Tampa Bay TImes: Special interests flood Florida legislative campaigns with millions as fracking bills move quickly


…the oil and gas companies are on their fourth year of trying to get their bill passed, and they have revised their pitch and juiced their proposal — by doubling their campaign contributions to legislators.

The Barron Collier Companies, for example, which are seeking a permit to use hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil and gas in Naples, have steered $115,000 to lawmakers — up from the $63,500 they spent last session. Other members of the petroleum industry have lubricated lawmakers’ campaigns with another $170,000.”

RESCHEDULED: Oversight Hearing on “Energy Independence: Domestic Opportunities to Reverse California’s Growing Dependence on Foreign Oil”

Friday, April 4, 2014 9:30 AM
Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources
1334 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515HEARING RESCHEDULED * * *
Oversight Hearing on:

“Energy Independence: Domestic Opportunities to Reverse California’s Growing Dependence on Foreign Oil”

Witnesses and Testimony:
A witness list will be posted here once it has been confirmed.
Since 2000, California has experienced a surge in foreign oil imports. Today, California gets 50 percent of its oil from foreign sources and half of those imports come from the Middle East through the Strait of Hormuz. California’s unemployment is higher than the national average at 8.7 percent, energy prices in California are among the highest in the nation, and California is in the midst of a fiscal crisis. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that California’s Monterey Shale contains over 15 billion barrels of oil – more than estimates of North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. Federal lands off the coast of California contain energy reserves estimated to contain at least 9.8 billion barrels of oil and 13.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas according to the Interior Department. And, as California is the primary recipient of Alaskan exports, no state stands to benefit more from increased production in Alaska. If the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A) were open for production, it could add an additional 13.1 billion barrels of crude oil to the domestic market.
Related Documents:

Subcommittee Hearing Notice – September 10, 2013
Updated: Subcommittee Hearing Postponement Notice – September 12, 2013
Updated: Subcommittee Hearing Notice – March 13, 2014

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Thousands Confront Governor Jerry Brown: ‘Don’t Frack with California!’

Published on Monday, March 17, 2014
Diverse coalition rallies in Sacramento to demand statewide moratorium on dangerous gas drilling
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Anti-fracking protesters unfurled a banner outside the California capitol building Saturday calling on Governor Jerry Brown to put a halt to fracking in the state. (Photo: Rae Breaux, Don’t Frack CA/ Flickr)Thousands of families, farm workers, students, Native Americans and environmentalists from across California descended on the capitol building in Sacramento on Saturday united under a single message to Governor Jerry Brown: “Don’t frack with our state!”

In what is being called the largest anti-fracking action in California, organizers estimate that 5,000 protesters from across the state took part in the rally and march, which was organized by the coalition Californians Against Fracking along with over 80 individual environmental and public health organizations. Many traveled hours—from San Diego in the south and from Humboldt County in the north—by bus and rideshares to take part in the action.

“Gov. Brown has positioned himself as a climate champion, and we want to make it clear that as he decides whether to green light a massive expansion of fracking in California, his legacy is on the line,” said Zack Malitz, one of the event organizers and Campaign Manager for environmental group CREDO.

Brown has increasingly come under fire for his support of gas and oil extraction through the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” As California continues to grapple with historic drought, many have noted that the amount of water used in the fracking process coupled with the threat of contamination to the drinking supply spells enormous risk for the state.

Addressing the crowd, residents who have already been forced to live near fracking sites described the toxic impact to their homes and communities.

“People need to know what fracking looks like,” said speaker Rodrigo Romo, a former farmworker and activist in heavily fracked Shafter, CA in a statement ahead of the rally. “In the Central Valley there is no buffer between fracking sites and our community; there are wells next-door to schools and agricultural land. It is time for our decision makers to listen to us and stop fracking.”

Following the speeches, the crowd encircled the capitol building holding signs calling on the governor to put a halt on fracking in the state.

“Enacting a moratorium is the only way for Governor Brown to protect California’s people, water, and climate from the threat of fracking,” said Food & Water Watch California Director Adam Scow. “Today’s gathering showed the movement to ban fracking in California is growing bigger, stronger, more diverse, and more inspired than ever before. The pressure on Governor Brown will only increase until he does the right thing.”

“Big Oil may have lots of money to throw around the state, but as we saw on Saturday at the rally, this movement is energized, committed, and not going anywhere,” added David Turnbull of Oil Change International.

“The Governor can choose to stand with these concerned Californians and stop fracking in our state, or he can continue to stand with Big Oil,” Turnbill continued.

The coalition Don’t Frack California posted these pictures of the event:

South Florida Wildlands Assn: Showdown this Tuesday on Oil Well Next to the Florida Panther Refuge!

Dear Friends,

For those concerned about the prospect of an oil well adjacent to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Florida – and in close proximity to the rural community of Golden Gate Estates – three meetings will be held this Tuesday, March 11th, at the Golden Gate Community Center, 4701 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples, Florida 34116-6901. Map to the location is here:


Meetings are scheduled as follows:

4 to 6 PM (Room A-B) – An informational meeting will take place on a Class II injection well for waste water disposal – to be built if and when the proposed oil well goes from exploration to production (meaning a commercially viable amount of oil has been found). Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has already approved this well and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved it in draft form. The purpose of this part of the meeting is to provide information to the public on Class II injection wells, the laws and regulations which govern them, and the permitting process.

4 to 6 PM (Auditorium) – A meeting of the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee will take place. This is the new kid on the block and needs a bit of explanation. Florida Statute 377.42 provides the following rationale for this committee: “To ensure compliance with all requirements for obtaining a permit to explore for hydrocarbons in the Big Cypress Swamp area, each application for such permit shall be reviewed by the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee.” The statute goes on to explain how the committee will function: “If site-specific conditions require, the committee may recommend that additional procedures, safeguards, or conditions which are necessary to protect the integrity of the Big Cypress area be required as a condition to the issuance of a permit to drill and produce.”

This meeting was inserted into the day’s schedule (simultaneous with the above informational meeting on the Class II injection well) only after we (and our co-petitioners in this case “Preserver Our Paradise”) complained to the DEP at the administrative hearing which took place two weeks ago in Ft. Myers. We carefully explained that the committee’s review was mandatory and required by statute BEFORE a permit is signed. While DEP originally took the position that the committee did not have to meet – since their choice of a cleared piece of land for the well meant no new land impacts (and that is hardly accurate – there will indeed be new impacts – see below) – they finally decided to hold the meeting (although how they do that after a permit is signed and is under review by an administrative law judge remains an open question).

Given the broad nature of this committee’s work – a review of “all requirements for obtaining a permit to explore for hydrocarbons in the Big Cypress Swamp area” – we strongly felt this meeting should take place by itself and with sufficient time for the committee and the public at large to examine all relevant information. After much and back forth with the agency – we received the following reply from the DEP Counsel’s office at the end of last week: “Your comments are noted. However, the committee meeting will be going forward as scheduled.”

Finally, at the conclusion of the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee, the EPA will move into the auditorium and take formal public comment on their Class II injection well draft permit from 6:30 to 8:30 as originally scheduled. If this sounds like a lot to cover – it is. But there was just no way to budge DEP from the fast-track they wanted to put the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee on.

So be it. Lots of folks are going to be converging on Naples from around the area and state and there will be an opportunity for public comment. We will give it. Here are some issues to consider. A look at this aerial map of the well location will definitely help:


With regard to the oil well (and South Florida Wildlands’ focus on impacts to the Florida panther and other wildlife) – the following issues came out during the administrative hearing:

– The exploratory oil well is located in the primary zone of the Florida panther – and telemetry (electronic readings from collared panthers) show it to be an area of high level panther activity. This is not surprising considering the site is located on a piece of undeveloped land next to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (with the highest density of panthers in the state).

– The area just outside the pad contains extremely important wetlands. “Stumpy Strand” flows east of the site in a generally north to south direction. It connects with “Lucky Lake Strand” which flows into the Merritt Canal and into the Picayune Strand State Forest – site of an Everglades Restoration Project (at a cost of hundreds of millions of public dollars) currently in progress. The Panther Refuge boundary was expanded to encompass Lucky Lake Strand and prevent its future development. Considering the importance of these still pristine and irreplaceable wetlands to our wildlife and ecosystems, even small spills of oil or other fluids from this operation can have enormous implications.

– A road and drill pad will be constructed requiring over 14,000 cubic yards of fill material. If large dump trucks capable of carrying 20 cubic yards each are used, that would amount to approximately 700 truck loads. Additional equipment will be needed to move the fill around. Noise, vibrations, and dust will all be impacting the surrounding wildlife habitat, wetlands, and vegetation.

– The pad and 150 foot drilling tower will be lit up at night. Drilling will be going on around the clock. Three generators will be powering this massive industrial operation. Noise, light, dust, odors and vibrations will clearly be impacting the surrounding area. Before drilling begins, a steel pipe 24 inches in diameter will be pounded into the ground by a pile driver to a depth of 250 feet. The noise from that activity is expected to be extremely loud.

– It is expected that wildlife will be disturbed by these combined operations and will be displaced by them. In the case of panthers this can be extremely dangerous. Large amounts of panther roadkill – the leading cause of death for this highly endangered species – have already been documented in this area – especially along I-75 just south of the drill site. Intra-specific aggression – or panther on panther fights over territory which often end in the death of one of the participants – is the second leading cause of death for Florida panthers. In a high panther density area like this, there is a definite possibility that a displaced panther will end up in another’ panther’s home range – and will not have a happy ending. Lastly, only a relatively small number of the 100 to 160 panthers remaining in Florida (and most are in this narrow belt of land between I-75 and the Caloosahatchee River) have been collared. There is a possibility that an uncollared female panther
with kittens could abandon a den leading to the death of her offspring. Three panther dens (from collared females) have been historically documented in the vicinity of this well.

None of the above issues were considered by DEP in their approval of this exploratory oil well. They did request consultation from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Unfortunately – and as we reported in our previous email – no consultation from either agency was provided.

With regard to the Class II injection well – I would highly recommend a read of the following investigative article – “Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us” from the Pulitzer Prize winning journal Propublica. You can find it here:


In their own summary of Class II injection wells, the EPA describes the process as follows:

“When oil and gas are extracted, large amounts of brine are typically brought to the surface. Often saltier than seawater, this brine can also contain toxic metals and radioactive substances. It can be very damaging to the environment and public health if it is discharged to surface water or the land surface. By injecting the brine deep underground, Class II wells prevent surface contamination of soil and water.”

The Propublica article explains some of the problems. Casings used to transport these toxic fluids can and do leak – and the movement of the fluids once it gets down to its target depth is often unknown. Far from the nice layered geology we see in textbooks, real geology is not neat – nor is it ever fully understood. Injectate – the fluid dumped down these holes – can move vertically into upper aquifers used for drinking water – or horizontally into other water bodies. In the case of a well like this – which is simply a dumping ground for a still to be determined amount of waste water – the risks to our wildlife, habitat, and drinking water are simply too high.

If you’ve read this far – thanks a lot. Long as this email is, it is still only a tiny summary of the issues DEP and EPA will be attempting to squeeze into Tuesday’s meetings. Hope to see as many of you as possible come this Tuesday.

Best regards,

Matthew Schwartz
Executive Director
South Florida Wildlands Association
P.O. Box 30211
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33303
954-993-5351 (cell)


P.S. South Florida Wildlands Association can only carry out this work through the generous donations of our supporters. Many of you have stepped forward in recent months – and your assistance has been greatly appreciated. But as we mentioned in our last email on the topic, the wells which are the subject of this Tuesday’s meeting – an exploratory drilling well and Class II injection well – are in reality only the tip of the iceberg. A major “oil play” is now taking place in southwest Florida and hundreds of thousands of acres of primary and secondary Florida panther habitat have recently been leased by Collier Resources for oil drilling or seismic operations. With crude oil now going for over $100 per barrel – there is a lot of money to be made here. One of those leases recently permitted – to Tocala LLC – is on approximately 100,000 acres of land just north of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Bear Island Unit of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
It is heavily used by panthers and contains a section of State Road 29 which probably sees more panther roadkill than any other route in Florida. South Florida Wildlands was the only organization which filed within the time limit to get in a petition for another administrative hearing. If you have the ability – please consider a donation to allow us to carry out this fight and others. Our organization is a fully recognized 501c3 non-profit and contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. Our donation page can be found here:


Our work in this area has been well-covered in the media. Some of the pieces featuring South Florida Wildlands Association and South Florida’s new oil boom can be found below. They will also provide background for those attending Tuesday’s meeting.


Special thanks to Richard Charter

News.gnom.es: Oil-drilling demonstrations fill Castellon, Palma and Ibiza


PROTESTERS from all over Valencia, the Costa Blanca and the Balearic Islands took to the streets yesterday (Saturday) to publicly condemn plans to drill for oil in the Mediterranean between the two regions.

Around 20,000 people turned out – 3,000 in Palma de Mallorca, 12,000 in Ibiza town and 5,000 in Castellón, north of the Valencia region.

Coaches were thrown on in Dénia, Jávea, Calpe, Benissa and Teulada (Alicante province) and Gandia (Valencia province) to travel to Castellón to join the march.

Town councils, residents, fishermen, business-owners and employees in all areas of the tourism industry, environmental groups and water sports associations and clubs have all stated they are against plans by Cairn Energy to extract oil from below the sea-bed between the Balearics and the Gulf of Valencia.

Even Jávea-born tennis ace David Ferrer has supported his town’s campaign against the fracking.

Representatives of all political parties joined in and the PP vice-mayoress of Castellón city hall, Marta Gallén, said the previous national government, that of then socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was the one which paved the way for the fracking plans by passing two Bills of Law allowing it to take place off the coast of the Valencia region, which Castellón’s PP party was against back then, and still is even though the national government has changed to a PP-led cabinet which is continuing to take the move forward.

The Generalitat Valenciana – the PP regional government of Valencia – was not present, but Sra Gallén says it has already formulated the requisite complaint letters to send to the central government so it has ‘done its bit’.

But the president of the regional government of the Balearics, José Ramón Bauzá and his minister for the environment Biel Company joined the march in Ibiza.

Those against the oil extraction say it will be harmful to marine flora and fauna, will pollute the sea and have a knock-on effect on Spain’s Mediterranean beaches, which are vital to tourism, and will ruin the already-struggling fishing industry.

Minister for industry, energy and tourism for the central government, José Manuel Soria, says he ‘respects’ the protesters’ right to demonstrate against the oil-drilling, but that it is going to go ahead anyway.

Oil-drilling? Yes, please
Despite the literally hundreds of thousands of people who are against the oil-drilling, a small resistance movement is beginning to appear in parts of the Valencia region.

In particular expatriates who have lived in North Sea areas of the UK, and residents of any nationality who have visited other parts of the world with offshore oil-drilling such as Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Newfoundland in Canada, and Venezuela, the minority who are in favour of Cairn Energy’s plans say none of these areas has suffered pollution, damage to their beaches or sea water, and both the North Sea and Norway have healthy fishing industries.

Also, they say Spain needs the income and the extra jobs that the fracking would create – plus it would reduce the cost of fuel in the country to the end user if Spain did not need to import 99 per cent of its oil.

Industry minister Soria says the oil-extraction operations will take place between 30 and 60 kilometres off the coasts of the Balearics and Valencia city, therefore affecting neither, and less still parts of the Costa Blanca where town councils fear an end to fishing and tourism.
An Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA) will need to be carried out first in any case, and would be a very exhaustive exercise, Soria assures.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Irish Independent: UK’s Nebula gets licence to explore Irish Sea fracking


EPA to investigate whether State should also permit practice

Nick Webb – 16 February 2014

While ‘fracking’ may not be permitted in Ireland, UK-based Nebula Resources is planning a venture to look for shale gas in the Irish Sea.

A company run by one of the founders of controversial British fracking company Cuadrilla has been granted three licences to explore the possibility of carrying out hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Irish Sea, according to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. The licences cover areas directly across the Irish Sea, less than 100 miles from Dundalk.

Nebula Resources boss Dr Chris Cornelius believes there are huge volumes of offshore shale gas that could be drilled. If successful, it would be the first such project in the world. The company hopes to begin exploration shortly.

“Certainly offshore shale gas is a new concept, and there’s no reason with the UK’s history of offshore development that we can’t develop these resources offshore,” he said last week.

Shale gas is extracted using the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves forcing water, sand and chemicals under extremely high pressure into rocks, to break them up and release the natural gas trapped inside. Fracking has completely transformed the US energy market by producing huge amounts of gas and oil, which has improved the country’s energy security and reduced its dependence on Gulf oil.

Some environmentalists believe that fracking may damage water supplies, and seek to block the extraction of new fossil fuel resources. However, drilling offshore removes the need to deal with local communities.

Natural Resources Minister Pat Rabbitte has charged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with investigating whether fracking should be permitted in Ireland.

The EPA has launched tenders for a two-year study into the impact of hydraulic fracturing.

The study is more comprehensive than first planned because of the level of opposition to fracking. Some 1,356 submissions were received following a public consultation period, the majority of which were against fracking. The EPA has now included a health expert on the committee drawing up the terms of reference for the study.

Most of the onshore fracking prospects focus on a small area bordering north Leitrim and south Fermanagh, which have been identified as potentially containing billions of cubic feet of natural gas. It is likely that this gas prospect may be extracted only by fracking.

The research programme is expected to start this summer. The Government has promised fracking will not go ahead while the research programme is under way. It is likely to be late 2016 or early 2017 before any fracking takes place in Ireland – assuming that the process gets a green light.

Cuadrilla Resources is the most high-profile gas fracking company operating in the UK. It is run by Irish exploration veteran Francis Egan and chaired by former BP boss Lord Browne.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Thinkprogress.com: ‘Out-Of-Control’ Rig In The Gulf Gushing Methane Freely Into The Atmosphere & ABC News: Gas Continues to Escape From Rig off La. Coast

‘Out-Of-Control’ Rig In The Gulf Gushing Methane Freely Into The Atmosphere



An “out-of-control” well that began blowing gas into the air on Thursday is still not under control as of Friday morning, according to a report from the Associated Press.

42-non essential workers from Rowan Companies PLC’s offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico, named “Louisiana,” were evacuated, while 37 stayed on the rig to try and stop the flow of gas. Rig operator EnVen Energy Ventures said that while workers attempt to kill the well, gas was being “vented” off of the rig. Although gas, water and sand are still flowing from the well, EnVen said no pollution has occurred in the Gulf.

“All personnel currently aboard the rig are safe and non-essential personnel have been evacuated, all well control equipment is functioning as designed (and) there has been no environmental impact,” Rowan Companies spokesperson Deanna Castillo told the AP.

Unlike a spill, an out-of-control well blowing gas does not pollute in a traditional, visible sense. Instead, it releases methane – the potent, second-most prevalent greenhouse gas – into the air, contributing to climate change. Pure natural gas is mostly methane, a fuel that burns cleaner than coal or oil. However, when methane is released directly into the air, ittraps heat in the atmosphere.

From an air quality perspective, it is better to burn flowing gas through a flare system, rather than venting it directly into the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

It was not clear early Friday whether the companies would attempt to flare off the gas.

Because of a fire risk, the Louisiana platform as well as an adjacent platform that was producing oil and gas was shut down as a precaution, according to the The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. To prevent a fire, all engines on the platform and rig were turned off, and workers are pumping seawater into and over the flow stream.



ABC News: Gas Continues to Escape From Rig off La. Coast
NEW ORLEANS January 31, 2014 (AP)
By BILL FULLER Associated Press

Crews worked Friday to stop natural gas from escaping an underwater well where a rig was drilling off the Louisiana coast. The Coast Guard said workers had cut the flow in half since losing control of the well a day earlier.

No injuries or pollution have been reported. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said most crew members had been evacuated from the rig, which was drilling in 262 feet of water about 108 miles southwest of Lafayette.

The rig operator is EnVen Energy Ventures of Metairie, La. Company spokesman David Blackmon said the flow from the well has “significantly diminished” and consists almost entirely of water and sand, with “just a trace” of natural gas. No sheen has been spotted in the area, Blackmon added.

Work is underway to secure the well, said Deanna Castillo, a spokeswoman for rig owner Rowan Companies.

“All personnel currently aboard the rig are safe and non-essential personnel have been evacuated, all well control equipment is functioning as designed (and) there has been no environmental impact,” she said Thursday.

Blackmon said workers planned to pump mud and water to kill the well.

“They’re just getting everything lined up,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a while to stage these kinds of operations.”

A spokeswoman for the environmental department, Eileen Angelico, said water temperatures in the Gulf were too cold Friday for the agency to send its own officials out to inspect the scene. The agency spokeswoman also said a platform that was producing oil and gas near the EnVen rig was shut down as a precaution.

Wild gas wells tend to be less of an environmental threat than blowouts from oil wells.

A natural gas blowout off Louisiana’s coast in July 2013 ended one day later. Authorities believed the well had been clogged by sand and sediment. The rig, operated by Hercules Offshore Inc., blew out and later caught fire. Part of the rig collapsed before the well apparently plugged itself.

The BP PLC blowout in April 2010 off the southeast Louisiana coast killed 11 workers and spewed a mixture of natural gas and oil from a busted well nearly a mile under the Gulf’s surface. The worst environmental damage appeared to be caused by the hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil that escaped and fouled marshes and seafood grounds.

The EnVen rig was operating in relatively shallow waters, where measures to control a leak or blowout are easier to manage than in the deep waters of the Gulf.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Oil and Gas Financial Journal: EPA issues NPDES permits for CA offshore oil and gas operations


January 22, 2014
Michael Weller and Jason Hutt
Bracewell & Giuliani LLP

Region 9 of the US Environmental Protection Agency recently made available the finalized National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit applicable to discharges from oil and gas exploration facilities offshore Southern California. NPDES General Permit No. CAG280000 (2014 NPDES General Permit), issued under provisions of the Clean Water Act, authorizes discharges from exploration, development and production facilities located offshore of Southern California in accordance with specified effluent limitations, monitoring and reporting requirements and various other conditions.

