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Tue, 2014-06-03 18:00Steve Horn
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Days Before Obama Announced CO2 Rule, Exxon Awarded Gulf of Mexico Oil Leases

On Friday May 30, just a few days before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced details of its carbon rule proposal, the Obama Administration awarded offshore oil leases to ExxonMobil in an area of the Gulf of Mexico potentially containing over 172 million barrels of oil.

The U.S. Department of Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proclaimed in a May 30 press release that the ExxonMobil offshore oil lease is part of “President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production.” 

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell formerly worked as a petroleum engineer for Mobil, purchased as a wholly-owned subsidiary by Exxon in 1998.

Dubbed a “Private Empire” by investigative reporter Steve Coll, ExxonMobil will now have access to oil and gas in the Alaminos Canyon Area, located 170 miles east of Port Isabel, Texas. Port Isabel borders spring break and tourist hot spot South Padre Island.


Map Credit: U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

ExxonMobil originally won the three leases at the Western Planning Area Sale 233, held on March 19. BOEM records show ExxonMobil was the only company to participate in the bid and paid over $21.3 million.

Fri, 2014-05-30 09:51Graham Readfearn
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Richard Tol's Attack On 97 Percent Climate Change Consensus Study Has 'Critical Errors'

Professor Richard Tol

One of the most consistent of all the attacks from climate science sceptics and deniers is the one which tries to convince the public that expert scientists are divided on the causes of climate change.

Those attacks have come from ideologically motivated think tanks and the fossil fuel industry, often working together. Only last week, the Wall Street Journal published a polemic to try and mislead the public that a consensus does not exist.

In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute was developing a campaign with the explicit aim of convincing the public that “uncertainties” existed in the science of climate change and its causes.

In 2002, Republican pollster Frank Luntz wrote that: “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.”

Several studies have surveyed the views of climate science experts or the scientific literature and have come to the same conclusions — the number of studies and the number of scientists who reject the fact that humans are causing climate change remains vanishingly small.

The latest and most high profile study to survey the scientific literature was led by John Cook, of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute and founder of the Skeptical Science website, and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters in May 2013.

Cook et al analysed close to 12,000 global warming studies from 1991 to 2011 to see how many accepted or rejected the fact that human activities are causing climate change. The researchers also asked scientists themselves to look at their own papers and confirm whether they endorsed the scientific consensus.

The central finding, reported widely and even Tweeted by Barack Obama’s campaign team, was that 97 percent of the scientific papers on climate change found that humans were causing it.

Since that study was published, Professor Richard Tol, an economist from the University of Sussex, has been planning to attack Cook’s paper. 

Mon, 2014-05-19 12:47Julie Dermansky
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Photos of Superstorms and Extreme Events, Inspired by Years of Living Dangerously

The release of Showtime's “Years of Living Dangerously” series about climate change inspired me to edit a collection of my climate change related photographs. They include the aftermath of extreme storms and drought.

Although the United Nations has acknowledged the threat of climate change, as have President Obama and other leaders around the world, the fossil fuel industry forges ahead with business as usual, apparently without real concern for impending catastrophic change. 

Focusing on a wide range of issues, from the continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry to the destruction of forests, these photos serve as a warning call to the growing number of imminent disasters we face. 

“Years of Living Dangerously” episode six airs tonight at 8pm on Showtime. Brendan DeMelle, DeSmogBlog's Executive Director and Managing Editor, was interviewed by host America Ferrera for the segment airing tonight called “Against the Wind.” DeMelle and Center for Media and Democracy executive director Lisa Graves talk with Ferrera about the attacks on renewable energy by the climate denial group Heartland Institute.

You can watch episode one of the series for free here:

My photo slideshow is below.
  

Sun, 2014-04-27 07:00Justin Mikulka
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No Community is Prepared for Major Oil-By-Rail Accident, Senate Hearing Told

Just as you aren’t supposed to try to put out an oil fire in your kitchen with water, you aren’t supposed to try to put out a crude oil fire with water either. But in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that is all firefighters had for the first two days of battling the catastrophic oil-by-rail fire last July.

The fire burned until 8,000 gallons of firefighting foam finally arrived from Toronto, an eight-hour drive away. Forty-seven people were killed in the accident.

This lack of foam not only makes the job of first responders impossible when fighting these crude oil fires — it also greatly increases the environmental damage. While the Lac-Megantic firefighters were using water, they were helping the oil flow into the nearby lake and river. One and a half million gallons of oil were spilled. 

At a recent Senate Appropriations hearing on oil-by-rail safety, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah Hersman was very clear about the state of preparedness in the United States when it comes to addressing accidents like the one in Lac-Megantic.

No community is prepared for a worst-case event,” Hersman said.

One of the main reasons no community is prepared for a worst-case oil-by-rail event is the loophole that exempts oil companies from needing comprehensive spill response plans in place. The NTSB has recommended this be changed, but regulators at the Department of Transportation aren’t moving to do so.

Communities are especially vulnerable to oil-by-rail accidents because they have not been trained to fight crude oil fires and, even if they had been, they don’t have the necessary foam. 

