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.

Keystone Kops: TransCanada Spent $280,000 Lobbying For Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline In First Quarter

TransCanada, the multinational corporation hoping to build the controversial northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, spent over $280,000 on lobbying the U.S. government in the first quarter (Q1) of 2013, according to lobbying disclosure records.

In addition to the $250,000 paid to Paul Elliott - TransCanada's infamous in-house lobbyist and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's national deputy campaign manager during her 2008 run for president - three outside firms lobbied on TransCanada's behalf to promote KXL.

The outside firms: Bryan Cave LLP, which reported $20,000 in earnings from TransCanda in 
Q1; McKenna, Long & Aldridge, which was paid $10,000 by TransCanada during Q1; and Van Ness Feldman, which TransCanada paid an amount under $5,000, falling under the mandatory reporting ceiling.

$280,000 is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to TransCanada's $446 million first quarter profits.

The southern half of Keystone XL is currently under construction due to a March 2012 Obama Adminstration Executive Order. The northern half is still in the proposal phase. It would carry Alberta tar sands dilbit to the Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, where much of it would be exported to the global market.

As seen in an earlier investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog, many of TransCanada's lobbyists for KXL have direct ties to the Obama administration. The U.S. State Department has been tasked with the final decision on the pipeline's cross-border northern section, a risky conduit between the carbon intensive Alberta tar sands and further global climate disruption.

Sand Land: Fracking Industry Mining Iowa's Iconic Sand Bluffs in New Form of Mountaintop Removal

This is a collaborative report by DeSmog's Steve Horn and Mint Press News staff writer Trisha Marczak.

Within immediate vicinity of a central battleground of the Black Hawk War of 1832, land rife with a resource necessary for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is in the crosshairs of an industry prepared to turn the area into a battle zone once again.

The resource? Frac sand – officially known by the industry as fine-grained silica sand – used as a proppant when blasted thousands of feet down the well during the ecologically volatile fracking process as part of the chemical cocktail that serves as the subject of Josh Fox’s new documentary film, “Gasland 2.”

The rolling hills of Northeastern Iowa’s Allamakee County defy the state’s stereotypical flat-land geography, and local residents boast of the serene beauty and rich geological history. Yet those same bluffs also play host to robust reservoirs of frac sand.

In order to extract the frac sand, mining corporations have adopted a method of newfangled mountaintop removal of sorts, blasting away entire hills laced with this frac sand to access this new “prize.” While devastating the landscape, it’s justified by Big Oil as necessary because the Midwest’s unparalleled geological characteristics have transformed it into a “New Saudi Arabia for frac sand.”

Study Reveals 30 Toxic Chemicals at High Levels at Exxon Arkansas Tar Sands Pipeline Spill Site

An independent study co-published by the Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group and Global Community Monitor reveals that, in the aftermath of ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill of over 500,000 gallons of diluted bitumen (dilbit) into Mayflower, AR, air quality in the area surrounding the spill has been affected by high levels of cancer-causing chemicals.

Roughly four weeks after the spill took place, many basic details are still unknown to the public, according to recent reporting by InsideClimate News. Questions include what exactly caused the spill, how big was the spill exactly, and how long did it take for emergency responders to react to the spill, to name a few.

But one thing is certain according to the new study: For the residents of Mayflower, quality of life has been changed forever.

The chemicals found in the samples include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, n-hexane, and xylenes. Breathing in both ethylbenzene and benzene can cause cancer and reproductive effects, while breathing in n-hexane can damage the nervous system and usher in numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headaches, and fatigue.

All of these chemicals are hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), “regulated under the 1990 Federal Clean Air Act amendments as the most toxic of all known airborne chemicals,” as explained in the press release summarzing the study

Arkansas Hires Notorious Private Contractor To Clean Up Mayflower Tar Sands Spill, Same Firm Also Contracted For KXL

Arkansas' Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has contracted out the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill to Witt O'Brien's, a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups, a DeSmogBlog investigation reveals. 

At his April 10 press conference about the Mayflower spill response, AG McDaniel confirmed that Exxon had turned over 12,500 pages of documents to his office resulting from a subpoena related to Exxon's response to the March 29 Pegasus disaster. A 22-foot gash in the 65-year-old pipeline spewed over 500,000 gallons of tar sands dilbit through the streets of Mayflower, AR

McDaniel also provided the media with a presser explaining that his office had “retained the assistance of Witt O’Brien’s, a firm whose experts will immediately begin an independent analysis of the cleanup process.” 

