Steve Horn

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Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist. He previously was a reporter and researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy. In his free time, Steve is a competitive runner, with a personal best time of 2:43:04 in the 2009 Boston Marathon. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in political science and legal studies, his writing has appeared in Al Jazeera America, The Guardian, Vice News, The Nation, Wisconsin Watch, Truth-Out, AlterNet and elsewhere.

Days Before Casselton Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands

On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law. 

Days later, on December 30, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight train owned by Warren Buffett carrying Bakken fracked oil exploded in Casselton, North Dakota. Locals breathed a smoky sigh of relief that the disaster happened outside the town center. In July 2013, a “bomb train” carrying Bakken oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people

Dubbed the “Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Streamlining Act,” the bill passed unanimously in the Senate as S.244 and 415-1 in the House as H.R. 767, with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) serving as the sole “nay” vote and 16 representatives abstaining. Among the abstentions were representatives Peter Defazio (D-OR), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Campbell (R-CA).

H.R. 767's sponsor is North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who received $213,150 from the oil and gas industry prior to the 2012 election, and an additional $29,000 for the forthcoming 2014 elections.

Cosponsors include Wyoming Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis ($109,050 from the oil and gas industry pre-2012 election, $28,500 in the 2014 election cycle), South Dakota Republican Rep. Kristi Noem ($95,501 from the industry pre-2012 election, $20,400 pre-2014) and Montana Republican Rep. Steve Daines ($124,620 pre-2012 election and $87,412 pre-2014).

S.244 is sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), who has taken $291,237 from the oil and gas industry since his 2010 election to Congress. Cosponsor Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-NDreceived $111,050 from the oil and gas industry since her 2012 electoral victory.

Exclusive: Permit Shows Bakken Shale Oil in Casselton Train Explosion Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals

On January 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a major safety alert, declaring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale may be more chemically explosive than the agency or industry previously admitted publicly.

This alert came three days after the massive Casselton, ND explosion of a freight rail train owned by Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and was the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation agency ever made such a statement about Bakken crude. In July 2013, another freight train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing and killing 47 people.

Yet, an exclusive DeSmogBlog investigation reveals the company receiving that oil downstream from BNSF — Marquis Missouri Terminal LLCincorporated in April 2012 by Marquis Energy — already admitted as much in a September 2012 permit application to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The BNSF Direct ”bomb train” that exploded in Casselton was destined for Marquis' terminal in Hayti, Missouri, according to Reuters. Hayti is a city of 2,939 located along the Mississippi River. From there, Marquis barges the oil southward along the Mississippi, where Platts reported the oil may eventually be refined in a Memphis, Tennessee-based Valero refinery.

Warren Buffett Bought Stake in Pipeline Company on Same Day as North Dakota Oil Train Explosion

On December 30, the same day a Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) oil train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, Warren Buffett — owner of holding company giant Berkshire Hathaway, which owns BNSF — bought a major stake in pipeline logistics company Phillips Specialty Products Inc.

Owned by Phillips 66, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, Phillips Specialty Products' claim to fame is lubricating oil's movement through pipelines, increasingly crucial for the industry to move both tar sands crude and oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in an efficient manner.

“Phillips Specialty Products Inc…is the global leader in the science of drag reduction and specializes in maximizing the flow potential of pipelines,” explains its website.

Buffett — the second richest man in the world — sees the flow lubricant business as a lucrative niche one, increasingly so given the explosion of North American tar sands pipelines and fracked oil pipelines.

“I have long been impressed by the strength of the Phillips 66 business portfolio,” he said of the deal in a press release. “The flow improver business is a high-quality business with consistently strong financial performance, and it will fit well within Berkshire Hathaway.”

Dollarocracy: U.S. Congressmen Refuse to Address Keystone XL Southern Half Spill Concerns

What's the U.S. congressional response to the safety issues with the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline raised by Public Citizen's Texas office? Mostly what Simon & Garfunkel called “The Sound of Silence” in their famous song.

DeSmogBlog contacted more than three dozen members of the U.S. Congress representing both political parties to get their take on Public Citizen's alarming findings in its November investigation (including dents, metal that had to be patched up and pipeline segments labeled “junk”), but got little in the way of substantive responses.

Set to open for business on January 22approved via an Executive Order by President Barack Obama in March 2012 and rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the southern half of the pipeline has garnered far less media coverage than its U.S.-Canada border-crossing brother to the north, Keystone XL's northern half.

