harming Climate

In Texas and North Dakota, where an oil rush triggered by the development of new fracking methods has taken many towns by storm, drillers have run into a major problem.

While their shale wells extract valuable oil, natural gas also rises from the wells alongside that oil. That gas could be sold for use for electrical power plants or to heat homes, but it is harder to transport from the well to customers than oil. Oil can be shipped via truck, rail or pipe, but the only practical way to ship gas is by pipeline, and new pipelines are expensive, often costing more to construct than the gas itself can be sold for.

So, instead of losing money on pipeline construction, many shale oil drillers have decided to simply burn the gas from their wells off, a process known in the industry as “flaring.”

It's a process so wasteful that it's sparked class action lawsuits from landowners, who say they've lost millions of dollars worth of gas due to flaring. Some of the air emissions from flared wells can also be toxic or carcinogenic. It's also destructive for the climate – natural gas is made primarily of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and when methane burns, it produces more than half as much CO2 as burning coal.

Much of the research into the climate change impact the nation's fracking rush – now over a decade long – has focused on methane leaks from shale gas wells, where drillers are deliberately aiming to produce natural gas. The climate change impacts of shale oil drilling have drawn less attention from researchers and regulators alike.

Sun, 2014-08-31 08:00Steve Horn
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Legal Case: White House Argues Against Considering Climate Change on Energy Projects

Just over a month before the United Nations convenes on September 23 in New York City to discuss climate change and activists gather for a week of action, the Obama White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) argued it does not have to offer guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to consider climate change impacts for energy decisions.

It came just a few weeks before a leaked draft copy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest assessment said climate disruption could cause “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Initially filed as a February 2008 petition to CEQ by the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) when George W. Bush still served as President, it had been stalled for years. 

Six and a half years later and another term into the Obama Administration, however, things have finally moved forward. Or backwards, depending on who you ask. 

NEPA and CEQ

The initial February 2008 legal petition issued by the plaintiffs was rather simple: the White House's Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) should provide guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to weigh climate change impacts when utilizing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on energy policy decisions. 

A legal process completely skirted in recent prominent tar sands pipeline cases by both TransCanada and Enbridge, NEPA is referred to by legal scholars as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law.

Magna Carta; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CEQ oversees major tenets of environmental, energy and climate policy. It often serves as the final arbiter on many major legislative pushes proposed by Congress and federal agencies much in the same way the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) does for regulatory policy. 

Wed, 2014-08-27 13:10Steve Horn
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State Dept. Overseers of Contentious Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Workaround Have Industry, Torture Ties

The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and other green groups recently revealed that pipeline giant Enbridge got U.S. State Department permission in response to its request to construct a U.S.-Canada border-crossing tar sands pipeline without earning an obligatory Presidential Permit.

Enbridge originally applied to the Obama State Department to expand capacity of its Alberta Clipper (now Line 67) pipeline in November 2012, but decided to avoid a “Keystone XL, take two” — or a years-long permitting battle — by creating a complex alternative to move nearly the same amount of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) across the border.

The move coincides with the upcoming opening for business of Enbridge's “Keystone XL” clone: the combination of the Alberta Clipper expansion (and now its alternative) on-ramp originating in Alberta and heading eventually to Flanagan, Ill., the Flanagan South pipeline running from Flanagan, Ill. to Cushing, Okla. and the Cushing, Okla. to Port Arthur, Texas Seaway Twin pipeline.

Together, the three pieces will do what TransCanada's Keystone XL hopes to do: move dilbit from Alberta's tar sands to Port Arthur's refinery row and, in part, the global export market.

Environmental groups have reacted with indignation to the State Department announcement published in the Federal Register on August 18. The public commenting period remains open until September 17.

Jim Murphy, senior counsel for NWF, referred to it as an “illegal scheme,” while a representative from 350.org says Enbridge has learned from the lessons of its corporate compatriot, TransCanada.

“When we blocked Keystone XL, the fossil fuel industry learned that they have a much stronger hand to play in back rooms than on the streets,” said Jason Kowalski, policy director for 350.org. “They will break the law and wreck our climate if that's what it takes for them to make a buck.”

But as the old adage goes, it takes two to tango. 

That is, influential State Department employees helped Enbridge find a way to smuggle an additional 350,000 barrels of tar sands per day across the border without public hearings or an environmental review. 

Thu, 2014-08-21 12:26Steve Horn
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After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“ 

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary. 

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City's leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

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