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Fracking "Shock Doctrine" Unveiled as 2013 Illinois Legislative Session Nears End

The shale gas industry has performed the “shock doctrine” at the 11th hour of the 2013 Illinois State Legislature's debate over hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drllling process through which oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins nationwide. 

This year, both the Illinois House and Senate are set to adjourn for the year on May 31 and the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act will likely receive a full floor vote by adjournment. The regulatory bill has 59 House co-sponsors and eight Senate co-sponsors. Democratic Party Gov. Pat Quinn said he will sign the bill when it arrives on his desk. 

With the deadline looming rapidly, anti-fracking activists - or “fracktivists” - have been protestingsitting intestifying in committee hearings and committing acts of non-violent civil disobedience daily at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. 

Two days before that deadline, the Associated Press (AP) reported that records from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) indicate fracking already has begun in Illinois' New Albany Shale Basin

“Carmi, Ill.-based Campbell Energy LLC submitted a well-completion report last year to the [DNR] voluntarily disclosing that it used 640,000 gallons of water [fracking] a well in White County,” AP reports. AP also explained the report was first obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  

The last-minute announcement paves the way for a “buzzer beater” public relations effort by the industry to ram through a regulatory bill deemed the “most comprehensive fracking legislation in the nation” by its proponents and a “worst case scenario” by its detractors. The bill was predominatly written by Illinois Oil and Gas Association (IOGA), working alongside two major environmental groups: the Illinois Sierra Club and NRDC

NRDC told DeSmogBlog it caught wind of the Campbell Energy well-completion report not from the industry itself at the negotiating table, but through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The FOIA request also showed another company has fracked a well: Strata-X Energy Ltd.

State Department Inspector General Investigating Keystone XL Contractor ERM's Conflicts of Interest

The Checks and Balances Project has announced that the U.S. State Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has launched a conflicts-of-interest investigation into dirty dealings pertaining to the contractor tasked to perform the environmental review for the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on behalf of State. 

Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) declared the northern portion of Keystone XL as environmentally safe and sound on behalf of State in March, in defiance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's assessment, among others.

The northern half of Keystone XL will connect to the over 75-percent complete southern half and - if built - will carry Alberta's tar sands bitumen south to Texas refineries, with most of the final product shipped to the highest bidder on the global market. State and eventually President Barack Obama have the final say over the proposal because the northern section of pipeline crosses the international border. 

The overarching problem with that ERM assessment, as first revealed on Grist by Brad Johnson: ERM Group was chosen not by the State Dept., but by TransCanada itself. Furthermore, as first revealed on Mother Jones by Andy Kroll, the State Dept. redacted biographical portions of the EIS that pointed to ERM's ongoing close consulting relationship with ERM Group and TransCanada.

“The American public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline,” writes Checks and Balances' Gabe Elsner. “Instead…a fossil fuel contractor, hid its ties from the State Department so they could green light the project on behalf of its oil company clients.”

Instead of an honest look, the public got deception, perhaps not surprisingly given ERM's historical contracting relationship with Big Tobacco, as first revealed here on DeSmogBlog. ERM seems to have blatantly lied to the State Dept. - which apparently did no homework of its own, or turned a blind eye at least - and answered “no” to the question shown in the screenshot below. 

ERM also told State it was not an energy interest, when the facts say otherwise.

“The State Department question defines an energy interest in part as any company or person engaged in research related to energy development,” wrote Eslner. “Yet, ERM has worked for all of the top five oil companies and dozens of other fossil fuel companies. In other words, ERM is clearly an energy interest.”

Rallies in 12 U.S. Cities Protest Koch Brothers' Tribune Takeover Bid

Today, 12 groups sent a strong message to the Koch Brothers consisting of over 500,000 signatures delivered to Tribune Company Newspapers protesting the prospective “Kochtopus” buyout of the news outlets, which are up for sale by CEO Peter Liguori.

Major funders of right wing causes and politicians, David and Charles Koch are also notorious climate change deniers and funders of the climate change denial echo chamber

The “Save Our News Coalition” leading the day of action included Forecast the Facts, Courage Campaign, AFL-CIO, Climate Reality Project, Common Cause, CREDO, Daily Kos, Democracy For America, Free Press, Greenpeace, The Other 98, Progress Florida, SEIU, United New York, Working Families Party and yours truly - DeSmogBlog.

AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka weighed in on the prospective deal, too, saying if the Kochs take over the Tribune Company, it could morph into another “Fox News-style propaganda machine.” 

Others noted the troubling prospect of climate change deniers owning a major newspaper conglomerate. 

“Billionaire oil barons David and Charles Koch are major funders of the Tea Party and right-wing think tank politicians, ” Shani Smith, a spokesperson for Stand Up Chicago said at a rally outside of the Chicago Tribune office. “We don't want a historic Chicago newspaper to become their mouthpiece for destroying unions, defunding public education and denying global warming.”