The final 2014 NPDES General Permit includes certain new requirements that EPA indicates were added to address offshore hydraulic fracturing operations, including increases in the monitoring requirements associated with produced water discharges and new inventory and reporting requirements.

While operating offshore, waste streams generated by oil and gas operations are generally either treated and discharged via a NPDES permit or shipped back to shore for disposal. The 2014 NPDES General Permit authorizes discharges from 23 platforms operating offshore Southern California, including discharges of Drilling Fluids and Cuttings, Produced Water, Well Treatment, Completion and Workover Fluids, Bilge Water, and Water Flooding Discharges.

This reissuance of the 2004 NPDES general permit was initially proposed in 2012. During the public comment period, the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), several California legislators and the California Coastal Commission (CCC) expressed interest in hydraulic fracturing operations offshore of California. To address the concerns raised over offshore hydraulic fracturing, EPA changed portions of the final general permit, adding new testing and reporting requirements.

Section 301(a) of the Clean Water Act prohibits point source discharges of pollutants into navigable waters unless in compliance with a permit. To comply with the prohibition on point source discharges, businesses typically obtain CWA Section 402 permits from the state; however, because these operations are offshore, EPA issues the NPDES permits directly. Under the NPDES program, EPA may issue individual permits or general permits. The latter allows the Agency to authorize discharges from a large number of facilities engaged in the same activity. When EPA issues a general permit, a prospective permittee simply submits an application for coverage and then abides by the terms and conditions of the general permit.

Monitoring requirements
NDPES general permits typically contain monitoring requirements. In its response to public comments on the 2014 NDPES General Permit, EPA indicated that it has increased the mandatory Whole Effluent Toxicity or “WET” testing for produced water discharges from an annual to a quarterly requirement. EPA indicated that, because the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations are “commonly commingled and discharged with produced water,” the mandatory tests applicable to produced water will address any concerns over discharges associated with hydraulic fracturing operations.

Inventory/reporting requirements
NPDES permits may also contain inventory and reporting requirements. In the 2004 version of this particular NPDES permit, EPA required that permittees maintain inventories and report drilling fluid constituents added downhole for all discharges of “Drilling Fluids and Cuttings.” In the 2004 version, the mandatory inventory and reporting requirement only applied to mud systems and there was no such requirement for “Well Treatment, Completion and Workover Fluids.”

The 2014 NDPES General Permit includes that same requirement for discharges of “Drilling Fluids and Cuttings.” However, the permittee must also now submit detailed information for discharges of “Well Treatment, Completion and Workover Fluids,” which includes chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Specifically, EPA added Part II.C.3 to the 2014 NPDES General Permit, which requires the permittee to:
1. maintain an inventory of the quantities and application rates of chemicals used to formulate well treatment, completion and workover fluids; and
2. if those fluids are discharged, report to EPA Region 9 the chemical formulation of the discharges and the discharge volume with the operators quarterly discharge monitoring reports.

The disclosures under the 2014 NDPES General Permit are not to the “public” and EPA has indicated that the inventory would be available to EPA where the Agency “deems it necessary to meet the purposes of the CWA. For example, in case of well failure or other accident resulting in an unexpected discharge, EPA may access such inventory in order to immediately assess emergency response needs.” It is not yet clear how the chemical formulations must be reported or to what extent trade secret protections are available.
The public comment period for the 2014 NPDES General Permit closed nearly one year ago on February 4, 2013. The effective date of the permit is March 1, 2014.

Michael Weller is member of the firm’s environmental and natural resources practice in Washington DC.
Jason Hutt is a partner in the firm’s Washington, DC office. He counsels clients on current and upcoming regulatory developments at the nexus of environmental and energy policy, with focused attention on natural gas development, including hydraulic fracturing.
Special thanks to Richard Charter

GPO.gov: Petition to Add the Oil and Gas Extraction Industry to the List of Facilities Required To Report under the Toxics Release Inventory

This is long overdue. DV



[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 2 (Friday, January 3, 2014)]
[Page 393]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-31484]



[EPA-HQ-TRI-2013-0281; FRL-9904-82-OEI]

Petition To Add the Oil and Gas Extraction Industry, Standard
Industrial Classification Code 13, to the List of Facilities Required
To Report Under the Toxics Release Inventory; Notice of Receipt of

AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

ACTION: Notice of receipt of petition.


SUMMARY: The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and sixteen other
organizations submitted a petition to the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), dated October 24, 2012, requesting that EPA add the Oil
and Gas Extraction sector, Standard Industrial Classification (SIC)
code 13, to the scope of sectors covered by the Toxics Release
Inventory (TRI) under section 313 of the Emergency Planning and
Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA). The petition also requests that
EPA publish the petition in the Federal Register. This Federal Register
Notice provides notice of receipt of this petition, along with the
Docket Identification Number that can be used to view the petition and
related documents. EPA is not soliciting public comment regarding this

Inventory Program Division, Office of Environmental Information (mail
code 2844T), Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW., Washington, DC 20460; telephone number: (202) 566-0954; fax
number: (202) 566-0715; email address: mears.gilbert@epa.gov.


I. General Information

A. How can I get copies of this document and other related information?

1. Docket. EPA has established a docket for this action under
Docket ID No EPA-HQ-TRI-2013-0281. Publicly available docket materials
are available either electronically through www.regulations.gov or in
hard copy at the “Petition to Add the Oil and Gas Extraction Industry,
Standard Industrial Classification Code 13, to the List of Facilities
Required To Report under the Toxics Release Inventory” Docket in the
EPA Docket Center, (EPA/DC) EPA West, Room 3334, 1301 Constitution Ave.
NW., Washington, DC. The EPA Docket Center Public Reading Room is open
from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding legal
holidays. The telephone number for the Public Reading Room is (202)
566-1744, and the telephone number for the “Petition to Add the Oil
and Gas Extraction Industry, Standard Industrial Classification Code
13, to the List of Facilities Required To Report under the Toxics
Release Inventory” Docket is (202) 566-1752.
2. Electronic Access. You may access this Federal Register document
electronically from the Government Printing Office under the “Federal
Register” listings at FDSys (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=FR).

Dated: December 16, 2013.
Arnold E. Layne,
Director, Office of Information Analysis and Access, Office of
Environmental Information.
[FR Doc. 2013-31484 Filed 1-2-14; 8:45 am]

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Ejolt.org: Pope Says No to Fracking And That Water Is Worth More than Gold


Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade

Pope Francisco welcomed a group of Argentineans, including an EJOLT member, Antonio Gustavo Gomez, an Attorney General from Argentina, yesterday on November 11th, 2013, in the Vatican. The meeting lasted an hour, with the participation of the film director Pino Solanas, well known for his film “Dirty Gold”, about mega-mining. They spoke about water contamination and the Pope mentioned that he is preparing an encyclical about nature, humans and environmental pollution.
As an image is worth a thousand words, the Pope demonstrated his opposition to shale gas fracking and the contamination of water due to mega mine projects, posing for two photographs. One with a t-shirt that states that “Water is worth more than gold: El Agua Vale mas que el Oro”, and the other stating “No to Fracking”. The concern from His Holiness was clear when the following cases were mentioned to him by Fiscal Gomez, including Barrick Gold, Chevron in Argentina and Ecuador and Yasuni, among others.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Cause: Nobel Laureates to EU: Classify Tar Sands Oil As ‘Dirty Fuel’ It Is


Published on Thursday, October 3, 2013 by Common Dreams

‘Extraction of unconventional fuels is having a particularly devastating impact on climate change,’ say noted scientists and peace advocates
– Jon Queally, staff writer

There is no proposed pipeline to pump Canada’s tar sands oil direct to customers in Europe, but that hasn’t kept twenty-one Nobel Prize laureates from demanding the European Union make a stand against the dirty and damaging fuel source.

In a letter this week to the EU president José Manuel Barroso, EU ministers and heads of state, the prominent group of peace advocates and scientists implored the government leaders to enact a law that would classify the heavy bitumen that comes from tar sands mining as a dirtier fuel than conventional crude oil. Such a move, the letter argues, would provide incentives for cleaner energy choices within the EU and also help discourage further development of Canada’s destructive tar sands industry.

“The world can no longer ignore, except at our own peril, that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing life on this planet today,” the letter reads. “The impacts of climate change and extreme resource extraction are exacerbating conflicts and environmental destruction around the world. The extraction of unconventional fuels—such as oil sands and oil shale—is having a particularly devastating impact on climate change.”

The letter highlights the European Commission’s own scientific research which found that one of the unconventional fuel sources identified in the proposed policy, tar sands, produces an average of 23% more greenhouse gas emissions than average conventional oil.

On the particulars of the law the group is pressing on, The Guardian reports:

EU member states approved legislation in 2009, called the fuel quality directive, with the aim of cutting greenhouse gases from transport fuel sold in Europe by 6% by 2020.

In October 2011, the commission proposed detailed rules for implementing the law, including default values to rank fuels by their greenhouse gas output over their wells-to-wheels life cycle.

So far the commission has said it is standing by its value for tar sands – of 107 grams per megajoule – making it clear to buyers that the fuel source had more greenhouse gas impact than average crude oil at 87.5g.

Intense Canadian lobbying and an inconclusive EU vote on the law forced the commission to announce an assessment of the impact of the fuel quality directive in April 2012.

EU sources say the assessment has been concluded, but not yet made public, so the law is still in limbo.

The Canadians have argued the EU law discriminates against Canadian oil and have taken every opportunity to press their case.

The commission has said repeatedly it would stand firm on the law, but the pressure to weaken the measure is intense.

The full letter follows:

EU climate legislation and unconventional fossil fuels

The world can no longer ignore, except at our own peril, that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing life on this planet today. The impacts of climate change and extreme resource extraction are exacerbating conflicts and environmental destruction around the world. The extraction of unconventional fuels—such as oil sands and oil shale—is having a particularly devastating impact on climate change.

For this reason, we are writing to urge you to support the immediate implementation of the European Union’s (EU) Fuel Quality Directive in order to fulfill its 6% reduction target in greenhouse gas emissions from fuels used for transportation by 2020. We have no doubt that the Directive must be applied fairly to unconventional fuels to ensure their climate impacts are fully taken into account. It follows that the fuel-producing companies should report their climate emissions and be held responsible for any emissions increase.

We welcome the EU’s scientific analysis—as it is now proposed for the implementation of the EU Directive—that the extraction and production of fuels from unconventional sources fuels including oil sands, coal-to-liquid, and oil shale leads to higher emissions and that this should be reflected in the regulations.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is warning that unconventional fuel sources are especially damaging to the environment and climate, and is concerned that these fuel sources are now increasingly competing on a par with conventional fuel sources. In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, the IEA calculates that two thirds of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground.

Now is the time to transition swiftly away from fossil fuels, with a special focus on those that pollute the most. We must all move toward a future built on safe, clean and renewable energy. Fully implementing the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive will send a clear signal that the European Union is committed to action that supports the rights of future generations to a healthy planet.

It is not too late to avert our actions that only amount to palliative care for a dying planet. The time for positive action is now. The European Union can demonstrate clear and unambiguous leadership by upholding its climate principles. We look forward to working together as we move forward to confront this frightening challenge to our global survival.

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize, 1976, Ireland

Roger Guillemin, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1977, France

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize 1980, Argentina

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize 1984, South Africa

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Peace Prize, 1992, Guatemala

Richard Roberts, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1993, United Kingdom

Paul Crutzen, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1995, Netherlands

Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996, United Kingdom

José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize, 1996, East Timor

John Walker, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1997, UK

Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize, 1997, USA

John Hume, Nobel Peace Prize, 1998, Ireland

Paul Greengard, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2000, USA

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize, 2003, Iran

Gerhard Ertl, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2007, Germany

Mark Jaccard, member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Nobel Peace Prize, 2007, Canada

John Stone, member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Nobel Peace Prize, 2007, Canada

Martin Chalfie, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2008, USA

Thomas Steitz, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2009, USA

Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize, 2011, Liberia

Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize, 2011, Yemen


Common Dreams: The Yes Men — Pipeline Company’s PR Dream Turns Into a Nightmare


September 30, 2013
12:21 PM

CONTACT: The Yes Men

TransCanada’s “community consultation” squad dogged by activist lookalikes

WASHINGTON – September 30 – In towns across Canada, troupes of mischievous activists are successfully derailing the attempts of TransCanada—the company building the stalled Keystone XL pipeline—to ram through their latest proposed project, the Energy East pipeline, which would bring over a million barrels of Tar Sands oil to the East Coast for export, primarily to Europe and Asia.

During previous pipeline projects, stakeholders were able to express concerns in front of their whole community. To impede the type of opposition that has stalled past projects, this time TransCanada has changed the format of community consultations, turning them into trade-show-like promotional events where stakeholders can only speak one-on-one with company representatives (or PR contractors hired for the occasion).

To outwit this latest ploy by TransCanada, local activists all along the pipeline route have been swarming these events dressed just like TransCanada reps, but with lookalike “SaveCanada” name tags and brochures. Instead of promoting the pipeline, the SaveCanada reps communicate risks.

“Since TransCanada has come up with a new way to lie to the public, we had to come up with a new way to tell the truth,” said North Bay farmer Yan Roberts, who helped to launch the unusual protest. “We’re friendly folks, so our solution is to dress like them, outnumber them, and ‘out-friendly’ them in every community they’re trying to scam.”

The series of SaveCanada actions began at TransCanada’s open house in North Bay, where roughly 30 TransCanada reps were surprised to see their meeting overwhelmed by newcomers wearing nearly identical shirts and also carrying slick PR materials, but with a twist.

Now, ten other towns have orchestrated their own versions of the prank. When TransCanada came to the Montréal area on September 24, members of the Québécois SaveCanada counterpart, “SansTransCanada,” nearly outnumbered the TransCanada reps. A Global TV segment even identified a SansTransCanada activist as a TransCanada rep.

The Montréal SaveCanada action came to a carnivalesque conclusion when attendees were invited to play “pin the bitumen spill on the pipeline” and a crowd formed around TransCanda’s large route map to see where the sticky-note spill would end up.

NASA’s James Hansen has said of the Keystone XL pipeline that, if built, it will be “game over” for the climate. This is truer still for the Energy East pipeline, as it’s designed to carry a greater volume. The new pipeline also threatens the local communities in its path with inevitable leaks.

“In the next few weeks TransCanada is holding more of these so-called ‘consultations,’ and we are looking forward to seeing them derailed by every community they hope to fool.” said Roberts. “Then we’ll see what they try next, and we’ll derail that, too.”

Upcoming TransCanada “consultations” are scheduled in: Saint-Honoré-de-Témiscouata, Québec (Oct. 1); Kemptville, Ontario and St-Onésime-d’Ixworth, Québec (October 2); Montmagny, Québec and Horton, Ontario (Oct. 3); and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s capital city (Oct. 10). To help derail one of these events, please visit www.save-canada.com.

“Companies may try to invent new ways to fool people, but citizens will always be more powerful because we care more,” said Shona Watt, a local organizer of the Montréal SaveCanada/SansTransCanada action. “What’s guaranteed is that, ultimately, people will win.”
### Special thanks to Common Cause

NOAA: Deep sea ecosystem may take decades to recover from Deepwater Horizon spill

NOAA – slow recovery from DWH oil spill
The National oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a news release stating that scientific analysis indicates that to may take the deep sea ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico decades to recover from impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (9/24/13).

Courtesy Bryant’s Maritime Blog – 25 September 2013
Special thanks to Richard Charter


Scientists publish first analysis of post spill sediment ecosystem impacts surrounding well head
September 24, 2013

The deep-sea soft-sediment ecosystem in the immediate area of the 2010’s Deepwater Horizon well head blowout and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will likely take decades to recover from the spill’s impacts, according to a scientific paper reported in the online scientific journal PLoS One.

The paper is the first to give comprehensive results of the spill’s effect on deep-water
communities at the base of the Gulf’s food chain, in its soft?bottom muddy habitats, specifically looking at biological composition and chemicals at the same time at the same location.

“This is not yet a complete picture,” said Cynthia Cooksey, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science lead scientist for the spring 2011 cruise to collect additional data from the sites sampled in fall 2010. “We are now in the process of analyzing data collected from a subsequent cruise in the spring of 2011. Those data will not be available for another year, but will also inform how we look at conditions over time.”

“As the principal investigators, we were tasked with determining what impacts might have occurred to the sea floor from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” said Paul Montagna, Ph.D., Endowed Chair for Ecosystems and Modeling at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. “We developed an innovative approach to combine tried and true classical statistical techniques with state of the art mapping technologies to create a map of the footprint of the oil spill.”
“Normally, when we investigate offshore drilling sites, we find pollution within 300 to 600 yards from the site,” said Montagna. “This time it was nearly two miles from the wellhead, with identifiable impacts more than ten miles away. The effect on bottom of the vast underwater plume is something, which until now, no one was able to map. This study shows the devastating effect the spill had on the sea floor itself, and demonstrates the damage to important natural resources.”

“The tremendous biodiversity of meiofauna in the deep?sea area of the Gulf of Mexico we studied has been reduced dramatically,” said Jeff Baguley, Ph.D., University of Nevada, Reno expert on meiofauna, small invertebrates that range in size from 0.042 to 0.300 millimeters in size that live in both marine and fresh water. “Nematode worms have become the dominant group at sites we sampled that were impacted by the oil. So though the overall number of meiofauna may not have changed much, it’s that we’ve lost the incredible biodiversity.”

The oil spill and plume covered almost 360 square miles with the most severe reduction of
biological abundance and biodiversity impacting an area about 9 square miles around the wellhead, and moderate effects seen 57 square miles around the wellhead.

The research team, which included members from University of Nevada,Reno, Texas A&M University?Corpus Christi, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and representatives from BP, is conducting the research for the Technical Working Group of the NOAA?directed Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

Others working on the study with Montagna, Baguley, and Cooksey were NOAA scientists, IanHartwell and Jeffrey Hyland.
The PLoS One paper can be found online.

# # #

About HRI: The Harte Research Institute (HRI), an endowed research component of Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, is dedicated to advancing the long?term sustainable use and conservation of the Gulf of Mexico. Expertise at the HRI includes the integration of social and natural sciences, including policy, economics, ecosystems, fisheries, biodiversity and conservation, and geospatial science. The HRI is made possible by an endowment from the Ed Harte family. For more information, go to harteresearchinstitute.org and hrif.org.
About UNR: Founded in 1874 as Nevada’s land?grant university, the University of Nevada, Reno ranks in the top tier of best national universities. With more than 18,000 students, the University is driven to contribute a culture of student success, world?improving research and outreach that enhances communities and business. Part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, the University has the system’s largest research program and is home to the state’s medical school. With outreach and education programs in all Nevada counties and home to one of the largest study abroad consortiums, the University extends across the state and around the world.

About NOAA’s NCCOS: NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science is the coastal science office for NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Visit the NCCOS website or follow our blog tolearn more about our research.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our other social media channels.

(paper at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0070540)

Media Contact
Ben Sherman
Keeley Belva
Texas A&M University Corpus Christi
Cindy McCarrier, 3618252336/

Gloria Gallardo, 361.825.2427 or 361.331.5093 (cell);
Cassandra Hinojosa, 361.825.2337 or 361.658.5829 (cell)
University of Nevada, Reno,
Mike Wolterbee

Huffington Post: Gulf Oil Spill Recovery Could Take Decades For Deep-Sea Ecosystem, Study Finds


Reuters | Posted: 09/24/2013 5:09 pm EDT

WASHINGTON, Sept 24 (Reuters) – The muddy deep-sea ecosystem around the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill could take decades to recover from the effects of the disaster, researchers reported on Tuesday.

The oil spill from BP Plc’s Macondo well had its most severe impact on the ecosystem in an area about nine square miles (24 square km) around the wellhead, the report in the online scientific journal PLoS One said.

Moderate effects were seen at 57 square miles (148 square km). The sea bottom’s rich biodiversity was greatly reduced by the oil plume, which was up to 200 yards (183 meters) thick and 1.2 miles (1.9 km) wide, it said.

“Given deep-sea conditions, it is possible that recovery of deep-sea soft-bottom habitat and the associated communities in the vicinity of the DWH blowout will take decades or longer,” the report concluded.

The April 20, 2010 disaster aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and ruptured the Macondo well, triggering the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The research was carried out for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Paul Montagna, an ecosystems professor at Texas A&M University, said on NOAA’s website that normally pollution was found within 300 to 600 yards (meters) of an offshore well.

In the Macondo case, it was found nearly two miles (3.2 km) from the well, he said.

Jeff Baguley, an expert on tiny marine and freshwater invertebrates from the University of Nevada, said on the NOAA website that the samples showed that the dominant group in affected areas had become nematode worms.
The research team included members from University of Nevada-Reno, Texas A&M, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and representatives from BP.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Energy & Environment: Regulator hopes Gulf mapping tool can defuse tension between drillers, fishermen

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013

HOUSTON — The federal government is racing to roll out a new mapping
tool that it hopes will lead to a truce between offshore drillers and
fishing interests over the spike in rig decommissioning and tear-downs.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement hopes by the end of
this month to have the basic framework for a geographic information
system mapping tool that would be used to track the life span of the
thousands of offshore structures and platforms standing in the Gulf of
Mexico, hundreds of which are slated for removal. But finalizing it
will take many more months or even years and will require the input of
charter fishermen, recreational diving companies, shrimp boat captains
and anyone else who has a stake in the Gulf’s natural resources.

The aim is to defuse the tension between charter fishermen and divers,
who depend on the artificial reef environments created by the rigs for
their livelihood, and the very owners of those offshore structures, who
are legally required to remove them when they are no longer in use. Rig
owners also fear the legal liability they are exposed to should a
defunct rig cause an accident or suffer storm damage.

In an interview, David Smith, a public affairs specialist at BSEE, said
the map that he and his team hope to complete this month will just be a
bare-bones version of the final product. The ultimate aim, he said, is
to develop a tool that enables all interested parties to know ahead of
time when a rig might be coming down and whether that structure would
be a good candidate for the federal Rigs to Reefs program.

