Farron Cousins

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Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

The State Of The Gulf Two Years After Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 rig workers and subsequently caused an oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico that leaked hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil into the water. The mainstream press will provide coverage over the next few days, reminding the world that the Gulf Coast is still reeling from the effects of the disaster. But for those of us that call the coast home, we’re reminded of what’s happened everyday.

A lot has happened in the two years since the rig explosion – federal inquiries, scientific testing, corporate investigations. These actions have told us two very important things: The first being that the explosion and oil leak could have easily been prevented had the companies involved not cut corners. The second is that the oil is proving to be much more harmful to the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico than most people realize.

The most recent developments in the ongoing saga include rig owner Transocean once again attempted to thwart a thorough investigation into their role in the disaster.

Institute for Energy Research Launches “Save Oil Tax Breaks” Offensive

In late March, Senate Republicans torpedoed an effort by Democrats to repeal the $4 billion a year that is flowing to the oil companies in the form of subsidies. The Obama Administration had proposed ending the subsidies so that this unnecessary money for the oil industry could instead be directed towards renewable energy projects and emission reduction in the United States. But in Washington, big oil has paid off the right people and organizations to make sure that their subsidies and tax breaks never disappear.

One organization that is flush with cash from the oil industry is the Institute for Energy Research (IER.) While their name might have you believe otherwise, the group is little more than an industry-funded propaganda machine, hell-bent on insuring that the desires of the dirty energy industry continue to be fulfilled within the halls of Congress. “Energy research” has almost nothing to do with the group’s activities.

Last week, after the Senate’s vote to block the subsidy repeal, IER compiled a report attempting to dissect and disprove the Administration’s proposal, point by point. But like most information put out by these corporate-funded think tanks, IER’s analysis is riddled with falsehoods and inaccurate information.

Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS Doubles Down On Gas Price Talking Points

The Karl Rove-helmed lobbying group Crossroads GPS (in conjunction with their parent group American Crossroads) has decided to double down on the debunked talking point that President Obama is to blame for the spike in gas prices. Their latest ad, titled “Too Much,” specifically takes aim at the President’s claim (based on facts) that domestic energy production is at a record high.

Take a look:

It is interesting to note that in this ad, when they attempt to “debunk” Obama’s claim about domestic oil production, the source they cite as evidence is actually talking about only the oil production, a fact that they actually left in the ad yet conveniently ignored:

Survey Says...Fracking IS Causing Earthquakes

A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says that the increased seismic activity taking place in certain areas of the United States is almost certainly the result of oil and gas drilling activities. The group has been studying dozens of earthquakes across America for the last 8 months and determined that the man-made quakes were taking place in areas where fracking or deep waste water injection had recently occurred.

Here is a brief snippet from the report's abstract:

A remarkable increase in the rate of M 3 and greater earthquakes is currently in progress in the US midcontinent. The average number of M >= 3 earthquakes/year increased starting in 2001, culminating in a six-fold increase over 20th century levels in 2011. Is this increase natural or manmade? To address this question, we take a regional approach to explore changes in the rate of earthquake occurrence in the midcontinent (defined here as 85° to 108° West, 25° to 50° North) using the USGS Preliminary Determination of Epicenters and National Seismic Hazard Map catalogs…

The modest increase that began in 2001 is due to increased seismicity in the coal bed methane field of the Raton Basin along the Colorado-New Mexico border west of Trinidad, CO. The acceleration in activity that began in 2009 appears to involve a combination of source regions of oil and gas production, including the Guy, Arkansas region, and in central and southern Oklahoma. Horton, et al. (2012) provided strong evidence linking the Guy, AR activity to deep waste water injection wells. In Oklahoma, the rate of M >= 3 events abruptly increased in 2009 from 1.2/year in the previous half-century to over 25/year. This rate increase is exclusive of the November 2011 M 5.6 earthquake and its aftershocks. A naturally-occurring rate change of this magnitude is unprecedented outside of volcanic settings or in the absence of a main shock, of which there were neither in this region. While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production.

What’s interesting is that the USGS points out the obvious fact that has been ignored by the industry – these earthquakes are occurring in areas where earthquakes shouldn’t be happening. Still, that hasn’t stopped the dirty energy industry from denying that there is a correlation between fracking and earthquakes.

Who Is Monitoring Fracking Wells And Pipelines? Nobody

As we here at DeSmogBlog have been covering in exhaustive detail for quite some time now, there is virtually no safe way to perform hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for unconventional oil and gas.

Fracking has been linked to numerous problems, including the release of radioactive molecules that cause an array of health problems, earthquakes, and groundwater contamination. Cancer, pollution, environmental destruction – all of these things have been linked to the practice of fracking in recent years.

So with all of the dangerous side effects, you’d expect the practice to at least be heavily monitored by some sort of official watchdog group.