"Gasland 2" Grassroots Premiere in Illinois Highlights Industry PSYOPS and Ongoing Fracking Fights

Gasland 2” screened yesterday in Normal, IL and DeSmogBlog was there to gain a sneak peak of the documentary set for a July 8 HBO national premiere. 

Josh Fox's documentary played at the Normal Theater, the second-ever screening since the film officially premiered on April 21 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City

The movie builds on Fox's Academy Award-nominated “Gasland,” further making the case of how the shale industry's hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom is busting up peoples' livelihoods, contaminating air and water, polluting democracy and serving as a “bridge fuel” only to propel us off the climate disruption cliff. 

A central theme and question of the film is, “Who gets to tell the story?” That is, industry PR pros and bought-off politicians utilizing the “tobacco playbook” and saying “the sky is pink,” or families directly injured by the industry? Fox explains how the industry has gamed the system, ensuring the communities have their voices drowned out. The Gasland films seek to tell some of the victims' stories. 

Another theme is the bread and butter of following any big industry's influence: following the money. In depicting the financial clout of Big Oil, “Gasland 2” shows that the oil and gas industry has gone to the lengths of deploying warfare tactics - literally - on U.S. citizens to ram through its agenda. 

Obama Admin. Approves ALEC Model Bill for Fracking Chemical Fluid Disclosure on Public Lands

On May 16, the Obama Interior Department announced its long-awaited rules governing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on federal lands.

As part of its 171-page document of rules, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), part of the U.S. Dept. of Interior (DOI), revealed it will adopt the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands.

ALEC is a 98-percent corporate-funded bill mill and “dating service” that brings predominantly Republican state legislators and corporate lobbyists together at meetings to craft and vote on “model bills” behind closed doors. Many of these bills end up snaking their way into statehouses and become law in what Bill Moyers referred to as “The United States of ALEC.”

BLM will utilize an iteration of ALEC's “Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act” - a bill The New York Times revealed was written by ExxonMobil - for chemical fluid disclosure of fracking on public lands and will do so by utilizing FracFocus.org's voluntary online chemical disclosure database.

In a way, it's all come full circle. As we covered here on DeSmogBlog, the original chemical disclosure standards and the decision to utilize FracFocus' database came from the Obama Dept. of Energy's (DOE) industry-stacked Fracking Subcommittee formed in May 2011. DOE gave a $1.5 million grant to FracFocus

The Texas state legislature soon thereafter adopted the first bill making FracFocus the fracking chemical disclosure database at the state level in June 2011. Since then, it's been off to the races, with the Council of State Governments adopting the TX bill as model bill in Aug. 2011, ALEC adopting it as a model bill in Oct. 2011, and the bill becoming state law in Colorado, Pennsylvania and other states.

Both the Illinois and Florida state legislatures have also tried to push through this model, but it died dead in its tracks.

FracFocus has been an anemic and failed effort by the Obama Admin. to alter the George W. Bush Admin. “Halliburton Loophole” standards for fracking chemical disclosure, which allowed the recipe of fracking chemicals to remain a “trade secret.” It's amounted to nothing more than the same game by a different name, with a Harvard study recently giving FracFocus a “failing grade.”     

Friday Trash Dump: Obama DOE Approves 2nd Fracked Gas LNG Export Terminal

Friday is the proverbial “take out the trash day” for the release of bad news among public relations practitioners and this Friday was no different. 

In that vein, yesterday the Obama Department of Energy (DOEannounced a conditional approval of the second-ever LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal. 

LNG is the super-chilled final product of gas obtained - predominantly in today's context - via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process taking place within shale deposits located throughout the U.S. Fracked gas is shipped from the multitude of domestic shale basins in pipelines to various coastal LNG terminals, and then sent on LNG tankers to the global market.

The name of the terminal: Freeport LNG.

Freeport LNG is 50-percent owned by ConocoPhillips and located in Freeport, Texas, an hour-long car ride south of Houston. The export facility is the second one approved by the Obama DOE, with the first one - the Sabine Pass terminal, owned by Cheniere and located in Sabine Pass, Louisiana - approved in May 2011

DOE gave its rubber stamp of approval to Freeport LNG to export up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of LNG per day from its terminal. 

Faulkner County: ExxonMobil's "Sacrifice Zone" for Tar Sands Pipelines, Fracking

There are few better examples of a “sacrifice zone” for ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry at-large than Faulkner County, Arkansas and the counties surrounding it. 

Six weeks have passed since a 22-foot gash in ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands Pipeline spilled over 500,000 gallons of heavy crude into the quaint neighborhood of Mayflower, AR, a township with a population of roughly 2,300 peopleThe air remains hazardous to breathe in, it emits a putrid strench, and the water in Lake Conway is still rife with tar sands crude.

These facts are well known.

Less known is the fact that Faulkner County - within which Mayflower sits - is a major “sacrifice zone” for ExxonMobil not only for its pipeline infrastructure, but also for the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process. The Fayetteville Shale basin sits underneath Faulkner County. 

