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.

Union of Concerned Scientists Cites DeSmog's "Frackademia" Work in Major Report

The Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy has released a new report titled “Toward an Evidence-Based Fracking Debate” and DeSmogBlog's “frackademia” work takes the center stage in the 53-page heavily cited document.

With chapters on the science of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), fracking's regulatory landscape (and lack thereof), industry transparency (and again, lack thereof) and many sub-topics in between, DeSmog's “frackademia” work is mentioned twice in the “Interference in the Science” subsection. 

“Industry interests have influenced the outcome of academic studies of unconventional oil and gas development,” wrote UCS in citing DeSmogBlog. “Such efforts have produced industry-friendly research results and reports coming from several universities, a circumstance that has been dubbed 'frackademia.'”

UCS cited our “frackademia” case study of State University of New York at Buffalo and its proposed Shale Resources and Society Institute. The proposal was met with resistance and furor, eventually shuttering operations before it ever officially opened its doors in late-2012. 

Careful to avoid coastal bias, UCS also mentioned our probe of University of Southern California's “Powering California” report

Over 865,200 Gallons of Fracked Oil Spill in ND, Public In Dark For Days Due to Government Shutdown

Over 20,600 barrels of oil fracked from the Bakken Shale has spilled from a Tesoro Logistics pipeline in Tioga, North Dakota in one of the biggest onshore oil spills in recent U.S. history.

Though the spill occurred on September 29, the U.S. National Response Center - tasked with responding to chemical and oil spills - did not make the report available until October 8 due to the ongoing government shutdown. 

“The center generally makes such reports available on its website within 24 hours of their filing, but services were interrupted last week because of the U.S. government shutdown,” explained Reuters

The “Incident Summaries” portion of the National Response Center's website is currently down, and the homepage notes, “Due to [the] government shutdown, some services may not be available.” 

At more than 20,600 barrels - equivalent to 865,200 gallons - the spill was bigger than the April 2013 ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline spill, which spewed 5,000-7,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen into a residential neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas.

So far, only 1,285 barrels have been recovered in North Dakota, and the oil is spread out over a 7.3 acre land mass.

Kris Roberts, environmental geologist for the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Water Quality told the Williston Herald, “the leak was caused by a hole that deteriorated in the side of the pipe.”

No water, surface water or ground water was impacted,” he said. “They installed monitoring wells to ensure there is no impact now or that there is going to be one.”

Obama's Former Communications Director Anita Dunn Pitches "Ethical Oil" Keystone XL Ad

Ezra Levant is the man behind an attempt to re-frame the Alberta tar sands as “ethical oil.” “Ethical” - Levant's deceptive public relations campaign argues of the tar sands “carbon bomb” - because it doesn't come from the war-ridden and human rights-abusing Middle East. 

Now, the “ethical oil” campaign has a new backer: Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama and current Principal of SKDKnickerbocker, a public relations firm with offices in Washington, D.C.; New York City and Albany.

SKDK - as covered here on multiple occasions by DeSmogBlog - does PR for Transcanada, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. Transcanada has paid SKDK - and by extension, Dunn - to place ads in strategic television and radio markets in the Washington, D.C. area. 

America imports millions of barrels of oil from the Middle East every week,” a narrator says in an ominous tone in the most recent ad, as images of violent protests in the Middle East blare across the screen. “But we don’t have to.”

The T.V. ad then switches to serene music and landscape views with pipeline stretched across it, alluding to “ethical oil” coming from Canada if the northern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL pipeline is approved by both the U.S. State Department and President Barack Obama.

The radio ad - also singing the “ethical oil” tune - claims that building the northern half of the Keystone XL will create “over 40,000 good American jobs.” Independent studies point to it creating 35 full-time jobs and 3,950 temporary construction jobs

The New York Times explained that Transcanada paid Dunn and SKDK to place the “ethical oil“-style ad “to reach power players in Washington’s media market.”

Frank Giustra, President Bill Clinton's Close Colleague, Joins US Oil Sands Board

Frank Giustra - key power broker and close colleague of former President Bill Clinton - has taken a seat on the Board of Directors of U.S. Oil Sands, an Alberta-based company aiming to develop tar sands deposits in Utah's Uintah Basin. **UPDATE: Although he was named a prospective appointee to the Board, Mr. Giustra ultimately declined the position, citing “other commitments.”**

U.S. Oil Sands - in naming several new members to its Board - also announced it has received $80 million in “strategic financing” from Blue Pacific Investments Group Ltd., Anchorage Capital Group, L.L.C. and Spitfire Ventures, LLC.

