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Mon, 2013-10-14 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Flaws in Environmental Defense Fund's Methane Study Draw Criticism from Scientists

Perhaps the single most consequential and controversial issue at the center of the onshore natural gas drilling boom is the question of methane leaks. Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and if enough escapes into the atmosphere, these leaks could potentially make natural gas a worse fuel for the climate than coal.

In mid-September, researchers from the University of Texas published a study that was hailed by a triumphant oil and gas industry, which claimed it definitively showed that methane leaks from fracking are minimal. Major news outlets largely fed this excitement, proclaiming that the study showed EPA had dramatically overestimated methane leaks from the drilling boom.

But as the celebrations died down and more sober and rigorous analysis of the study has begun, scientists are finding that the University of Texas study is riddled with flaws.

The backers of the report cherry-picked the oil and gas wells included in the study, selecting smaller wells that had less capacity to leak and ones that used leak controls that are not currently used at many of the nation’s wells. The authors systematically ignored more recent federal research indicating that as much as 17 percent of natural gas – more than 10 times the estimate indicated by the UT study – leaks from gas fields, and overlooked serious methodological flaws that were pointed out in similar studies dating back as far as 1996.

As scientists have raised these concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund, one backer of the study which was 90 percent funded by the oil and gas industry, have tried to tamp down some of the media excitement surrounding the result and said that their research was misrepresented.

Fri, 2013-09-27 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Mobile Alabama: A Tar Sands Mecca in the Making

It took a while for the Alabama public to understand that their state is being transformed into a tar sands Mecca. Proposals for rail and pipeline transport and tar sands storage facilities were first presented in 2010, and by 2012, most were rubber stamped with no public input.

But in 2013, a handful of concerned citizens in the Mobile Bay Sierra Club and the newly formed Tar Sands Mobile Coalition cried foul. And now their cries are being heard.

Two of four proposed projects are on hold – The Plains Southcap Pipeline, which would pass through the Big Creek Lake watershed that supplies drinking water to Mobile and the vicinity, and the American Tank & Vessel project to build tar sands storage tanks in Africatown, a historic Mobile neighborhood.  

Still reeling from the BP oil spill, concerned citizens along the Gulf Coast are fighting back by educating themselves about the risks these tar sands projects present to their communities and then spreading the word to their neighbors, their elected officials and the media. 

September 17th delivered a big victory when Judge Don Davis dismissed Plains Southcap's condemnation lawsuit against Mobile Area Water and Sewer System (MAWSS). This victory opens the door for landowners to fight back. At issue was whether Plains Southcap had authority to use eminent domain to condemn the land they wanted in the Big Creek Watershed in the first place. This judge ruled they did not.

There are currently four tar sands related developments in progress in Mobile, Alabama:

Wed, 2013-09-25 05:00Sharon Kelly
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What a Secretly-Negotiated Free Trade Agreement Could Mean for Fracking in the U.S.

A trade agreement being secretly negotiated by the Obama administration could allow an end run by the oil and gas industry around local opposition to natural gas exports. This agreement, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is being crafted right now – and the stakes for fracking and shale gas are high.

While the vast majority of the opposition to fracking in the US has focused on domestic concerns – its impact on air and water, local land rights, misleading information about its finances – less attention has been paid to a topic of colossal consequence: natural gas exports.

At least 15 companies have filed applications with the federal Department of Energy to export liquified natural gas (LNG). The shale gas rush has caused a glut in the American market thanks to fracking, and now the race is on among industry giants to ship the liquefied fuel by tanker to export markets worldwide, where prices run far higher than in the U.S.

As drilling has spread across the U.S., grassroots organizing around unconventional oil and gas drilling and fracking has grown to an unprecedented level in many communities. Public hearings and town halls from New York to California have been flooded with concerned scientific experts, residents and small business owners and farmers who stand to be impacted by the drilling boom.

Drilling advocates have become increasingly concerned about how grassroots organizing has expanded over the past 5 years. “Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has largely failed to appreciate social and political risks, and has repeatedly been caught off guard by the sophistication, speed and influence of anti-fracking activists,” one consultant warned the industry last year.

Some of the most resounding setbacks the drilling industry has faced have come at the state or local level. Bans and moratoria have led drilling companies to withdraw from leases in parts of the country, abandoning, at least for the short term, plans to drill.

But when it comes to natural gas exports – which many analysts have said are key for the industry’s financial prospects –independent experts and local organizers may soon find themselves entirely shut out of the decision-making process, if the oil and gas industry has its way.

Wed, 2013-09-18 05:00Steve Horn
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Big Oil PR Pros, Lobbyists Dominate EDF Fracking Climate Study Steering Committee

Alongside releasing its controversial findings on fugitive methane emissions caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on September 16, University of Texas-Austin also unveiled an industry-stacked Steering Committee roster for the study it conducted in concert with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Stacked with former and current oil industry lobbyists, policy professionals and business executives, the Steering Committee is proof positive of the conflicts of interest evident in the roster of people and funding behind the “frackademia” study.

Only two out of the 11 members of the Steering Committee besides lead author and UT-Austin Professor David Allen have a science background relevant to onshore fracking. 

That study found fugitive methane emissions at the well pad to be 2%-4% lower than discovered by the non-industry funded groundbreaking April 2011 Cornell University study co-authored by Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth.

The Cornell study concluded fracking is worse for the climate than coal combustion when measured over its entire lifecycle. 

Webster's Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as “a committee, especially of a deliberative or legislative body, that prepares the agenda of a session.”

In the case of the EDF study - based on the oddly rosy findings - it seems plausible the industry-stacked Committee drove the report in a direction beneficial to oil industry profits rather than science.  

Tue, 2013-09-03 14:37Steve Horn
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"Frackademia" By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

With the school year starting for many this week, it's another year of academia for professors across the United States - and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law. 

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”). 

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.” 

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding - $100 million per year - between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling. 

The Energy Policy Act of 2005's ”Halliburton Loophole” - which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” - is by far the bill's most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush's cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Tue, 2013-08-13 07:00Sharon Kelly
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Greenwashing Concerns Mount as Evidence of Fracking's Climate Impact Grows

Several years ago, Utah public health officials realized they had a big problem on their hands – one with national implications as other states were racing to increase oil and gas drilling. Smog levels in the state’s rural Uintah basin were rivaling those found in Los Angeles or Houston on their worst days.

The culprit, an EPA report concluded earlier this year: oil and gas operations. The industry was responsible for roughly 99 percent of the volatile organic compounds found in the basin, which mixed under sunlight with nitrogen oxides – at least 57% of which also came from oil and gas development – to form the choking smog, so thick that the nearby Salt Lake City airport was forced to divert flights when the smog was at its worst.

But the haze over the Uintah isn’t the most dangerous air pollutant coming from the oil and gas fields in the valley.

A string of studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the core ingredient in natural gas, methane, is leaking at rates far higher than previously suspected.  This methane has climate change impacts that, on a pound-for-pound basis, will be far more powerful over the next two decades than the carbon dioxide emissions that have been the focus of most climate change discussions.

The smog problem is especially pronounced in Utah. But a growing body of research nationwide suggests that methane is leaking from the natural gas industry at levels far higher than previously known.

In Washington D.C., pressure is mounting to ignore these methane leaks. The oil and gas industry says there is no time to waste. We must proceed immediately with the “all-of-the-above” national energy strategy they say, code for “drill baby drill”. This pressure is coming not only from the natural gas industry itself, but also from a surprising ally: the Environmental Defense Fund, which has supported natural gas development as a “bridge” from coal to renewables.

This position has drawn renewed accusations that the EDF is “greenwashing” for the natural gas industry.

Tue, 2013-07-16 07:57Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Scandal: Obama Attorney's Law Firm Represents TransCanada's Pipeline in Alaska

DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Robert Bauer, former White House Counsel and President Barack Obama's personal attorney, works at the corporate law firm Perkins Coie LLP, which does legal work for TransCanada's South Central LNG Project, formerly known as Alaska Gas Pipeline Project.

Furthermore, 
Dan Sullivan, current Commissioner of Alaska's Department of Natural Resources, and former Alaska Attorney General and former Assistant Secretary of State in the Bush Administration, is a former Perkins attorney. 

These findings come in the immediate aftermath of a recent investigation revealing the contractor hired by Obama's U.S. State Department to do the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline - Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) - lied on its June 2012 conflict-of interest filing. ERM Group checked the box on the form saying it had no current business ties to TransCanada.

In fact, ERM - a member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on tar sands and Keystone XL since 2008 - does maintain business ties to TransCanada, the investigation revealed. This includes an ongoing consulting relationship with South Central LNG, co-owned by TransCanada, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips.

Under 18 USC § 1001, making a “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation…[to the] executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States“ is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail

On top of his job at Perkins Coie, Bauer - a well-known architect of bending campaign finance law to allow more corporate money to flood into electoral races - served as general counsel to President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. He also serves as general counsel to the Democratic National Committee and did electoral law work for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. 

His wife, Anita Dunn is the co-owner of SKDKnickerbocker, former Obama Communications Director, senior advisor for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and is the former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. She's met with top Obama administration officials more than 100 times since leaving in 2009, according to a recent New York Times investigation. 