BSEE sees Rigs to Reefs as the key to bridging the divide between the
fishermen and offshore oil and gas companies. Charter fishing interests
have been lobbying hard in Congress for a temporary moratorium on rig
decommissioning and removal, something that oil and gas companies and
the decommissioning industry are eager to avoid.

“You have the older platforms that have created this temporary
artificial habitat for fish and other marine life, but they’re also the
ones that are probably going to come out the soonest,” Smith explained.
“What we found is that there needs to be a lot more collaboration in
the planning process for decommissioning.”

Although the platforms, caissons and other offshore structures are the
private property of oil and gas companies, commercial and charter
fishermen insist that their voices should be added to the discussion on
what to do with an aging offshore structure. At the same time they and
some state agencies complain that the Rigs to Reefs program is too slow
and laden with bureaucracy. Six federal agencies have some say in what
happens to a structure resting above an abandoned offshore well.

Capt. Gary Jarvis, former president of the Corpus Christi, Texas-based
Charter Fishermen’s Association (CFA), expressed some skepticism that
BSEE’s planned reforms of Rigs to Reefs will work, but he is satisfied
that at least BSEE is hearing his industry’s concerns.

Still, he and others feel that nearly all offshore structures should be
reefed in place after they are no longer of use to the industry. That
currently happens with only a small fraction of them.

“Ideally for us, we would say reef them right where they’re at,” Jarvis
said. “That would be a good compromise.”

Delicate balancing act

Once the GIS map is in place, Smith said he hopes to organize a cross-
industry commission to help manage it and keep it updated.
Representatives of charter fishing and dive trip operators could
identify which structures are of most value to them, and oil and gas
interests across the table could provide updates on the status of these
structures, notifying whether they plan to tear them down and how

Representatives of Gulf state agencies that assume responsibility for
artificial reefs created in Rigs to Reefs would also be at the table to
give guidance on whether these structures can be folded into the
program. Not all are eligible to become artificial reefs.

“We’re trying to develop a GIS map as a planning tool, and then we want
to develop a collaborative planning body that will sort of be an
information repository and facilitate a dialogue,” Smith said.

It’s a delicate balancing act that will attempt, for the first time, to
bring all Gulf of Mexico commercial interests — fishing, recreation,
and oil and gas — together to hash out compromises over their
competing needs.

Though charter fishermen may want to keep all structures in place,
shrimp boat captains by and large would like to see all those defunct
platforms removed to avoid damaging their equipment. Oil and gas firms
are keen to rid themselves of liability for these defunct platforms as
soon as possible. Meanwhile, thousands of workers are employed in the
Gulf Coast region by companies that tear down platforms and salvage the
“idle iron” for scrap metal.

The committee or planning commission that he hopes to form would “take
all of the input from the shrimping community, from the trawlers, from
the fishing and recreational charters, commercial diving community, all
of those different organizations and bring it all together, and then
have regular update meetings and have a place where people can come and
talk about what’s working and what’s not,” Smith said.

Complicating matters further, the science surrounding artificial
reefing is still in its infancy. The ecological benefits of artificial
versus natural reefs is still hotly debated and will be the principal
topic of discussion at the forthcoming Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries
Institute conference in Corpus Christi, Texas, slated for November.

Wes Tunnell, associate director of the Harte Research Institute at
Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, explained that the current debate
swirls around whether artificial reefs generate new populations of fish
species or simply concentrate existing ones. He said there is evidence
for both.

Gulf of Mexico researchers are also still trying to develop a sound,
standardized technique for studying and monitoring artificial reefs,
counting the populations of fish that call them home and comparing this
data with what researchers collect at natural reef sites. “There’s
never been a really good way to count the fish around these artificial
reefs and have kind of an objective method for doing that,” Tunnell

But there is some general understanding of artificial reefs among the
scientific community. Tunnell indicated that there’s evidence to
suggest that, though natural reefs are more biodiverse, artificial
reefs may actually harbor larger numbers of fish and therefore might be
more productive for fisheries.

Harte and other research centers are willing to aid BSEE’s efforts to
reach a general compromise, but Tunnell said his institute’s position
on the decommissioning and Rigs to Reefs controversy will be strictly

“We like to be what we call the honest broker,” he said. “We want to
keep providing the best information until we get to the right

Hurricane’s wake

The hurricane seasons of 2005 to 2008 brought this issue to the fore.

Hundreds of platforms were damaged or destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina,
Rita, Gustav and Ike. In investigating the problem, BSEE discovered
that more than half of the damaged structures were in disuse, sitting
abandoned for years. Fixing the damage cost hundreds of millions of

The 2010 Macondo well blowout and oil spill delayed action somewhat,
but after the dust settled from that incident, BSEE issued a notice to
oil and gas companies reminding them that they need to demonstrate a
plan for what they intend to do with abandoned platforms within five
years. The options include selling them to other companies, reusing
them for developing new wells, reefing or removal.

Smith is adamant that the Notice to Lessees issued in October 2010 was
not a directive that companies must remove abandoned structures.
Rather, the notice was meant to remind industry of the existing
regulations in place.

Smith estimated that the Gulf is home to nearly 2,900 production
platforms, but he stressed that, of these, 700 to 800 may have to be
dealt with as they near the end of their life spans. And even then the
law doesn’t require that they be removed, only that the owners come up
with a plan for what to do with them next.

Still, many in the industry acted as if the NTL was ordering immediate

BSEE estimates that 285 structures were removed from the Gulf in 2011,
up from 153 in 2008. Permit requests for rig decommissionings rose from
254 submitted in 2010 to 319 in 2011. Fishermen and divers grew alarmed
as hundreds of platforms were pulled, mostly from the western Gulf off
the coast of Texas. Structures that they’ve depended on for years
seemingly vanished overnight.

“Especially off South Texas where we are, we’ve just had so few rigs so
when they pulled out 30 or however many there were in our region, the
fishermen and the diving industry, they felt that tremendously,” said
Jennifer Wetz, a researcher at the Harte Institute. “That was huge to

The Charter Fishermen’s Association and other groups and individual
fishermen responded by getting politically active, pressing their local
members of Congress to get involved. Last year lawmakers proposed the
decommissioning moratorium. Although that effort failed, the speed and
strength with which fishing and diving interests acted got the
attention of offshore oil and gas firms. The dispute was a top item for
discussion among industry representatives at the Decommissioning and
Abandonment Summit held in Houston earlier this year.

J. Dale Shively, artificial reef program leader at the Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department, expressed sympathy for the fishing interests but
suggested they should have seen this problem coming. Offshore platforms
are meant to be temporary installations with their owners free to do
with them as they wish, as long as it complies with the law.

“One of the sticking points really is that the public doesn’t accept
that these platforms are private property,” Shively said. “They don’t
belong to the public. They don’t belong to the federal government or
the state. They belong to the oil company.”

CFA member Jarvis, however, argues that these structures become far
more than just a matter for the private owner because they create
valuable fish habitat, an asset that is tightly controlled throughout
the Gulf. Simply removing them when the companies want to would destroy
that habitat and the fish that reside there, an action that would
result in severe consequences for fishing interests but almost none for
oil and gas firms, he said.

“There are all kinds of federal laws and regulations about live coral,
and there’s nothing on those oil rig legs but live coral. They get a
free pass on that,” Jarvis said. “The fishing reefs, also known as oil
rigs, are a valuable asset to the fishery, not only from the
fisherman’s perspective but from the fish perspective too.”


Shively agrees with BSEE that the Rigs to Reefs program will be a
central factor to satisfying all sides of the issue, but he complained
that for a while now the program allowed too little flexibility for
state agencies like his to grab structures before they are removed and
recommend them for reefing.

He also echoed Tunnell’s point that the science of artificial reefing
is still being worked out. Texas Parks and Wildlife is relying on
researchers at the Harte Institute; University of Texas, Brownsville;
and Texas A&M University, Galveston, for help in studying Texas’ three
primary artificial reef areas. Getting a fix on the value and proper
management of the Rigs to Reefs program is a never-ending challenge, he

“We don’t ever predict that we’re done,” Shively said. “We put
materials down that are serving as a reef, but the scientific questions
are if you put more material, do you get more fish, or do you at some
point get all this competition and the population decreases because now
you’re bringing in more predators?”

Another challenge is the expense. Shively estimates that a typical
reefing job costs more than $500,000. A near-shore artificial reef he’s
working to put together this month near Corpus Christi using more than
400 concrete pillars will run about $700,000. Another near Matagorda,
spread across 160 acres, will probably cost $1.2 million to complete,
he said.

“Every reefing job is expensive,” Shively said. “We’re hoping to get
some of this Deepwater Horizon money to help with it. It’s in the
plans, but we haven’t gotten official approval yet.”

Though reefing can save an operator potentially millions of dollars,
the time-consuming and cumbersome process — and restrictions on where
and how rigs can be reefed — means that far more concrete and steel
will still be removed than left in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year BSEE
reported that the oil and gas industry requested approval to scrap
about 330 offshore structures. Twenty-seven were recommended for the
Rigs to Reefs program, or about 8 percent of the total. So far this
year the agency has received permit applications to scrap 121 rigs and
to reef 15.

The GIS mapping system that BSEE will try to roll out later this month
will be the beginning of attempts to bring more structure and order to
the Rigs to Reefs program and to provide fishermen and divers with
enough information so that they can know precisely what’s happening
with their favorite reefs. If such a structure is scheduled for
decommissioning, fishing and diving interests would be able to flag it
to state officials or BSEE for possible inclusion in Rigs to Reefs. If
popular structures are deemed unsuitable for reefing, then the divers
and fishers can at least learn of this ahead of time, giving them an
opportunity to seek out replacements to visit to keep their businesses

Smith said he needs the cooperation of all sides to make the experiment

“In order to get the map to work, we have to get all the BSEE data on
it, we need to get all the shrimping data on it, we need to get all the
fishing data on it,” he said. “It would help if the fishing and diving
community could point out those platforms that are really important to
them and make the states aware of those so that the states know where
to look for them.”

Though he thinks it’s been taking BSEE too long to put this mapping
tool together, Smith believes this step will prove to be the easy part
of this entire effort.

“The hard part is coming up with some sort of cooperative agreement or
something for a body to put all this stuff together,” he said. “I’m not
sure exactly how that’s going to happen yet. We’re still working on
that part.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Credo Action: 600,000 public comments against fracking submitted to Obama

CREDO action

Dear DeeVon,

Wow. Last week, CREDO and 275 allied organizations delivered more than 600,000 public comments—including yours and more than 120,000 others from CREDO activists—telling the Obama administration to ban fracking on federal lands.

You may not have known it when you submitted your comment (I certainly didn’t!), but you were participating in what may be the single largest display of opposition to fracking ever to take place in the United States.

This huge push to tell President Obama not to frack America couldn’t come at a more important time. Since he unveiled his Climate Action Plan, President Obama has bravely spoken out about the need to confront climate change. But, as admirable as many parts of his plan are, President Obama has continued to endorse fracking for oil and gas as part of his Climate Action Plan, even though fracking is a major threat to the climate and to countless American communities.

We don’t know how the Obama administration will respond to our comments. What we do know is that what has worked so far to stop fracking is relentless grassroots pressure.

In the last few years, grassroots activists from New York to California have waged and won campaigns to protect their communities from fracking. The hundreds of thousands of comments we delivered to President Obama are the direct result of that local and statewide organizing, which has drawn huge numbers of ordinary people into the anti-fracking movement.

We need to keep building momentum to ban fracking at the local level if we want to ever see change in Washington, D.C. And there’s an easy way to do it. CREDO recently launched CREDO Mobilize, which allows activists like you to start petitions to make progressive change in your community. Already, dozens of local campaigns have been started to ban fracking.

Click here to find and sign the petition to ban fracking where you live. Or if one hasn’t been started where you live, start your own. We’ll support you every step of the way and, if your petition takes off, we’ll send it to other CREDO activists to help you get more signatures.

If you’re starting your own petition, the more local your petition is the better. For example, it’s often easier to pressure your city council to act than it is to pressure your governor. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

Tell your local elected officials to ban fracking in your city or county.
Tell your state legislator or your member of Congress to publicly endorse a ban on fracking.
Start a petition opposing a proposed fracking infrastructure project—a pipeline, a compressor station, a natural gas power plant, water withdrawal permits, a silica sand mine, a wastewater injection well, etc.

We have a hard fight ahead of us and the way forward won’t always be clear. The fracking industry has an awful lot of money and influence, and many of the most powerful people in the country—including President Obama—continue to claim that fracking is necessary.

But, as last week’s comment delivery shows, there are also an awful lot of us fighting to stop the fracking industry from poisoning our water and air. And, as the successful fights to keep fracking out of New York, Maryland, and dozens of communities on the frontlines of the fracking boom show, we are increasingly winning the fights we pick.

Thank you for everything you do.

Zack Malitz, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Tampa Bay.com: Oil from BP spill pushed onto shelf off Tampa Bay by underwater currents, study finds


06:55 PM, Thursday, August 22, 2013

Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 20, 2013 2:36pm

The thick globs of BP oil that washed ashore on beaches along Florida’s Panhandle in 2010 never reached Tampa Bay, to the relief of hotel owners, restaurateurs, anglers, beachgoers and local officials.

But oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, floating beneath the surface after being sprayed with dispersant, settled on a shelf 80 miles from the Tampa Bay region within a year of the spill’s end, according to a scientific study published this week.

There is some evidence it may have caused lesions in fish caught in that area, according to John Paul, the University of South Florida oceanography professor who is lead author on the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology. However, research is continuing on that question.

Tests of the samples from those areas on bacteria and other microscopic creatures normally found in that part of the gulf found that “organisms in contact with these waters might experience DNA damage that could lead to mutation,” the study reported.

The oil that landed on the shelf, which extends miles into the gulf, is likely to stay there a long time, Paul said.

“Once it’s in the sediment, it’s kind of immobile,” he said.

BP spokesman Jason Ryan said scientists working for the company, as well as various government agencies, had “conducted extensive sampling to identify, track and map oil in the water column over time,” and found no signs of BP oil on the shelf near the Tampa Bay area.

But Paul said the researchers looked for signs of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the shelf based on observations by a colleague, USF oceanographer Bob Weisberg.

Weisberg found a major upwelling – a swirling current of cool water from deep in the gulf – had begun in May 2010 and continued through the rest of that year. The upwelling could have caught hold of the underwater plumes of dispersed oil off the Panhandle and then pushed them southward onto the shelf that lies off the state’s west coast, he said.

“It made its way southeast across the bottom and eventually it gets to the beach,” Weisberg said. “A little bit probably got into Tampa Bay, and a little bit probably got into Sarasota Bay, and it exited the Florida shelf down around the Dry Tortugas.”

When he put forward his theory in 2010, Weisberg called for sampling to be done along the shelf to test whether he was right, but that proposal did not get any funding, he said.
Eventually, though, as part of a series of 12 trips into the gulf for their own research, Paul and his colleagues collected samples along the shelf, as well as closer to the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster off Louisiana.

They found nothing in 2010, but when they went back in 2011 and 2012, they found what Weisberg had predicted. The oil did not reach the southern end of the shelf until last year. Water samples collected off the shelf were toxic to bacteria, phytoplankton and other small creatures, the report said.

The USF discovery shows that scientists continue to grapple with measuring the full impact of the disaster, which began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010.

The disaster held the nation spellbound for months as BP struggled to stop the oil. To try to break up the oil before vast sheets of it washed ashore on the beaches and marshes along the Gulf Coast, the company sprayed the dispersant Corexit directly at the wellhead spewing oil from the bottom of the gulf – even though no one had ever tried spraying it below the water’s surface before. BP also used more of the dispersant than had been used in an oil spill, 1.8 million gallons.

The Corexit broke the oil down into small drops, creating underwater plumes of oil, something no one had ever seen before in an oil spill. The discovery of the plumes raised questions about how they would affect sea life in the gulf.

Yet even before BP managed to shut off the undersea flow July 15, 2010, observers ranging from Time magazine to Rush Limbaugh said damage from the 4.9 million-barrel spill seemed far less severe than predicted. In the three years since, though, scientists have uncovered ongoing damage – deformed crabs, dying dolphins and other woes.

Getting this study published in a peer-reviewed journal was a long process, Paul said.
“Publishing anything about the oil spill is inherently more difficult than anything else because it’s so contentious,” he said.

BP agreed last year to pay $4 billion to settle criminal charges, including manslaughter, in connection the disaster, and rig owner Transocean settled civil and criminal charges for $1.4 billion.

BP is now locked in a civil court battle with the U.S. Justice Department and hundreds of businesses affected by the spill. If it loses, BP could face damages of $17.5 billion, although company officials have predicted the fines will be less than $5 billion.
Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com

Lingering damage from BP oil spill
In the three years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, scientists are still learning about how it affected the Gulf of Mexico. Some of their findings include:
* Fish with lesions and immune problems.
* Deformed crustaceans.
* Dolphins dying from bacterial infection after immune system compromised.
* Massive die-off of microscopic foraminifera.
* Bacteria producing increased mutations after exposure to oil.
* Weathered particles of oil found buried in the sediment in the gulf floor.
Oil from BP spill pushed onto shelf off Tampa Bay by underwater currents, study finds 08/20/13

Special thanks to Rchard Charter

NOLA.com: Consultant’s report says unsafe welding led to fatal accident in Black Elk Energy platform


Black Elk platform fire
Three workers died after a November 2012 explosion in this oil platform owned by Houston-based Black Elk Energy. A report commissioned by the firm said unsafe welding led to the accident. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Manuel Torres, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.By Manuel Torres, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on August 21, 2013 at 1:33 PM, updated August 21, 2013 at 7:30 PM

A consultant’s report for a Texas-based company says a deadly 2012 explosionon its Gulf of Mexico oil platform off the Louisiana coast happened when workers for a subcontractor used unsafe welding practices.

The report was released Wednesday, the same day two injured workers and their spouses filed a $180 million federal lawsuit in connection with the accident.

ABSG Consulting did the study and report for Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, which released the report and also made it available on its website. Three Filipino workers died in the Nov. 16 accident, which occurred at a time when production was shut down and a construction project was underway on the platform, according to the report.

ABSG says Grand Isle Shipyard Inc. was under contract for construction work when the blast happened. ABSG says Grand Isle had committed not to use subcontractors on Black Elk projects. However, the report says, workers doing the welding were employees of a subcontractor: DNR Offshore and Crewing Services.

A series of explosions occurred when workers were welding a pipe leading to a tank, known as a “wet oil tank,” according to the report.

“The WOT contained hydrocarbons, and the piping leading to it had not been isolated and made safe for welding,” the ABSG report said.

The report said Grand Isle and another contractor overseeing work on the platform, identified as Wood Group PSN, did not properly carry out welding processes, sometimes referred to as “hot work.” It said Grand Isle and DNR failed to stop work when “unexpected conditions” — including the smell of gas — arose.

Grand Isle’s use of a subcontractor was a factor in the accident because it prevented Black Elk from “effectively auditing the employers of all personnel on their facilities,” the report said.

The consultant also recommended that Black Elk provide additional oversight for construction activities on platforms and discourage the use of “hot work” on platforms.

Black Elk, Wood Group and others are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans by two workers injured in the accident, Antonio Tamayo and Wilberto Ilagan, and their spouses.

Alleging physical and mental injuries, numerous medical expenses and loss of future wages, among other things, the four ask for $20 million each in actual damages, plus a total of $100 million in punitive damages “if any of the defendants are found to have been grossly or intentionally negligent.”

Black Elk did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment on the lawsuit. Grand Isle officials did not immediately return a call for comment. A Louisiana attorney who has done work for DNR did not return a call for comment.

Wood Group responded to a telephoned request for comment with an emailed statement. “We are committed to preventing injuries to our people and everyone we work with. We will continue to review our procedures regularly and to provide our people with the training, knowledge and tools they need to work safely and prevent future accidents,” the statement said.

The federal agency that oversees offshore oil and gas safety, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, is still investigating the accident, a spokeswoman, Eileen Angelico, said in response to an email query. The bureau received the consultant’s report and was reviewing it, Angelico said.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

TexasSharon.com: Kids in fracking sacrifice zones depict trauma in crayon drawings.


by TXSHARON on AUGUST 6, 2013

“Drawing is a natural mode of communication that children rarely resist and that offers a way to express feelings and thoughts in a manner that is less threatening than strictly verbal means. For the child who has experienced trauma or loss, it helps to externalize emotions and events too painful to speak out loud and is one of the only means of conveying the complexities of painful experiences, repressed memories, or unspoken fears, anxieties, or guilt.” Using Drawing as Intervention with Traumatized Children.

Aly Hallowich expressed her trauma in a drawing done before she was gagged by Range Resources.

children's image

I’m guessing this drawing was made when Aly was 5 or 6 because according to the court transcript, she was 7 when she was gagged.

MRS. HALLOWICH: We have agreed to this because we needed to get the children out of there for their health and safety. My concern is they’re minors. I’m not quite sure I fully understand. We know we’re signing for silence forever, buthow is this taking away our children’s rights being minors now? I mean, my daughter is turning 7 today, my son is 10. How – I guess that concerns me that we need to keep them safe, but –

The tallest object looks like a flare. You can see the green tanks that depict gas wells, the drilling rig and the impoundment pond with black in it. The sun and sky are sad. Aly’s drawing was previously posted HERE.

Reilly's google

Reilly Ruggiero created this fantastic Google Doodle. Check out the “L.” Half of Reilly’s world looks pretty wonderful but the other half is filled with diesel, drilling waste and scorched earth. I think Reilly was about 9 when she drew this. I posted it on my blog HERE before her parents started replying, “That matter has been resolved,” when asked about their issues with Aruba Petroleum.

children's drawing

During her first “free time” of the second grade, Emma Parr drew a picture of what was happening around her home. She says, “This is the oil rig next to our house. It is messing up our air.” And she tells the workers to clean up their mess.
Fracking is tearing apart families, dividing communities and traumatizing our children.