The funding will help get the ball rolling on “tar sands south,” a miniature but increasingly controversial version of its big brother to the north, the Alberta tar sands. Giustra will likely help in opening the right doors for tar sands industry interests in the United States. 

Giusta is best known for his work in the worlds of uranium mining and minerals mining, though he has dabbled in the Alberta tar sands finance world once before, lending upwards of $20 million in capital to Excelsior Energy. He serves as CEO and President of Fiore Financial Corporation. 

Founder and Director of the Radcliffe Foundation and Co-Director of the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (formerly known as the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative), Frank Giustra has maintained close ties with Bill Clinton since 2005.

The Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative is an arm of the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation (the Clinton Foundation). Giustra sits on the Clinton Foundation's Board of Trustees.

NY Times' Joe Nocera Overlooks Key Flaws in EDF Fracking Climate Change Study

Yesterday, New York Times' columnist Joe Nocera weighed in on the study by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin) on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)DeSmogBlog got a special mention in Nocera's op-ed titled, “A Fracking Rorschach Test.” 

Nocera praised UT-Austin Professor David Allen and colleagues for obtaining what he claimed was “unassailable data” on fugitive methane emissions and fracking's climate change impact potential. 

“The reason the Environmental Defense Fund wanted this study done is precisely so that unassailable data, rather than mere estimates, could become part of the debate over fracking,” wrote Nocera. “You can’t have sound regulation without good data.”

Missing from Nocera's praise: new findings by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change in their latest comprehensive review of the climate crisis.

IPCC revealed “over a 20-year time frame, methane has a global warming potential 86 [times the amount of] CO2, up from its previous estimate of 72 [times],” as explained by Climate Progress' Joe Romm.

In juxtaposition, Nocera dismissed DeSmog's criticisms of the study - one we referred to as “frackademia.” 

Simplifying the crux of my 3,000-word DeSmog critique and the 800-word follow-up as “because the nine companies involved had both cooperated and helped pay for it,” Nocera then rhetorically asks “why a study that necessitated industry cooperation and money is inherently less valid than a study produced by scientists who are openly opposed to fracking was left unanswered.”

This Graphic Says It All About Keystone XL Web of Deceit

Friends of the Earth-U.S. (FOE) and 350.org have jointly unveiled an easily sharable graphic depicting the web of deceit surrounding the environmental review for the northern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline

The graphic's notorious star: Environmental Resources Management, Inc., better known as ERM Group. ERM Group was chosen by the State Department - more specifically by Transcanada for the State Department - to perform the review.

“[T]he process has a built-in conflict of interest, because the contractors who do EIS studies for the government are paid for by the applicant,” a July investigative piece in Bloomberg explains

The graphic serves as a summation of lots of the work done here on DeSmogBlog over the last six months. In so doing, it digs into conflicts of interest, lobbyist influence peddling and outright corruption occurring at the U.S. State Department pertaining to Keystone XL.

Check out the graphic below:

Big Oil PR Pros, Lobbyists Dominate EDF Fracking Climate Study Steering Committee

Alongside releasing its controversial findings on fugitive methane emissions caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on September 16, University of Texas-Austin also unveiled an industry-stacked Steering Committee roster for the study it conducted in concert with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Stacked with former and current oil industry lobbyists, policy professionals and business executives, the Steering Committee is proof positive of the conflicts of interest evident in the roster of people and funding behind the “frackademia” study.

Only two out of the 11 members of the Steering Committee besides lead author and UT-Austin Professor David Allen have a science background relevant to onshore fracking. 

That study found fugitive methane emissions at the well pad to be 2%-4% lower than discovered by the non-industry funded groundbreaking April 2011 Cornell University study co-authored by Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth.

The Cornell study concluded fracking is worse for the climate than coal combustion when measured over its entire lifecycle. 

Webster's Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as “a committee, especially of a deliberative or legislative body, that prepares the agenda of a session.”

In the case of the EDF study - based on the oddly rosy findings - it seems plausible the industry-stacked Committee drove the report in a direction beneficial to oil industry profits rather than science.  

