The GAO blames a lack of competition in the bidding process, reliance on outdated and incomplete methods to determine “fair market value” of the coal reserves, a disregard of coal exports and their impact on fair valuation, and a blatant lack of transparency in the leasing program.
Senator Edward Markey, who had requested the GAO investigation in 2012 while he still served in the House, responded immediately to the report's findings. The GAO didn't address specifics on how much public revenue might have been lost by mismanaged leases and auctions.
Senator Markey explained that based on an examination of the report and other coal leasing documents that were not made public, his staff figured that the the BLM could have earned at least $200 million more for the American public if managed properly.
Unfortunately, the coal leasing documents investigated by Markey's staff aren't available to the public, which the GAO claims is because of the inclusion of private business information. According to Ned Griffith of the GAO, the information in the report was labeled “sensitive but unclassified” by the Interior Department.
In other words, even though one of the major findings of the GAO report was a troubling lack of transparency, the office itself is shielding from public view these detailed documents about coal leases on public lands.
This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.
Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.
While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).
“It's our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We're expecting to hear the same conclusion that we've heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”
Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.
In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House. This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.
While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.
There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.
The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.
Three years ago the world was reminded of the dangers nuclear energy poses when catastrophe struck Japan at the Fukushima power plant. Since then the gravity of the disaster has grown more evident as cleanup efforts have turned into a debacle. In the last month alone we have seen news of radioactive water leaks at the site, lawsuits from U.S. Navy sailors who responded to the initial disaster and are now developing cancer and ongoing harm to the fishing industry.
The nuclear industry is often portrayed as a climate-neutral alternative to coal and natural gas. An industry-tied movie called Pandora's Promise, recently featured at Sundance and debuted through Netflix and iTunes, has been promoting this very perspective.
But nuclear power plants need cooling water, which means they are often situated on shorelines. That makes these plants more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise. They are also more at risk of being affected by the ever-growing number and severity of storms tied to climate change, such as Hurricane Sandy.
Case in point: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers recently concluded that a small six-foot-high miniature tsunami that hit near a New Jersey nuclear power plant this summer was not the result of a seismic event (as tsunamis usually are). Instead, the researchers concluded that the surge was caused by a sudden atmospheric pressure change. The nuclear plant, Oyster Creek, did not report any damage. But experts say there was a cautionary lesson on offer: expect the unexpected. Climate change will cause more destructive and seemingly freakish events like this. Emergency planners need to plan for them — especially when the risks are high as is the case with nuclear plants.
I have brought my previous study (see here and here) up-to-date by reviewing peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals over the period from Nov. 12, 2012 through December 31, 2013. I found 2,258 articles, written by a total of 9,136 authors. (Download the chart above here.) Only one article, by a single author in the Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences, rejected man-made global warming. I discuss that article here.
A new study released today concludes that Koch Industries and its subsidiaries stand to make as much as $100 billion in profits if the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is granted a presidential permit from U.S. President Barack Obama.
The report, titled Billionaires' Carbon Bomb, produced by the think tank International Forum on Globalization (IFG), finds that David and Charles Koch and their privately owned company, Koch Industries, own more than 2 million acres of land in Northern Alberta, the source of the tar sands bitumen that would be pumped to the United States via the Keystone XL pipeline.
(Click to expand or see original source)
IFG also finds that more than 1,000 reports and statements in support of the Keystone XL pipeline project have been made by policy groups and think tanks that receive funding from the Koch brothers and their philanthropic foundations.
Though the spill occurred on September 29, the U.S. National Response Center - tasked with responding to chemical and oil spills - did not make the report available until October 8 due to the ongoing government shutdown.
“The center generally makes such reports available on its website within 24 hours of their filing, but services were interrupted last week because of the U.S. government shutdown,” explained Reuters.
At more than 20,600 barrels - equivalent to 865,200 gallons - the spill was bigger than the April 2013 ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline spill, which spewed 5,000-7,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen into a residential neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas.
Kris Roberts, environmental geologist for the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Water Quality told the Williston Herald, “the leak was caused by a hole that deteriorated in the side of the pipe.”
“No water, surface water or ground water was impacted,” he said. “They installed monitoring wells to ensure there is no impact now or that there is going to be one.”
What’s it like living in a small town that’s gone from rust belt farmland to fracking boomtown?
First, residents often say, there’s the traffic. Communities have been unexpectedly flooded with heavy tractor trailers that locals say turn 10 minute commutes into hour-long ordeals, choke back roads and decimate pavement so badly that in some areas, drilling companies are barred from entering until they agree to pay for road repairs. “The traffic here is horrendous,” Towanda, PA resident Joe Benjamin told NPR.
Others often describe the impacts on the social fabric – a “wild west” atmosphere that brings with it increased crime and public health problems.
But these reports have been largely anecdotal, with little to quantify how big these impacts are or how much of it is due to fracking. Until now.
A new report by Food and Water Watch examines the social impacts of fracking, comparing traffic, crime and sexually transmitted infections in rural Pennsylvania counties. Using a decade worth of county-level data, they compare the differences between counties with substantial fracking and without, and how these counties have changed over time, from before the boom until after it set in.
“Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom has brought thousands of new gas wells, a number of transient workers and a host of social problems,” the report says. “This study is the first detailed, long-term analysis of the social costs of fracking borne by rural Pennsylvania communities.”
FWW documented sharp differences in traffic accident rates, petty crimes, and sexually transmitted infections. According to the report:
Last summer, the United States experienced the worst drought since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.
At the same time, the country was experiencing one of the biggest onshore drilling booms in history, powered by one of the most water-intensive extraction technologies ever invented: hydraulic fracking.
The tension between these two realities could not be clearer.
This year, as the drilling industry drew millions of gallons of water per well in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, residents in these states struggled with severe droughts and some farmers opted to sell their water to the oil and gas industry rather than try to compete with them for limited resources.
Even the Atlantic coast's mighty Susquehanna River faced record lows last year, leading regulators to suspend dozens of withdrawal permits – the majority of which were for fracking Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale.
Researchers for the Federal Department of Energy saw problems like this coming, according to thousands of pages of documents about the topic provided to DeSmog, but their recommendations and warnings were consistently edited and downplayed and the final version of their report has yet to be released.
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 EPAreport 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.
George Shultz, who served as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State from 1980 through 1984, is urging strong action on climate change and urging the US to move away from oil.
In an interview in the July 24 issue of Scientific American magazine, Mr. Shultz said that dependence on oil weakens US national security; using coal for electricity ‘gets us nowhere’; using solar power is better than coal and natural gas; and that the US should increase funds for renewable energy research and development.
Mr. Shultz, saying he wanted to ‘walk the talk’, said he installed solar panels on his own roof six years ago – and the savings on his electric bill since then have paid for the initial investment.
He also said that he drives an electric car (a Nissan LEAF), saying “I have a charging device in my garage so I figure I'm driving on sunshine, and it's free. It doesn't cost me anything, so I kind of like it.”
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.