Witt O'Brien's describes itself as a “global leader in preparedness, crisis management and disaster response and recovery with the depth of experience and capability to provide services across the crisis and disaster life cycle.”

But the firm's actual performance record isn't quite so glowing. O'Brien's has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history, including the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy. 

Most troubling of all, Witt O'Brien's won a “$300k+ contract to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project” in Aug. 2008.

Thus, if the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline inevitably suffered a major spill, Witt O'Brien's would presumably handle the cleanup. That should worry everyone along the proposed KXL route.

ExxonMobil Arkansas Tar Sands Pipeline Gash 22 Feet Long, Attorney General McDaniel Confirms

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced today that ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline suffered a 22 foot long gash that led to the rupture that gushed up to 294,000 gallons of tar sands dilbit down the streets of Mayflower on March 29.

McDaniel revealed the news of the 22-foot gash at a press conference this afternoon and stated that - to the best of his knowledge - ExxonMobil had complied with the dictates of the initial subpoena for documents he issued on April 4

That subpoena was issued in response to the March 29 rupture of Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline, a 20-inch tube carrying 95,000 barrels of tar sands crude per day - also known as diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” - from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas

“We received 12,587 pages of documents, including more than 200 blueprint-sized diagrams. Our investigation is ongoing,” Aaron Sadler, Spokesman for McDaniel told DeSmogBlog.

The cause of the Pegasus gash is still unknown.

In February, the Tar Sands Blockade group revealed photographs that appear to indicate that TransCanada - which is now building the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas - may be laying poorly-welded pipe there.

Could it be a faulty or corroded weld that led to the gash in the 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline? Did it corrode due to its age or as a result of error on Exxon's part?

The 12,587 pages of documents will hopefully have some answers. 

Stephen Colbert Highlights DeSmog's Exxon Arkansas Tar Sands Spill No Fly Zone Investigation

The Colbert Report last night featured DeSmogBlog's investigative findings on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) delegating authority over its “no-fly zone” above the Mayflower tar sands spill site to ExxonMobil “aviation advisor,” Tom Suhrhoff.

Stephen parodied Exxon's secrecy at the site of ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill, honing in on the fact that the “private empire” threatened a reporter at Inside Climate News with arrest when she sought to ask a spokesperson questions at the spill relief command center headed by Exxon.  

On March 29, Exxon's Pegasus pipeline spilled up to an estimated 7,000 barrels of tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) into Mayflower's neighborhoods and surrounding wetlands, causing the evacuation of 22 homesExxon's poor handling of the spill clean-up was also featured in the April 8 edition of “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

Check out “The Colbert Report” segment:

Ties That Bind: Ernest Moniz, Keystone XL Contractor, American Petroleum Institute and Fracked Gas Exports

Congress will review the Obama Administration's nomination of Ernest Moniz for Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) in hearings that start today, April 9.

Moniz has come under fire for his outspoken support of nuclear power, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas and the overarching “all-of-the-above” energy policy advocated by both President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent in the last election, Mitt Romney

Watchdogs have also discovered that Moniz has worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He has also received the “frackademic” label for his time spent at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At his MIT job, Moniz regularly accepted millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry to sponsor studies under the auspices of The MIT Energy Initiative, which has received over $145 million over its seven-year history from the oil and gas industry. 

MIT's “The Future of Natural Gas” report, covered by many mainstream media outlets without any effort to question who bankrolled it, was funded chiefly by the American Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for the shale gas industry's number two domestic producer, Chesapeake Energy. That report concluded that gas is a “bridge fuel” for a renewable energy future and said that shale gas exports were in the best economic interests of the United States, which should “not erect barriers to natural gas imports and exports.” 

As first revealed on DeSmogBlog, Moniz is also on the Board of Directors of ICF International, one of the three corporate consulting firms tasked to perform the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) for TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. KXL is slated to bring tar sands - also known as “diluted bitumen,” or “dilbit” - from Alberta to Port Arthur, TX, where it will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market

Moniz earned over $300,000 in financial compensation in his two years sitting on the Board at ICF, plus whatever money his 10,000+ shares of ICF stock have earned him. 

Exxon's Unfriendly Skies: Why Does Exxon Control the No-Fly Zone Over Arkansas Tar Sands Spill?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has had a “no fly zone” in place in Mayflower, Arkansas since April 1 at 2:12 PM and will be in place “until further notice,” according to the FAA website and it's being overseen by ExxonMobil itself. In other words, any media or independent observers who want to witness the tar sands spill disaster have to ask Exxon's permission.

