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Sun, 2014-02-16 07:00Anne Landman
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Canadian Company Called U.S. Oil Sands Will Soon Start Extracting Utah's Tar Sands

Think only Canadians need to worry about tar sands extraction? Think again.

In October, U.S. Oil Sands, Inc. joined Kentucky-based Arrakis Oil Recovery as the second company to receive a permit to produce U.S. tar sands. The Utah Water Quality Board gave U.S. Oil Sands a permit to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day from Utah's tar sands reserves. 

Despite its name, U.S. Oil Sands is actually a Canadian outfit based in Calgary, Alberta. The company currently holds leases on just over 32,000 acres in Utah's Uintah Basin. U.S. Oil Sands' mining will take place at PR Spring on the Colorado Plateau in an area called the Bookcliffs, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border.  

U.S. Oil Sands' water-and-energy-intensive extraction process involves first digging up congealed tar sands, then crushing them to reduce their size. The company then mixes the crushed sand with large amounts of hot water (at a temperature of 122-176°F) to loosen up and liquefy the tarry, oil-containing residue and separating it from the sand.

Next, coarse solids sink, are subsequently removed and considered waste tailings. Air is then bubbled through the remaining water-oil mixture, which makes the oil float to the top in what's referred to as “bitumen froth,” in industry lingo. The froth is then deaerated, meaning all the air molecules are removed.

When it finally gets to this point in the production process, the mixture is still so thick it can't be pumped through pipelines.

Thus, it undergoes even more treatment with a hydrocarbon solvent to reduce the viscosity and density of the sludge. Wastes from the process — which contain water contaminated with chemicals and unrecoverable oils — are called “middlings” and will be disposed of in surface tailings ponds and kept long-term.

Tue, 2014-02-11 17:28Anne Landman
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Colorado Communities Battle to Ban Fracking

Citizens in cities on Colorado's front range are pushing back against the fracking boom by passing ballot measures to either prohibit the practice or ban it temporarily.

The town of Longmont was the first in Colorado to ban fracking in 2012, when voters changed their city charter to prohibit it. Governor John Hickenlooper's administration then sued Longmont over their ban, claiming only the state has the authority to regulate drilling.

Despite the lawsuit, in 2013 even more Colorado cities passed anti-fracking ballot measures. Fort Collins passed a five year moratorium on fracking within city limits, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) sued Fort Collins over the measure less than one month after it passed. By a close vote, the city of Broomfield narrowly passed a ballot measure similar to Fort Collins'.

After a recount determined Broomfield's measure had passed by 17 votes out of more than 20,000 cast, COGA sued Broomfield, too, saying only the state can regulate drilling.

Boulder citizens voted 78 percent in favor of extending an existing moratorium on fracking by five more years, and by a margin of 60.1 to 39.9 percent, Lafayette voters amended their city charter to make fracking for energy development out-and-out illegal. COGA sued Lafayette, too, at the same time it sued Fort Collins.

So far, Boulder has escaped a lawsuit since there currently are no active wells there. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), whose district contains all of these embattled cities, defended their efforts to ban fracking within their borders. Polis posted a YouTube video in which he tells COGA to stop their lawsuits, saying it's “unAmerican” for COGA to sue Colorado communities “just because they didn't like the outcome at the ballot box.”

Sat, 2014-02-08 10:47Anne Landman
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Colorado Senate Passes Split Estate Disclosure Bill on Unanimous Vote

bill requiring disclosure of a possible split estate condition upon the sale of residential property passed the Colorado Senate on January 24, 2014 in a unanimous vote.

The consumer protection and fracking-awareness bill orders sellers of residential property to disclose to buyers whether the surface of the property may be separately owned from the mineral rights beneath the land.

The bill also requires sellers to disclose any oil and gas-related activity that could possibly occur on or adjacent to the property, including drilling, surveying, oil or gas storage, well completion operations, or gas processing facilities.

The 2009 documentary “Split Estate” by Red Rock Pictures raised awareness of so-called “split estate” situations in which land owners in the Rocky Mountain region were completely unaware that they did not own the mineral rights to property beneath their land or homes. The movie showed families enduring tragedies after drilling operations suddenly sprang up next to their homes, including contamination of domestic water wells and springs, drilling rigs catching fire frighteningly close to their homes, and family members falling desperately ill after exposure to oil and gas exploration operations next to their residences.

