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 XL North: TransCanada's Controversial Shale Gas Export Pipeline Plan

The battle continues over the future of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, with the Tar Sands Blockade continuing and a large forthcoming President's Day anti-Keystone XL rally set to take place in Washington, DC.

In a nutshell: Keystone XL, if approved by the U.S. State Department, will carry viscous and dirty tar sands crude - also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta, Canada down to Port Arthur, TX. From Port Arthur, the tar sands crude will be exported to the global market

Muddying the waters on the decision is the fact that The Calgary Herald recently revealed that prospective Secretary of State, John Kerry, has financial investments in two tar sands corporations: Suncor and Cenovus. Kerry has $750,000 invested in Suncor and another $31,000 invested in Cenovus. 

Which of course all begs the question: Is this another episode of State Department Oil Services all over again?

They BuyPartisan: ExxonMobil Donates $260,000 to Obama Inauguration

President Barack Obama will be publicly sworn in today - on Martin Luther King Jr. Day - to serve his second term as the 44th President of the United States.

Today is also the three-year anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that - in a 5-4 decision - deemed that corporations are “people” under the law. Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) - who now runs Progressives United (a rhetorical spin-off of Citizens United) - said in Feb. 2012 that the decision “opened floodgates of corruption” in the U.S. political system. 

Unlike for his first Inauguration, Obama has chosen to allow unlimited corporate contributions to fill the fund-raising coffers of the entity legally known as the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Last time around the block, Obama refused corporate contributions for the Inauguration Ceremony as “a commitment to change business as usual in Washington.”

But not this time. With a fundraising goal of $50 million in its sights, the Obama Administration has “opened floodgates” itself for corporate influence-peddling at the 57th Inaugural Ceremony. 

A case in point: the Obama Administration's corporate backers for the Inaurguation have spent over $283 million on lobbying since 2009, the Center for Public Integrity explained in a recent report

Breaking: Obama EPA Shut Down Weatherford, TX Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX.

That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.

It was authored by Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist formerly on the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wyoming before departing from the latter for a job in the private sector working for Interralogic Inc. in Ft Collins, CO

This isn't the first time Thyne's scientific research has been shoved aside, either. Thyne wrote two landmark studies on groundwater contamination in Garfield County, CO, the first showing that it existed, the second confirming that the contamination was directly linked to fracking in the area.

It's the second study that got him in trouble.

“Thyne says he was told to cease his research by higher-ups. He didn’t,” The Checks and Balances Project explained. “And when it came to renew his contract, Thyne was cut loose.”

ALEC to Attack North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiatives

Renewable energy is under attack in the Tar Heel State. That's the word from Greenpeace USA's Connor Gibson today in a report that implicates King Coal powerhouse, Duke Energy and the fossil fuel industry at-large. 

The vehicle Duke Energy is utilizing for this attack is one whose profile has grown in infamy in recent years: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is described as a “corporate bill mill” by its critics. It's earned such a description because it passes “model bills” written by corporate lobbyists and to boot, the lobbyists typically do so behind closed doors at ALEC's annual meetings. 

ANGA Lobbyist Spins Through Revolving Door To Work For Fred Upton

The revolving door spins with rapidity in Washington following election season, and Tom Hassenboehler serves as an Exhibit A.

Hassenboehler served for the past two years as a lobbyist for America's Natural Gas Alliance, the most powerful lobbying force for the unconventional oil and gas industry. Hassenboehler recently accepted a new position working for the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Energy and Power Subcommittee, and will serve as Senior Counsel under the tutelage of U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), the head of the Subcommittee.

Upton is the cousin of Katie Upton, the wife of controversial Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon. McClendon, in turn, was one of the founders of ANGA. Given these ties that bind, one can safely hypothesize that Hassenboehler will continue his promotion of fracking as a “public servant.”

Prior to working for ANGA, Hassenboehler served as a Congressional staffer for climate change denier, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).

UT-Austin Administration Distances Itself from "Frackademia" Study

Weeks after SUNY Buffalo's upper-level administration gave the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) the boot due to its gas industry public relations effort masked as a “study,” University of Texas-Austin's (UT-Austin) administration has somewhat followed suit for its own “frackademia” study.

The decision comes in the aftermath of an independent review of a controversial study completed under UT-Austin's auspices. 

Like SRSI's “shill gas study,” UT-Austin brought itself attention when it published a “study” in February 2012 titled, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development.” UT-Austin's study - conducted under the wings of its Energy Institute - claimed that there's “no scientific proof” that unconventional oil and gas developement can be linked to groundwater contamination.