Villari’s firm “never encouraged the family to agree to it,” he told Yahoo! Shine. “I pushed them quite hard on the issue, said it was unusual, and that we did not believe it was constitutional.” But he said he understood the family’s decision, as the settlement was a “take it or leave it” offer, with the gag order attached. “They had to make a difficult decision at that point in time,” he explained, adding that the Hallowiches were under financial strain and needed the settlement money in order to move. “They made what they felt was the best decision for their family.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter.

Discovery: Not Strong Enough: Oil Spill Disaster Preventers



Flames engulfing a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico decreased to a small fire yesterday, as officials worked around the clock to bring the well under control. The rig, called Hercules, is stationed 55 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Crews were completing the well when they first lost control on Tuesday morning and natural gas started leaking out. The company, Walter Oil and Gas Corp., immediately evacuated all 44 workers on the rig. The methane ignited later that night.

World’s Most Dangerous Oceans Identified: Analysis

The incident is reminiscent of the Deepwater Horizon rig fire on on April 20, 2010, which exploded while drilling a well in the Gulf. Eleven men died in the explosion. The resulting oil spill, which continued for 87 days and spilled about 5 million barrels of crude, was the largest in the history of the United States.

There is a piece of equipment implicated in both the Hercules and Deepwater Horizon accidents: the blowout preventer or BOP. These are massive steel devices 25 feet tall, weighing a 100 tons that use sheer force to choke off a well.

The device is the last line of defense when workers lose control of an oil or gas well and fuel is spewing into the air. At that point, the BOP can be activated to seal off the well. It is critical equipment for all wells being drilled, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) requires that companies maintain it very carefully.

When it is not maintained, loss of well control can lead to a blowout or an explosion.

Devastating Oil Spill Disasters: Photos

Companies lost control of their wells three times in the Gulf in 2011, four times in 2012, and five times this year, according to BSEE data. The BOPs were brought into action in some of the cases.

BSEE is in the process of updating its requirements for BOPs, and industry has been testing a number of new spill caps in recent years.

The increased attention to safety around the world following Deepwater Horizon has made the industry technically safer. But it still has not stopped offshore accidents, which are often caused by human error.

Oil Rig Runs Aground off Alaska Island: Analysis

Here’s a list of some of the latest:
July 23, 2013: Hercules rig blew out off Louisiana and 44 workers were evacuated. BSEE and Walter Oil and Gas Corp. are still bringing it under control.

July 12, 2013: a gas well located off Louisiana owned by Talos Energy LLC, began leaking. The spill was contained with minimal damage, but no one’s life was in danger.

Nov 16, 2012: a Black Elk Energy platform located off Louisiana exploded and caught on fire as workers were welding a pipe. Three men died.

March 26, 2012: the Elgin platform owned by Total SA in the North Sea off Scotland leaked natural gas for 52 days before it was brought under control.

Jan 16, 2012: A Chevron rig blew out off the coast of Nigeria, killing two men. The resulting fire burned for 46 days and the spill was the largest in the nation’s history.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Lac-Mégantic, Que. The Canadian Press: Massive explosions strike Quebec town after train carrying oil derails


Click on link for video clips.

Published Saturday, Jul. 06 2013, 8:31 AM EDT
Last updated Saturday, Jul. 06 2013, 12:06 PM EDT

A large swath of a Quebec town was demolished on Saturday after a train derailment sparked several explosions and a blaze that sent spectacular flames shooting metres into the sky. Up to 1,000 people were forced from their homes in Lac-Mégantic, about 250 kilometres east of Montreal. Some people were reported missing, although Quebec provincial police Lieutenant Michel Brunet said it was too early to say if there were casualties.

Flames and billowing smoke could be seen several hours after the derailment, which involved a 73-car train carrying crude oil. Authorities set up perimeters as firefighters battled to douse the persistent blaze which was still going despite a steady drizzle.

Worried residents looked on behind the perimeters amid fears some of their friends and loved ones may have died in bars and in their homes after the early-morning derailment. “We’re told some people are missing but they may just be out of town or on vacation,” Brunet told a news conference. “We’re checking all that, so I can’t tell you at the moment whether there are any victims or people who are injured.”

A Facebook group was quickly set up to help people track down loved ones who couldn’t be reached by phone. A woman offering to locate people at an emergency centre set up at the local high school received hundreds of requests for help.
The mayor of Lac-Mégantic, Colette Roy-Laroche, spoke with a shaky voice as she described the devastation.

“As mayor, when you see the majority of your downtown destroyed like that, you’ll understand we’re asking how we’re going to survive it,” Ms. Roy-Laroche told reporters at the scene. Fire officials said around 30 buildings in the town centre were destroyed, some by the initial blast and others by the subsequent fire. Lac-Mégantic resident Claude Bedard described the scene as “dreadful.”

“It’s terrible,” Bedard said. “We’ve never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone.”
Some of the train’s 73 cars exploded and the fire could be seen for several kilometres spread to a number of homes. “The flames in the sky were really impressive,” said resident Pierre Lebeau.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his concern on Twitter. “Thoughts & prayers are with those impacted in Lac Megantic,” he tweeted. “Horrible news.”

A large but undetermined amount of fuel also reportedly spilled into the Chaudiere River. Lac-Mégantic is part of Quebec’s picturesque Eastern Townships region, close to the border with Maine and Vermont. Several neighbouring municipalities, including Sherbrooke and Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, were enlisted to help Lac-Mégantic deal with the disaster.

Emergency services south of the border were also lending a hand. A fleet of fire trucks were deployed from northern Maine, according to a spokesman at the sheriff’s office in Franklin County.

The train belongs to Montreal Maine & Atlantic, which says on its website that it owns more than 800 kilometres of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.

The train was reportedly heading toward Maine. The cause of the derailment was not immediately known. Environment Quebec spokesman Christian Blanchette said the 73 cars were filled with crude oil and that four were damaged by fire and the explosions.

“Right now, there is big smoke in the air, so we have a mobile laboratory here to monitor the quality of the air,” Blanchette said in an interview. “We also have a spill on the lake and the river that is concerning us. We have advised the local municipalities downstream to be careful if they take their water from the Chaudiere River.”

With reports from Reuters and Les Perreaux, The Globe and Mail

Special thanks to Richard Charter

PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility): FATAL GULF RIG EXPLOSION STILL UNRESOLVED MONTHS LATER– Black Elk Blast Killed Three; Agency “Cannot Estimate” Investigation Completion


For Immediate Release: Jul 02, 2013
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Posted on Jul 02, 2013

Washington, DC – A fire sparking an explosion on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico last November is still under investigation, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The federal safety agency states that it has no fixed timeline for completing its inquiry pinpointing the accident’s cause yet has ordered the company to improve its safety performance.

On November, 16, 2012, a fire broke out on a shallow-water oil platform operated by Black Elk Energy. That fire apparently triggered an explosion which killed three workers and injured 11, including four hospitalizations, from a 20-member crew. In a letter dated November 21, 2012, the federal offshore safety agency, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), sent Black Elk a strongly worded letter, placing the company on a “performance improvement plan” but applied no further penalty. Nor did the letter identify any specific safety practice the company needed to improve.

On November 19th, PEER submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for a number of documents, including the latest BSEE inspection report for the crippled rig, permit conditions, risk assessments and any after-explosion analyses. Over the succeeding months, BSEE produced very little information but, ultimately, in a letter dated June 20, 2013 declared that it had nothing more to give, stating:
“Since the Black Elk panel investigation is still ongoing, the documents you requested do not exist at the present time. Also, due to the amount of time it will take to complete the investigation, we cannot estimate when the documents will be available.”

“After more than seven months, the lead federal safety agency cannot say what happened or why or even when it might be able to offer a clue,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Prevention of future rig blasts is problematic when the cause of the Black Elk explosion has yet to be established.”

The explosion took place days after a BSEE inspection resulted in citations against Black Elk for 45 violations. Agency records show that safety violations by the company ballooned from 99 to 158 between 2011 and 2012. Despite the fatal fire and the cascade of citations BSEE issued even more permits to Black Elk for a third more drilling rigs in the Gulf, raising the number of the company’s operating rigs in the Gulf to 98 from 65 the year before.

“The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement was created in the wake of the 2010 BP Gulf disaster to, as its name implies, strengthen enforcement of safety and environmental safeguards,” Ruch added. “The Black Elk explosion experience suggests that BSSE has yet to live up to its name.”

Mounting frustration about the inability to get timely information on oil industry mishaps has renewed calls for the creation of a Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizens Advisory Council, modeled after a similar panel created in Alaska following the Exxon Valdez debacle.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

NRDC: New oil spill money released for Gulf Coast restoration


July 1, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Congress, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Restoration Projects
By Mordechai Treiger, Environmental Defense Fund

Last month, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident announced Phase III of their Early Restoration efforts. The NRDA Trustees include representatives from the five Gulf Coast states and four federal agencies who are charged with assessing damage to natural resources, such as marshes, sea grasses, birds and marine mammals, stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Oiled Kemps Ridley turtle (credit: NOAA).

Phase III represents the largest collection of NRDA proposals to date, encompassing 28 proposals intended to restore ecosystem health and lost recreational opportunities across five states. At $320 million, the biggest of these new projects will be to rehabilitate Mississippi River Delta ecosystems devastated by the oil spill and subsequent cleanup efforts. Called the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project, it will restore damaged barrier islands in Plaquemines and Terrebonne Parishes by rebuilding beaches, dunes and back-barrier marsh habitat.

Restoration workers will deposit sediment in an effort to create new land, install sand fencing to encourage dune growth and plant native species across the island in an effort to combat erosion. The strengthened barrier islands will protect wetlands along the delta’s coastline as well as provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife that suffered in the aftermath of the spill, including fish, shellfish and birds. The cost of the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project is expected to cost $320 million.

Previously, the NRDA Trustees finalized the first phase of early NRDA projects, which included eight restoration projects spread across five gulf states in April 2012, and the second phase of early NRDA projects, which introduced an additional two restoration projects in November 2012. In addition to the $71 million committed to Early Restoration in Phases I and II, the new projects will bring restoration spending totals under NRDA to well over $600 million.

Oiled marsh
Oiled marsh in Barataria Bay, La. (credit: NOAA).

All NRDA projects, from Phase I through Phase III, are being negotiated and funded in accordance with the $1 billion Early Framework Agreement signed by the NRDA Trustees and BP in April of 2011. The Framework Agreement was largely seen as a positive step toward restoring the Gulf when it was signed, but since then, money has been slow to flow under the agreement. The NRDA Trustees recently announced their intention to delay further implementation of early restoration, including the recently announced Phase III projects, until the completion of a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for all Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery efforts. Nevertheless, the Trustees remain committed to swiftly advancing these important ecosystem restoration projects with all deliberate speed.

At a June 6 U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing, Rachel Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of Interior, underlined the urgency of Gulf restoration, stating, “Interior fully recognizes, without hesitation, that the time to begin restoration is now.” She went on to promise that early restoration efforts would not come at the expense of, or otherwise undermine, the ultimate goal of complete restoration. “We will not stop until the entire billion is obligated,” Jacobson continued. “It is important to note that our early restoration efforts in no way affect our ongoing assessment work or our ability to recover from BP the full measure of damages needed for complete restoration.”

National Journal: Republicans Answer Obama With Drilling Bill


So glad the Senate is dominated by Democrats who will reject the House approach. DV

By Amy Harder
Updated: June 27, 2013 | 6:18 a.m.
June 26, 2013 | 9:30 p.m.

Hastings: Drill, baby, drill. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, File)

Just one day after President Obama unveiled his plan to bypass Congress and combat climate change using executive-branch regulations, House Republican leaders touted their proposal to vote Friday on legislation to expand offshore oil and natural-gas drilling.

The bill, sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., would require the Obama administration to implement a five-year leasing plan that moves forward with oil and gas drilling off the coasts of California, the Eastern states, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The bill is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the White House has threatened a veto. But the move is one more piece of evidence of the great distance between Obama and Republican leaders on combating climate change.

As long as both sides are talking past each other and pushing radically different policies, a bipartisan solution to climate change will remain elusive.

“Contrast [the bill] with the president’s policies,” Hastings said in the briefing Wednesday.
“Yesterday he made it pretty clear his energy policy essentially is a tax on energy.”

When asked about Obama’s climate-change plan, congressional Republicans focus almost exclusively on what they say would be its detrimental economic effects, and they ignore the scientific consensus that finds that human consumption of fossil fuels causes the Earth’s temperature to rise.

“Our argument with the president right now is, he’s picking winners and losers,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who refused to even use the word “science” when asked whether Republicans think the science of climate change is settled.

In his speech at Georgetown University on Tuesday, Obama argued that the science behind global warming compels urgent action. “I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real,” Obama said. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.”

Asked whether he thinks climate-change science is as convincing as Obama says it is, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., retorted: “He talked about the Flat Earth Society. We have a very flat economy.”
“You used the word compelling,” Barrasso told a reporter. “And I don’t think so. I think you have to focus on the American economy. The costs of the regulations are real. And the benefits are unknown.”

Meanwhile, some advocates of climate change are encouraging a focus on science and the health effects over economics. A talking-points memo sent Monday night ahead of Obama’s speech told the president’s supporters to downplay economic arguments and words like “regulations.”

The memo includes a “do’s and don’t’s” list of phrases to use when advocating for action on climate change. “Do discuss modernizing and retooling power plants and innovation that will create green jobs,” reads one part of the 14-page memo. “Don’t try to suggest net job increases.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Union of Concerned Scientists: UCLA: Science, Democracy, and Community Decisions on Fracking–A Lewis M. Branscomb Forum


Register for the Forum Today!

Register now to secure your spot for the live webcast of our Science, Democracy, and Community Decisions on Fracking Forum on July 25, 2:00 p.m. PDT, at UCLA.
RSVP button

Dear DeeVon,

We’re less than a month away from our public forum at the University of California, Los Angeles. Don’t forget to register to secure your spot for the live webcast of this popular event!

Science, Democracy, and Community Decisions on Fracking
A Lewis M. Branscomb Forum
Date: Thursday, July 25
Time: 2:00-5:00 p.m. PDT/5:00-8:00 p.m. EDT
Location: UCLA

Register today!

Featured speakers will include: Felicia Marcus, chair of the California Water Resources Control Board; Tom Wilber, author of Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale and Shale Gas Review blog; Jose Bravo, executive director of Just Transition Alliance; and Todd Platts, former U.S. Representative (R-PA). Click here for the full line-up of speakers and program.

This event will be a unique opportunity to join leading thinkers and key stakeholders for a dynamic discussion about the state of the science around hydraulic fracturing, the state and federal policy landscape, and what citizens and policy makers need to know to make informed decisions oil and gas fracking.

We look forward to you joining us and contributing to the conversation!

Andy Rosenberg signature.jpg
Andrew A. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Science and Democracy
Union of Concerned Scientists

P.S. You can also check out our new video, The Curious Case of Fracking: Questions from the Road, to get a flavor of the types of questions that arise when people are faced with making decisions on fracking in their communities.

Common Dreams: Expect More Resistance: Direct Action Targets Tar Sands as #FearlessSummer Kicks Off


Ahhhh, right. Enbridge–the OTHER pipeline. DV

Published on Monday, June 24, 2013 by Common Dreams

9 arrests following action that thwarted construction of a tar sands pump station
– Andrea Germanos, staff writer


Activists locked to an excavator to thwart construction work. (Photo: Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance)Nine people with Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance (GPTSR) have been arrested on Monday after succeeding in temporarily shutting down construction of a Keystone XL pump station.

The action in Seminole, Okla. was part of a series of coordinated, nationwide #FearlessSummer actions starting this week that aim to fight “extreme energy,” which “continues to escalate its attack of life on earth.”

For GPTSR, the direct action was a necessary step to confront the fossil fuel industries that “profit off of continued ecological devastation and the poisoning of countless communities.”

“As a part of a direct action coalition working and living in an area that has been historically sacrificed for the benefit of petroleum infrastructure and industry, we believe that building a movement that can resist all infrastructure expansion at the point of construction is a necessity,” Eric Whelan, spokesperson for the group, said in a statement.

“We’re through with appealing to a broken political system that has consistently sacrificed human and nonhuman communities for the benefit of industry and capital,” added Whelan

While Monday’s action targeted TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, the group emphasized that “tar sands infrastructure is toxic regardless of the corporation or pipeline,” and pointed to spills in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and in Mayflower, Arkansas.

“We are opposed not only to the Keystone XL, but all tar sands infrastructure that threatens the land and her progeny,” stated Fitzgerald Scott, who took part in Monday’s action.

So the group’s message to Enbridge, another heavyweight in the rapacious industry, is this: expect resistance.

“While KXL opponents wait with baited breath for Obama’s final decision regarding this particular pipeline, other corporations, including Enbridge, will be laying several tar sands pipelines across the continent. The Enbridge pipelines will carry the same volumes of the same noxious substance; therefore, Enbridge should get ready for the same resistance.”


WWLTV.com: Sources: Grand jury to probe La. company for alleged human trafficking


Posted on June 11, 2013 at 9:23 PM
Updated yesterday at 10:54 PM

Brendan McCarthy / Eyewitness News
Email: bmccarthy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @bmccarthyWWL

NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana oilfield contracting company has been under intense scrutiny in the wake of a deadly oil platform explosion last November.

Now, they appear to be in the cross-hairs of the federal government in a criminal probe. For months we’ve been examining human trafficking allegations against Grand Isle Shipyard. Now sources tell Eyewitness Investigates that federal authorities have convened a grand jury to look into possible criminal violations by Grand Isle Shipyard and its affiliated companies. Sources say subpoenas have been issued for documents belonging to the company and that one of the defense attorneys involved is Eddie Castaing, a high-profile local lawyer. We contacted Castaing but he declined to comment.

Last November, an explosion rocked an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, killing three Grand Isle Shipyard workers and severely injuring three other men. All were Filipino nationals, recruited and brought here under a guest worker program. Since the explosion, we’ve done several reports, uncovering claims of abuse and possible fraud.

Dozens of Filipino guest workers say they were subjected to slave-like conditions, cheated out of wages, and worked upwards of 400 hours a month for slightly more than $3 an hour. We went all the way to the Philippines and found a troubled system in which workers are recruited and trafficked to this country. We uncovered immigration paperwork allegedly based on lies and more.

Pipeline to the Platform

Part One: Report from Philippines
Part Two: Former shipyard workers labeled human trafficking victims
Part Three: Philippines government launches investigation
Part Four: Civil rights group slams federal guestworker program
Part Five: Migrant worker groups rally to show support for Filipino guestworkers

Bryan Cox, spokesman for Homeland Security Investigations, said the agency “does not comment on the existence or absence of a pending investigation.” A public relations firm retained by Grand Isle Shipyard did not respond to a request for comment.
With reporting by Mike Perlstein.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council releases Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy

05/23/2013 04:06 PM EDT

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council marked significant progress today with the public release of the Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy (PDF 621kb) and accompanying Draft Environmental Assessment (PDF 1.1 MB) for formal public comment. The Draft Plan provides a framework to implement a coordinated region-wide restoration effort in a way that restores, protects, and revitalizes the Gulf Coast region following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The Draft Plan establishes overarching restoration goals for the Gulf Coast region; provides details about how the Council will solicit, evaluate, and fund projects and programs for ecosystem restoration in the Gulf Coast region; outlines the process for the development, review, and approval of State Expenditure Plans; and highlights the Council’s next steps. The Council expects to release a Final Plan this summer.

Along with the release of the Draft Plan, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and Council Chair announced today that Justin Ehrenwerth will serve as the Executive Director of the Council. These steps signify the Council’s efforts to ensure that it is ready to move efficiently and effectively to implement a restoration plan once funds are received.

“As Chair of the Council, I am proud to announce that my Chief of Staff, Justin Ehrenwerth, will move into the role of Executive Director of the Council. I can think of no better person to help the Council continue to move forward with implementing a plan that ensures the long-term health, prosperity, and resilience of the Gulf Coast,” said Council Chair Blank.

In order to ensure robust public input throughout the entire process, the Council is hosting a series of public engagement sessions in each of the five impacted Gulf States in June to give the public the opportunity to provide input on the Draft Plan and the Council’s restoration planning efforts. The 30-day formal public comment period for the Draft Plan and associated documents begins today, May 23, and ends June 24. Public meetings to discuss the Draft Plan are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

June 3, 2013: Pensacola, Florida
June 5, 2013: Spanish Fort, Alabama
June 10, 2013: Galveston, Texas
June 11, 2013: Biloxi, Mississippi
June 12, 2013: Belle Chasse, Louisiana
June 17, 2013: St. Petersburg, Florida

To view or provide comments on the Plan and associated documents and to get additional details on the upcoming public meetings as they become available, please visit www.restorethegulf.gov.

Comments can be submitted here: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentFormBasic.cfm?documentID=53621

Background on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council
The Council, which was established by the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourism, Opportunities Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act), will help restore the ecosystem and economy of the Gulf Coast region by developing and overseeing implementation of a Comprehensive Plan and carrying out other responsibilities. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused extensive damage to the Gulf Coast’s natural resources, devastating the economies and communities that rely on it. In an effort to help the region rebuild in the wake of the spill, Congress passed the bipartisan RESTORE Act. The Act dedicates 80 percent of any civil and administrative penalties paid under the Clean Water Act by responsible parties in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund (the Trust Fund) for ecosystem restoration, economic recovery, and tourism promotion in the Gulf Coast region.