Under the bill, the split estate disclosures would have to be listed in bold faced-type on the contract. If it passes the Colorado House and is signed by Governor John Hickenlooper, the measure will take effect just after midnight on August 6, 2014 – 90 days after the Colorado Legislature adjourns for the year. 

Tue, 2014-02-04 17:40Anne Landman
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Study Links Gas Drilling to Heart Defects in Babies

newly-published study specific to Colorado (pdf) links the rate of congenital heart defects in babies to how close they live to natural gas wells.

The study, published January 28, 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time – 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 in rural Colorado.

Researchers discovered an association between the density and proximity of methane (“natural gas”) wells within a ten mile radius of the mothers' residences and the prevalence of heart defects, low birth weight and small-for-gestational age in newborns. Congenital heart defects are often associated with maternal exposure to toxins during gestation from sources like maternal smoking, alcohol abuse, exposure to solvents, benzene, toluene and petroleum-based solvents.

Low birth weight and pre-term births are associated with exposure to air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, all of which are emitted during natural gas production.

The authors restricted their study to people living in rural areas and towns in Colorado with populations under 50,000 to reduce the potential for exposure to other sources of pollution, like heavy traffic and pollution from other industries. The researchers compared results with births among mothers who live in control areas that do not have natural gas drilling nearby.

Mon, 2013-12-23 05:00John Mashey
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Study Details Dark Money Flowing to Climate Science Denial

Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle's long-awaited, peer-reviewed study “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations” was published Dec. 20 in the journal Climatic Change.

The Drexel press release, “Not Just the Koch Brothers: New Drexel Study Reveals Funders Behind the Climate Change Denial Effort” gives a quick introduction to the findings:

'This study marks the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis ever conducted of the sources of funding that maintain the denial effort.
Through an analysis of the financial structure of the organizations that constitute the core of the countermovement and their sources of monetary support, Brulle found that, while the largest and most consistent funders behind the countermovement are a number of well-known conservative foundations, the majority of donations are 'dark money,' or concealed funding.”

“Funding has shifted to pass through untraceable sources. Coinciding with the decline in traceable funding, the amount of funding given to denial organizations by the Donors Trust has risen dramatically. Donors Trust is a donor-directed foundation whose funders cannot be traced. This one foundation now provides about 25% of all traceable foundation funding used by organizations engaged in promoting systematic denial of climate change.”

Of course, many recipients engage in numerous other actiivities outside the climate issue, and Brulle's study did not and could not address the percentage spent on climate change.  The clear message is that tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations that spread climate denial get huge sums of dark money, and we really do not yet know exactly how they spend it.

Brulle has provided DeSmogBlog with the 120-page Supplementary Material, with detailed financial data and explanations of the methodology. Figs 1-4 are attached below. Fig 3 shows how the DONORS TRUST money anonymizer has grown:

Growth of DONORS

Tue, 2013-09-17 10:53Connor Gibson
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Two Tweets and a Lie! Greenpeace Responds to Heartland Institute

From left: Heartland Institute president Joseph Bast, lawyer James Taylor and contracted pseudo-scientist Craig Idso.

From left: Heartland Institute president Joseph Bast, lawyer James Taylor and contracted pseudo-scientist Craig Idso. Crossposted from PolluterWatch.org

As we've told the Heartland Institute directly through Twitter, their response to our new report on climate change denial, Dealing in Doubt, contains a series of lies that are tellingly consistent with the lies we document in the report itself. Here are some, but not all, of the silliest claims Heartland made in their response to us:

Mon, 2013-08-26 05:00Farron Cousins
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BP Launches Massive PR Campaign To Demonize Oil Spill Victims

BP, the oil giant that, along with Halliburton and Transocean, was responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, is crying foul in the claims process of settlements for the victims of the spill.  The company has launched a massive public relations offensive to paint themselves as the victims in this situation.

According to The Hill, BP CEO Bob Dudley said recently that the entire claims process has been “absurd,” and that his company has been more than generous with their payments.  BP spokesperson Geoff Morrell said:  “While we remain committed to paying legitimate claims, we did not agree to pay for fictitious losses, or for claims that are based on fraud or tainted by corruption.”

While the overall PR war may appear to be aimed at the victims along the Gulf Coast, the real targets of BP’s campaign are trial lawyers.  They have even enlisted the help of the largest business lobby and strongest advocates for “tort reform”, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Hill reports that a recent ad placed by BP in The Washington Post quoted National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons, saying, “Too often these days, the tort system is nothing more than a trial-lawyer bonanza, and that’s not fair to individuals seeking redress and no way to encourage investment in manufacturing to create tomorrow’s high-paying jobs.”

