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Not at Home on the Range: Subsidized Fracking Hits Colorado

This is a guest post by Paul Thacker, originally published by Oil Change International.

A general contractor in Colorado’s Grand Valley, Duke Cox says the first time he became aware that drilling for gas might be a problem was back in the early 2000s when he happened to attend a local public hearing on oil and gas development. A woman who came to testify began sobbing as she talked about the gas rigs that were making the air around her home impossible to breathe.

There were 17 rigs in the area, at that time,” Cox says. “And they were across the valley, so I wasn’t affected. But she was my neighbor.” The incident led Cox to join the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a group of activists concerned about drilling policies in his area on Colorado’s Western Slope. Within months he became the group’s President and public face. And as fracking for gas became more common across the state, he has found more and more of his time taken up with the cause.

We are ground zero for natural gas and fracking in this country,” he says.

The Monckton Files: Threatwatch 1 by Barry Bickmore

This is a guest post by Barry Bickmore, a long-time chronicler of the misdeeds and misdirections of Lord Christopher Monckton.

One of the truly amusing facets of being a Monckton-o-phile like myself is watching His Lordship veritably explode in a barrage of bombastic threats when he is cornered… or even when he’s passing random people on the street. For your amusement, and to keep the “Threatening Those Who Disagree With Him” section of Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheetcurrent, I give you the following recent examples.

A few weeks ago, I noted that Lord Monckton had even started threatening fellow climate contrarians, including solar physicist Leif Svaalgard and Willis Eschenbach. He claimed he was writing to Svaalgard’s university administration to get him in trouble for saying a certain part of Dr. David Evans’s wacky curve-fitted climate model was “almost fraudulent”.

For my part, I am referring Mr Svalgaard’s long list of malicious comments about Dr Evans (but not about me: I give as good as I get) to his university, which will know best how to handle the matter, for there is a rather delicate aspect that I am not at liberty to discuss here. The university will most certainly realize that the do-nothing option is not an option. The libel is too grave and too persistent. My lawyers are looking at it tomorrow to see whether malice is present, in which case the damages would triple, to say nothing of the costs. Their corresponding lawyers in the U.S. will be giving advice on whether Dr Evans would count in U.S. law as a “public figure”, Probably not, from what I know of the “public-figure” test, in which event, in order to enforce the judgement of the Australian courts in the U.S., it would not be necessary to prove malice (for, though malice seems evident, the test in Australian law is high).

Well, guess what? I asked Leif Svalgaard about it the other day, and he hasn’t heard a thing about it from his administration. Could it be that Monckton didn’t actually carry out his threat?

Ah, the memories. When I first encountered Monckton, he said he was instigating an academic misconduct investigation against me at my university, but a Salt Lake Tribunereporter followed up and found out that there was no such investigation. Much later, he did actually send a couple e-mails to my university threatening a libel suit and saying and saying I was mentally imbalanced, but the administration essentially ignored them.

Leaders Must Put People Before Politics: David Suzuki

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

When we elect people to office, we give them power to make and enact decisions on our behalf. They should have a vision that extends beyond the next election and the latest Dow Jones average — to our children and grandchildren.

We expect our leaders to have a clear picture of our world and the conditions necessary for human life and well-being. If they don’t, how can they make informed decisions? So let me outline some simple, scientifically validated truths about us and the world we live in — truths that should guide our political decisions.

We are, above all else, biological beings, with an absolute need for clean air from the moment of birth to the last death rattle. We take air deep into our lungs and filter whatever’s in it. Plants on land and in the ocean take in the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and release oxygen during photosynthesis, creating the atmosphere we depend on.

We are about 60 per cent water by weight, so we need clean water to be healthy. When water falls to Earth, it’s filtered through tree and other plant roots, soil fungi and bacteria, cleansing it so it’s safe to drink.

All the energy in our bodies that we use to move, grow and reproduce is sunlight captured by plants in photosynthesis and converted to chemical energy, which we ingest. We eat plants and animals for our nourishment, so whatever they’re exposed to ends up in our bodies. We need clean soil to give us clean food.

These are basic, biological facts and should be the prism through which any decision is made at individual, corporate or government levels. Protection of air, water, soil and the web of life should be the highest social, political and economic priority.

Global Warming Deniers Grow More Desperate By The Day

Heartland Unabomber Billboard

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

The Heartland Institute’s recent International Climate Change Conference in Las Vegas illustrates global warming deniers’ desperate confusion. As Bloomberg News noted, “Heartland’s strategy seemed to be to throw many theories at the wall and see what stuck.” A who’s who of fossil fuel industry supporters and anti-science shills variously argued that global warming is a myth; that it’s happening but natural — a result of the sun or “Pacific Decadal Oscillation”; that it’s happening but we shouldn’t worry about it; or that global cooling is the real problem.

The only common thread, Bloomberg reported, was the preponderance of attacks on and jokes about Al Gore: “It rarely took more than a minute or two before one punctuated the swirl of opaque and occasionally conflicting scientific theories.”

Personal attacks are common among global warming deniers. Their lies are continually debunked, leaving them with no rational challenge to overwhelming scientific evidence that the world is warming and that humans are largely responsible. Comments under my columns about global warming include endless repetition of falsehoods like “there’s been no warming for 18 years”, “it’s the sun”, and references to “communist misanthropes”, “libtard warmers”, alarmists and worse…

Far worse. Katharine Hayhoe, director of Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center and an evangelical Christian, had her email inbox flooded with hate mail and threats after conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh denounced her, and right-wing blogger Mark Morano published her email address. “I got an email the other day so obscene I had to file a police report,” Hayhoe said in an interview on the Responding to Climate Change website. “They mentioned my child. It had all kinds of sexual perversions in it — it just makes your skin crawl.”

The Blue Dot Tour: It’s About All Of Us

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

A now-famous 1972 photo of Earth taken by Apollo 17 astronauts from 45,000 kilometres away became known as “the blue marble”. The late scientist Carl Sagan described a 1990 picture taken from six billion kilometres away by the unmanned Voyager 1 as a “pale blue dot”.

The vision of Earth from a distance has profoundly moved pretty much anyone who has ever seen it. “When we look down at the earth from space, we see this amazing, indescribably beautiful planet,” International Space Station astronaut Ron Garan said. “It looks like a living, breathing organism. But it also, at the same time, looks extremely fragile.” Referring to the atmosphere, Garan added “it's really sobering … to realize that that little paper-thin layer is all that protects every living thing on Earth.”

Many astronauts report a deep feeling of connection that transcends borders and worldly conflict —referred to by some as the “overview effect”. Apollo 14’s Edgar Mitchell said, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty.”

How can anyone who has even seen a photo of the Earth treat our small blue home with disdain and carelessness? How can anyone fail to recognize how precious and finite the resources, especially water, are — and that we must share and care for what we have?

The “blue marble” photo from Apollo 17, the last manned lunar mission, catalyzed the global environmental movement. Now, as people around the world compete for air, water and land — not just with each other, but with corporations bent on profit at any cost — we need a resurgence in action to care for our small blue planet.

That’s why I’m about to embark on what will likely be my last national tour. From September 24 to November 9, I’m crossing the country, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Victoria, B.C., with 20 stops along the way. The plan is to work with Canadians from all walks of life to protect the people and places we love. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done.

Subsidy Spotlight: Paid to Pollute and Poison

This is a guest post by Paul Thacker, on assignment with Oil Change International. Cross-posted with permission.

A wife and mother of two from Venice, Louisiana, Kindra Arnesen says her life can be divided into two chapters: before April 20, 2010, and after. On that evening, an oil well located several miles off the coast of Louisiana discharged large bubbles of gas which traveled a mile to the surface before igniting, destroying the oil rig and killing eleven men. Thus began the worst marine oil spill in history and America’s largest environmental disaster, with hundreds of millions of gallons of oil eventually spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

Four years later, residents from surrounding communities claim they still struggle with the health problems caused by the BP oil spill. “You just learn to live sick,” says Arnesen, who complains of headaches and unexplained rashes that won’t go away.

Kindra Arnesen
Kindra Arnesen on the water (photo courtesy Cherri Foytlin)

Her husband, who was hired by BP to help clean up the spill, has it much worse.

BNSF Nears Shift To One-Member Crews, Possibly Even on Dangerous Oil Trains

This is a guest post by Cole Stangler.

For decades, the U.S. railroad industry has successfully shed labor costs by shifting to smaller and smaller operating crews. Now, it’s on the verge of what was once an unthinkable victory: single-member crews, even on dangerous oil trains.

A tentative agreement reached by BNSF Railway and the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) union would allow a single engineer to operate most of the company’s routes. It would mark a dramatic change to a labor contract that covers about 3,000 workers, or 60 percent of the BNSF system.  

It’s not just bad news for workers. The contract has major safety implications—especially amid North America’s dangerous, and sometimes deadly, crude-by-rail boom. Last year’s Bakken shale oil train derailment and explosion in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, brought increased scrutiny to oil trains. 

In response, Canadian regulators outlawed one-person crews on trains carrying hazardous materials. (A single engineer was in charge of the ill-fated train, although it was unmanned when it rolled into the town center.) 

BNSF spokesperson Roxanne Butler told DeSmogBlog the new contract would not apply to so-called “key trains” — loads of crude oil, ethanol and other hazardous materials.

As it stands, she says, the company mandates two-member crews for such shipments , and those are the terms of BNSF’s existing labor agreement.