Mayflower is the site of the recent major March 29 ExxonMobil Pegagus tar sands pipeline spill, which belched out an estimated 5,000 barrels of tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) into the small town's neighborhoods, causing the evacuation of 22 homes

The rules of engagement for the no fly zone dictate that no aircraft can fly within 1,000 feet of the ground in the five-mile radius surrounding the ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline spillThe area located within this radius includes the nearby Pine Village Airport.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette revealed that the FAA site noted earlier today that “only relief aircraft operations under direction of Tom Suhrhoff” were allowed within the designated no fly zone. 

Suhrhoff is not an FAA employee: he works for ExxonMobil as an “Aviation Advisor and formerly worked as a U.S. Army pilot for 24 years, according to his LinkedIn page. 

State Dept. Keystone XL Contractor ERM Also Green-Lighted Explosive, Faulty Peruvian Pipeline Project

Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the State Department consulting firm that claims TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposal is safe and sound, previously provided a similarly rosy approval for the expansion of a Peruvian natural gas project that has since racked up a disastrous track record. 

On March 1, the U.S. State Department declared KXL's proposed northern half environmentally safe and sound in its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), part of TransCanada's Presidential Permit application for the proposed tar sands pipeline. 

KXL is a 1,179-mile tube set to blast 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude a day - also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta down to Port Arthur, TX. After it reaches Port Arthur, the crude will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market. “XL” is shorthand for “expansion line,” named such because it would expand the marketability of tar sands crude to foreign buyers.

Because the Obama State Dept. has the final say on the project due to its crossing the Canada-U.S. border, clearing State's EIS hurdle was crucial for TransCanada. Just days later, though, watchdogs revealed that State had outsourced the EIS out to oil and gas industry-tied consulting firms hand-picked by TransCanada itself

One of those firms - Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group - has historical ties to Big Tobacco; published a study declaring “safe” a Caspian Sea pipeline that ended up spilling 70,000 barrels of oil; and has a client list that includes Koch Industries, ConocoPhilips and ExxonMobil - corporations all with skin in the tar sands game. ExxonMobil's Pegasus Pipeline recently spilled 189,000 gallons of tar sands crude into a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood. 

An examination into the historical annals shows that ERM Group also green-lighted a major pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) expansion project akin to KXL in Peru. The project in a nutshell: a 253-mile-long, 34-inch pipeline carries gas obtained from Peru's Camisea field - located partly in the Amazon rainforest with the pipeline snaking through the Andes Mountains - to Peru's west coast. From there, it's exported primarily to the U.S. and Mexico.

Camisea - described by Amazon Watch as the “most damaging project in the Amazon Basin“ - has created a whole host of problems. These include displacing indigenous people, clear-cutting forests that serve as a key global carbon sink to make way for the project, and major pipeline spills, to name a few.

State Department's Keystone XL Contractor ERM Green-Lighted BP's Explosive Caspian Pipeline That Failed To Live Up to Jobs Hype

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Almost 11 years ago in June 2002, Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group declared the controversial 1,300 mile-long Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline environmentally and socio-economically sound, a tube which brings oil and gas produced in the Caspian Sea to the export market.

On March 1, it said the same of the proposed 1,179 mile-long TransCanada Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline on behalf of an Obama State Department that has the final say on whether the northern segment of the KXL pipeline becomes a reality. KXL would carry diluted bitumen or “dilbit” from the Alberta tar sands down to Port Arthur, Texas, after which it will be exported to the global market

Environmental Resources Management Group, a recent DeSmogBlog investigation revealed, has historical ties to Big Tobacco and its clients include ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Koch IndustriesMother Jones also revealed that ERM - the firm the State Dept. allowed TransCanada to choose on its behalf - has a key personnel tie to TransCanada

Unexamined thus far in the KXL scandal is ERM's past green-light report on the BTC Pipeline - hailed as the “Contract of the Century” - which has yet to be put into proper perspective.

ERM is a key player in what PLATFORM London describes as the “Carbon Web,” shorthand for “the network of relationships between oil and gas companies and the government departments, regulators, cultural institutions, banks and other institutions that surround them.”  

In the short time it has been on-line, the geostrategically important BTC pipeline - coined the “New Silk Road” by The Financial Times - has proven environmentally volatile. A full review of the costs and consequences of ERM's penchant for rubber-stamping troubling oil and gas infrastructure is in order.

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