The reason that the company is trying to paint the claims process as plagued with fraud is that they had underestimated the amount of claims that they would have to pay out, and their settlement fund is quickly running dry.  This means that subsequent payments will have to come directly out of the company’s profits, a move that is not sitting well with shareholders who were promised that the price tag would not exceed $8 billion

Sun, 2013-08-25 15:00Farron Cousins
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The Deadly Truth About Oil And Gas Industry Safety Standards

A new report delivers a dire warning to employees in the oil and gas industries: Your job could be the death of you.  According to recently released statistics from 2012, on the job deaths in the oil and gas industries spiked by a staggering 23% last year, a larger increase than any other employment sector in the United States.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said that the amount of deaths within the industry was “unacceptable.”  In 2012, according to labor statistics, there were 138 on the job deaths in the oil and gas industry, which is an increase from the 112 deaths that occurred in the prior year.  This is a stark contrast to all industries, as the total number of worker deaths across the board decreased last year.

The trend in oil and gas industry deaths is nothing new.  Between 2003 and 2010, the industry had the highest death toll in the United States, beating out all other industries for worker deaths.  The majority of these deaths are due to workers being struck by equipment, struck by vehicles, and occasionally a major catastrophic accident, like the BP refinery explosion in Texas in 2005, and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in 2010.

Mon, 2013-06-10 08:36Jeff Gailus
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Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 3: Wherein money trumps fact every time

This is last installment of a three-part series on greenwashing and the tar sands. Be sure to read Part 1, A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, and Part 2, Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

Recently, Canadian Oil Sands Chief Executive Officer Marcel Coutu explained to Bloomberg why he and other big shot oil executives have been lobbying U.S. politicians so hard for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ferry more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude to the Gulf Coast. Coutu had participated in a Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) lobbying junket in February, and another trip is being planned for this month.

The first reason is money. The Keystone XL pipeline is a vital component of the tar sands industry’s plans. Without it, it will be hard for Big Oil to double production of tar sands crude by 2020. With no way to transport the extra crude to markets in the U.S. and beyond, there would be no point in spending all that money to turn bitumen into a crude form of oil. This, Coutu said, has had a chilling effect on investment and share prices.

Canadian Oil Sands shares have risen just two per cent this year, while Cenovus’ have fallen seven percent and Imperial Oil’s are down 6.2 percent. Keystone XL, says Todd Kepler, a Calgary-based oil and gas analyst at Cormark Securities, would increase share prices for oil producers by as much as 20 per cent.

That's a big deal worth millions of dollars.

Thu, 2013-05-23 05:30John Mashey
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FOIA Facts 4 - George Mason Takes The Money And Breaks The Rules

New Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) replies (1, 2, and 3) expose worse misbehavior at George Mason University. GMU badly mishandled simple plagiarism complaints, including one on a Federally-funded paper, retracted in May 2011, finally ruled as misconduct in 2012. Federal rules required notifications to several agencies earlier, but FOIA requests found no trace of any: Army 1, Army 2, GMU 1, GMU 2.

GMU gets $129M+/year in Federal grant funds, generally takes 30% for itself, but breaks rules.

A Nature editorial criticized GMU's handling, the Chronicle of Higher Education covered the retraction, Science discussed the process. USA Today's Dan Vergano later wrote in February 2012:

''”We took these charges very seriously,” (GMU Provost Peter) Stearns said, in a telephone interview, adding that the university will forward the investigation reports to federal authorities. The National Institutes of Health and the Department of the Army supported the 2008 study.'

Stearns had already written falsehoods to his own faculty, as detailed in See No Evil, Speak Little Truth, Break Rules, Blame Others, §6. GMU has many respectable faculty members, but the GMU administration ran a bizarre process far outside academic norms, GMU's own rules and Federal rules.

Was this just total incompetence by the administration of a 32,000-student university? Or was some part played by the powerful influence at GMU of Charles Koch and his associates, as discussed in See No Evil §A.5, §A.6?

In any case, Edward Wegman was appointed in Fall 2012 to a 3-year term on the GMU College of Science Promotion and Tenure Committee.

Then, in February 2013 GMU modified its already-opaque and complaint-discouraging process to be even more so.

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