Draft Initial Plan (PDF 621kb)
Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PDF 1.1MB)
Appendix A – Background Information – Preliminary List of Authorized but Not Commenced Projects and Programs (PDF 258kb)

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Hudson Valley Press Online: Environment still feeling impact of BP oil spill


May 29th, 2013

Dear EarthTalk: The three-year anniversary of the 2010 BP oil spill just passed. What do green groups think of the progress since in restoring the region?
– Mary Johannson, NY

When an undersea oil well blew out 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010 and caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig above it (killing 11 workers), no one knew that an even bigger disaster was yet to come. Over the next three months, 4.9 million gallons of crude poured into the water before BP could get the wellhead capped to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

According to BP, which has already spent $14 billion on clean-up and restoration, the Gulf is returning to baseline conditions prior to the disaster. “No company has done more, faster to respond to an industrial accident than BP did in response to the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010,” reports the company.

But not everybody sees the situation that way. Many environmentalists are concerned that, while BP has done a thorough job removing visible oil from the water column and surface, little has been done to repair damage to marine life and ecosystems.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” says Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). A recent report by the group found that the three-year-old spill is still having a serious negative effect on wildlife populations in the Gulf.

For one, dolphin deaths in the region have remained above average every single month since the disaster. In the first two months of 2013, infant dolphins were found dead at six times pre-spill average rates. Says Inkley: “These ongoing deaths-particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin-are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

Gulf dolphins aren’t the only ones suffering. NWF found that more than 1,700 sea turtles were stranded in coastal areas of the Gulf between May 2010 and November 2012-almost three times the pre-spill rate for the animals. Researchers have also detected changes in the cellular function of Gulf killifish, a common bait fish at the base of the food chain. And a coral colony seven miles from the offending wellhead struggles due to oil and dispersants compromising its ability to rebuild itself.

“The oil disaster highlighted the gaps in our understanding of the Gulf of Mexico,” says Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald. “What frustrates me is how little has changed over the past three years. In many cases, funding for critical research has even been even been cut, limiting our understanding of the disaster’s impacts.”

MacDonald and others are optimistic that a federal court will find BP accountable for further damages in a civil trial now underway. NWF says that substantially more money is needed to carry out restoration efforts vital to the biological and economic stability of the Gulf region. “Despite the public relations blitz by BP, this spill is not over,” says NWF’s David Muth. “Justice will only be served when BP and its co-defendants pay to restore the wildlife and habitats of the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf of Mexico.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Time: The Unintended Consequences of Exporting Natural Gas


By Bryan Walsh
May 27, 20130

The best intentions during an election campaign have a habit twisting beyond recognition once a candidate is in power. I doubt when Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago he thought that, once in the White House, his Administration would be responsible for one of the most chilling crackdowns on the freedom of the press in recent American history. And yet, after the revelation of the Department of Justice’s wide-ranging move to seize phone records of AP reporters and a deeply disturbing investigation of the Fox News reporter James Rosen-seriously, read this-Obama’s legacy has been permanently altered.

I also doubt that the candidate who in 2008 ran on a cap-and-trade plan and promised to make climate change a top priority thought that he would go down as the driller-in-chief. And yet-without taking anything away from Obama’s very real accomplishments in supporting renewable energy and efficiency-that’s exactly what’s happening. Domestic oil and natural gas production have boomed under Obama’s watch, and even though he was hardly the cause-most of the new fracking is happening on private land largely outside federal regulation-neither had Obama done much to stand in the way, at least according to his increasingly frustrated environmental allies. Greens want Obama to stop the proposed Keystone pipeline and halt the expansion of fracked oil and natural gas-but as Obama begins his second term in earnest, that seems unlikely.

Take natural gas. For some time gas companies have been pushing the federal government to make it easier to export natural gas in liquified form (LNG) to foreign countries. This is itself a huge turnaround-less than a decade ago, domestic production of natural gas was so low that facilities were being built in U.S. ports to import foreign natural gas. The shale gas revolution, made possible by fracking, changed all that. Now the U.S. literally has more natural gas than it knows what to do with, and the price of gas has tumbled to around $4 per million BTU.

That’s great for U.S. utilities, which have taken advantage of cheap natural gas to close out old, polluting coal plants, helping them comply with environmental regulations while reducing U.S. pollution and carbon emissions. It’s also been good for American manufacturers-especially those in the chemical industry-who can take advantage of cheaper power and raw materials. But the glut of gas-and natural gas, unlike oil, can’t easily be stored-hasn’t been so great for one sector: natural gas companies themselves, which have begun complaining that drilling has is costing them more than they can make selling their product.

Econ 101: if your supply outstrips your demand, the only way to raise prices is to reduce your supply-something gas companies can’t easily do because their contracts on wells often require them to keep drilling to maintain the lease-or increase the demand. And since the demand for natural gas in the U.S. seems to be more or less maxed out, the best way to do that is to ship the gas to other countries where the price of natural gas is much, much higher. Like Japan, which has virtually no natural gas resources of its own, and which pays some $17 per million BTU-or more than four times what we pay in the U.S.-to import liquified natural gas (LNG).

So the news on May 17 that the Department of Energy (DOE) had given a terminal near Freeport, Louisiana-one originally built to import gas-permission to export LNG was met with approval by natural gas companies, even as chemical companies worried about the effect on prices and environmentalists worried that more exports would mean more fracking. In a statement after DOE approved the export terminal, Deb Nardone of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign said:

Exporting LNG will lead to more drilling – and more drilling means more fracking, more air and water pollution, and more climate fueled weather disasters like last year’s record fires, droughts, and superstorms. In today’s conditional authorization, DOE acknowledges that it has not yet considered any of these impacts, but that environmental effects must be considered before DOE can grant final approval.

But while there are legitimate environmental concerns about more natural gas drilling, there’s an economic value to exporting a product that can sell for far more abroad than it can at home. Let’s let Joe Nocera of the New York Times, in a May 18 column entitled “Energy Exports Are Good!” explain why exporting natural gas would be good:

Exporting natural gas has enormous benefits for the United States. Exports create jobs that are every bit as good as manufacturing jobs. They help our trade deficit. They tie us closer to important allies like Japan, which desperately need the gas. According to Michael Levi, the author of an authoritative new book, “The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future,” the prospect that America could export natural gas has even helped our European allies gain leverage with its primary supplier of fossil fuels, Russia.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to see how exporting natural gas will help the environment, at least at home. The price for natural gas has begun to rise-and partially in response, utilities have begun switching back to burning polluting coal. Since January, utilities have been burning less gas, and coal now provides about 40% of U.S. electricity. That’s still a much smaller share than coal demanded a few years ago, but it’s a sign that pricier natural gas-which is significantly cleaner-burning than coal-will likely mean more carbon emissions. Export more natural gas, and that’s just what you might get.

In environmental policy-in all policy-actions can have unintended consequences, and take you places you never expected. Just ask the driller in chief.

VIDEO: TIME Explains: U.S. Energy Independence

Bryan Walsh @bryanrwalsh
Bryan Walsh is a senior editor at TIME.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Penn Energy: New Zealand Green Party fighting offshore oil drilling


May 20, 2013
By PennEnergy Editorial Staff

The Green Party in New Zealand is placing a bid on the government’s oil and gas exploration tender in an effort to stop offshore drilling expansions. According to Radio New Zealand, the government announced it opened three offshore areas of more than 72,900 square miles for oil and gas exploration permits.

The Green Party plans to submit a competing bid for the acreage in order to protect the area from deep sea drilling and offshore exploration. Radio New Zealand said the group is calling it the Kiwi Bid, and is encouraging individuals to join the cause to prevent the government from exploiting New Zealand’s environment.

Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the government will be given a choice from the Kiwi Bid – they can move forward with offshore oil drilling or accept the bid from New Zealanders who want to protect the beaches and ocean.

According to TVNZ, the government is accusing the Green Party of scaremongering because of their opposition to the drilling.

“The fact of the matter is we want to sensibly explore and develop our resources so that there are higher paying jobs for Kiwis,” said Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges.

Learn more about New Zealand’s gas markets in PennEnergy’s research area.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Hermosa Beach Patch: Citizens Link Hands to Ban Oil Drilling


Posted by Liz Spear (Editor), May 20, 2013 at 04:45 am

A group of citizens who do not want offshore oil drilling based in Hermosa Beach joined hands Saturday around noon on the sand at 6th St. as part of a international Hands Across the Land/Hands Across the Sand event.

Should Hermosa Beach voters approve it, the city’s public works yard at 555 6th St. will become site of an oil production operation.

Locations of other Hands Across the Sands events included the Huntington Beach Pier, Cherry Beach in Long Beach, Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara, Santa Monica beach, Ocean Beach in San Francisco, Cowell’s Beach in Santa Cruz, the Oceanside Pier, Moonstone Beach in Cambria, Avila Beach in Avila, the Esalen Beach in Big Sur at the Esalen Institute, Rio Del Mar Beach in Aptos, Albany Beach in Albany, Shell Beach in the Sonoma Coast State Beach near Bodega Bay, Glass Beach and Noyo Beach in Fort Bragg, Stinson Beach in Stinson and the Anabolic Monument in Los Angeles.

The gatherings are aimed at eliminating and not allowing “dirty fuels and to promote clean energy,” according to a press release, as thousands of citizens unite against offshore drilling, offshore seismic testing, hydraulic fracturing, XL Pipeline, tar sands mining, coal fired power plants, and mountain top removal mining in favor of clean energy.

The Hands Across the Sand/Land events, launched in Oct. 2009 by Floridian Dave Rauschkolb, are aimed at steering America’s energy policy away from its dependence on fossil fuels and to convince leaders such as President Obama to adopt policies that encourage clean energy instead.
The events are endorsed by national environmental organizations including Surfrider Foundation, All things Healing, Gulf Restoration Network, Oceana, Sierra Club, Cleanenergy.org, Conservation Law Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Defenders of Wildlife, Alaska Wilderness League, Florida Wildlife Federation and Urban Paradise Guild.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Al Jazeera: Inside Story: The US Disconnect Over Climate Change (Video)

Published on Monday, May 20, 2013 by Al Jazeera
Inside Story: The US Disconnect Over Climate Change
Amid growing scientific proof that global warming is man-made, we look at why the public gives credence to the skeptics.

“The disinformation campaign can only survive for so long. We saw, as in the case of tobacco, there was a similar disinformation campaign decades ago to obscure the science and the scientific link between the use of tobacco products and lung cancer. But eventually the truth of what the science had to say became accepted. There are some positive signs that we are moving in that direction; the rest of the world is moving increasingly towards renewable energy …. We are lagging behind but we are slowly making progress ourselves.”

– Michael Mann, director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center
© 2013 Al Jazeera

Coral-list: Bruce Carlson: CO2 hits 400ppm

BRUCE CARLSON exallias2@gmail.com via coral.aoml.noaa.gov

May 9 (5 days ago)

to coral-list
Probably everyone (in the U.S.) has heard the news that the Dow Jones average has surpassed 15,000 and everyone is jubilant.

You may have missed another story that appeared at almost the same time. Here is an excerpt of that story from The Economist:

“At NOON on May 4th the carbon-dioxide concentration in the atmosphere around the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii hit 400 parts per million (ppm). The average for the day was 399.73 and researchers at the observatory expect this figure, too, to exceed 400 in the next few days. The last time such values prevailed on Earth was in the Pliocene epoch, 4m years ago, when jungles covered northern Canada. There have already been a few readings above 400ppm elsewhere—those taken over the Arctic Ocean in May 2012, for example—but they were exceptional. Mauna Loa is the benchmark for CO2 measurement … because Hawaii is so far from large concentrations of humanity.”

We all know the predictions for climate change and ocean chemistry change as we now head, inevitably it appears, to 450ppm.

Coral-List mailing list

BLM Postpones Oil & Gas Leases; cites sequester as cause

United States Department of the Interior
California State Office
2800 Cottage Way, Suite W 1623
Sacramento, CA 95825

May 3, 2013

NOTICE: BLM Postpones Oil and Gas Lease Sales Due to budget constraints resulting from the sequester and an emphasis on the higher priorities for conducting Inspection & Enforcement on existing leases and processing new Applications for Permit to Drill.

The Bureau of Land Management has postponed all oil & gas lease sales for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013 (September 30, 2013).
For questions regarding the postponement of the lease sales, contact Laurie Moore at the BLM California State Office, (916) 978-

James G. Kenna,
State Director

E&E: Former spill commissioners have ‘major concern’ with Congress’ inaction

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013

While Congress has taken steps to ensure billions of dollars is spent to restore the Gulf of Mexico, it has failed to implement other key proposals to prevent another offshore spill, according to a new report from the former members of President Obama’s BP PLC oil spill commission.

And while the Obama administration and industry have taken laudable steps to better prevent and respond to oil spills, the Interior Department is implementing reforms more slowly than in the previous year and an industry-run safety institute is still too closely aligned with its main trade group, the report said.

The administration received a grade of B, industry a B- and Congress a D+.

The second annual report card by the seven members of Oil Spill Commission Action, an offshoot of the former commission, offered slightly better marks for the offshore drilling industry, which it credited for largely avoiding major spills in 2012, and Congress for passing the RESTORE Act. The administration’s grade was unchanged, in part because it released only one of three rules — the safety and environmental management rule — it had planned to introduce in 2012.

“Because of actions taken by the administration and by industry, we can say with confidence that offshore drilling is safer than it was three years ago,” said Bob Graham, the former Democratic senator from Florida and co-chairman of the commission. “That doesn’t mean that there will not be another incident; this is a risky business.”

But Graham noted “major concern” that Congress has yet to raise the oil spill liability cap, and the report said lawmakers have “yet to take action to bolster the government’s program for managing offshore activities.”

In contrast, industry has taken significant steps to ensure the Gulf and other waters are equipped with technologies to quickly arrest an out-of-control well, said William Reilly, the commission’s other co- chairman, who was administrator of U.S. EPA under the George H.W. Bush administration.

“Not only is drilling safer, but the ability to respond effectively to spills that do occur has been significantly improved,” he said. “There are now four well capping systems located in the Gulf of Mexico and more than a dozen are positioned around the world. Three years ago there were none. Industry has taken to heart the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”

But the report does raise concern that the Center for Offshore Safety, which was established to train auditors to inspect companies’ safety systems, is still being run by the American Petroleum Institute. It recommends the center become independent.

As for the administration, the report notes that the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement had expected to release a proposed rule to bolster design and operation standards for blowout preventers and another that would address “process safety systems” and lifetime analyses of critical equipment, but that a release date is uncertain.

It recommended the United States adopt a “proactive, risked-based approach” similar to the United Kingdom’s “safety case” and propose regulations strengthening the quality of the National Environmental Policy Act reviews for planning, leasing, exploration and development.

It said the agency should also move forward with Arctic-specific standards to ensure that drilling is conducted safely in frontier regions.

“The risks will only increase as drilling moves into deeper waters with harsher, less familiar conditions,” the report said. “Delays in taking the necessary precautions threaten new disasters, and their occurrence could, in turn, seriously threaten the nation’s energy security.”

The report gave the administration’s approach to drilling in the Arctic a C grade, calling it a “work in progress” but noting troubles last year in exploring the Chukchi Sea.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Greenwire: GREENLAND: New government sets moratorium on offshore drilling permits

Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013

The newly elected government in Greenland has halted approval of new offshore oil and gas drilling permits in its Arctic waters.

Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond said that he was reluctant to approve new permits and that existing operations would be subject to more scrutiny moving forward. He also will set up a parliamentary body to examine offshore operations.

Oil companies view Greenland, Russia and Alaska as containing roughly 25 percent of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves.

But environmentalists continue to voice concerns about drilling in those areas and its effects on climate change and the pristine northern environment.

“Until now, the people of Greenland have been kept in the dark about the enormous risks taken by the politicians and companies in the search for Arctic oil. Now it seems that the new government will start taking these risks seriously. The logical conclusion must be a total ban on offshore oil drilling in Greenland,” said Jon Burgwald, an Arctic campaigner for Greenpeace in Denmark.

(Terry Macalister, London Guardian, March 27). — MM

Special thanks to Richard Charter

New York Times: OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR The Tar Sands Disaster By THOMAS HOMER-DIXON


Published: March 31, 2013


IF President Obama blocks the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all, he’ll do Canada a favor.

Canada’s tar sands formations, landlocked in northern Alberta, are a giant reserve of carbon-saturated energy – a mixture of sand, clay and a viscous low-grade petroleum called bitumen. Pipelines are the best way to get this resource to market, but existing pipelines to the United States are almost full. So tar sands companies, and the Alberta and Canadian governments, are desperately searching for export routes via new pipelines.
Canadians don’t universally support construction of the pipeline. A poll by Nanos Research in February 2012 found that nearly 42 percent of Canadians were opposed.

Many of us, in fact, want to see the tar sands industry wound down and eventually stopped, even though it pumps tens of billions of dollars annually into our economy.
The most obvious reason is that tar sands production is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities. It wrecks vast areas of boreal forest through surface mining and subsurface production. It sucks up huge quantities of water from local rivers, turns it into toxic waste and dumps the contaminated water into tailing ponds that now cover nearly 70 square miles.

Also, bitumen is junk energy. A joule, or unit of energy, invested in extracting and processing bitumen returns only four to six joules in the form of crude oil. In contrast, conventional oil production in North America returns about 15 joules. Because almost all of the input energy in tar sands production comes from fossil fuels, the process generates significantly more carbon dioxide than conventional oil production.

There is a less obvious but no less important reason many Canadians want the industry stopped: it is relentlessly twisting our society into something we don’t like. Canada is beginning to exhibit the economic and political characteristics of a petro-state.

Countries with huge reserves of valuable natural resources often suffer from economic imbalances and boom-bust cycles. They also tend to have low-innovation economies, because lucrative resource extraction makes them fat and happy, at least when resource prices are high.

Canada is true to type. When demand for tar sands energy was strong in recent years, investment in Alberta surged. But that demand also lifted the Canadian dollar, which hurt export-oriented manufacturing in Ontario, Canada’s industrial heartland. Then, as the export price of Canadian heavy crude softened in late 2012 and early 2013, the country’s economy stalled.

Canada’s record on technical innovation, except in resource extraction, is notoriously poor. Capital and talent flow to the tar sands, while investments in manufacturing productivity and high technology elsewhere languish.

But more alarming is the way the tar sands industry is undermining Canadian democracy. By suggesting that anyone who questions the industry is unpatriotic, tar sands interest groups have made the industry the third rail of Canadian politics.

The current Conservative government holds a large majority of seats in Parliament but was elected in 2011 with only 40 percent of the vote, because three other parties split the center and left vote. The Conservative base is Alberta, the province from which Prime Minister Stephen Harper and many of his allies hail. As a result, Alberta has extraordinary clout in federal politics, and tar sands influence reaches deep into the federal cabinet.

Both the cabinet and the Conservative parliamentary caucus are heavily populated by politicians who deny mainstream climate science. The Conservatives have slashed financing for climate science, closed facilities that do research on climate change, told federal government climate scientists not to speak publicly about their work without approval and tried, unsuccessfully, to portray the tar sands industry as environmentally benign.

The federal minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, has attacked “environmental and other radical groups” working to stop tar sands exports. He has focused particular ire on groups getting money from outside Canada, implying that they’re acting as a fifth column for left-wing foreign interests. At a time of widespread federal budget cuts, the Conservatives have given Canada’s tax agency extra resources to audit registered charities. It’s widely assumed that environmental groups opposing the tar sands are a main target.

This coercive climate prevents Canadians from having an open conversation about the tar sands. Instead, our nation behaves like a gambler deep in the hole, repeatedly doubling down on our commitment to the industry.

President Obama rejected the pipeline last year but now must decide whether to approve a new proposal from TransCanada, the pipeline company. Saying no won’t stop tar sands development by itself, because producers are busy looking for other export routes – west across the Rockies to the Pacific Coast, east to Quebec, or south by rail to the United States. Each alternative faces political, technical or economic challenges as opponents fight to make the industry unviable.

Mr. Obama must do what’s best for America. But stopping Keystone XL would be a major step toward stopping large-scale environmental destruction, the distortion of Canada’s economy and the erosion of its democracy.

Thomas Homer-Dixon, who teaches global governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, is the author of “The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter



Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2013 10:31:03 -0400
Subject: Ban Toxic Dispersants Now!

Take one small step today to change oil industry practices

Dear Friends,
On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, spilling millions of gallons of oil and soiling thousands of miles of coast line. The Exxon Valdez oil spill wasn’t just an environmental disaster–it was a democracy crisis. The federal government and the courts failed to hold Exxon accountable for the harms it caused to people and the environment. It was back to business as usual for the oil industry while people bore the full costs of the disaster–a devastated ecosystem, socio-economic hardships, and illnesses.

Twenty-four years later, the federal government’s failure to hold Big Oil accountable to health and environmental laws is wreaking havoc in communities across America. From forced sales or eminent domain takings, to poisoned wells and ground water, to devastating health consequences from BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster and Enbridge’s tar sands spill in Michigan, more and more Americans are finding their rights and powers are failing to protect what they love. More and more people are organizing for change.

Take one small step today to change oil industry practices–and help protect people from toxic chemicals used in oil spill dispersants, drilling fluids in fracking, and diluents for tar sands.


1. Sign the Petition to Ban Toxic Dispersants
Tell the EPA that it is time to delist all products that are known to cause health problems to human beings.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/ban-toxic-dispersants/

2. Create broader awareness

Forward this email and ask friends, colleagues, and family members to sign the petition. Visit https://www.facebook.com/UltimateCivics to keep up-to-date on upcoming events and actions.

3. Follow us on https://www.facebook.com/UltimateCivics
Twitter @Ultimate_Civics to keep up-to-date on our progress and to learn other steps you can take to safe guard human health from these deadly chemicals.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Keysnet.com: ENVIRONMENT: Bahamian government clears way for offshore drilling


How short-sighted that the Bahamian Minister of the Environment doesn’t see the clean energy potential of alternatives such as solar power. Instead, he is pursuing fossil fuel development in the pristine waters of the Bahamas that provide fisheries, tourism, and quality of life to all. The Bahamas is home to some of the healthiest corals in the Western Hemisphere. ……DV

Posted – Thursday, March 21, 2013 08:18 PM EDT

The Bahamian government is allowing an oil company to conduct exploratory offshore drilling ahead of a referendum giving its citizens a say in the country’s future energy development.

