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Did DeSmog's Coverage of Coal Baron Bob Murray v. Fracker Aubrey McClendon Lawsuit Lead To Sealing of Court Records?

On December 12, Magistrate Judge Mark R. Abel issued an order for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to place five sets of court records under seal for the ongoing case pitting coal baron Robert E. Murray against Aubrey McClendon, one of the godfathers of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom.

DeSmogBlog published parts of two sets of the five sets of documents ordered under seal by Abel in an October 2014 article about the Murray v. McClendon case. The documents we published revealed a lease for McClendon's new venture — American Energy Partners — for the first time. 

Bob Murray, owner of American Energy Corporation Century Mine in Ohio, sued Aubrey McClendon for allegedly infringing upon his company's copyright in August 2013. He claimed McClendon commandeered the “American Energy” brand.

Both sides have now gone back-and-forth over discovery related issues for months. The dispute has shaken loose many newsworthy documents revealing much about McClendon's new company in particular.

This includes the American Energy Partners lease; a local newspaper advertisement pushing readers to apply for an American Energy Partners job; heavily redacted depositions of officials representing both companies; a redacted document revealing some of the companies to which McClendon's new venture sells the gas it produces; and more.

Not Just Public Lands: Defense Bill Also Incentivizes Fracked Gas Vehicles

DeSmogBlog recently revealed how Big Oil's lobbyists snuck expedited permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public lands into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2015, which passed in the U.S. House and Senate and now awaits President Barack Obama's signature.

A follow-up probe reveals that the public lands giveaway was not the only sweetheart deal the industry got out of the pork barrel bill. The NDAA also included a provision that opened the floodgates for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in the U.S.—cars that would largely be fueled by gas obtained via fracking.

The section of the bill titled, “Alternative Fuel Automobiles” (on page 104) lays it out:

NDAA of 2015 Natural Gas Vehicles
Image Credit: U.S. Government Publishing Office 

Revealed: How Big Oil Got Expedited Permitting for Fracking on Public Lands Into the Defense Bill

The U.S. Senate has voted 89-11 to approve the Defense Authorization Act of 2015, following the December 4 U.S. House of Representatives' 300-119 up-vote and now awaits President Barack Obama's signature.

The 1,616-page piece of pork barrel legislation contains a provision — among other controversial measures — to streamline permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on U.S. public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a unit of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Buried on page 1,156 of the bill as Section 3021 and subtitled “Bureau of Land Management Permit Processing,” the bill's passage has won praise from both the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and comes on the heels of countries from around the world coming to a preliminary deal at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

We applaud the Senate…and are hopeful the president signs this measure in a timely fashion,” said Dan Naatz, IPAA lobbyist and former congressional staffer, in a press release

Alluding to the bottoming out of the global price of oil, Naatz further stated, “In these uncertain times of price volatility, it’s encouraging for America’s job creators to have regulatory certainty through a streamlined permitting process.”

Streamlined permitting means faster turn-around times for the industry's application process to drill on public lands, bringing with it all of the air, groundwater and climate change issues that encompass the shale production process. 

At the bottom of the same press release, IPAA boasted of its ability to get the legislative proposal introduced initially by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NMas the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act of 2014 after holding an “educational meeting” with Udall's staffers. Endorsed by some major U.S. environmental groups, Udall took more than $191,000 from the oil and gas industry during his successful 2014 re-election campaign.

IPAA's publicly admitted influence-peddling efforts are but the tip of the iceberg for how Big Oil managed to stuff expedited permitting for fracking on U.S. public lands into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015.

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

Like Canada's Harper Government, Obama Administration Muzzling Its Scientists

In recent years, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come under fire for disallowing scientists working for the Canadian government to speak directly to the press

An article published in August by The New Republic said “Harper's antagonism toward climate-change experts in his government may sound familiar to Americans,” pointing to similar deeds done by the George W. Bush Administration. That article also said that “Bush's replacement,” President Barack Obama, “has reversed course” in this area.

Society for Professional Journalists, the largest trade association for professional journalists in the U.S., disagrees with this conclusion. 

In a December 1 letter written to Gina McCarthy, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the society chided the Obama administration for its methods of responding to journalists' queries to speak to EPA-associated scientists. 

“We write to urge you again to clarify that members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the twenty other EPA science advisory committees have the right and are encouraged to speak to the public and the press about any scientific issues, including those before these committees, in a personal capacity without prior authorization from the agency,” said the letter.

“We urge you…to ensure that EPA advisory committee members are encouraged share their expertise and opinions with those who would benefit from it.”

New Obama State Dept Top Energy Diplomat Amos Hochstein A Former Marathon Oil Lobbyist

The U.S. State Department recently announced that Amos Hochstein, currently the special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, will take over as the State Department's top international energy diplomat.

Hochstein will likely serve as a key point man for the U.S. in its negotiations to cut a climate change deal as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), both at the ongoing COP20 summit in Lima, Peru and next year's summit in Paris, France. Some conclude the Lima and Paris negotiations are a “last chance” to do something meaningful on climate change.

But before getting a job at the State Department, where Hochstein has worked since 2011, he worked as a lobbyist for the firm Cassidy & Associates. Cassidy's current lobbying client portfolio consists of several fossil fuel industry players, including Noble Energy, Powder River Energy and Transwest Express. 

Back when Hochstein worked for Cassidy, one of his clients was Marathon Oil, which he lobbied for in quarter two and quarter three of 2008, according to lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by DeSmogBlog.