Over two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President Obama on December 12 expressing concern over the conflicts-of-interest in the U.S. State Department's environmental review process for the northern half of the line.

But none of them would comment on concerns with the southern half of the line raised in the Public Citizen report after multiple queries via e-mail from DeSmogBlog.

Keystone XL Fork in the Road: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open for commercial operations on January 22.

And there's a fork in that half of the pipeline that's largely flown under the radar: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline, which serves as a literal fork in the road of the southern half of Keystone XL's route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline” by TransCanada, the 485-mile southern half of Keystone XL brings a blend of Alberta's tar sands crude, along with oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. This area has been coined a “sacrifice zone” by investigative journalist Ted Genoways, describing the impacts on local communities as the tar sands crude is refined mainly for export markets.

But not all tar sands and fracked oil roads lead to Port Arthur. That's where the Houston Lateral comes into play. A pipeline oriented westward from Liberty County, TX rather than eastward to Port Arthur, Houston Lateral ushers crude oil to Houston's refinery row

“The 48-mile (77-kilometre) Houston Lateral Project is an additional project under development to transport oil to refineries in the Houston, TX marketplace,” TransCanada's website explains. “Upon completion, the Gulf Coast Project and the Houston Lateral Project will become an integrated component of the Keystone Pipeline System.”

New "Frackademia" Report Co-Written by "Converted Climate Skeptic" Richard Muller

The conservative UK-based Centre for Policy Studies recently published a study on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas. The skinny: it's yet another case study of “frackademia,” and the co-authors have a financial stake in the upstart Chinese fracking industry.

Titled “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking“ and co-authored by Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth “Liz” Muller, it concludes that fracking's climate change impacts are benign, dismissing many scientific studies coming to contrary conclusions.

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Richard Muller — a self-proclaimed “converted skeptic” on climate change — said he and Liz had originally thought of putting together this study “about two years ago.”

“We quickly realized that natural gas could be a very big player,” he said. “The reasons had to do with China and the goal of the paper is to get the environmentalists to recognize that they need to support responsible fracking.

The ongoing debate over fracking in the UK served as the impetus behind the Centre for Policy Studies — a non-profit co-founded by former right-wing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1974 — hosting this report on its website, according to Richard Muller.

“They asked for it because some environmentalists are currently opposing fracking in the UK, and they wanted us to share our perspective that fracking is not only essential for human health but its support can be justified for humanitarian purposes,” he said. 

This isn't the first time Liz Muller has unapologetically sung the praises of fracking and promoted bringing the practice to China. In April, she penned an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “China Must Exploit Its Shale Gas.” 

Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon Buys Fracking Wells In Ohio's Utica Shale

Former Chesapeake Energy CEO and Founder Aubrey McClendon is back in the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) game in Ohio's Utica Shale in a big way, receiving a permit to frack five wells from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on November 26. 

“The Ohio Department of Natural Resources awarded McClendon's new company, American Energy Utica LLC, five horizontal well permits Nov. 26 that allows oil and gas exploration on the Jones property in Nottingham Township, Harrison County,” a December 6 article appearing in The Business Journal explained. “In October, American Energy Utica announced it has raised $1.7 billion in capital to secure new leases in the Utica shale play.”

McClendon is the former CEO of fracking giant Chesapeake Energy and now the owner of American Energy Partners, whose office is located less than a mile away from Chesapeake's corporate headquarters.

The $1.7 billion McClendon has received in capital investments for the purchase of 110,000 acres worth of Utica Shale land came from the Energy & Minerals GroupFirst Reserve Corporation, BlackRock Inc. and Magnetar Capital.

McClendon — a central figure in Gregory Zuckerman's recent book “The Frackers” — is currently under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange CommissionHe left Chesapeake in January 2013 following a shareholder revolt over his controversial business practices.

In departing, he was given a $35 million severance package, access to the company's private jets through 2016 and a 2.5% stake in every well Chesapeake fracks through June 2014 as part of the Founder's Well Participation Program.

Little discussed beyond the business press, McClendon has teamed up with a prominent business partner for his new start-up: former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond.

Federal Pipeline Safety Agency Approves Startup of Keystone XL Southern Half

DeSmogBlog has learned that TransCanada cleared the final hurdle for the southern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, receiving a green light last week from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) following a review of several safety concerns.

TransCanada announced this week that it has begun injecting oil into the southern half of its Keystone XL pipeline in preparation for commercial operations.  

