Back to School: "Frackademia" Alive and Well at U.S. Universities, Says New Report

The Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) has published a timely “back to school” report concluding that “frackademia” is alive and well at U.S. universities. 

While only focusing on the people and money behind five recent studies, PAI's report sits within a much broader universe of research in its Frackademia Guide. The new report serves as an update of its February 2015 report titled, “Frackademia in Depth,” a title poking fun at hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) front group Energy in Depth (which did not react kindly to its report).

Judges Nixing Keystone XL South Cases Had Tar Sands-Related Oil Investments

On August 4, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 10th Circuit shot down the Sierra Club's petition for rehearing motion for the southern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. The decision effectively writes the final chapter of a years-long legal battle in federal courts. 

But one of the three judges who made the ruling, Bobby Ray Baldock — a Ronald Reagan nominee — has tens of thousands of dollars invested in royalties for oil companies with a major stake in tar sands production in Alberta.  And his fellow Reagan nominee in the Western District of Oklahoma predecessor case, David Russell, also has skin in the oil investments game.  

The disclosures raise questions concerning legal objectivity, or potential lack thereof, for the Judges. They also raise questions about whether these Judges — privy to sensitive and often confidential legal details about oil companies involved in lawsuits in a Court located in the heart and soul of oil country — overstepped ethical bounds. 

These findings from a DeSmog investigation precede President Barack Obama's expected imminent decision on the northern, border-crossing leg of Keystone XL.

Obama Signals Keystone XL "No" on Colbert Report As Enbridge "KXL Clone" He Permitted Opens

In his December 8 “Colbert Report” appearance, President Barack Obama gave his strongest signal yet that he may reject a presidential permit authorizing the Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Yet just a week earlier, and little noticed by comparison, the pipeline giant Enbridge made an announcement that could take the sails out of some of the excitement displayed by Obama's “Colbert Report” remarks on Keystone XL North. That is, Enbridge's “Keystone XL Clone” is now officially open for business

“Keystone XL Clone,” as first coined here on DeSmogBlog, consists of three parts: the U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline; the Flanagan, Illinois to Cushing Flanagan South pipeline; and the Cushing to Freeport, Texas Seaway Twin pipeline.

Enbridge announced that Flanagan South and its Seaway Twin connection are now pumping tar sands crude through to the Gulf of Mexico, meaning game on for tar sands to flow from Alberta to the Gulf through Enbridge's pipeline system.

Alberta Clipper, now rebranded Line 67, was authorized by Hillary Clinton on behalf of the Obama State Department in August 2009 and got a quasi-official permit to expand its capacity by the State Department over the summer. That permit is now being contested in federal court by environmental groups.

Flanagan South, meanwhile, exists due to a legally contentious array of close to 2,000 Nationwide Permit 12 permits handed out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which — as with Alberta Clipper expansion — has helped Enbridge usurp the more democratic and transparent National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process

Tar Sands Trade: Kuwait Buys Stake in Alberta As It Opens Own Heavy Oil Spigot

Chevron made waves in the business world when it announced its October 6 sale of 30-percent of its holdings in the Alberta-based Duvernay Shale basin to Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company (KUFPEC) for $1.5 billion.

It marked the first North American purchase for the Kuwaiti state-owned oil company and yields KUFPEC 330,000 acres of Duvernay shale gas. Company CEO and the country's Crown Prince, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, called it an “anchor project” that could spawn Kuwait's expansion into North America at-large. 

Kuwait's investment in the Duvernay, at face-value buying into Canada's hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) revolution, was actually also an all-in bet on Alberta's tar sands. As explained in an October 7 article in Platts, the Duvernay serves as a key feedstock for condensate, a petroleum product made from gas used to dilute tar sands, allowing the product to move through pipelines. 

And while Kuwait — the small Gulf state sandwiched between Iraq and Saudi Arabia — has made a wager on Alberta's shale and tar sands, Big Oil may also soon make a big bet on Kuwait's homegrown tar sands resources.

“Kuwait has invited Britain’s BP, France’s Total, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron, to bid for a so-called enhanced technical service agreement for the northern Ratqa heavy oilfield,” explained an October 2 article in Reuters. “It is the first time KOC will develop such a big heavy oil reservoir and the plan is to produce 60,000 bpd from Ratqa, which lies close to the Iraqi border [in northern Kuwait]…and then ramp it up to 120,000 bpd by 2025.”

In the past, Kuwait has said it hopes to learn how to extract tar sands from Alberta's petroleum engineers.

Air Quality Concerns Raised By Albany Residents Living Along Oil-By-Rail Tracks

Ezra Prentice apartments

Residents of the Ezra Prentice apartments in Albany, N.Y., have been complaining about air quality issues ever since the oil trains showed up in the Port of Albany two years ago.

And recent testing by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has confirmed their fears. In 20 out of 21 air samples taken by the department, benzene levels exceeded the long-term benzene exposure standard. Benzene is a known human carcinogen.            