The drilling would likely begin by early 2014 and be conducted by the Bahamas Petroleum Co. The operation would be near where Russian oil company Zarubezhneft is now drilling in Cuban waters in the Old Bahamas Channel south of the Andros Islands, which is next to Cuba’s exclusive economic zone with the Bahamas.

This would place another drilling operation less than 200 miles from Florida’s coast, which has at least one South Florida official concerned.

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat whose district runs from Kendall to Key West, said Thursday that he fears what would happen to Florida’s coast in the event of a spill in the Bahamas

“I am very concerned to learn that off shore oil drilling will take place in our front yard and in the middle of the Gulfstream,” he said in a statement e-mailed to The Reporter. “If the Bahamas insist on moving forward with this process, I hope we can share safety standards and best practices that we have learned over the years.”

Kenred Dorsett, the Bahamas’ minister of environment and housing, said the decision to move forward with drilling before the referendum is held makes sense because there is no point in holding the ballot initiative if the Bahamas does not have economically viable offshore oil fields.

“More particularly, we are not going to ask the electorate to vote on whether they want to develop an oil industry if there is no oil to begin with,” Dorsett said in a statement last week. “Thus, we need to find out first, through exploration drilling, whether we do indeed have oil in commercially viable quantities. If we don’t, then obviously it would be completely pointless, and a shameful waste of public funds, to have a referendum on the matter.”

Dorsett said a national oil industry could help the Bahamas stem the rise of its national debt, and said there is growing support among the population to at least find out how much oil there is in Bahamian waters.

“At a time when our national debt burden is becoming increasingly difficult to bear, the Bahamian people are understandably asking whether we should not be focusing more closely on the question of whether oil exists in the Bahamas in commercially viable quantities,” Dorsett said. “If it does, it would likely mean substantially greater revenues for our country. Indeed, the discovery of oil in the Bahamas would almost certainly prove to be economically transformative for our nation for many generations to come.”

He added that Russia looking for oil about 60 miles away “dictates that we hasten our own decision-making process as it pertains to oil exploration and environmental regulation here in the Bahamas.”

BPC executives praised the government’s decision.

The “announcement paves the way for an assessment of the potential of oil resources on the Bahamian side of the border,” Simon Potter, BPC’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The BPC is seeking a partner company to help look for the oil.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Bahamas hold up to 4.3 billion barrels of oil.

Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie’s Progressive Liberal Party is facing criticism from political opponents for changing his position on oil drilling. According to the Bahamian newspaper The Tribune, Dorsett just four months ago said no drilling would happen before the referendum, which isn’t expected to be held before 2015.

Dorsett, in his statement last week, promised that the nation’s regulations governing offshore oil exploration would mirror those enforced by countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia and Trinidad and Tobago.

He also recognized that offshore oil operations pose a threat to the multi-island nation’s beaches and marine life — a major draw to the country’s tourism-dependent economy.

The Russian drilling operation in Cuba — and the proposed operation in the Bahamas — is in 1,000 to 2,000 feet and is considered shallow-water drilling. By contrast, the 2010 BP/DeepWater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico happened at more than 5,000 feet below the ocean surface.

A failed deepwater drilling operation in the Florida Straits — about 70 miles from Key West — was even deeper. Several international oil companies, starting in early 2012, leased a Chinese-built, Italian-owned semi-submersible rig to drill the depths between the Keys and Cuba.

The operation worried both U.S. environmentalists and opponents of Cuba’s communist Castro regime. But in the end, none of the companies found enough oil to indicate the area is fertile for future energy exploration.

The Cuban government was hoping for a major find that would turn the nation from being a net-energy importer to an exporter. Cuba relies largely on oil imports from Venezuela.

Politico via Center for Biologic Diversity: Poll: President Obama voters don’t want Keystone


Politico, March 20, 2013

By Erika Martinson

Environmentalists armed with new poll numbers have a warning for President Barack Obama: Approving the Keystone XL pipeline would put him at odds with core members of his base.

The poll reveals an electorate deeply split on the Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, which is wildly popular among Republicans and almost equally unpopular among Democrats. A small majority of people overall either support the project or don’t know what to think, according to results provided to POLITICO.

But the Center for Biological Diversity, the group that commissioned the poll, says the president should pay attention to what his most fervent supporters are saying. Sixty-eight percent of people who voted for Obama want him to reject the pipeline, the poll found.

Opposition is especially strong among Obama voters age 18 to 29, according to the survey conducted by Public Policy Polling. More than 60 percent think he would be breaking his promises if he OKs the pipeline — and 16 percent would feel betrayed.

Of course, Obama has already won his second term and will most likely never face the electorate again. But he’s also spoken of his desire to keep his base fired up during his second term.

Keystone could put a quick kibosh to that, said Jerry Karnas, the environmental group’s national field director.

“This thing is a potential mass demoralizer for a large amount of Democrats,” Karnas said.

“Keystone is bad news for America, its wildlife and the future health of our climate — and the people who put President Obama in the White House know it,” he added.

Administration officials have repeatedly said they’ll make the pipeline decision based on facts and science. The White House stressed Tuesday that Keystone isn’t even on the president’s desk.

“In line with long-standing precedent, the State Department is conducting the assessment of the project,” White House spokesman Clark Stevens said. He added that Obama will pursue his promises to confront climate change at the same time that he supports efforts to increase U.S. energy independence.

Still, the poll’s findings offer a glimpse at some of the political considerations at play as the administration weighs its stance on Keystone, an issue that pits supporters’ promises of jobs and energy independence versus fervent opposition from climate activists.

Some people proffering advice for the president say approving the pipeline would be a smart move to the middle — for instance, a January editorial in the scientific journal Nature said it would “bolster his credibility within industry and among conservatives” as he pursues strong action on climate change.

But Karnas said Obama needs to think longer term.

“His legacy is really hanging in the balance right now,” Karnas said. “He’s looking a lot more like an oil and gas president than he is a solar, wind and innovation guy.”


This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton

NRDC Switchboard: Susan Casey-Lefkowitz’s Blog.. The State Department review shows Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest

by Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted March 11, 2013

A deeper dive into the State Department draft environmental review shows that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not needed. The energy security argument for the pipeline, always dubious, has evaporated to the point where even the State Department cannot find a reason to build it. The draft also confirms that the Keystone XL is not an economic recovery plan, since it will create only 35 permanent jobs and 3,900 construction jobs. It won’t help consumers since far from bringing new oil to the US, it is meant to relieve a glut and raise oil prices. Instead the State Department found that the project will benefit oil companies by giving them access to the higher oil prices in overseas markets, making new tar sands projects more worth their while. Yet, it is Americans who carry the risks of tar sands oil spills in our rivers and aquifers and worsening climate change. What the State Department got dead wrong is their mistaken assumption that Keystone XL would not drive tar sands expansion. The review used this assumption to get out of any meaningful consideration of the climate pollution from tar sands expansion, and in this time of worsening climate change that is not acceptable. Rejection of Keystone XL is an easy and necessary choice for America. As European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said, rejection of Keystone XL would send a strong message internationally that the US is serious about fighting climate change.

Let’s take a closer look at the draft environmental review:

Keystone XL’s 35 permanent jobs and 3,900 construction jobs are not an economic recovery plan

The State Department review once again shows how TransCanada, the American Petroleum Institute and other proponents of the pipeline have vastly overstated the number of jobs that will be created by Keystone XL. The State Department, based on TransCanada’s own numbers, shows that at the most 3,900 construction jobs will be created in building the pipeline with only 10% of the total workforce hired locally. Only 35 permanent jobs will be created by the pipeline. What is more, the State Department ignores the potentially negative impacts of pipeline spills, spills into freshwater supplies or increases in climate and other pollution on employment and the economy. Farming, ranching, and tourism are major sources of employment along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed route – approximately 571,000 workers are directly employed in the agricultural sector in the states along the Keystone XL corridor. Water contamination resulting from a Keystone XL spill, or the cumulative impact of spills over the lifetime of the pipeline, would have significant economic costs.

We can do better. As a result of our clean energy industry’s rapid growth and effective state and federal policies, clean energy projects and programs currently in progress are creating thousands of jobs in communities across the country without the risk. And many more shovel ready projects could be brought online if our policymakers are willing to send clear market signals and level the playing field for clean energy options to move forward.

Keystone XL’s path to export means less economic and energy security for the US, not more

The draft environmental review concedes that Keystone XL tar sands is mostly destined for export, confirming what we already know: that this is not a pipeline for US economic or energy security, but a project to spur tar sands expansion, raise oil prices and help the oil industry. The review acknowledges the trend of increasing exports from the Gulf Coast refineries. The State Department found that Gulf Coast refineries now export more than they supply to domestic markets and that the “increased volume of refined products is being exported by refiners as they respond to lower domestic gasoline demand and continued higher demand and prices in overseas markets.” This coincides with earlier documentation of the export goals of the tar sands industry for Keystone XL: that this pipeline is a way for the oil industry to access higher oil prices in overseas markets. And it also coincides with industry commentators, including a recent forecast that unrefined Canadian crudes may be exported from the US Gulf Coast soon.

Why this rush to export tar sands? It is commonly acknowledged by the oil industry and financial analysts that tar sands expansion is currently stalled due to the low prices for this very expensive to extract fuel. Without avenues for overseas export, the tar sands market is primarily the US Midwest and Rockies and Canada where there is currently a glut that has depressed oil prices. The draft environmental review acknowledges the glut and the impact that it has in lowering oil prices. What the oil industry wants is higher oil prices for its expensive to extract tar sands. Hardly a recipe for US economic security.

The draft review misses the mark on how Keystone XL will drive tar sands expansion

Contrary to the draft review findings, evidence shows that the Keystone XL pipeline will drive expansion of the tar sands. Industry analysts have repeatedly pointed this out, with most recently a statement from tar sands pipeline company Enbridge CEO that “if we can’t attract world prices, then we will ultimately curb energy development” in the tar sands. Pipelines to bring tar sands to deepwater ports are stalled. So, the State Department focused on rail as an alternative with a number of erroneous assumptions detailed in this blog by my colleague Anthony Swift. Once you accept that the Keystone XL pipeline will drive tar sands expansion, it means that the environmental and health impacts of that expansion need to be taken into account. This is a critical missing piece in the draft environmental review that the State Department needs to go back and correct.

Tar sands and tar sands pipelines are a threat to environment and health

The draft review takes a look at some of the impacts of tar sands and tar sands pipelines and inexplicably underestimates the very real damage from these impacts every time, while completely ignoring the damage in many situations. Here is a quick run-down:

The State Department acknowledges that the climate impacts of tar sands are higher than conventional oil, but does not take them into account: The draft environmental review acknowledges that tar sands oil has higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. After reviewing existing literature, the State Department found up to a 19% increase in well to wheels greenhouse gas emissions from the weighted-average mix of tar sands crudes expected to be transported in Keystone XL relative to the reference crudes in the near term. Canadian think tank Pembina Institute estimates tar sands climate pollution even higher with full life cycle tar sands emissions reaching up to 37% higher than a conventional oil baseline. And these estimates do not even tell the whole story as they do not yet take into account emissions from burning the tar sands byproduct of petcoke or the land use change greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands extraction from under Boreal forests and peatlands.
The State Department recognizes the unique risks of tar sands oil spills, but minimizes the impacts on US lands and waters: The draft environmental review does acknowledge the unique risks associated with diluted bitumen tar sands spills – as well as the fact that spill responders have yet to develop methods to address those risks. However, it does not adequately consider the demonstrated higher risk of pipeline failure due to external corrosion in high pressure tar sands pipelines or the safety problems that have plagued TransCanada’s earlier pipelines. Keystone XL would cross more than 1000 water bodies, including 50 perennial rivers or streams, and several aquifers, including the Ogallala. It also comes within a mile of approximately 2500 water wells.
The State Department does not address the concerns of Nebraska landowners. The new, proposed route in Nebraska still crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, Niobrara River, Platte River and over 200 bodies of water in Nebraska as well as countless private family wells without adequate analysis of the kind of damage a tar sands oil spill would have on farms and waters. Nebraskans have let the State Department know their concerns.
The draft review fails to show proper consultation with Tribal Governments. The State Department has repeatedly failed to fulfill its federal trust responsibility for government-to-government consultation with Indian tribes on the natural and cultural resource impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The draft review does not adequately consider environmental justice and refinery pollution issues. Low income and minority communities will be disproportionately impacted by Keystone XL and the draft environmental review failed to assess these impacts. The review concludes that tar sands oil will displace oil already being refined and therefore will not have increased pollution impacts in refinery communities. However, tar sands refining in the Gulf is likely to have additional and new impacts especially on public health. The State department has a duty to quantify air pollution from refining and analyze the health impacts on the low-income minority communities that are burdened by this significant health threat. In addition, the draft fails to address the oil spill impacts to low-income minority communities through which the proposed pipeline would run.
The State Department not only ignores the climate impacts of tar sands expansion, but also other environmental and health impacts in Canada. In erroneously concluding that Keystone XL will not have a major contribution to tar sands expansion, the State Department then neglects to consider the harm that tar sands extraction does to local community health and traditional way of life and to land, waters, wildlife and air. The draft review did include a summary of recent study finding toxic PAH loading in regional aquatic ecosystems. But it then failed to mention many other concerns including: the low-flow risks in the Athabasca River to due climate change and increased river water withdrawals for tar sands mines; the long-term toxicity risks from massive mining waste tailing ponds; the inadequate reclamation liability management; the risk that caribou will go extinct in the region as a result of rapid tar sands expansion; the inadequate environmental monitoring system; and the recent weakening in federal environmental laws and the permitting regime for pipelines and tar sands projects.

The draft review underestimates the climate and health impacts of tar sands byproduct petcoke

Another area where the State Department falls seriously short is in its assessment of a byproduct of tar sands refining – petcoke. Although the draft review discussed petcoke and referred to the new reports on petcoke climate pollution by Oil Change International and the Carnegie Endowment, it then neglected to take the additional carbon emissions from burning petcoke into account. The draft review got it wrong on several counts. It assumed that most of the petcoke was being stockpiled and not burnt when recent evidence shows that petcoke stockpiles are going down. The State Department argues that heavy oil refining capacity on the Gulf Coast, and the associated petcoke production, will not rise as a result of Keystone XL. This ignores that fact that massive expansions have already taken place (Total, Motiva) in anticipation of Keystone XL’s arrival. It also overlooks the fact that these refineries are exporting over half of their production and are therefore not constrained by shrinking US demand for petroleum products. Given that these refineries now primarily serve a growing world market, it cannot be ruled out that bringing additional heavy oil supplies to the area may send market signals for future heavy oil capacity expansions. The State Department’s analysis continues to assume that petcoke displaces coal ignoring the fact that the increasing supply of cheap petcoke, which sells for 25% less than coal, is making power generation cheaper and dirtier.

It also neglected to consider the health impacts of petcoke. Just recently, citizens raised concerns about black dust blowing off a mountain of petcoke on the Detroit riverbank near the Marathon tar sands refinery in a graphic illustration of a problem with processing tar sands in the US that went unaddressed by the State Department.

There is still time and opportunity to get it right

The draft environmental review is just a first step in a process of assessing the environmental impacts of Keystone XL and whether the project is in the national interest. We now have a public comment period starting and the Administration will be hearing from a concerned public about this project. With so many errors and omissions, the State Department needs to go back to the drawing board and get this analysis right. The US public deserves an honest assessment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

You can take action and let President Obama know that this review needs to go back to the drawing board at www.stoptar.org.

And for those who want to take a deeper look themselves, here is where to find some of the information referred to above in the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS):

Jobs: Section 4.10 Socioeconomics: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205612.pdf
Petcoke: Section 1.4 Market Analysis: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205654.pdf and Section 4.15 Cumulative Effects Assessment, pages 4.15-94 to 100: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205618.pdf
Export: Market Analysis, pp 1.4 – 1.15: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205654.pdf
Prices: Market Analysis, pp 1.4.7 – 1.4.8 and appendix C: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205654.pdf
Rail: Market Analysis: Increases in Rail Capacity, section http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205654.pdf
Climate: Appendix W: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205563.pdf
Tribal: Tribal Consultation Section 1.6-1 http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205652.pdf and Appendix E Record of Consultation http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205589.pdf
Pipeline safety: Potential Releases section 4.13 http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205621.pdf
Impacts in Canada: Environmental effects of oil sands development in Alberta (SEIS pp. 4.15-111) http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205618.pdf

Credo: 45 days to tell President Obama to reject Keystone XL


Please sign onto these comments. Thx DeeVon

March 15, 2013

This is our last chance to officially weigh in on the State Department’s latest sham review of Keystone XL. We need to go huge in urging President Obama to reject Keystone XL.
Sign the petition ►

Dear Friend,

On Friday, the State Department launched a 45-day official public comment period on the Obama administration’s latest sham review of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The clock is now ticking on what will likely be our last chance to officially weigh in on the “game over for the climate” Obama Tar Sands pipeline, before the president makes his decision later this year.

We need a response that will make clear to the Obama administration that Americans oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. That’s why we’ve set a goal of collecting 200,000 public comments against Keystone XL, the most public comments we’ve ever delivered during a single official comment period on an environmental issue.

Tell President Obama: Reject Keystone XL. Submit your public comment now.

The recently released Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that is the subject of these comments ignored the pipeline’s significant risk for toxic spills, ignored its catastrophic impacts on our climate,1 and ignored the clear consensus among financial analysts and oil executives who agree Keystone XL will make the difference in tar sands development.2

This assessment was simply a vehicle for the White House to see if we would be silent in the face of its misguided and cynical reasoning: that we should let the bankers and the oil companies profit while the planet inevitably burns. That Canadian tar sands are going to get burned anyway, so while the government’s chief climate scientist’s assertion that Keystone XL will spell ‘game over’ for the climate may be true,3 it is is essentially irrelevant.

This is coward’s logic. And we will not be silent in the face of it.

Tell President Obama: Reject Keystone XL. Submit your public comment now.

To be honest, it’s not clear if any amount of pressure through official channels will be enough to get the administration to change course. After yet another fatally flawed review of Keystone XL, and perhaps more shockingly, the revelation last week that the State Department is once again farming out its analysis to oil industry contractors paid by the likes of TransCanada,4 ExxonMobil and Koch Industries5, our faith in the Obama administration to listen to either science or the public is diminishing.

That’s why we have escalated our tactics by launching the Pledge of Resistance to Keystone XL where more than 51,000 people have already committed to engage in civil disobedience if President Obama takes the next step toward approval of Keystone XL.

But we have to do everything in our power to stop this thing. And that means going as big as we can during this official comment period, to convince President Obama to reject Keystone XL; so we do not need to escalate our tactics against it, and so we have a better shot at preserving a livable planet. Please submit a public comment urging President Obama to reject Keystone XL, and ask your friends to do the same:

Thanks for fighting Keystone XL.

Elijah Zarlin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
Sign the petition ►

1. “Another flawed environmental review on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” NRDC, 3/1/13
2. “Keystone Pipeline Decision May Influence Oil-Sands Development,” Bloomberg,3/7/13
3. “Game over for the climate,” James Hansen, New York Times, 5/9/12
4. “‘State Department’ Keystone XL Report Actually Written By TransCanada Contractor ,” Grist, 3/6/13
5. “Critical Part of Keystone Report Done by Firms with Deep Oil Industry Ties,” Inside Climate, 3/6/13

Scientific American: Will Canada’s Proposed Tar Sands Oil Pipeline Muck Up Its Pacific Coast?


Large cracks remain in the science assessing Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline Project
By Anne Casselman

WATER WAY: The Northern Gateway pipeline would traverse north-central Albert and British Columbia and cross 996 watercourses, of which 669 are fish-bearing, including the Nechako River pictured here.
Image: Andrew S. Wright/WWF-Canada

As controversy continues around the Keystone XL Pipeline that would snake through the U.S., a similar drama plays out north of the border. Canadian officials are deciding whether to green-light a pipeline that would carry a semiliquid hydrocarbon mix for 1,172 kilometers from Alberta’s tar sands over the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific coast of British Columbia. Near its proposed terminus, the proposal has met with public outcry and fierce opposition from the Coastal First Nations, a coalition of indigenous tribes.

Calgary, Alberta-based energy company Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would cross over 1,000 fish-bearing streams and bring 255 oil supertankers each year to the coastline, making the issue highly contentious in Canada’s famously outdoor-loving province. Of 1,161 British Columbians to give oral statements as part of the pipeline’s federal review process, only two were in favor of the project.

What’s more, the pipeline would be carrying an oil product that no one knows much about: diluted bitumen, or dilbit. University and government scientists emphasize an urgent need to fill the knowledge gaps surrounding what diluted bitumen is made of, how it reacts in the environment when spilled, and what its long-term biological effects are.

Answers to those questions are prerequisites to assessing the ecological risks posed by the eight such pipeline projects in Canada alone and to planning for an effective spill-response when things go wrong. “I think it’s fair to say, there’s been some purposeful denial that the bitumen is really something different,” says Steve Hamilton, an aquatic ecologist at Michigan State University who worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Enbridge in 2010 to remediate a diluted bitumen spill in Michigan-work that is still ongoing. “The science has not informed this cleanup very well. There’s a pressing need for research.”

Bitumen is a thick hydrocarbon, the “tar” in Alberta’s tar sands, the third largest deposit of hydrocarbons in the world. To flow through a pipeline, the tarlike bitumen is diluted with gas condensates or synthetic oils known as diluents. This mixture of bitumen and diluent is called diluted bitumen, or dilbit for short, but its precise formulation varies widely and is not publicly released.

Finding out what exactly is included under the umbrella term dilbit is an important first step in understanding this unconventional form of oil. “It’s not cast in stone exactly what dilbit is,” says Kenneth Lee, head of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) Center for Offshore Oil and Gas Energy Research in Nova Scotia. “The fate and behavior of the product-the character of the product when it’s spilled in the water-will depend on what the final formulation is,” Lee says. Next comes figuring out how dilbit behaves when it is spilled. “We have to understand the physical behavior of the oil before we can design the optimal cleanup technologies,” he adds.