As it turns out, the author's lead investigator, Charles “Chip” Groat is on the payroll of the oil and gas industry via Plains Exploration & Production, a direct conflict-of-interest under the standards of academia (not to be confused with those of “frackademia”). “Groat earned more than double his University of Texas salary as a PXP board member in 2011 – $413,900 as opposed to $173,273 – and he has amassed over $1.6 million in stock during his tenure there,” Public Accountability Initiative (PAIexplained in a report.

The embarassment created by these revelations moved Groat to retire after the spring semester, while the head of the Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach, stepped down today as head of the Institute, though he'll still remain on the UT-Austin faculty.  

Fracking Making Its Way Toward the UK

To date, opposition to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for unconventional oil and gas in the United Kingdom (UK) has been fierce. The opposition, though, seems to be meeting deaf ears in England, according to recent news reports. 

Bloomberg reported on Dec. 4 that England's Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, wants to lift the country's currently exisiting moratorium on fracking. The halt was put in place after drilling sites owned by Cuadrilla Resources caused two minor earthquakes in northwestern England in November 2011.

England's Chancellor of the Exchequer (a position equivalent to the Secretary of the Treasury in the United States), George Osborne, is set to release Britain's new energy plan on Dec. 5 and told Bloomberg he wants to ensure “Britain is not left behind” in the unconventional oil and gas boom.  

“Cuadrilla estimates that the area it is exploring in Lancashire, in northwestern England, could contain 200 trillion cubic feet of gas—more gas than all of Iraq,” explained Bloomberg. John Browne, the scandal-ridden former CEO of BP, sits as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Cuadrilla. 

Osborne, The Independent recently reported, will also offer tax breaks to oil and gas corporations hungry to profit from England's shale gas prize. 

“Mr. Osborne hopes that tax breaks for shale gas extraction will encourage investors and help economic growth,” The Indepedent wrote. “Oil and gas are currently taxed at between 62 per cent and 81 per cent. Shale gas would be taxed at lower rates.”

An astounding 64-percent of the English countryside could soon be subject to fracking, which is over 34,000 square miles, according to The Independent

ALEC, CSG, ExxonMobil Fracking Fluid "Disclosure" Model Bill Failing By Design

Last year, a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) chemical fluid disclosure “model bill” was passed by both the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It proceeded to pass in multiple states across the country soon thereafter, but as Bloomberg recently reported, the bill has been an abject failure with regards to “disclosure.”

That was by design, thanks to the bill's chief author, ExxonMobil

Originating as a Texas bill with disclosure standards drawn up under the auspices of the Obama Administration's Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee rife with oil and gas industry insiders, the model is now codified as law in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Bloomberg reported that the public is being kept “clueless” as to what chemicals are injected into the ground during the fracking process by the oil and gas industry.

Fracking Your Future: Campus Drilling Extends Far Beyond Pennsylvania

The oil and gas industry plans to perform hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on college campuses in Pennsylvania, just as it currently does in close proximity to K-12 schools nationwide

But as NPR demonstrated in a recent report, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

“More than a dozen schools in states as varied as Texas, Montana, Ohio and West Virginia are already tapping natural resources on college campuses,” the report explains. “The University of Southern Indiana recently started pumping oil.”

Like Pennsylvania - which has seen higher education budget cuts totaling over $460 million since Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took office in 2010 - nearly all of these states have faced massive cuts in their most recent budgets. 

Texas, led by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, saw a $1.7 billion funding cut in its most recent budget cycle. Indiana, led by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, was hit with $150 million in higher education cuts in its most recent budget.

Montana, led by Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer, was handed $14.6 million in higher education cuts in the most recent budget. And West Virginia, led by Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, saw $34 million evaporate from its higher education war chest in its most recent budget cycle.

Second US Tar Sands Mine, Owned by Former ExxonMobil and Chevron Exec., Approved in Utah

MCW Enterprises Ltd., a Canada-based corporation, announced on Nov. 19 that it has received all necessary permits to streamline tar sands extraction at its Asphalt Ridge plant located in Vernal, Utah starting in December.

The announcement comes just weeks after U.S. Oil Sands Company received the first ever green light to extract tar sands south in the United States.

Recently changing its name from MCW Energy, MCW Enterprises Ltd. owns MCW Oil Sands Recovery LLC as a wholly owned subsidiary. The company's CEO, R. Gerald Bailey - often also referred to as Raymond Bailey or Jerry Bailey - is the former President of Exxon Arabian Gulf and also served as an Executive for Texaco (since purchased by Chevron) for 15 years.

MCW's website explains that its stake in the Asphalt Ridge is a “proven/probable resource of over 50+ million barrels of oil” and that it “is seeking other oil sands leases in Utah, which contains over 32 billion barrels of oil within 8 major deposits.” 

Bailey told Flahrety Financial News that he sees this first project as a crucible, or testing grounds, with the potential for more extraction to come down the road. 

“This is really going to be a technology play,” he stated. “I don't plan to build another Exxon out there in the desert.”

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