What happened next is puzzling. The department reached a shocking conclusion, relayed to the residents of Ezra Prentice by research scientist Randi Walker at an August meeting: “The bottom line is that we didn't find anything that would be considered a health concern with these concentrations that we measured.”

The finding was so bizarre that David O. Carpenter, the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York at Albany, wrote a report about it. In that report, Carpenter calls the Department of Environmental Conservation’s conclusion “irresponsible.”

‘Wild West’ Approach to Regulation in Bakken Shale Means Bomb Trains Continue to Roll

Wild west Bakken

Prepare yourself for a rare moment of honesty from the oil industry.

It happened on Sept. 23 at a hearing of the North Dakota Industrial Commission during a discussion on ways to make Bakken crude oil less flammable for transportation.

The flammable characteristics of our product are actually a big piece of why this product is so valuable. That is why we can make these very valuable products like gasoline and jet fuel,” said Tony Lucero of oil producer Enerplus.

So, there you have it: making Bakken crude safer to transport by rail via oil stabilization, which removes flammable natural gas liquids such as butane, means making it less valuable to the refineries.

This profit motive is at least part of the reason why the American Petroleum Institute has made it clear it will not accept mandatory oil stabilization as part of the new oil-by-rail regulations.

U.S. Oil Imports From Canada Hit All-Time High Despite Opposition

Oil tankers

While the battle against TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline rages on and oil-by-rail faces increased scrutiny, U.S. oil imports from Canada have quietly hit a record high of 2.99 million barrels per day.

That number — from the week ending Sept. 12, 2014 — marks a 20 per cent increase from a year earlier.

While rail is still handling only a small amount of crude oil compared to pipelines, it continues to rapidly expand.

In a May 19, 2014 meeting between the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), API indicated the oil industry estimated it would need 12,000 rail cars to move Western Canadian crude, which is predominantly tar sands oil.

And in the second half of this year, it is becoming evident that the API’s prediction was a pretty good one. Rail is going to play an increased role alongside pipelines in getting tar sands oil to market despite opposition from activists across North America.

Goldman Sachs Warns Investors About Tar Sands By Rail Challenges While Investing in Tar Sands By Rail

Oil by rail

In 2009, Matt Taibbi wrote a piece in Rolling Stone in which he described the investment bank Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” 

Apparently tar sands oil smells like money. And thus the vampire squid has found another target. As Reuters reported on August 29:

A Goldman Sachs-led rail terminal operator, USD Group LLC, announced on Friday plans to form a Master-Limited Partnership this year to trade publicly on the New York Stock Exchange.

This new company will be based around a tar sands rail loading facility in Hardisty, Alberta. That is the same place where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would begin. USD Group already owns a crude-by-rail terminal in the town, with capacity to load two 120-car unit trains per day.

And with the success of this first phase of development, the company has announced plans to double the capacity of the terminal, which would allow it to load 280,000 barrels per day (bpd). The company has also announced plans to add another 70,000 bpd, which would bring its capacity to 350,000 bpd, or roughly half the proposed capacity of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.

Keystone XL Review Extended, Delaying Final Decision Until After 2014 Elections

Reuters and Politico broke a major story today that TransCanada's northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

“The U.S. State Department will…extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the November 4 midterm elections,” Reuters explained.

Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have final say over whether the pipeline will be built because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Reporters learned of the decision after a call between high-level congressional staff and State Department officials. 

“The justification is the need to wait on continued litigation over a Nebraska court decision earlier this year, which threw part of the project’s route in doubt, two sources said today after a call between the State Department and congressional staff,” reported Politico.

In the end, the decision came down to politics, according to Politico, though there are no shortage of climate change and ecological concerns for the prospective pipeline.

“A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult decision on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats,” they reported.

Reuters Boss Accused Of Climate Scepticism Denies Agency Has Cut Climate Reporting

Paul Ingrassia

At Thomson Reuters, we’re in the business of turning change into opportunity,” say the owners of one of the world’s biggest and most influential news agencies.

But the commitment of Reuters to reporting on arguably the most pressing issue in human history – climate change – is now being questioned.

In January, after almost 20 years working for Reuters, the agency’s Asia climate change correspondent David Fogarty was told his role was being axed, but that he could be the correspondent for the shipping industry. He resigned. While Fogarty’s position has apparently not been filled, the agency in late July appointed a dedicated “Gaming Correspondent” to “drive casino coverage in Asia”.

Fogarty had spent four and a half years as the agency’s climate change correspondent for Asia. But things started to change in early 2012. He was told that climate and environment stories were “not a priority” and as time went on, he says it became harder and harder to get climate change stories published.

In a blog post for the Reuters-focussed The Baron website, Fogarty recalled meeting Reuters boss Paul Ingrassia, who at the time was deputy editor-in-chief and is now managing editor.


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