Frackademia: The People & Money Behind the EDF Methane Emissions Study

Update: UT-Austin has released the Steering Committee roster for the study. It consists of lead author David Allen, two EDF employees, and nine oil industry representatives, including lobbyists and PR staff from ExxonMobil, Shell, Southwestern Energy and more. See DeSmog's follow-up coverage.

The long-awaited Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)-sponsored hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fugitive methane emissions study is finally out. Unfortunately, it's another case of “frackademia” or industry-funded 'science' dressed up to look like objective academic analysis.

If reliable, the study - published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and titled, “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States” - would have severely reduced concerns about methane emissions from fracked gas.

The report concludes .42% of fracked gas - based on samples taken from 190 production sites - is emitted into the air at the well pad. This is a full 2%-4% lower than well pad emissions estimated by Cornell University professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea in their ground-breaking April 2011 study now simply known as the “Cornell Study.”

peek behind the curtain show the study's results - described as “unprecedented” by EDF - may have something to do with the broad spectrum of industry-friendly backers of the report which include several major oil and gas companies, individuals and foundations fully committed to promoting the production and use of fracked gas in the U.S.

One of the report's co-authors currently works as a consultant for the oil and gas industry, while another formerly worked as a petroleum engineer before entering academia.

The study will likely be paraded as “definitive” by Big Oil, its front groups and the media in the days and weeks to come.

DeSmogBlog exclusive investigation reveals the study actually stands to make its pro-gas funders a fortune in what amounts to industry-favorable data meant to justify shale gas in the public mind as a “bridge fuel” - EDF's stance on gas - now and into the future.  

Breaking: First Marcellus Fracked Gas Export Permit Approved by Energy Dept

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has granted the first ever LNG export permit license to Dominion Resources, Inc. to export gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process in the Marcellus Shale basin.  

It's the fourth ever export terminal approved by the DOE, with the three others along the Gulf Coast: Cheniere's Sabine Pass LNG, Freeport LNG (50-percent owned by ConocoPhillips) and Lake Charles Exports, LLC

Located in Lusby, Maryland, the Dominion Cove Point LNG terminal will be a key regional hub to take gas fracked from one of the most prolific shale basins in the world - the Marcellus - and ship it to global markets, with shale gas exports a key geopolitical bargaining chip with Russia, the biggest producer of conventional gas in the world.

Dominion owns not only Cove Point, but also the pipeline infrastructure set to feed the terminal.

“Dominion…owns both the existing Cove Point LNG Terminal and the 88-mile Cove Point pipeline,” explained industry publication LNG Global. “Dominion Cove Point…stated in their application that natural gas will be delivered to the Cove Point Pipeline from the interstate pipeline grid, thereby allowing gas to be sourced broadly.”

DOE handed Dominion a permit lasting a generation.  

University of Tennessee "Frackademia" Program Put to Rest, For Now

University of Tennessee-Knoxville's “frackademia” program proposal - set to transform UT's Institute of Agriculture into a de facto fracking land leasing agency - has been put to rest for now, according to The Tennesseean. In short: the university's premiere leasing proposal for acreage didn't recieve a single bid.   

UT-Knoxville's proposed program - as revealed in a DeSmogBlog investigation - intended to research wells fracked on 8,600 acres of Cumberland Forest land owned by UT that sits on top of the Chattanooga Shale basin. UT-Knoxville would lease the acreage off to Big Oil under the nullified plan. 

The proposal called for an initial fee of $300,000 paid by companies interested in fracking, an additional $300,000 per year, 15-percent royalties on any gas sold and a minimum of $35 per acre paid to UT-Knoxville.

“It would create a rare, controlled environment in which experts could study the environmental impact of the controversial drilling technique, while also generating revenue to finance research,” explained a March 2013 New York Times article on the proposal.

For now, the “controlled environment” conception serves as merely a prologue, its future at UT-Knoxville - if any at all - still undetermined. 

At this point, I am unsure of the next steps, if any,” Kevin Hoyt, Director of UT's Forest Resources Ag­Research and Education Center - which manages the Cumberland Forest - said in a press statement. “Those decisions will be up to UT Institute of Agriculture leadership.”

It might also be up to other key important players, too: the Haslam family.  

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