unconventional oil

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.

Not Just Public Lands: Defense Bill Also Incentivizes Fracked Gas Vehicles

DeSmogBlog recently revealed how Big Oil's lobbyists snuck expedited permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public lands into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2015, which passed in the U.S. House and Senate and now awaits President Barack Obama's signature.

A follow-up probe reveals that the public lands giveaway was not the only sweetheart deal the industry got out of the pork barrel bill. The NDAA also included a provision that opened the floodgates for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in the U.S.—cars that would largely be fueled by gas obtained via fracking.

The section of the bill titled, “Alternative Fuel Automobiles” (on page 104) lays it out:

NDAA of 2015 Natural Gas Vehicles
Image Credit: U.S. Government Publishing Office 

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.

New Obama State Dept Top Energy Diplomat Amos Hochstein A Former Marathon Oil Lobbyist

The U.S. State Department recently announced that Amos Hochstein, currently the special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, will take over as the State Department's top international energy diplomat.

Hochstein will likely serve as a key point man for the U.S. in its negotiations to cut a climate change deal as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), both at the ongoing COP20 summit in Lima, Peru and next year's summit in Paris, France. Some conclude the Lima and Paris negotiations are a “last chance” to do something meaningful on climate change.

But before getting a job at the State Department, where Hochstein has worked since 2011, he worked as a lobbyist for the firm Cassidy & Associates. Cassidy's current lobbying client portfolio consists of several fossil fuel industry players, including Noble Energy, Powder River Energy and Transwest Express. 

Back when Hochstein worked for Cassidy, one of his clients was Marathon Oil, which he lobbied for in quarter two and quarter three of 2008, according to lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by DeSmogBlog.

Hochstein earned his firm $20,000 each quarter lobbying the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on behalf of Marathon. 

Image Credit: Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives

Environmental Groups File Motion to Intervene in Defense of Denton Fracking Ban

Just days after attorneys representing Denton, Texas submitted their initial responses to two legal complaints filed against Denton — the first Texas city ever to ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)  environmental groups have filed an intervention petition. That is, a formal request to enter the two lawsuits filed against the city after its citizens voted to ban fracking on election day.

Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks are leading the intervention charge, represented by attorneys from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and EarthjusticeThe drilling awareness group runs the Frack Free Denton campaign.

Those groups have joined up with attorneys representing Denton to fight lawsuits filed against the city by both the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Commission.

First Texas City to Ban Fracking Cites "Public Nuisance" in Lawsuit Response

Attorneys representing Denton, Texas, the first city to ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in state history, have issued rebuttals to the two lawsuits filed against Denton the day after the fracking ban was endorsed by voters on election day. 

Responding to lawsuits brought by attorneys with intimate Bush family connections — with complaints coming from both the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association — the Denton attorneys have signaled the battle has only just begun in the city situated in the heart and soul of the Barnett Shale, the birthplace of fracking. 

In its response to the Texas Oil and Gas Association, Denton's attorneys argued the Association did not provide sufficient legal evidence that the Texas constitution demarcates the Texas Railroad Commission or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as the only governmental bodies that can regulate or permit fracking.

“Nowhere in…the Petition as a whole, does Plaintiff identify what regulations have been passed by the Texas Railroad Commission or the Texas Commission or Environmental Quality that allegedly occupy the 'entire field' rendering the [ban] preempted and unconstitutional,” wrote the attorneys. “City requests the Court to order Plaintiff to replead that claim with greater specificity to meet those fair notice requirements.”

Industry-friendly Railroad Commission (RRC) chairman Christi Craddick is on the record stating that the RRC will continue to issue permits despite the fact Denton citizens voted for a ban.

The Denton attorneys also argued that fracking is a “public nuisance” and “subversive of public order” in defense of the fracking ban.

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.

Introducing "Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat"

DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn and Republic Report's Lee Fang have co-written an in-depth report on the influence the government-industry revolving door has had on Big Oil's ability to obtain four liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits since 2012 from the Obama Administration.

Titled “Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat,” the report published here on DeSmogBlog and on Republic Report serves as the launching pad of an ongoing investigation. It will act as the prelude of an extensive series of articles by both websites uncovering the LNG exports influence peddling machine. 