Hochstein earned his firm $20,000 each quarter lobbying the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on behalf of Marathon. 

Image Credit: Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives

Environmental Groups File Motion to Intervene in Defense of Denton Fracking Ban

Just days after attorneys representing Denton, Texas submitted their initial responses to two legal complaints filed against Denton — the first Texas city ever to ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)  environmental groups have filed an intervention petition. That is, a formal request to enter the two lawsuits filed against the city after its citizens voted to ban fracking on election day.

Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks are leading the intervention charge, represented by attorneys from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and EarthjusticeThe drilling awareness group runs the Frack Free Denton campaign.

Those groups have joined up with attorneys representing Denton to fight lawsuits filed against the city by both the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Commission.

First Texas City to Ban Fracking Cites "Public Nuisance" in Lawsuit Response

Attorneys representing Denton, Texas, the first city to ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in state history, have issued rebuttals to the two lawsuits filed against Denton the day after the fracking ban was endorsed by voters on election day. 

Responding to lawsuits brought by attorneys with intimate Bush family connections — with complaints coming from both the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association — the Denton attorneys have signaled the battle has only just begun in the city situated in the heart and soul of the Barnett Shale, the birthplace of fracking. 

In its response to the Texas Oil and Gas Association, Denton's attorneys argued the Association did not provide sufficient legal evidence that the Texas constitution demarcates the Texas Railroad Commission or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as the only governmental bodies that can regulate or permit fracking.

“Nowhere in…the Petition as a whole, does Plaintiff identify what regulations have been passed by the Texas Railroad Commission or the Texas Commission or Environmental Quality that allegedly occupy the 'entire field' rendering the [ban] preempted and unconstitutional,” wrote the attorneys. “City requests the Court to order Plaintiff to replead that claim with greater specificity to meet those fair notice requirements.”

Industry-friendly Railroad Commission (RRC) chairman Christi Craddick is on the record stating that the RRC will continue to issue permits despite the fact Denton citizens voted for a ban.

The Denton attorneys also argued that fracking is a “public nuisance” and “subversive of public order” in defense of the fracking ban.

State Department Keystone XL Contractor ERM Bribed Chinese Agency to Permit Project

Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group), the consultancy selected by TransCanada to conduct the environmental review for Keystone XL's northern leg on behalf of the U.S. State Department, is no stranger to scandal.

Exhibit A: ERM once bribed a Chinese official to ram through major pieces of an industrial development projectERM was tasked to push through the project in Hangzhou Bay, located near Shanghai.

Accepting the bribe landed Yan Shunjun, former deputy head of the Shanghai Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, an
11-year prison sentence.

Yan “allegedly took bribes of 864,000 yuan (126,501 U.S. dollars), 20,000 U.S. dollars and 4,000 euros from seven contractors,” explained Xiuhuanet. “Yan was also accused of illegally setting up a channel to speed up environmental impact assessment processes, which are essential for companies wanting to build factories.”

BP, one of the companies standing to gain if Keystone XL North receives a presidential permit from the Obama administration as a major Alberta tar sands producer, was also mired in the Chinese ERM Group scandal. 

“Two firms on ERM's bluechip client list, BP and Sinopec, are big investors in a petrochemical complex on the site, but the Chinese authorities apparently saw no conflict of interest in awarding the environmental evaluation to ERM,” explained London's Sunday Times.

In a sense, history has repeated itself.

"I Hate That Oil's Dropping": Why Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant Wants High Oil Prices for Fracking

Outgoing Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) chairman Phil Bryant — Mississippi's Republican Governor — started his farewell address with a college football joke at IOGCC's recent annual conference in Columbus, Ohio.

“As you know, I love SEC football. Number one in the nation Mississippi State, number three in the nation Ole Miss, got a lot of energy behind those two teams,” Bryant said in opening his October 21 speech. “I try to go to a lot of ball games. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it and somebody's gotta be there.”

Seconds later, things got more serious, as Bryant spoke to an audience of oil and gas industry executives and lobbyists, as well as state-level regulators. 

At the industry-sponsored convening, which I attended on behalf of DeSmogBlog, it was hard to tell the difference between industry lobbyists and regulators. The more money pledged by corporations, the more lobbyists invited into IOGCC's meeting.

Perhaps this is why Bryant framed his presentation around “where we are headed as an industry,” even though officially a statesman and not an industrialist, before turning to his more stern remarks.

“I know it's a mixed blessing, but if you look at some of the pumps in Mississippi, gasoline is about $2.68 and people are amazed that it's below $3 per gallon,” he said.

“And it's a good thing for industry, it's a good thing for truckers, it's a good thing for those who move goods and services and products across the waters and across the lands and we're excited about where that's headed.”

Bryant then discussed the flip side of the “mixed blessing” coin.

“Of course the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale has a little problem with that, so as with most things in life, it's a give and take,” Bryant stated. “It's very good at one point and it's helping a lot of people, but on the other side there's a part of me that goes, 'Darn! I hate that oil's dropping, I hate that it's going down.' I don't say that out-loud, but just to those in this room.”

Tuscaloosa Marine Shale's “little problem” reflects a big problem the oil and gas industry faces — particularly smaller operators involved with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)  going forward.

That is, fracking is expensive and relies on a high global price of oil. A plummeting price of oil could portend the plummetting of many smaller oil and gas companies, particularly those of the sort operating in the Tuscaloosa Marine.