Mon, 2014-04-21 14:14Julie Dermansky
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Four Years After the BP Oil Disaster, A Look Back in Photographs

Just prior to the four-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, BP and the Coast Guard issued press releases. BP announced the  “active cleanup” in Louisiana is over, while the Coast Guard stated the clean up response is far from over.  “We are absolutely committed to continuing the clean-up of Deepwater Horizon oil along the Gulf - for as long as it takes,” Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks wrote. 

The Washington Post reported on the “dueling press releases.”  But Geoff Morrell, BP Senior Vice President for US Communications & External Affairs, told DeSmogBlog,  

“We have never suggested the work of the U.S. Coast Guard or BP is over. Our announcement Tuesday merely highlighted the end of active clean up of the Gulf shoreline. We believe that is a very significant achievement that resulted from four years of sustained work with the USCG. However, that accomplishment has not in any way diminished our commitment to the Gulf. To the contrary, we will continue to work with the USCG, primarily in responding to reports of any residual Macondo oil and taking action where removal is required.”

BP's claim that it would  “make things right” still echoes from its advertising campaign. But scaling back clean-up operations means the burden of oil sighting reports will fall more on the public. The Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit environmental group, is dismayed. GRN spokesman Raleigh Hoke told the Washington Post,  “It’s clearly premature to end the active cleanup.” 

Plaquemines Parish Coastal Zone Director P. J. Hahn, who continues to monitor the effects of the BP spill, pointed out last year that oil sightings come from fishermen and environmental groups more often than from the Coast Guard or BP.

Hahn has led a crusade to save two barrier islands that were bird rookeries before the spill. For the first two years after the spill, the birds returned, but by 2013 the birds had almost nowhere left to nest and abandoned the islands.  

The oil that hit the island killed the roots of marsh grass and mangrove trees that held the islands together, speeding up coastal erosion that was already eating away at the islands.

By now, the islands have all but disappeared.  No birds were found on the two islands this year that have all but disappeared. Instead Hahn and reporter Bob Marshall found some birds nesting on another barrier island nearby in a rookery that is not nearly as large as the ones that Hahn still hopes to restore. 

How prepared are oil companies and the Coast Guard for spills?

DeSmogBlog put that question to Dr. Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist and Exxon Valdez survivor who has been monitoring the Valdez oil spill. Ott says, “We are less prepared now to respond to an oil spill than we were 25 years ago.”

Mon, 2014-04-07 15:26Brendan DeMelle
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Years of Living Dangerously: Watch the Most Important Premiere of 2014 Right Now

Looking for something inspiring to watch tonight instead of Game of Thrones? Check out this sneak peak of Years of Living Dangerously, which will premiere on Showtime on Sunday, April 13 at 10pm. Years Of Living Dangerously is a 9-part series produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Weintraub along with former 60 Minutes producers who have 18 Emmys between them. Showtime and the producers were gracious enough to provide the first episode in full on YouTube.  

Once you see it, I bet you'll want to sign up for Showtime to see the rest of the series this spring. (Yes, it's on Showtime which not many households or establishments subscribe to. But wouldn't you like to support the network that hosts such an important series about climate change?)

Watch the first episode of Years of Living Dangerously in full below:

Pretty awesome, right? Sign up at Showtime.com so you don't miss future episodes, including one about the attacks on renewable energy that I was interviewed by America Ferrera for, airing in May. 

Tue, 2014-03-25 19:07Graham Readfearn
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Exclusive: Climate Change Philosopher A Target Of Abusive Hate Campaign

DIE you maggot,” reads one of the hundreds of emails from climate science deniers that have dropped into philosopher Lawrence Torcello’s inbox in recent days.

“Fortunately, your kind will be marched to the wall with all the other leftist detritus,” says another.

Others accuse Torcello, an assistant professor at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Department of Philosophy in the west of New York State, of being a fascist, Stalinist and a Nazi.

The catalyst for the bilious outpouring was an article Torcello had written for The Conversation website arguing there was “good reason to consider” that “the funding of climate denial” was morally and criminally negligent.

I knew there would be debate in the comment section, which I was welcoming,” Torcello told me, adding he also knew the “usual climate denialist blogs” wouldn’t like it too much.

But I didn’t expect the wide level of exposure that the misrepresentations would get in the press and I didn’t expect the intense storm of hate mail and Twitter harassment the article experienced.”

At one point, he says he picked up his phone to be told that soon he would be “paid a visit”. One email told Torcello — in customary all-caps angriness — that he was a “FAGGOT” and that global warming was “A LIE STRAIGHT FROM THE JEWS”.

“When I include phone calls and twitter harassment in addition to the emails I’ve received, then somewhere above 700 items of correspondence seems like a good estimate,” says Torcello.

“I did stop keeping count after the first few days of constant bombardment, but over a week later mail is still coming.”

Fri, 2014-01-24 08:58Emma Gilchrist
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Keystone XL Could Boost Global Oil Consumption By 500K Barrels A Day

A new study from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) focuses on a greenhouse gas impact of the Keystone XL pipeline that hasn’t received much attention: how the pipeline could affect the global oil market by increasing supply, decreasing prices and therefore driving up global oil consumption.