The report not only exposes the lobbying apparatus that has successfully opened the door for LNG exports, but also the PR professionals paid to sell them to the U.S. public. It also exposes those who have gone through the “reverse revolving door,” moving from industry back to government and sometimes back again.

It reveals that many former Obama Administration officials now work as lobbyists or PR professionals on behalf of the LNG exports industry, as do many former Bush Administration officials. So too do those with ties to potential 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. 

They include:

State Department's Keystone XL Contractor ERM Approved Project Now Melting Glaciers

A controversial government contractor once again finds itself in hot water, or in this case, melting glacier water.

TransCanada chose Environmental Resources Management Group (ERM) as one of its contractors to conduct the environmental impact statement for Keystone XL on behalf of the U.S. State Department. ERM Group also happens to have green-lighted a gold mining project in central Asia that is now melting glaciers.

ERM Group has a penchant for rubber-stamping projects that have had tragic environmental and public health legacies. For example, ERM formerly worked on behalf of the tobacco industry to pitch the safety of its deadly product.

A January 2014 study about Keystone XL's climate change impacts published in the journal Nature Climate Change paints a drastically different picture than ERM Group's Keystone XL tar sands study.

The Kumtor Gold Mineowned by Centerra Gold/Cameco Corporation, was provided a stamp of approval from ERM Group in October 2012. Similar to the TransCanada arrangement with the State Department on Keystone XL, Centerra served as the funder of the report evaluating its own project. 

ERM Group Melting Glaciers

“The mine sits at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level, in the Tien Shan mountain range and among some of Kyrgyzstan's - and the region's - most important glaciers,” explained an October 28 story published in Asia Times.

“Centerra Gold has consistently dismissed as untrue that operations at Kumtor have had negative implications for the glaciers, which are reportedly melting with observable speed due to years of dumping rock tailings onto the ice sheet. The Canadian company has backed its position with expert evaluations from consultancies such as Environmental Resources Management.” 

Bush Family and Its Inner Circle Play Central Role in Lawsuits Against Denton, Texas Fracking Ban

George P. Bush, Texas Land Commissioner-Elect

On November 4, Denton, Texas, became the first city in the state to ban the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) when 59 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the initiative. It did so in the heart of the Barnett Shale basin, where George Mitchell — the “father of fracking” — drilled the first sample wells for his company Mitchell Energy.

As promised by the oil and gas industry and by Texas Railroad Commission commissioner David Porter, the vote was met with immediate legal backlash. Both the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGAfiled lawsuits in Texas courts within roughly 12 hours of the vote taking place, the latest actions in the aggressive months-long campaign by the industry and the Texas state government to fend off the ban.

The Land Office and TXOGA lawsuits, besides making similar legal arguments about state law preempting local law under the Texas Constitution, share something else in common: ties to former President George W. Bush and the Bush family at large.

In the Land Office legal case, though current land commissioner Jerry Patterson signed off on the lawsuit, he will soon depart from office. And George Prescott Bush — son of former Florida Governor and prospective 2016 Republican Party presidential nominee Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush — will take his place.

George P. Bush won his land commissioner race in a landslide, gaining 61 percent of the vote. Given the cumbersome and lengthy nature of litigation in the U.S., it appears the Land Office case will have only just begun by the time Bush assumes the office.

The TXOGA legal complaint was filed by a powerful team of attorneys working at the firm Baker Botts, the international law firm named after the familial descendants of James A. Baker III, a partner at the firm.

Baker III served as chief-of-staff under both President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and as a close advisor to President George W. Bush on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He gave George P. Bush a $10,000 donation for his campaign for his race for land commissioner.

James A. Baker III Campaign Contribution George P. Bush

Photo Credit: Texas Land Commission

The Energy Policy Act of 2005which exempts the oil and gas industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act for fracking, is seen by critics as the legacy of ashes left behind by the George W. Bush Administration.

Yet almost a decade later, the two lawsuits filed against Denton show the Bush oil and gas legacy clearly lives on and stretches from the state where the fracking industry was born all the way to Iraq and back again. 


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