Leading up to PHMSA giving Keystone XL south the go-ahead to start up, Public Citizen raised several questions about the safety of the pipeline. 

Will TransCanada respond to greivances raised about dents, faulty welding, pipeline material designated “junk” and other issues raised in the consumer advocacy group's November investigation? And what about September 10 and September 26 warning letters obtained by Public Citizen raising similar concerns from PHMSA to TransCanada?

Both TransCanada and PHMSA have provided DeSmogBlog answers to these questions.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the 485-mile Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas Keystone XL southern half — approved via a March 2012 Executive Order from President Barack Obama — is set to open for business by mid- to late-January.

TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Keystone XL Southern Half; Exact Start Date A Mystery

Keystone XL's southern half is one step closer to opening for business. TransCanada announced that “on Saturday, December 7, 2013, the company began to inject oil into the Gulf Coast Project pipeline as it moves closer to the start of commercial service.”

The Sierra Club's legal challenge to stop the pipeline was recently denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, so the southern half, battled over for years between the industry and environmentalists, will soon become a reality.

According to a statement provided to DeSmog by TransCanada, “Over the coming weeks, TransCanada will inject about three million of [sic] barrels of oil into the system, beginning in Cushing, Oklahoma and moving down to the company’s facilities in the Houston refining area.”

In mid-January, up to 700,000 barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen (dilbit) could begin flowing through the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's pipeline, known as the Gulf Coast Project. Running from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, the southern half of the pipeline was approved by both a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 and an Executive Order from President Barack Obama in March 2012.

BloombergThe Canadian Press and The Oklahoman each reported that the Gulf Coast Project pipeline is now being injected with oil. Line fill is the last key step before a pipeline can begin operations. 

“There are many moving parts to this process – completion of construction, testing, regulatory approvals, line fill and then the transition to operations,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told DeSmog. “Line fill has to take place first, then once final testing and certifications are completed, the line can then go into commercial service.”

Residents living along the length of the southern half will have no clue about the rest of the start-up process, as TransCanada says it won't provide any more information until the line is already running. “For commercial and contractual reasons, the next update we will provide will be after the line has gone into commercial service,” the company announced.

When DeSmog asked whether the company is currently injecting conventional oil or diluted bitumen sourced from the Canadian tar sands, TransCanada's Howard replied: 

“Many people like to try and categorize the blend, etc., however we are injecting oil into the pipeline. As you’ve likely seen me quoted before, oil is oil and this pipeline is designed to handle both light and heavy blends of oil, in accordance with all U.S. regulatory standards.

I am not able to provide you the specific blend or breakdown as we are not permitted (by our customers) from disclosing that information to the media. There are very strict confidentiality clauses in the commercial contracts we enter into with our customers, and that precludes us from providing that. The reason is that if we are providing information about a specific blend, when it is in our system, etc. – that has the potential to identify who our customers may be or allow others to take financial positions in the market and profit from that information when others do not have access to the same information. This has much farther reaching impacts for the financial markets (and ultimately all of us).”

Stink Tanks: Historical Records Reveal State Policy Network Was Created by ALEC

A 1991 report tracked down by DeSmogBlog from the University of California-San Francisco's Legacy Tobacco Documents reveals that the State Policy Network (SPN) was created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), raising additional questions over both organizations' Internal Revenue Service (IRS) non-profit tax status. 

Titled “Special Report: Burgeoning Conservative Think Tanks” and published by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the report states that State Policy Network's precursor — the Madison Group — was “launched by the American Legislative Exchange Council and housed in the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.”

Further, Constance “Connie” Campanella — former ALEC executive director and the first president of the Madison Group — left ALEC in 1988 to create a lobbying firm called Stateside Associates. Stateside uses ALEC meetings (and the meetings of other groups) as lobbying opportunities for its corporate clients

“Stateside Associates is the largest state and local government affairs firm,” according to its website. “Since 1988, the Stateside team has worked across the 50 states and in many local governments on behalf of dozens of companies, trade associations and government and non-profit clients.”

Constance Campanella; Photo Source: Twitter

Named Constance Heckman while heading ALEC, Campenella also formerly served on the Board of Directors of Washington Area State Relations Group, a state-level lobbyist networking group. 

“The Washington Area State Relations Group (WASRG) is one of the nation’s largest organizations dedicated exclusively to serving state government relations professionals,” explains its website. “Since the mid-1970s, WASRG has been providing its corporate, trade association and public sector members with a unique and valuable opportunity to interact with their peers, key state officials and public policy experts.”

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