But there is no federal law on the books that requires two-person rail crews for shipments of dangerous goods. The Federal Railway Administration (FRA) is expected to issue a proposed rule on the subject by the end of the year.

Workers worry that without contract guarantees, and no federal protections in place, BNSF will make the cost-cutting shift to one-person crews.

If you look at the contract, there’s nothing that shows they will exempt oil trains,” says Ron Kaminkow, general secretary of Railroad Workers United, a labor group that opposes single-employee freight trains.

[BNSF] will do whatever they want to do,” says Robert Hill, a BNSF engineer based in Hauser, Idaho, roughly twenty miles east of Spokane, a major rail hub for the Northwest. “At some point, you eventually will see a one-man crew on these oil [trains]. There’s nothing specific in their company policy that says they have to have two-man crews on oil trains.”

Richard Tol Dons Cloak of Climate Denial

This is a guest post by Cindy Baxter.

They were all there.  A veritable octopus of conflicting climate denial arguments, from “it’s not happening” to “satellite data says it’s all the forests’ fault” to “it’s the sun,” “we can adapt” - and everything in between. 

This small gathering of climate science deniers, including Conservative MP and member of the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Climate change, oilman Peter Lilley, and Conservative MP for Monmouth, David Davies, met in a small room buried on the third floor of the UK’s House of Commons in London last week.

They were there to hear Professor Richard Tol, advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation and IPCC Working Group II economics chapter Coordinating Lead Author. 

The meeting was organized by Irish MP and climate denier Sammy Wilson, on behalf of “Repeal the Act” a group that argues the “climate is always changing.”

For someone who claims he’s not a climate denier, Tol certainly managed to belt out a number of the classic denier arguments in the next two hours. 

The Fish Are Fine, Kinder Morgan Says

Chinook salmon

Ecojustice lawyers were among the many to file motions to the National Energy Board late last week regarding Kinder Morgan’s poor and non-existent responses to questions posed to it by intervenors. And while we were generally disappointed by Kinder Morgan’s evasive approach, we were shocked at one reply in particular.

When asked whether there is any evidence from cold water oil spills to suggest marine fish are impacted, Kinder Morgan’s response was that: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.”

That’s right   Kinder Morgan’s view is that when oil is spilled in water, there is little harm to fish, and it is more likely the fish will be just fine.

The motion Ecojustice lawyers filed on behalf of our clients, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, asks the Board to order Kinder Morgan to fully respond to our clients’ first round of information requests about the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

Kinder Morgan received more than 10,000 questions from intervenors. As we wrote last month, the company asked for an extension of the time limit to respond, but got only 14 of the 23 days they asked for. Our clients supported the request, in the interest of allowing Kinder Morgan time to provide as much information as possible.

Kinder Morgan's slippery responses

But now that the responses are in, we wonder whether the extra nine days would have made a difference. Responses from the company have ranged from vague to incomplete to non-existent. In short The information provided by Kinder Morgan is not nearly good enough. Of the 253 responses our clients received from the company, at least 77 – approximately 30 per cent – were inadequate. 

In 20 responses, Kinder Morgan refused to answer the question in whole or in part, by:

  • Claiming it was “not relevant” to the review (including the record of leaks and ruptures on Kinder Morgan’s other pipeline systems, and the make and model of clean-up equipment); or
  • Stating that it did not have the information (including air monitoring information), because the data do not exist, because the answer was not in the documents they relied on in the application, or because they had not done the necessary work to answer.

In five responses, Kinder Morgan gave a response which only partially answered the question or provided an answer but not the supporting data requested.

In the remainder of the responses, Kinder Morgan simply didn’t answer the questions it was asked. Here’s a snapshot of the ways the company answered questions with non-answers:

  • Cited a large document or report rather than provide an clear answer;
  • Referred to a document that did not contain any answer to the question; 
  • Said it would file an answer later; or
  • Cited a legal standard rather than address facts. 

As we mentioned above, when our clients asked if there was evidence from cold water oil spills, beyond evidence from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, of marine fish communities or habitat being impacted for more than two years after a spill, this was Kinder Morgan’s response: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.” 

In support of that mystifying non-answer, Kinder Morgan cited a 264-page report from Enbridge’s reply evidence in the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings. 

We’ve written about how, in the wake of the 2012 omnibus budget bill, reviews of major pipeline projects have been scaled back dramatically, sacrificing good science and process for “efficiency.” The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project hearing, with its 15-month time limit and lack of oral cross-examination, is a prime example of how this shift is deeply problematic. 

We are now halfway through the two rounds of intervenor information requests, which are intervenors’ only chance to ask Kinder Morgan questions about its 15,000-page application. Our clients are increasingly worried that they will be unable to meaningfully challenge Kinder Morgan’s evidence, particularly given its evasive approach to our information requests. 

But as for the fish, according to Kinder Morgan, they will be just fine.