You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. According to new studies, there is a dangerous lapse in oversight for fracking wells and the pipelines being used to transport gas from these wells. From News Inferno:

Deadly Bacteria Found In Gulf Coast Tar Balls

Since the very first tar balls began rolling onshore along the Gulf of Mexico following 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion and subsequent underwater oil geyser, the oil industry told us to relax because those tar balls were completely harmless. But as we approach the two year anniversary of the disaster, new studies have confirmed that the tar balls we’re seeing along our beaches contain bacteria that are capable of killing human beings.

The new study, conducted by scientists at Auburn University, confirmed the presence of a bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus. According to researchers, this is the same bacteria that is responsible for causing illness and death from eating bad oysters. The tar balls contained concentrations of this bacteria more than 100 times greater than the surrounding water. The Centers for Disease Control says the following regarding Vibrio vulnificus:

Wound infections may start as redness and swelling at the site of the wound that then can progress to affect the whole body. V. vulnificus typically causes a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blood-tinged blistering skin lesions (hemorrhagic bullae). Overall, V. vulnificus infections are fatal about 40% of the time. Wound infections with V. vulnificus are fatal about 20% of the time, and aggressive surgical treatment can prevent death.

Persons who have immunocompromising conditions and especially persons with chronic liver disease are particularly at risk for V. vulnificus infection when they eat raw or undercooked seafood, particularly shellfish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, or if they bathe a cut or scrape in marine waters. About three-quarters of patients with V. vulnificus infections have known underlying hepatic disease or other immunocompromising illness. Otherwise healthy persons are at much lower risk of V. vulnificus infection.

It is important to remember that this isn’t a fleeting threat to those of us who live, work, and play along the Gulf Coast. National Geographic recently pointed out that tarballs are continuously washing up along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that the threat of bacterial infection is not only real, but it is persistent. And with Spring Break season in high gear, beaches along the Gulf Coast are currently inundated with out of state families playing and relaxing on top of these toxic bacteria balls.

Beginning of The End for Big Oil’s Billion Dollar Subsidies?

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (N.J.) has introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to kill, once and for all, the billions of dollars worth of subsidies that are flowing from the federal government to the oil industry.

Under Menendez’s proposal, the $4 billion annual corporate welfare handed out to oil companies would instead be used to pay down the federal deficit and be re-invested into renewable energy technology.

Given the Republicans’ history of fighting for the oil industry and their subsidies, you would expect this bill to be dead on arrival. However, in an odd combination of arrogance and ignorance, Senate Republicans actually sided with Democrats in a vote to move the bill onto the floor for debate.

Republicans currently believe that any issue involving gas and oil is a home run for their party, so they’re banking on the issue actually helping them out, politically. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following statement about the issue:

“We’re going to use this opportunity to explain how out of touch Democrats are on high gas prices, and put a spotlight on the common-sense ideas Republicans have been urging for years – ideas that reflect our genuine commitment to the kind of all-of-the-above approach the President claims to support but doesn’t.”

McConnell’s comment demonstrates both the arrogance and ignorance of the Republican Party on the issue of gas prices.

Tracking The Origins Of The "Blame Obama For Gas Prices" Talking Point

Since at least last summer, conservatives have been parroting the oil industry talking point that President Obama is somehow the one responsible for the spike in gasoline and oil prices. As we have pointed out, they base this on their assertion that the President has been “hostile” towards the dirty energy industry by prohibiting drilling and denying the passage of the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. While the Keystone deal is currently on hold (although not even close to being off the table,) the assertion that the president has been hostile to the oil industry is beyond false.

Furthermore, the claim that Obama is responsible for the rise in gasoline prices is untrue on all premises. Just this week, the Associated Press released a report explaining the numerous ways in which gasoline prices are far beyond the control of the President, regardless of his actions or policies that he puts in place regarding oil exploration. Here are some highlights from the new report:

Fact Checking The New Paul Ryan Budget on Energy and Environment

Representative Paul Ryan (R–WI) has released his budget for fiscal year 2013. To almost no one’s surprise, his outline is filled with too many falsehoods and outright lies to count.

After analyzing just one section of his proposal – the section on energy and the environment – more than half a dozen false statements were found in a mere eight paragraphs.

Before analyzing Ryan’s claims from his budget, it’s important to understand why he feels the need to misrepresent what the Obama Administration has accomplished during the last four years.

Ryan, who is currently the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, has received $65,000 from Koch Industries during the course of his tenure in the House, with a total of more than $245,000 from the oil and gas industries to run his campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The fact that he is in the pocket of the dirty energy industry is clear with the accusations he makes in his proposal. Those claims are below, followed by the truth.

U.S. Chamber Front Group Holds “Whine And Blame” Facebook Party – Nobody Shows Up

American Free Enterprise, a front group of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, held a complaint session on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon to let Americans vent about “who is to blame” for rising gas prices. Unfortunately for the group, few people attended their virtual party.

The pity party was an attempt to get Americans riled up at President Obama for allegedly being an enemy of the oil industry – a claim that conservatives have falsely been throwing around since he took office. But the lack of enthusiasm was evident by the low participation.

Here is the comment thread from the “discussion,” which I captured yesterday. Names and pictures have been covered: