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.

Leaked Documents Reveal IRS Concerns, Funding Crisis At Corporate Lobbying Group ALEC

The Guardian has published a major investigative piece that once again exposes the scandalous ways of the right wing lobbying group, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). 

Among the biggest revelations: ALEC may soon face a budget crisis, and is feeling the heat of public pressure from activists and its own membership in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting by George Zimmerman in Florida. Dozens of corporations have jumped ship from what critics have coined a “corporate bill mill” for statehouses nationwide.

Another explosive revelation: ALEC State Chairs were handed a draft pledge to put ALEC's interests over its constituent's interests, asked to “act with care and loyalty and put the interests of [ALEC] first.” ALEC confirmed to The Guardian that it was “not adopted by the membership committee or by any of the state chairs.”

The Guardian obtained ALEC's Board of Directors' meeting minutes which reveal that ALEC has created a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization called The Jeffersonian Project.

Creation of the Jeffersonian Project - paralleling ALEC's self-serving branding as standing for “Jeffersonian principles” - could be seen as a tacit admission that ALEC had been illegally operating as a shadow lobbying organization on behalf of its corporate members for the past four decades.

ALEC's budget hole from the exodus of corporate members has inspired a campaign to win corporate members back to the exclusive club, calling it the biblically-inspired “Prodigal Son Project.” Desperate for more member-based funding, ALEC is considering recruiting gambling companies into its member base.

Tar Sands' Next Frontier: Shipments on the Great Lakes

Great Lakes Tar Sands

The Great Lakes, drinking water source for over 40 million North Americans, could be the next target on tar sands marketers' bullseye according to a major new report out by the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes.

The 24-page report, “Oil and Water: Tar Sands Crude Shipping Meets the Great Lakes?unpacks a new looming threat to the Great Lakes in the form of barges transporting tar sands along the Great Lakes to targeted midwestern refinery markets. As the report suggests, it's a threat made worse by an accompanying “Wild West”-like regulatory framework.

“The prospect of tar sands shipping on the Great Lakes gives rise to fundamental social and economic questions about whether moving crude oil by vessel across the world’s single largest surface freshwater system is a venture this region wants to embrace, despite the known risks,” the report says early on.

Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP is one of the major corporations hedging its bets on moving tar sands along the Great Lakes — and oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin — and may begin doing so as early as 2015.   

“[I]ndustry observers and consultants speculate this crude could travel from Wisconsin across Lake Superior to Lake Michigan, and on to refineries in Whiting, Ind., Lemont, Ill., and possibly Detroit, Mich. near Lake Erie,” the report details. “Other potential destinations include Sarnia, Ontario on Lake Huron, or even an East Coast refinery.”

As a recent GasBuddy.com article explained, BP's Whiting, Indiana refinery - capable of refining far more tar sands crude with its Modernization Project - will soon open for business.

“Sources say that BP's modernization of the company's 405,000-b/d Whiting, Ind., refinery is on schedule with all units now operating,” the article explained. “That includes a brand new 105,000-b/d coker that will eventually allow the plant to use about four times as much heavy sour Canadian crude compared with it had used previously.”

Firm with History of Spill Cover-Ups Hired to Clean Up North Dakota Oil Spill

Tesoro Logistics — the company whose pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of fracked Bakken Shale oil in rural North Dakota in September — has hired infamous contractor Witt O'Brien's to oversee its clean-up of the biggest fracked oil spill in U.S. history.

The oil was obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale basin.

As revealed after ExxonMobil hired the same firm in the aftermath of a 210,000-gallon tar sands oil spill in April 2013, Witt O'Brien's — formerly known as OOPS, Inc. — is a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups dating back to the Exxon Valdez oil spillIt also oversaw the spraying of toxic oil dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico during BP's summer 2010 mega-spill and a literal cover-up of Enbridge's massive “dilbit disaster” tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan. 

Witt O'Brien's also won a $300,000 contract to develop an emergency response plan for TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline in August 2008.

The same firm is now maintaining Tesoro's website dedicated to offering updates — also known as crisis communications management — for the massive spill's recovery efforts at TesoroAlert.com

Buried at the bottom of the website is a mention that the site is “powered by the PIER System.” PIER — short for “Public Information Emergency Response” — is owned by Witt O'Brien's.

Screen Shot Taken Nov. 25, 2013

Obama Approves Major Border-Crossing Fracked Gas Pipeline Used to Dilute Tar Sands

Although TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has received the lion's share of media attention, another key border-crossing pipeline benefitting tar sands producers was approved on November 19 by the U.S. State Department.

Enter Cochin, Kinder Morgan's 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north through Kankakee, Illinois, and eventually into Alberta, Canada, the home of the tar sands. 

Like Keystone XL, the pipeline proposal requires U.S. State Department approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike Keystone XL - which would carry diluted tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south to the Gulf Coast - Kinder Morgan's Cochin pipeline would carry the gas condensate (diluent) used to dilute the bitumen north to the tar sands.

“The decision allows Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC to proceed with a $260 million plan to reverse and expand an existing pipeline to carry an initial 95,000 barrels a day of condensate,” the Financial Post wrote

“The extra-thick oil is typically cut with 30% condensate so it can move in pipelines. By 2035, producers could require 893,000 barrels a day of the ultra-light oil, with imports making up 786,000 barrels of the total.”

Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers.

“Total US natural gasoline exports reached a record volume of 179,000 barrels per day in February as Canada's thirst for oil sand diluent ramped up,” explained a May 2013 article appearing in Platts. ”US natural gasoline production is forecast to increase to roughly 450,000 b/d by 2020.”

US Court Denies Halt on Pipeline Set to Replace Keystone XL Northern Half

Flanagan south, keystone xl pipeline

The ever-wise Yogi Berra once quipped “It's like déjà vu all over again,” a truism applicable to a recent huge decision handed down by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

A story covered only by McClatchy News' Michael Doyle, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shot down Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation's (NWF) request for an immediate injunction in constructing Enbridge's Flanagan South tar sands pipeline in a 60-page ruling.

That 600-mile long, 600,000 barrels per day proposed line runs from Flanagan, Illinois - located in the north central part of the state - down to Cushing, Oklahoma, dubbed the “pipeline crossroads of the world.” The proposed 694-mile, 700,000 barrels per day proposed Transcanada Keystone XL northern half also runs to Cushing from Alberta, Canada and requires U.S. State Department approval, along with President Barack Obama's approval. 

Because Flanagan South is not a border-crossing line, it doesn't require the State Department or Obama's approval. If Keystone XL's northern half's permit is denied, Flanagan South - along with Enbridge's proposal to expand its Alberta Clipper pipeline, approved by Obama's State Department during Congress' recess in August 2009 - would make up that half of the pipeline's capacity and then some. 

Fracking Lobby ANGA's Tax Forms: Big Bucks to Media Outlets, "Other ALECs"

America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) - the public relations arm of the oil and gas fracking industry - has released its 2012 Internal Revenue Services (IRS) 990 form, and it's rich with eye-opening revelations, some of which we report here for the first time. 

Incorporated as American Natural Gas Alliance, Inc., ANGA received $76.7 million from its dues-paying members for fiscal year 2012. Not strictly a lobbying force alone at the state-level and federal-level, ANGA has pumped millions of dollars into public relations and advertising efforts around the country and hundreds of thousands more into other influence-peddling avenues. 

The Nation Magazine's Lee Fang revealed in a recent piece that ANGA gave $1 million in funding to “Truthland,” a pro-fracking film released to fend off Josh Fox's “Gasland: Part II.”

On its website, “Truthland” says it is a project of both industry front group Energy in Depth and the trade association, Independent Petroleum Association of America. The “Truthland” website was originally registered in Chesapeake Energy's office, Little Sis revealed.

Fang also revealed ANGA gave $25,000 to “ASGK Strategies, a political consulting firm founded by White House advisor David Axelrod,” as well as “$864,673 to Edventures Partners, an education curriculum company that has partnered with ANGA to produce classroom materials that promote the use of natural gas.”

Public Citizen Report Reveals Dents, Holes in Keystone XL Southern Half Weeks Before Planned Startup

The southern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is supposed to begin pumping up to 700,000 barrels of diluted bitumen per day through the Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX route within weeks. But is it ready to operate safely?

Public Citizen has released a chilling report revealing that the 485-mile KXL southern line is plagued by dents, faulty welding, exterior damage that was patched up poorly and misshapen bends, among other troubling anomalies.

In conducting its investigative report, “Construction Problems Raise Questions About the Integrity of the Pipeline,” Public Citizen worked on the ground to examine 250 miles of the 485 mile pipeline's route. The group and its citizen sources uncovered over 125 anomalies in that half of the line alone. These findings moved Public Citizen to conclude the southern half of the pipeline shouldn't begin service until the anomalies are taken care of, and ponders if the issues can ever be resolved sufficiently.

After President Barack Obama temporarily denied a permit for Keystone XL's northern half in January 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted Keystone XL's south half a legally dubious Nationwide Permit 12 to expedite construction. Soon after, President Obama issued his own Executive Order in March 2012 calling for the expedited building of the south half in de facto support of the Corps' permit. 

An August report by industry intelligence firm Genscape said the pipeline, rebranded by Transcanada as the “Gulf Coast Project,” will ship tar sands dilbit through the line beginning in the first quarter of 2014. Now, the race to build the south half literally looks like it could come with major costs and consequences.  

MSNBC "Leans Forward" Into Running "Native Ads" Promoting Fracking

Three years into its “Lean Forward” re-branding campaign, MSNBC has given new meaning to the catchphrase, leaning forward into running branded content promoting hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)

Looking to beef up its web presence, MSNBC has brought “Lean Forward” online with a new and improved website, calling it a “Platform for the Lean Forward, progressive community.” A key part of funding that platform: running “native advertisements” for America's Natural Gas Alliance and General Electric.

“General Electric and America’s Natural Gas Alliance are the site’s launch partners,” explained an October 30 MediaPost article.

GE, the first native ad partner for msnbc.com, will collaborate with MSNBC to deliver a content series that highlights how the 'Industrial Internet' and 'Brilliant Machines Innovation' are reshaping our world. America’s Natural Gas Alliance will be featured in sponsored polls in the 'Speak Out' section of the site centered on natural gas facts.”

GE, former owner of NBC, of which MSNBC is one of its many tentacles, is fully invested in the fossil fuel industry, with assets in fracking, coal, offshore drilling, tar sands, and more. ANGA is the shale gas industry's lobbying tour de force, both at the federal and state level.

Native advertising - also referred to as “branded content” or “native content” - is quickly replacing banner ads and pop-up ads as the go-to channel of reaching consumers for advertising executives. 

“Native content is a digital advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience, matching both the form and function of the environment in which it is placed,” explained a recent MarketingWeek article.

If banner ads and pop-up ads are “overt ads,” then native ads are best described as “covert ads,” akin to the controversial “video news releases” for TV news.

Coal Baron and Major Ken Cuccinelli Campaign Donor Sues Blogger for Defamation, Invasion of Privacy

Robert Murray, owner of the Ohio-based coal giant, Murray Energy Corporationfiled a defamation lawsuit against a prominent liberal blogger and The Huffington Post

Filed on September 25 in Belmont County's Court of Common Pleas, Murray's complaint accuses Mike Stark, creator of FossilAgenda.com and Stark Reports, and The Huffington Post of defamation and invasion of privacy stemming from Mr. Stark's September 20 article, “Meet the Extremist Coal Baron Bankrolling Ken Cuccinelli's Campaign.”

Stark, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and David Halperin, former Senior Vice President of the Center for American Progress pushed back this week, filing a motion asking the presiding federal judge to dismiss charges for the case.

Published in the midst of the heated Virginia gubernatorial race between Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe - one of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign chairmen - Stark's piece apparently struck a nerve with Murray, one of Cuccinelli's key campaign contributors.

Ken Cuccinelli; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the piece published on The Huffington Post, Stark points to the $30,000 that Murray Energy has given Cuccinelli, as well as Robert Murray's campaign work on behalf of 2012 Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Stark also covers Murray's call for the impeachment of President Obama at a recent speaking engagement, along with his firing of 150 workers after Obama's 2012 victory over Mitt Romney and the prayer he offered the U.S. public after Obama's 2012 victory. 

Revealed: Never Before Seen Photos of Tesoro Fracked Oil Spill in North Dakota, Pipeline Restarted Today

A month after over 865,200 gallons of oil spilled from Tesoro Logistics' 6-inch pipeline near Tioga, North Dakota, the cause of the leak is still largely unknown to anyone but Tesoro. The pipeline resumed operations today.

Carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the controversial horizontal drilling method used to capture oil and gas found embedded in shale rock basins worldwide, the Bakken Shale pipeline spill on September 29 was the largest fracked oil spill in U.S. history. Oil spill experts say the spill may be even bigger than originally estimated. 

Yet few details of what caused the spill - and how to prevent it from happening again - have arisen in the month since it occurred. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) believes a lightning strike may have created the quarter inch hole in the pipeline, leading to the spill

PHMSA says it will carry out a rigorous investigation into the cause of the spill, but allowed the restart after Tesoro agreed to the agency's safety order mandating aerial monitoring of the pipeline over the next three days during the restart and then weekly for the next year, along with 20 other things.

The safety order also mandates Tesoro provide a documented updated within six months indicating how it enhanced its control room monitoring, instructs Tesoro to finish the final mechanical and metallurgical testing report of the failed pipe within 30 days and dictates that within “90 days complet[ion of] a root cause failure analysis for the Line that contains a detailed timeline of events.”

Documents obtained by Greenpeace USA under North Dakota's Open Records Statute show the oil has settled over 12 feet below the ground layer of the soil. The oil that settled on the surface was burned off.   

“At 10-12 feet below surface, there is a extensive clay layer that underlies the entire hill top,” Kris Roberts, Environmental Response Team Leader for the North Department of Health's Division of Water Quality, explained in an October 3 field report.

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