The chronic, long-term effects of bitumen on an ecosystem present a similar blank, although the Michigan spill will provide some information. “In trying to identify research needs, one of the things that’s obvious is the lack of toxicity data,” says Peter Hodson, a fish toxicologist at Queens University in Ontario. “Neither dilbit nor gas condensates have been tested, and so far I’ve not been able to find any literature on the environmental impacts of those two products.”

Spilled dilbit
The past mishap provides some clues about what might happen. On Sunday, July 25, 2010, one of Enbridge’s pipelines in the U.S. sprung a leak near Marshall, Mich. By the time the spill was contained some three days later, some 20,000 barrels of diluted bitumen had leaked from the pipe and entered a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. At the time the river was in a flood stage, which slowed the oil’s transport downstream. Even then the oil contaminated a 65-kilometer-long stretch of river, overtopped several dams and deposited itself onto the vegetation in the flood plain. The contaminated flora had to be stripped away and taken to landfills, after detergents and water sprays wouldn’t budge the stuff. Ditto with surface soils; once spilled, the dilbit became heavier and thicker as the diluting component of the mix evaporated into the air. “When it loses the diluent it turns back to its original tarry nature and it sticks to things. It’s next to impossible to get off,” Michigan State’s Hamilton says.

Then there was the oil that became submerged in river sediments. “One of the big questions when we’re talking about dilbit is, does it float or does it sink?” DFO’s Lee says. “If you talk to Enbridge or some of the people in industry, they say, ‘well, it floats.’ You look at what happened in the Kalamazoo river, and it sank.”

The physical and chemical properties of oil products change as they are exposed to the open environment in a process known as weathering. Typically oils float, Lee says, but evidence from the Kalamazoo spill, and results of early lab tests, suggest that as dilbit interacts with fine particles suspended in the water column, like the sediments found in river water, it sinks. “Dilbit in its initial form for a period of days to weeks is not an unusual product,” says Jeff Green, a consultant to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and technical coordinator for its environmental assessment. “If it does take on heavy sediment loads and weathers, it can sink, and so it can become a nonfloating hydrocarbon.”

Knowing whether dilbit sinks or floats and under what environmental conditions remains a key step to planning an effective spill response. If dilbit sinks, what clean up strategies and technologies exist to recover it from the river bottom or ocean floor? In the Kalamazoo dilbit spill, Enbridge stirred up the river bottom to loosen and recover the oil.

Lee points out that this approach was not effective in conditions colder than 4.4 degrees Celsius, which could pose a problem in colder northern river systems. “In my mind, this is an unproven technique,” Hamilton says. The results of EPA-commissioned experiments testing its effectiveness last summer have yet to come in.

No one knows what fraction of the 3.1 million liters of spilled dilbit in Michigan became what has since been termed “submerged oil,” but it was enough to contaminate hundreds of acres of river sediment. Three years and nearly $800 million dollars of cleanup efforts later, Enbridge and the EPA still have more work to do. As a last resort, they will likely dredge the river bottom and dispose of the contaminated sediment in landfills this summer. “We’ve basically had to destroy the environment to recover the submerged oil,” Hamilton says.

The ecosystem has bounced back quite well, however. Along the river, fish, aquatic insects, birds or mammals appear healthy, Hamilton reports. “You have to remember that $800,000 and thousands of workers stripped every visible patch of oil off the landscape. So if it were in an environment where you couldn’t do that, then it wouldn’t be bouncing back like it is now,” he notes. “I can’t imagine what sort of environment that might be but it could be anywhere along the proposed route of the [Northern Gateway] Pipeline where you’ve got rugged terrain or rivers or steep gradients, or it could be in the port where it goes into deep bays. It would be next to impossible to clean up.”

And, even after this costly lesson, he points out that no one knows what causes the oil to sink, nor does anyone know its ecological cost, toxicity, environmental persistence or whether there are things that can be done to accelerate its biodegradation. “I believe that the world would have been better off if we had done some more focused directed research during the last couple years to ask these questions and get some answers,” Hamilton says.

Gateway to disaster?
In 2011 Canadian oil production reached 2.9 million barrels a day and by 2020 that number is expected to reach 4.2 million. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway alone would transport 525,000 barrels of dilbit daily, in addition to 193,000 barrels of imported condensate that would flow through a second pipe alongside leading back to the tar sands in Alberta.

“If we look at the historical record, it’s clear that Canada has never had a system of pipelines that are leakproof or spill-proof,” says Sean Kheraj, a historian at York University in Toronto. Kheraj points to the telling statistic that in 2010 Alberta’s pipeline network alone spilled 3.4 million liters of liquid hydrocarbon product (which is the fancy name for oil and gas products). “We can anticipate historically that there will likely be spills along any new pipeline network, whether it’s Keystone XL or Northern Gateway.”

In testimony to the Joint Review Panel assessing Northern Gateway back in September 2012 in Edmonton, Enbridge spill expert and economist Jack Ruitenbeek reported that the probability of a tanker, pipeline rupture or terminal spill-of any size, large or small-across the pipeline’s 50-year lifetime was 93 percent. The National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s Joint Review Panel that is currently assessing the environmental effects of Northern Gateway will reach their decision on the pipeline by the end of 2013.

But if the proposed pipeline spills in British Columbia, aquatic ecosystems along its path will be most at risk. “Once you get over the [Continental] Divide virtually every stream that would be crossed turns into a salmon-bearing stream. There are no streams that are of trivial significance from an ecosystem context,” says Mark Boyce, a fisheries and wildlife biologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “At the end, at the far reaches of these pipelines are the most pristine marine environments on the planet, and to go mucking that up is just outrageous.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: NOMINATIONS: Climate concerns steer Obama’s choices for EPA, DOE

Jason Plautz and Nick Juliano, E&E reporters
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013

Saying that fighting climate change and promoting clean energy will be second-term priorities, President Obama today officially nominated U.S. EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy to lead the agency and MIT physicist Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy.

“They’re going to be making sure that we’re investing in American energy, that we’re doing everything that we can to combat the threat of climate change, that we’re going to be creating jobs and economic opportunity in the first place,” Obama said at the White House this morning.

McCarthy currently heads EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, where she oversaw some of the agency’s most high-profile regulations during Obama’s first term. McCarthy steps in for Lisa Jackson, who departed the agency last month.

Moniz, who previously served as DOE undersecretary in the Clinton administration, replaces outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He has drawn some criticism from green groups for his views on hydraulic fracturing and nuclear power.

Obama also tapped Wal-Mart Foundation President and former OMB Deputy Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to lead the Office of Management and Budget (see related story).
Environmentalists welcomed the long-expected Energy and EPA picks and Obama’s promise to have them fight the threat of climate change through clean air regulations and clean energy. Announcing the picks today, Obama said the two would build on “the work that we’ve done to control our own energy future, while reducing pollution that contributes to climate change.”

But some Republican senators have expressed concerns over EPA operations and said they will be scrutinizing McCarthy’s record at the agency and her vision for its future. GOP senators also are taking a wait-and-see approach to Moniz as they probe his experience.

Both picks must be confirmed by the Senate, but no hearings have been scheduled.
Green groups said McCarthy’s nomination signals that the White House will not let up on its regulatory push. In the air office, McCarthy oversaw first-of-their-kind greenhouse gas and toxics rules for power plants, new restrictions on sulfur in gasoline, and tougher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

McCarthy also has a reputation for working well with the industries she is regulating and for doing the heavy lifting on complicated rules.

She previously served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, helping lay the groundwork for the multistate Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and held several positions as a Massachusetts regulator under then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R).

Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke praised McCarthy as a “good listener, a straight shooter and someone who has what it takes to build consensus and find solutions.”

“We can count on her to protect our environment and our health,” Beinecke said in a statement. “And she can count on our support as she works to get the job done on behalf of Americans everywhere.”
EPA has a lengthy list of regulations on deck, including finalizing rules on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants and Tier 3 rules limiting sulfur in gasoline. The agency is also expected to craft new greenhouse gas regulations for existing power plants, following through on a long-delayed promise.

“Every American is — or will soon be — breathing cleaner air because of McCarthy,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

“Breathers need McCarthy now more than ever as EPA prepares to tackle critical air quality challenges, including the need for smog-fighting lower-sulfur gasoline, updated national ozone air standards, and greenhouse gas standards for both new and existing power plants,” he added. “Dealing effectively with climate change is the challenge of a lifetime.”

Although there are sure to be questions about her role in overseeing new regulations, McCarthy has won praise from industry and utility officials for her willingness to listen to their concerns and work with them while crafting the rules (Greenwire, Feb. 12).
“Given that the recent rules arising under the Clean Air Act are some of the most expensive in EPA history, McCarthy has significant experience with wide-sweeping stakeholder contact,” said Scott Segal of Bracewell & Giuliani’s Policy Resolution Group.

“What many in industry appreciate about her style is her directness and openness to engagement with the regulated community,” he added. “Almost every large EPA rule has errors — both in policy and methodology. McCarthy listens and allows for the possibility of midcourse corrections.”

But in a statement, Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson called for the Senate to reject McCarthy because of her involvement in regulatory work and several agency “scandals.” Wilson said McCarthy was “unfit to run a Burger King, let alone a Cabinet-level agency that threatens our nation’s economy through its series of strange and bizarre regulatory rulings.”

McCarthy will likely face some uphill battles in being confirmed by the Senate. Environment and Public Works ranking member David Vitter (R-La.) has signaled that he is concerned about EPA’s transparency, citing several recent requests for more information on everything from ozone regulations to agenda publishing that have gone unanswered.

“The EPA is in desperate need of a leader who will stop ignoring congressional information requests, hiding emails and more from the public, and relying on flawed science,” Vitter said in a statement. “McCarthy has been directly involved in much of that, but I hope she can reverse those practices with Lisa Jackson’s departure. I look forward to hearing answers from her on a number of key issues.”

McCarthy’s nomination to the air post in 2009 was held up by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) over broader concerns about the administration’s climate policy. She was confirmed by voice vote after Barrasso lifted his hold.

Sources off the Hill said they would not be surprised to see Vitter or other Republicans on the EPW committee use McCarthy’s hearing to weigh in on upcoming regulations or the administration’s commitment to fight climate change.

Barrasso said in a statement this morning that he had “serious concerns about how the current EPA operates” and that he would “take a very close look at Ms. McCarthy’s experience at the EPA and her vision for the agency.”

Still, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a staunch EPA opponent, had praise for McCarthy, saying in 2009 that she “possesses the knowledge, experience and temperament to oversee a very important office at EPA” (Greenwire, June 2, 2009).
In a statement today, Inhofe said he is looking forward to “sitting down and talking with her to find common ground as I did with Lisa Jackson.”

EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had nothing but praise for McCarthy, saying that Obama “could not have picked a more qualified person to lead EPA at this critical time.”

Boxer promised to move forward with McCarthy’s nomination as soon as possible, although no plans for a hearing have been set.
Moniz, 69, shares Chu’s scientific background but will come to the job more familiar with Washington than his predecessor. During the Clinton administration, Moniz served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and as an undersecretary at DOE. While at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Moniz acted as an adviser on several Obama administration policies on nuclear waste, shale natural gas, and research and development.

“I think the most important thing he brings to the job by far is that he understands the interplay between science and politics,” said Elgie Holstein, who worked with Moniz in the Clinton administration and now is senior director for strategic planning at the Environmental Defense Fund. “He understands that science in Washington is not a given, and you have to make your case through the political process no matter what the issue is.”

Obama praised Moniz’s familiarity with Washington in announcing the nomination this morning.

“The good news is that Ernie already knows his way around the Department of Energy. … Most importantly, Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy, while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate,” the president said.
Obama called for the Senate to quickly confirm the nomination. Few red flags were immediately apparent, although Republicans on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee said they were taking a wait-and-see approach to Moniz.

“I’m willing to work with both DOE and the EPA to address the shared challenges we face, but it truly must be done in a way that recognizes the benefits of an energy supply that is not only clean, but also abundant, affordable, diverse and secure,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking member on energy, said in a statement this morning. “My support will depend on both nominees demonstrating that they can lead DOE and the EPA in a way that restores balance to these objectives.”

Republican senators are glad to see Moniz’s support for natural gas and nuclear but will be pressing for more information on his views toward oil and coal, said a GOP aide who requested anonymity. Moniz’s previous statements in favor of a carbon tax also likely will be a topic of discussion in committee hearings.

Aides to other Republicans on the committee, including Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), James Risch (Idaho) and Barrasso, said they were still reviewing Moniz’s credentials and withholding judgment until after the confirmation hearings but did not indicate any immediate problems.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, welcomed Moniz’s nomination and said he looks forward to discussing several pressing issues.

“That includes: re-engaging Dr. Moniz over the problems with cleaning up nuclear waste at the Hanford Site; finding creative ways to promote new technologies and harness the ingenuity of America’s energy innovators; and examining the diverse opportunities to attack climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy,” Wyden said in a statement.

Moniz’s support for natural gas and nuclear energy has raised concerns among some environmental groups (Greenwire, Feb. 22).

Several green groups welcomed his nomination today but made clear they would be looking for additional emphasis on promoting renewable energy over conventional sources.

Environment America Clean Energy Advocate Courtney Abrams said the group was “concerned” about where Moniz would lead DOE given his previous support for shale gas and nuclear power. She said she wants to hear Moniz commit to endorsing Obama’s calls for doubling renewable energy and boosting energy efficiency in the coming decades rather than tout gas and nuclear as tools to address global warming.

“We would like for the administration to move in the direction of solely focusing on renewable energy,” Abrams said in an interview this morning, pointing to DOE work like its Better Buildings and SunShot initiatives as programs that should be emphasized. “Environment America has made very clear our opposition to fracking and to nuclear power, so we would like to not move in that direction, absolutely.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune made a similar observation.

“In his role as Secretary of Energy, we urge Mr. Moniz to prioritize clean, renewable energy as climate solutions over destructive fossil fuels and boondoggles like liquefied natural gas exports,” Brune said in a statement. “We would stress to Mr. Moniz that an ‘all of the above’ energy policy only means ‘more of the same,’ and we urge him to leave dangerous nuclear energy and toxic fracking behind while focusing on safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar.”

The Environmental Defense Fund, which has been more supportive than other environmental groups of deploying natural gas as a bridge fuel, noted Moniz’s efforts to ensure that gas extraction does not harm the environment.

“Dr. Moniz has repeatedly observed that just because the environmental challenges of shale gas are manageable — that does not mean that they are yet managed,” EDF President Fred Krupp said in a statement. “As there is work that remains to be done to ensure the safety of communities living around oil and gas development, and to address the air pollution issues that go beyond the local neighbors, his perspective will be important in the national conversation.”

The industry-backed think tank Institute for Energy Research greeted Moniz’s nomination with a call for DOE to split from its previous practice of backing clean technologies with loan guarantees and other supports.

“Dr. Moniz will inherit an agency with a tarnished record for picking losers and not winners in the energy market,” IER President Thomas Pyle said in a statement. “It is our hope that Dr. Moniz will avoid opportunities to repeat the well-documented mistakes of his predecessor and refuse the temptation to let political pressure trump sound science and economics at the department.”

The Washington-based research firm ClearView Energy Partners predicted Moniz would tread a middle path on questions related to fossil fuel development and exports.

“We interpret the Moniz nomination as another administration acceptance of domestic natural gas (and oil) development,” ClearView said in a note to clients this morning, “but not a wholesale endorsement of expanded production or exports.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: State Dept. Releases Keystone XL Environmental Impact Statement


Published on Friday, March 1, 2013 by Common Dreams

Sierra Club expresses “outrage” over “deeply flawed analysis” that ignores “greatest threat to our children’s future: climate disruption”
– Jon Queally, staff writer

Tens of thousands gathered in Washington, DC on February 17th with one simple call to the Obama Administration: “Move forward on climate, Mr. President, and reject the Keystone XL pipeline.” (Photo: Reuters)

The US State Department on Friday afternoon released a newly updated draft of its Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which, if approved, would dramatically increase the extraction and transfer of Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf coast.

And as Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said in a late afternoon press call, “”You know the news is bad when it comes out at 4pm on Friday.”

The draft itself can be accessed here.

In response to the SEIS’ release, Brune released the following statement:

“The Sierra Club is outraged by the State Department’s deeply flawed analysis today and what can only be interpreted as lip service to one of the greatest threats to our children’s future: climate disruption.

“We’re mystified as to how the State Department can acknowledge the negative effects of the Earth’s dirtiest oil on our climate, but at the same time claim that the proposed pipeline will ‘not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects.’ Whether this failure was willful or accidental, this report is nothing short of malpractice.

“President Obama said that he’s committed to fighting the climate crisis. If that is true, he should throw the State Department’s report away and reject the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline.”

Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska joined other environmental leaders in rejecting the report’s conclusion that tar sands development would not be impacted by rejection of the pipeline.

“Tarsands does not expand unless Keystone XL is built,” Kleeb said. “The State Department’s assumption that tarsands development does not change with or without this pipeline is wrong and laughable. Why would TransCanada spend billions on building the pipeline and millions on lobbying unless this piece of infrastructure is the–not a–but the lynchpin for the expansion of tarsands. Without this pipeline Canada stays at 2 million barrels a day, with it they get 3 million barrels a day. The President has the ability to keep a million barrels of tarsands in the ground a day. With a stroke of a pen he can protect property rights, water and make a dent in climate change.”

“This report is laughable using the wrong assumption and therefore the wrong science,” she said.

350.org co-founder Bill McKibben agreed, saying that “everyone in Canada knows they cannot expand the Alberta tar sands the way they’d like to without the Keystone XL being built.”

McKibben added: “This is not the State Department’s finest hour.”

Acknowledging worries that the SEIS signals that the State Dept. would recommend and that Obama would ultimately approve the project, environmentalists said they would be ramping up their efforts in the coming days, weeks, and months.

“We’re going to help them [reject the pipeline] by mounting as much public protest as we can in the weeks ahead,” said McKibben.

Some quick key takeaways from the “Cumulative Impact” section include:

Potential impacts due to releases of crude oil. Releases could potentially impact groundwater where the overlying soils are permeable and the depth to groundwater is shallow. Analyses in Section 4.13 suggest that large crude oil releases that do reach groundwater systems (including the Ogallala Aquifer) could result in oil spreading on the water table as far as 1,214 feet, and dissolved components of the oil, such as benzene, could spread as much as an additional 1,050 feet.

35 to 50 permanent jobs and negligible earnings and other revenues.

Spills associated with the proposed Project that enter the environment are expected to be rare and relatively small. Industry standards and practices (including the 57 Project-specific Special Conditions developed by PHMSA) provide a level of protection above that of other pipeline systems in existence. Modeling shows that, exclusive of topography and groundwater flow, large spills (20,000 barrels) could spread up to 1,214 feet on the ground surface or on the water table, and up to 1,050 feet dissolved in groundwater. Spills reaching surface water could be transported greater distances.

Response was swift on twitter:

According to the introductory letter accompanying the draft (emphasis added):

Once the Draft SEIS is noticed in the Federal Register, a 45-day comment period will begin. As part of the Department’s process, members of the public, public agencies, and other interested parties are encouraged to submit comments, questions, and concerns about the project via e-mail to keystonecomments@state.gov, at http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov, or mailed to:

U.S. Department of State
Attn: Genevieve Walker, NEPA Coordinator
2201 C Street NW, Room 2726
Washington, D.C. 20520

After the end of the public comment period, the Department will prepare a Final SEIS.

Ultimately, a determination will be made on whether this project serves the national interest. The national interest determination will involve consideration of many factors, including: energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant federal regulations. As directed by Executive Order 13337, before making such a decision, the Department will also request the views of several agencies and officials, including: the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Though the EIS does not necessarily dictate whether or not President Obama will approve the project, its content will be a vital piece of information in signaling the direction the administration is heading. If favorable to the pipeline, fossil fuel industry lobbyists will call mark it as a victory.

But, in anticipation of the release, the environmental group 350.org, which just two weeks ago led tens of thousands of people in a march against the pipeline in Washington, tweeted:

As details of the report’s content become clear, the DeSmogBlog will be liveblogging the release here.

The timing of the draft assessment’s release, however, speaks volumes. As DeSmog’s Kevin Grandia notes:

[Releasing the EIS] late on a Friday – very typical when someone wants to put out bad news. This White House has used the tactic a lot. Another thing to note is that this isn’t just any Friday afternoon, it is also the day final day to reach a sequester deal in Congress. All eyes in the media are focused on that!

Ahead of the release, the Canadian Press, citing a source at 350.org, reported that the EIS “acknowledges that Alberta’s oilsands are carbon-intensive” it also “apparently makes clear that all modes of transportation are risky and the pipeline itself isn’t any more of a threat to the environment.”

If true, such an “analysis would mean that Calgary-based TransCanada has cleared a significant hurdle in its marathon bid to win approval for Keystone XL from the Obama administration.”

Earlier today, Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s climate commissioner made headlines by urging President Obama to take a leadership role in the fight against climate change by rejecting the pipeline project.

“If you had a U.S. administration that would avoid doing something that they could do, with the argument that in the time we are living in and with climate change we are faced with, we should not do everything we can do, then it would be a very, very interesting global signal,” Hedegaard told reporters.

“We can bail out banks, we can bail out member states, but you cannot bail out climate,” she said. “If we just say we must extract all the fossil fuels that we can find in the world, then it’s clear that it will not be possible to stay below the 2 degrees.”

“Nobody is doing enough,” she added. “Europe is not doing enough, the U.S. is not doing enough, China is not doing enough—all of us will have to do more.”


Common Dreams: 5 Reasons Why the Keystone XL Pipeline is Bad for the Economy

Published on Thursday, February 21, 2013 by Common Dreams


by Brendan Smith

The American labor movement is once again facing a most controversial issue — the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While the KXL debate has largely centered around the environmental risks, from labor’s perspective opening up the Canadian Tar Sands is often seen as an economic, not an environmental, issue. And it’s no wonder: Construction unemployment is double the national average and, from a worker’s perspective, Keystone jobs will be good-paying union jobs in an economy that increasingly offers up only minimum-wage service work.