Dunn currently does public relations work on behalf of TransCanada and freight rail industry lobbying group, American Association of Railroads (AAR). The tar sands pipeline boom comes alongside a freight rail boom to carry tar sands crude and fracked oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale.

Fri, 2013-06-21 04:00Sharon Kelly
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A Gamble on Shale Job Growth Fails to Pay Off for Governor Corbett, as Fracking Worries Grow Nationwide

Last Friday in Philadelphia, a small crowd gathered outside the Franklin Institute, protest signs in hand. Only a few days before, word went out that Governor Tom Corbett, one of the nation’s least popular governors, would be in Philadelphia, a city that has borne the brunt of many of Mr. Corbett’s crippling budget cuts, and protest organizers said they had mobilized fast.

Inside the museum, Mr. Corbett was speaking at a shale gas summit sponsored by the Keystone Energy Forum, and he was once again touting the benefits of the Marcellus fracking boom.

 “The shale gas industry is helping to sustain more than 240,000 jobs in every corner of our state,” Corbett said. (Many analysts say these numbers are overblown and the impact on the state’s employment has been negligible.)

The speech was textbook Corbett — unapologetic championing of the oil and gas industry, puzzlement at the mounting tide of opposition to fracking, a deep-seated faith in the good intentions of drillers and the benefits they want to bring to Pennsylvania and America.

During this speech, Mr. Corbett made no mention of one drilling services company — Minuteman Environmental Services — that he had extolled as “an American success story” a year ago in a similar speech only to see the company raided by the FBI months later.

And for all the talk about jobs and drilling, no one in the crowd asked him about the recent ranking of Pennsylvania as 49th of 50 states in terms of new job creation.

Tue, 2013-06-11 10:13Steve Horn
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Frackademia: University of Tennessee Set to Lease Forest For Fracking, Enriching Governor's Family

8,600 acres of the Cumberland Forest owned by University of Tennessee-Knoxville will be leased off to the oil and gas industry this August in a new form of “frackademia” - and one of the top financial beneficiaries will be the family of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who sits on UT-Knoxville's Board of Trustees

“Frackademia” is usually thought of as “studies” conducted by university-based “frackademic” researchers and funded by Big Oil, the old “Tobacco Playbook” in action. But UT-Knoxville has taken the game to a whole new level, leasing off land it owns so that it can study “best practices” for fracking in the Volunteer State.

“It would create a rare, controlled environment in which experts could study the environmental impact of the controversial drilling technique, while also generating revenue to finance research,” explained a New York Times article on the proposal

The deal with the oil and gas industry for the acerage includes an initial fee of $300,000, plus $300,000 per year, 15-percent royalties on any gas sold and a minimum of $35 per acre paid to UT-Knoxville

The 8,600 acres sits within the Chattanooga Shale basin, a field still untapped by the industry via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drilling process through which oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins. Atlas Energy - purchased as a subsidiary by Chevron in Nov. 2010 - owns 105,000 acres in the Chattanooga, a clear example the industry has its cross-hairs on the untapped Chattanooga basin. 

UT-Knoxville's new “leasing agency” program will be run under the auspices of the university's Institute of Agriculture, officially referred to as the UT Institute of Agriculture Gas and Oil Research Initiative and a pre-bid proposal conference for prospective industry partners is set for June 21. Leases will be five years long, with a maximum allowance of three renewals, or 20 years total. 

Thu, 2013-06-06 05:00Graham Readfearn
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The Campaigns That Tried To Break The Climate Science Consensus

So just in case anyone wasn’t sure, a major study of almost 12,000 scientific papers on global warming between 1991 and 2011 finds less than one per cent disagree that humans are the main cause.

Published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the study led by John Cook, the Australia-based founder of Skeptical Science, confirms the debate about the causes of global warming had all but vanished in the scientific literature by the early 1990s. Almost all the research says it’s mostly caused by humans.

For any followers of climate science in journals (the place where it actually matters) the finding wasn’t really news at all.

Yet survey after survey finds the public still thinks scientists are arguing over the causes of global warming and the media continues to attempt to resuscitate long-dead ideas.

Does it matter that people have a clear understanding of the main thrust of the science? A 2012 study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that people were more likely to accept human-caused global warming if they were informed that scientists were in broad agreement (which we know they are).

For decades, fossil fuel-funded groups, free market think tanks (some of which also qualify as fossil fuel funded groups) and the fossil fuel industry itself have known the importance of the public’s understanding of the state of climate science. A public that understands the state of the science is more likely to want something done about climate change. Doing something, means using a lot less fossil fuel.

But who wanted to tell the public that a consensus didn’t exist? Here are just some of the campaigns run over the years showing how breaking the consensus in the eyes of the public was a key strategy.

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