- See more at: http://www.ecojustice.ca/blog/the-fish-are-fine-kinder-morgan-says#sthas...

Ecojustice lawyers were among the many to file motions to the National Energy Board late last week regarding Kinder Morgan’s poor and non-existent responses to questions posed to it by intervenors. And while we were generally disappointed by Kinder Morgan’s evasive approach, we were shocked at one reply in particular.

When asked whether there is any evidence from cold water oil spills to suggest marine fish are impacted, Kinder Morgan’s response was that: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.”

That’s right   Kinder Morgan’s view is that when oil is spilled in water, there is little harm to fish, and it is more likely the fish will be just fine.

The motion Ecojustice lawyers filed on behalf of our clients, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, asks the Board to order Kinder Morgan to fully respond to our clients’ first round of information requests about the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

Kinder Morgan received more than 10,000 questions from intervenors. As we wrote last month, the company asked for an extension of the time limit to respond, but got only 14 of the 23 days they asked for. Our clients supported the request, in the interest of allowing Kinder Morgan time to provide as much information as possible.

Kinder Morgan's slippery responses

But now that the responses are in, we wonder whether the extra nine days would have made a difference. Responses from the company have ranged from vague to incomplete to non-existent. In short The information provided by Kinder Morgan is not nearly good enough. Of the 253 responses our clients received from the company, at least 77 – approximately 30 per cent – were inadequate. 

In 20 responses, Kinder Morgan refused to answer the question in whole or in part, by:

  • Claiming it was “not relevant” to the review (including the record of leaks and ruptures on Kinder Morgan’s other pipeline systems, and the make and model of clean-up equipment); or
  • Stating that it did not have the information (including air monitoring information), because the data do not exist, because the answer was not in the documents they relied on in the application, or because they had not done the necessary work to answer.

In five responses, Kinder Morgan gave a response which only partially answered the question or provided an answer but not the supporting data requested.

In the remainder of the responses, Kinder Morgan simply didn’t answer the questions it was asked. Here’s a snapshot of the ways the company answered questions with non-answers:

  • Cited a large document or report rather than provide an clear answer;
  • Referred to a document that did not contain any answer to the question; 
  • Said it would file an answer later; or
  • Cited a legal standard rather than address facts. 

As we mentioned above, when our clients asked if there was evidence from cold water oil spills, beyond evidence from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, of marine fish communities or habitat being impacted for more than two years after a spill, this was Kinder Morgan’s response: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.” 

In support of that mystifying non-answer, Kinder Morgan cited a 264-page report from Enbridge’s reply evidence in the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings. 

We’ve written about how, in the wake of the 2012 omnibus budget bill, reviews of major pipeline projects have been scaled back dramatically, sacrificing good science and process for “efficiency.” The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project hearing, with its 15-month time limit and lack of oral cross-examination, is a prime example of how this shift is deeply problematic. 

We are now halfway through the two rounds of intervenor information requests, which are intervenors’ only chance to ask Kinder Morgan questions about its 15,000-page application. Our clients are increasingly worried that they will be unable to meaningfully challenge Kinder Morgan’s evidence, particularly given its evasive approach to our information requests. 

But as for the fish, according to Kinder Morgan, they will be just fine.

- See more at: http://www.ecojustice.ca/blog/the-fish-are-fine-kinder-morgan-says#sthas...
Dyna Tuytel, staff lawyer

This is a guest post by Ecojustice staff lawyer Dyna Tuytel.

Ecojustice lawyers were among the many to file motions to the National Energy Board late last week regarding Kinder Morgan’s poor and non-existent responses to questions posed to it by intervenors. And while we were generally disappointed by Kinder Morgan’s evasive approach, we were shocked at one reply in particular.

When asked whether there is any evidence from cold water oil spills to suggest marine fish are impacted, Kinder Morgan’s response was that: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.”

That’s right — Kinder Morgan’s view is that when oil is spilled in water, there is little harm to fish, and it is more likely the fish will be just fine.

Addressing Global Warming is an Economic Necessity

David Suzuki

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

Those who don’t outright deny the existence of human-caused global warming often argue we can’t or shouldn’t do anything about it because it would be too costly. Take Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who recently said, “No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

But in failing to act on global warming, many leaders are putting jobs and economic prosperity at risk, according to recent studies. It’s suicidal, both economically and literally, to focus on the fossil fuel industry’s limited, short-term economic benefits at the expense of long-term prosperity, human health and the natural systems, plants and animals that make our well-being and survival possible. Those who refuse to take climate change seriously are subjecting us to enormous economic risks and foregoing the numerous benefits that solutions would bring.

The World Bank — hardly a radical organization — is behind one study. While still viewing the problem and solutions through the lens of outmoded economic thinking, its report demolishes arguments made by the likes of Stephen Harper.

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