ExxonMobil purchased XTO Energy for $41 billion in Dec. 2009 as a wholly-owned subsidiary. XTO owns 704,000 acres of land in 15 counties in Arkansas. Among them: Faulkner. 

Private Empire” ExxonMobil is now the defendant in a class action lawsuit filed by the citizens of Mayflower claiming damages caused in their community by the ruptured Pegasus Pipeline. ExxonMobil's XTO subsidiary was also the subject of a class action lawsuit concerning damages caused by fracking in May 2011 and another regarding fracking waste injection wells in Oct. 2012. 

This isn't the naturalist novelist William Faulkner's Faulkner County, that's for certain.

Interview: Energy Investor Bill Powers Discusses Looming Shale Gas Bubble

On Sat., April 27, I met up with energy investor Bill Powers at Prairie Moon Restaurant in Evanston, IL for a mid-afternoon lunch to discuss his forthcoming book set to hit bookstores on June 18.

The book's title - “Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth” - pokes fun at the statement made by former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon at the 2011 Shale Gas Insight conference in Philadelphia, PA

“What a glorious vision of the future: It's cold, it's dark and we're all hungry,” McClendon said in response to the fact that there were activists outside of the city's convention center. “I have no interest in turning the clock back to the dark ages like our opponents do.” 

What Powers unpacks in his book, though, is that McClendon and his fellow “shale promoters,” as he puts it in his book, aren't quite as “visionary” as they would lead us all to believe. 

Indeed, the well production data that Powers picked through on a state-by-state basis demonstrates a “drilling treadmill.” That means each time an area is fracked, after the frackers find the “sweet spot,” that area yields diminishing returns on gas production on a monthly and annual basis.

It's an argument regular readers of DeSmogBlog are familiar with because of our recent coverage of the Post Carbon Institute's “Drill Baby, Drill” report by J. David Hughes. 

Powers posits this could lead to a domestic gas crisis akin to the one faced in the 1970's.

We discuss these issues and far more in the interview below. 

Obama's Former Communications Director's Firm Does PR For Keystone XL Pipeline, Tar Sands Rail Transport

Double-dipping is a “no go” in the real world of eating chips and salsa with a circle of friends but an everyday reality in the world of lobbyists and PR professionals. 

Enter double-dipper Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama who now runs the firm SKDKnickerbocker (Squier Knapp Dunn), a firm that “brings unparalleled strategic communications experience to Fortune 500 companies, political groups and candidates, non-profits, and labor organizations.”

Dip one: TransCanada Corporation, which SKDK does public relations work foras revealed in an Oct. 2012 New York Times investigation. TransCanada is the multinational corporation currently building the contentious southern half of the Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline, following the dictates of a March 2012 Obama Administration Executive Order. Within months, the fate of the border-crossing Alberta to Port Arthur, TX KXL export pipeline will also likely be decided by the U.S. State Department.

Dip two: Another SKDKnickerbocker client is the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the American Petroleum Institute trade association equivalent for the freight rail industry. Even without KXL - as covered previously on DeSmogBlog - tar sands crude can be moved to targeted markets via freight rail (coupled with pipeline capacity increases of other tubes and potential barging along Lake Superior).

Beneficiaries of tar sands transport via rail include AAR dues-paying member Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), owned by major Obama donor Warren Buffett via his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway. Shell Oil - a major Alberta tar sands extractor - also pays AAR member dues, which indicates Big Oil understands the strategic importance of rail transport.   

Dunn's firm, in short, stands to gain from tar sands extraction with or without a KXL northern half, a classic case of double-dipping.

Keystone Kops: TransCanada Spent $280,000 Lobbying For Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline In First Quarter

TransCanada, the multinational corporation hoping to build the controversial northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, spent over $280,000 on lobbying the U.S. government in the first quarter (Q1) of 2013, according to lobbying disclosure records.

In addition to the $250,000 paid to Paul Elliott - TransCanada's infamous in-house lobbyist and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's national deputy campaign manager during her 2008 run for president - three outside firms lobbied on TransCanada's behalf to promote KXL.

The outside firms: Bryan Cave LLP, which reported $20,000 in earnings from TransCanda in 
Q1; McKenna, Long & Aldridge, which was paid $10,000 by TransCanada during Q1; and Van Ness Feldman, which TransCanada paid an amount under $5,000, falling under the mandatory reporting ceiling.

$280,000 is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to TransCanada's $446 million first quarter profits.

The southern half of Keystone XL is currently under construction due to a March 2012 Obama Adminstration Executive Order. The northern half is still in the proposal phase. It would carry Alberta tar sands dilbit to the Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, where much of it would be exported to the global market.

As seen in an earlier investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog, many of TransCanada's lobbyists for KXL have direct ties to the Obama administration. The U.S. State Department has been tasked with the final decision on the pipeline's cross-border northern section, a risky conduit between the carbon intensive Alberta tar sands and further global climate disruption.

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