Even if those effects are small in global terms, they could be significant in relationship to Keystone XL and U.S. climate policy, argue Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus, senior scientists in SEI’s U.S. Center, in a new paper, Greenhouse gas emissions implications of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The more suppliers there are in the market for oil, the more they compete and that drives down prices for consumers,” Erickson said.

Climate policy and analysis often focuses on energy production and consumption, but rarely considers how energy infrastructure might shape energy use and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Keystone XL pipeline proposal to connect Canadian tar sands production with the Gulf of Mexico’s refineries and ports have brought these questions to light. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he will only approve Keystone XL if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

To gauge the pipeline’s potential impact, Erickson and Lazarus built a supply-and-demand model using publicly available supply curves and peer-reviewed demand elasticities (the extent to which changes in oil consumption respond to changes in oil prices).

They examined three possibilities — 1) That the Keystone XL permit is rejected, and the same amount of oil would reach the market by other means; 2) if half of the oil reaches the market anyway; and 3) that none reaches the market.

For the last two cases, the researchers found the pipeline’s impact on global oil prices, though modest (less than one percent), would be enough to increase global oil consumption by hundreds of thousands of barrels per day.

Tue, 2013-12-10 12:01Steve Horn
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TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Keystone XL Southern Half; Exact Start Date A Mystery

Keystone XL's southern half is one step closer to opening for business. TransCanada announced that “on Saturday, December 7, 2013, the company began to inject oil into the Gulf Coast Project pipeline as it moves closer to the start of commercial service.”

The Sierra Club's legal challenge to stop the pipeline was recently denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, so the southern half, battled over for years between the industry and environmentalists, will soon become a reality.

According to a statement provided to DeSmog by TransCanada, “Over the coming weeks, TransCanada will inject about three million of [sic] barrels of oil into the system, beginning in Cushing, Oklahoma and moving down to the company’s facilities in the Houston refining area.”

In mid-January, up to 700,000 barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen (dilbit) could begin flowing through the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's pipeline, known as the Gulf Coast Project. Running from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, the southern half of the pipeline was approved by both a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 and an Executive Order from President Barack Obama in March 2012.

BloombergThe Canadian Press and The Oklahoman each reported that the Gulf Coast Project pipeline is now being injected with oil. Line fill is the last key step before a pipeline can begin operations. 

“There are many moving parts to this process – completion of construction, testing, regulatory approvals, line fill and then the transition to operations,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told DeSmog. “Line fill has to take place first, then once final testing and certifications are completed, the line can then go into commercial service.”

Residents living along the length of the southern half will have no clue about the rest of the start-up process, as TransCanada says it won't provide any more information until the line is already running. “For commercial and contractual reasons, the next update we will provide will be after the line has gone into commercial service,” the company announced.

When DeSmog asked whether the company is currently injecting conventional oil or diluted bitumen sourced from the Canadian tar sands, TransCanada's Howard replied: 

“Many people like to try and categorize the blend, etc., however we are injecting oil into the pipeline. As you’ve likely seen me quoted before, oil is oil and this pipeline is designed to handle both light and heavy blends of oil, in accordance with all U.S. regulatory standards.

I am not able to provide you the specific blend or breakdown as we are not permitted (by our customers) from disclosing that information to the media. There are very strict confidentiality clauses in the commercial contracts we enter into with our customers, and that precludes us from providing that. The reason is that if we are providing information about a specific blend, when it is in our system, etc. – that has the potential to identify who our customers may be or allow others to take financial positions in the market and profit from that information when others do not have access to the same information. This has much farther reaching impacts for the financial markets (and ultimately all of us).”

Thu, 2013-11-21 07:14Graham Readfearn
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Exclusive: Greenpeace Leader Kumi Naidoo's COP19 Walkout Message For Governments "Playing Political Poker" With Planet's Future

At about 2pm, they started to stream down corridors and sift down escalators, weaving through the halls leading to the negotiating rooms and out through the main security gate - hundreds of them.

The United Nations climate change talks had not been going well - perhaps an understatement - and for the first time in the 18-year history of these negotiations, the environment groups and civil society organisations had had enough.

It was time to walk out of Poland's national sports stadium in Warsaw - groups from all corners of the world donning white t-shirts and streaming out of the talks, known as COP19, beneath a giant United Nations sign reading “Welcome”.

Speaking exclusively to DeSmogBlog outside the talks after checking in his UNFCCC badge, Kumi Naidoo, the human rights activist and executive director of Greenpeace International, insisted the walkout was not a sign of them giving up.

“It is clear that what's happening here is not just betrayal to future generations - because it is clear that the people negotiating here are not going to bear the brunt of climate impacts. It's our children and grandchildren that are going to.

“This is not about giving up, but is about taking the struggle to a different level. If we are to get a solution out of this COP we need people around the world to start - in every country - putting pressure on their governments to actually come to these COPs with a very strong mandate which has serious levels of ambition with regards to cutting carbon.

“Serious ambition too with regard to ensuring that poor countries have the money to adapt to climate change and not follow the same dirty energy pathway that rich countries followed to build their economies.”

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