As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explained last year, “mass unemployment makes everything harder and feeds fear. . . opponents of the pipeline [need to] recognize that construction jobs are real jobs, good jobs.” KXL advocates have worked hard to capitalize on this fear by arguing that labor must choose between creating jobs and protecting the planet.

While labor leaders weigh the pros and cons of building KXL, they should keep in mind that the pipeline is as much a threat to our economy as it is to our planet. After a year of extreme weather — at an extreme cost to the economy — this age old jobs vs. environment debate is emerging as a false choice. Hurricanes, floods, and droughts are already having a devastating effect on American jobs, and that is nothing compared to what will happen if we throw open the spigot to the tar sands from Canada, considered the dirtiest oil in the world.

Here are 5 reasons why building the Keystone pipeline is bad for the economy — and workers.

1. Building the Keystone pipeline and opening up the Tar Sands will negatively impact national and local economies: Burning the recoverable tar sands oil will increase the earth’s temperature by a minimum of 2 degree Celsius, which NYU Law School’s Environmental Law Center estimates could permanently cut the US GDP by 2.5%. At the same time state and local economies are already buckling under the real-time economic effects of our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. In the past two years, the vast majority of U.S. counties – 67 percent – were affected by at least one of the eleven $1 billion dollar extreme weather events. Superstorm Sandy alone caused an estimated $80 billion in damage. The drought that affected 80% of US farmland last summer destroyed a quarter of the US corn crop and did at least $20 billion damage to the economy.

2. The same fossil fuel interests pushing the Keystone pipeline have been cutting, not creating, jobs: Despite generating $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees over that period. In 2010 alone, the top five oil companies slashed their global workforce by 4,400 employees — the same year executives paid themselves nearly $220 million. But at least those working in the industry as a whole get paid high wages, right? Turns out that 40 percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations. Instead of bankrolling an industry that is laying off workers and threatening our economic future, isn’t it time to take the billions in subsidies going to oil companies and invest instead in a sector that both creates jobs and protects the planet?

3. Unemployment will rise: According to Mark Zandi, the Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics: “Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the job market in November, slicing an estimated 86,000 jobs from payrolls.” In the wake of Hurricane Irene, the number of workers filing unemployment claims in Vermont went from 731 before Irene to 1,331 two weeks afterwards. Hurricane Katrina wiped out 129,000 jobs in the New Orleans region — nearly 20 percent. For the U.S. economy as a whole, 2011 cost US taxpayers $52 billion.

4. Poor and working people will be disproportionately affected: KXL and projects like it result in disproportionately negative impact on already struggling working families. According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress called “Heavy Weather: How Climate Destruction Harms Middle- and Lower-Income Americans, lower-and middle income households are disproportionately affected by the most expensive extreme weather events. Sixteen states were afflicted by five or more extreme weather events in 2011-12. Households in disaster-declared counties in these states earn $48,137, or seven percent below the U.S. median income.

5. Building the sustainable economy, not the Keystone pipeline, will create far more jobs: Our nation is in desperate need of jobs. Approving the Keystone pipeline locks our nation into a trajectory of guaranteed job loss and threatens the stability of the US economy. Why keep the “job-killing” course, when the alternative-energy path is already out-performing other sectors of the economy. For example, the solar industry continues to be an engine of job growth — creating jobs six times faster than the overall job market. Research by the Solar Foundation shows a 13 percent growth in high-skilled solar jobs spanning installations, sales, marketing, manufacturing and software development — bringing total direct jobs to 119,000 in the sector. And according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, investment in a green infrastructure program would create nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas.

A study by Synapse Energy Economics developed a Transition Scenario for the electric power industry based on reducing energy consumption, phasing out high-emission power plants, and building new, lower-emission energy facilities. The study estimated the number of “job years” — one new worker employed for one year — that would be created by the Transition Scenario over a decade:

444,000 job-years for construction workers, equivalent to 44,400 construction workers working full time for the entire decade.
90,000 job-years for operations and maintenance workers, equivalent to about 9,000 full time workers employed over the decade.
3.1 million indirect jobs for people designing, manufacturing, and delivering materials and jobs in local economies around the country induced by spending by workers hired in the Transition Scenario.

Organized labor is right to demand that public policy pay attention to our desperate need for jobs. But the Keystone XL pipeline will only make our jobs crisis worse by making our climate crisis worse. Plus, there are lots of pipelines that need fixing. Construction workers can be put to work rebuilding our crumbling natural gas transmission pipeline system — this will create good union jobs and cut carbon emissions. And these same workers can rebuild our crumbling water infrastructure. If labor is going to fight for jobs, let’s fight for jobs that build the future we want for ourselves and our children, not ones that will destroy that future.
Brendan Smith

Brendan Smith is an oysterman and green labor activist. He is co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability and Global Labor Strategies, and a consulting partner with the Progressive Technology Project. He has worked previously for Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — both as campaign director and staff on the U.S. House Banking Committee — as well as a broad range of trade unions, grassroots groups and progressive politicians. He is a graduate of Cornell law school.

San Francisco Chronicle: Thousands protest Keystone XL pipeline

Stephanie M. Lee
Updated 8:28 am, Monday, February 18, 2013

Representatives from the Center for Biological Diversity join the protest in San Francisco.
Photo: Jessica Olthof, The Chronicle

Protesters rally in Justin Herman Plaza to protest the Keystone pipeline as part of a climate change issue.
Photo: Jessica Olthof, The Chronicle

Thousands of people rallied in downtown San Francisco on Sunday to urge President Obama to reject construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, an action they said would prove he is committed to fighting global warming.

The demonstration across from the Ferry Building was held at the same time as similar events in cities including Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles. The main event in Washington, D.C., drew tens of thousands of supporters in what was billed as the largest climate change rally in U.S. history.

Organizers of the San Francisco protest estimated that more than 4,000 people gathered to condemn the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which would run nearly 2,000 miles to connect Canada’s oil sands to refineries around the Gulf of Mexico. Because it would cross an international border, it requires Obama’s approval.

“We’re asking him to reject Keystone XL as one way to move forward on climate change,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, a conservation organizer with the San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club, which planned the event along with 350.org, the Natural Resources Defense Council and several other groups.

Opponents of the pipeline, including Democrats and environmentalists, argue the project could contaminate land and water along its route, particularly in Nebraska, and release high concentrations of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by increasing oil production from tar sands.

But proponents say the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, has agreed to obey 57 special conditions designed to keep the pipeline secure from leaks. The line would create thousands of jobs and strengthen the country’s energy independence, they contend.

Canada views Keystone as a crucial step in furthering oil production and growing its economy. It would be the longest oil pipeline outside Russia and China, able to transport more than half a million barrels of crude oil daily.
Have Obama’s back

But activists who rallied in San Francisco said Obama would be hypocritical to give Keystone the green light after promising in his inaugural address and State of the Union that he would work to combat climate change.

“I think he has his heart in the right place on climate change, but I think he’s going to have to show tremendous backbone to make any progress on this issue,” said Karen Kramer, 54, a lawyer and an artist in Oakland. “I hope for everyone’s sake he can find the backbone. We’re here to show him we have his back on this.”

Kramer and her mother, Joan Allen, 78, a retired adoption worker in Berkeley, were part of a crowd that marched around One Market Plaza. The block contains an office of the U.S. State Department, which is responsible for permitting infrastructure projects that cross a border.

They chanted and held signs with slogans such as “Stop Tar Sands,” “Tar Sands = Game Over For Us All,” “Stop Keystone XL” and “Climate Action: It’s Our Obligation.”
Preservation fight

They gathered in Justin Herman Plaza to listen to speakers who included San Francisco District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, who touted CleanPowerSF, the city’s proposed clean-energy program, and his call for the city’s retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies.

The speakers said that battling Keystone, along with pushing to reduce coal burning and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, was critical in preserving the environment for future generations.

That message resonated with Woody Little, 18, a UC Berkeley freshman who held a sign that read “Love Each Other, Love the Earth.” Born one day too late to vote for Obama in the last election, he said he wanted climate change to be one of the president’s achievements.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Why would we be accessing this deposit, these tar sands’ dirty oil, when there’s so much out there to be used already?”

Stephanie M. Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: slee@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @stephaniemlee

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Thousands-protest-Keystone-XL-pipeline-4286432.php#ixzz2LkMfzUIB

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat: Feds open to expanding oil-drilling protection for North Coast


Rachel and Richard have it right; go all the way to Oregon with the sanctuary boundaries. DV

Santa Rosa, California

Published: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.

Federal officials say they are open to suggestions from the public that more of the North Coast should be protected from offshore oil drilling under a proposed expansion of two marine sanctuaries.

“We want to know the scope of the area we should be looking at,” said Maria Brown, superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Brown and other sanctuary officials will attend the second of three public meetings on the sanctuary plan at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Point Arena, followed by the third meeting Wednesday in Gualala.

Officials are interested in the “boundary options” people might propose, as well as any “additional regulations” in the protected areas, Brown said.

Rachel Binah of Little River in Mendocino County, a longtime foe of offshore oil development, said the sanctuaries should extend to the Oregon border or beyond.

“I think the whole West Coast should be protected,” said Binah, who plans to attend both meetings.

Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Gjerde, who plans to attend the Gualala meeting, wants the sanctuaries to cover the entire Mendocino coast, an area he described as “pristine.”

Oil drilling is not “imminent this year” on the North Coast, but experience indicates the “only way to resolve it is to create permanent protection,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in December plans to more than double the size of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones sanctuaries, extending their northern border from Bodega Bay more than 60 miles north to Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.

The expansion, which does not need legislative approval, affords coastal waters permanent protection from energy development, officials say.

The proposal got a warm reception last month at the first public meeting in Bodega Bay.

Officials said the “scientific justification” for the proposed expansion is that it would protect a biologically rich upwelling system that starts at Point Arena and sustains an abundance of fish, birds and mammals along the Sonoma Coast and down to the Farallon Islands outside San Francisco Bay.

Former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who retired this year, embraced the sanctuary expansion plan backed by the Obama administration, acknowledging she could not get it through the House and Senate.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Binah, a Democratic National Committee member. But Binah said it was “kind of a slap in the face” that the proposal only goes to Point Arena.

Binah’s opposition to oil drilling dates back to a 1988 public hearing in Fort Bragg where more than 2,000 people protested an Interior Department plan to open 1.1 million acres of the North Coast to oil and natural gas development.

Binah said it became known as “the day California said no” and made the state’s offshore oil fight a national issue.

Four years later, then-Rep. Leon Panetta, R-Carmel Valley, got the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary authorized, covering 276 miles of the coast south of the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary.

“We got nothing,” Binah said.

Gjerde, whose supervisorial district covers the coast from Caspar to Humboldt County, said he was a Fort Bragg High School student in 1988 and covered the anti-oil protest for the school newspaper.

He said he will offer a resolution calling for the entire coast to be included in the sanctuaries at the Mendocino County Board of Supervisor’s Feb. 26 meeting.

Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said his group’s members have expressed no interest in tapping North Coast oil deposits.

“I don’t think there is much oil there,” he said.

But Richard Charter, a veteran oil drilling opponent, said the industry has eyed oil deposits offshore from Bodega Bay, Sea Ranch, Point Arena, Fort Bragg and the Lost Coast in Humboldt County.

Those deposits are in a geologic formation called Monterey shale and would be tapped by the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing known as fracking, Charter said.


You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

The Maritime Executive: Transocean Pleads Guilty to Criminal Conduct Leading to Deepwater Horizon Disaster

February 14, 2013

The world’s largest offshore drilling contractor has been sentenced to pay $400 million in criminal penalities
By MarEx

PHOTO: United States Environmental Services workers prepare oil containment booms for deployment following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spil – April 2010.

Second Corporate Guilty Plea Obtained by Deepwater Horizon Task Force, Second-largest Criminal Clean Water Act Fines and Penalties in U.S. History

Transocean Deepwater Inc. pleaded guilty today to a violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) for its illegal conduct leading to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and was sentenced to pay $400 million in criminal fines and penalties, Attorney General Holder announced today.

In total, the amount of fines and other criminal penalties imposed on Transocean are the second-largest environmental crime recovery in U.S. history – following the historic $4 billion criminal sentence imposed on BP Exploration and Production Inc. in connection with the same disaster.

“Transocean’s guilty plea and sentencing are the latest steps in the department’s ongoing efforts to seek justice on behalf of the victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” said Attorney General Holder. “Most of the $400 million criminal recovery – one of the largest for an environmental crime in U.S. history – will go toward protecting, restoring and rebuilding the Gulf Coast region.”

“The Deepwater Horizon explosion was a senseless tragedy that could have been avoided,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Eleven men died, and the Gulf’s waters, shorelines, communities and economies suffered enormous damage. With today’s guilty plea, BP and Transocean have now both been held criminally accountable for their roles in this disaster.”

Transocean’s guilty plea was accepted, and the sentence was imposed, by U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo of the Eastern District of Louisiana. During the guilty plea and sentencing proceeding, Judge Milazzo found, among other things, that the sentence appropriately reflects Transocean’s role in the offense conduct, and that the criminal payments directed to the National Academy of Sciences and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are appropriately designed to help remedy the harm to the Gulf of Mexico caused by Transocean’s actions. The judge also noted that the fines and five year probationary period provide just punishment and adequate deterrence.

Transocean pleaded guilty to an information, previously filed in federal court in New Orleans, charging the company with violating the CWA. During the guilty plea proceeding today, Transocean admitted that members of its crew onboard the Deepwater Horizon, acting at the direction of BP’s well site leaders, known as “company men,” were negligent in failing to investigate fully clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well.

The criminal resolution is structured to directly benefit the Gulf region. Under the order entered by the court pursuant to the plea agreement, $150 million of the $400 million criminal recovery is dedicated to acquiring, restoring, preserving and conserving – in consultation with appropriate state and other resource managers – the marine and coastal environments, ecosystems and bird and wildlife habitat in the Gulf of Mexico and bordering states harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This portion of the criminal recovery will also be directed to significant barrier island restoration and/or river diversion off the coast of Louisiana to further benefit and improve coastal wetlands affected by the spill. An additional $150 million will be used to fund improved oil spill prevention and response efforts in the Gulf through research, development, education and training.

Transocean was also sentenced, according to the plea agreement, to five years of probation – the maximum term of probation permitted by law.

A separate proposed civil consent decree, which resolves the United States’ civil CWA penalty claims, imposes a record $1 billion civil Clean Water Act penalty, and requires significant measures to improve performance and prevent recurrence, is pending before U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The charges and allegations pending against individuals in related cases are merely accusations, and those individuals are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The guilty plea and sentencing announced today are part of the ongoing criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force into matters related to the April 2010 Gulf oil spill. The Deepwater Horizon Task Force, based in New Orleans, is supervised by Assistant Attorney General Breuer and led by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John D. Buretta, who serves as the director of the task force. The task force includes prosecutors from the Criminal Division and the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, as well as other U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; and investigating agents from: the FBI; Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigative Division; Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Inspector General; Department of Interior, Office of Inspector General; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement; U.S. Coast Guard; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

This case was prosecuted by Deepwater Horizon Task Force Director John D. Buretta, Deputy Directors Derek A. Cohen and Avi Gesser, and task force prosecutors Richard R. Pickens II, Scott M. Cullen, Colin Black and Rohan Virginkar.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Hilton Head Island Packet: Beaufort mayor: Offshore oil drilling ‘potentially detrimental’ for Lowcountry


Published Thursday, February 14, 2013

Talk of offshore drilling strikes some in the Lowcountry as an unnecessary risk to the environment and tourism industry.

“Why would we risk and threaten the golden egg when there is no seeming emergency and when it has a potentially detrimental environmental impact that would kill that golden egg of tourism?” Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said.

Keyserling said he would rather invest in South Carolina’s wind and mainland natural gas industries than expose the coastline to oil-spill disasters like the Gulf Coast has faced.
“I think it poses an undue threat to the quality of life to the people who live here and the people who visit here and those who want to live here,” he said.

Hilton Head Island Mayor Drew Laughlin said he would need more details about the locations of the drill sites and regulations governing them before making up his mind about the issue.

“Experience shows us that there are risks associated with offshore drilling,” he added. “Just ask the people in the Gulf.”

Read more here: http://www.islandpacket.com/2013/02/14/2381228/beaufort-mayor-offshore-oil-drilling.html#storylink=cpy




McCrory among 3 govs that want offshore oil drilling

Posted: Feb 15, 2013 8:35 AM PST
Updated: Feb 15, 2013 8:35 AM PST
By WNCT STAFF – email

Governor Pat McCrory is teaming up with other governors to begin offshore drilling.

And he’s hoping the federal government will join in.

McCrory made that clear in a letter to President Obama’s administration. Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley are both on board.

They want the administration to revise its current policy to one committed to taking advantage of our natural resources, as long as we do it safely.

The governor says energy production off our shores would create 140,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

C&C Reporter: KEYSTONE XL: 43 arrested at White House pipeline protest

Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chanting and wearing protest buttons, 43 activists were arrested today after zip-tying themselves to White House gates to oppose approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The group that gathered in Lafayette Park this morning to press President Obama to reject TransCanada’s permit for the proposed pipeline included leaders of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and 350.org, and well-known activists including NASA scientist James Hansen, Robert Kennedy Jr. and actress Daryl Hannah.

Shortly before noon, they moved to the sidewalk in front of the White House to sit on the pavement or chain themselves to the fence, chanting slogans such as “Barack Obama, yes you can/stop the dirty pipeline plan.”

After three warnings, U.S. Park Police began to make arrests.

The mostly middle-aged protesters and their supporters wore buttons printed with “NO KXL” — the O’s featuring the Obama campaign logo of a rising sun.

The protesters said Obama wanted them there, pushing him to make the “right” decision this year to reject the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline, which they said would make the lofty climate-mitigation goals he expressed during last night’s State of the Union address all but impossible to achieve.

“The president’s just starting his second term,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, which today broke a 120-year tradition of not engaging in illegal protests to take part in the action. “We want to make sure his ambition meets the scale of this challenge.”

Brune said that the president made “a good speech,” but that he needed to take action. “You can’t necessarily solve climate change with a single speech,” he said. “The president has an enormous amount of executive authority that he has not yet utilized.” He urged the president to move quickly on environmentalists’ top two objectives for the second term: an aggressive greenhouse gas rule for existing power plants and rejection of the pipeline permit.

The State Department will make a recommendation on a supplemental environmental impact statement for the pipeline’s new route in the coming months, though Obama will have the final say on whether the project goes forward.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said he was engaging in civil disobedience for the first time.

“I think that with the appointment of Secretary [John] Kerry now at the State Department, things may look good for the cancellation of Keystone XL,” he said. The former senator and ardent climate action proponent took over the top diplomatic post earlier this month. “But having said that, we still have to apply the pressure,” he said. He noted that Canada and the oil industry are both pressing the administration to grant the Keystone permit. The American Petroleum Institute is touting its own research today that it says shows a groundswell of support for the project (see related story).

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, an activist group, said that disobedience is an appropriate tool to use.

“Sometimes it’s important to do civil disobedience because it’s the way we underline the moral certainty of the questions that we face,” he said.

Julian Bond, civil rights leader and chairman emeritus of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he participated in the action on his own behalf. “All these movements tend to learn from each other,” he said. “They borrow from each other, they learn from each other’s tactics.”

He said he was particularly concerned about the effect climate change might have on the health of residents in poor neighborhoods.

Hannah, dressed in a military-style jacket with an anti-Keystone XL patch embroidered on the shoulder, said the pipeline would allow the high-carbon Canadian oil sands development to expand.

“They can’t put it for sale on the global market unless it gets to a coast somewhere,” she said.

Today was the actress’s fifth arrest for civil disobedience. “It gets people to think deeper about these issues, to look deeper, to do their homework,” she said. “It’s the last stand.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

New York Times GREEN COLUMN: Deep-Sea Drilling Muddies Political Waters


Jin Liangkuai/Xinhua, via Associated Press

A deep-water drilling rig in the South China Sea operated by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or Cnooc.

Published: February 6, 2013

AUSTIN, Tex. – The oceans deep are a repository of many secrets. Shipwrecks have existed undisturbed for centuries, as have corals and fish of almost unimaginable diversity.

Now, increasingly, the secrets of the seabed are being looked at by companies drilling for oil and minerals. International geopolitics and the environment are getting more muddled as a result.

“Deep-sea drilling is expensive and hard, and the technology wasn’t there until very recently,” said Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States. Now, major powers are vying for drilling rights in places like the East China Sea, where the tussle is between the two largest energy consumers in Asia: China and Japan. Tensions there flared this week when Japan said China had recently aimed military targeting radar at one of its ships near disputed islands.

The drilling industry continues to move toward deeper waters and new deposits. In the Gulf of Mexico, drilling is now occurring beneath as much as 8,000 to 9,000 feet, or about 2,400 to 2,700 meters, of water, according to Mike Lyons, general counsel of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. The Deepwater Horizon rig, by contrast, was drilling in about 5,000 feet of water in the gulf when it exploded after a blowout nearly three years ago.

Technology has accelerated the move toward deeper waters. “A lot of the drilling now in the Gulf of Mexico is done with drill ships, as opposed to conventional drilling platforms that people have used in the past,” Mr. Lyons said. The ships can inhabit deeper waters and be stabilized over a drill site with the aid of sophisticated computers, he said.

Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director for energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis, said that the industry’s advances into deeper water had been steady but incremental.

With the increased capability comes increased scrutiny, especially after events like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident and a 2011 oil leak off of Brazil, as well as a natural gas leak last year at a North Sea drilling platform about 150 miles, or 240 kilometers, off Aberdeen, Scotland.

Ms. Jaffe said that drillers had perhaps viewed deep-water operations as too routine. “I think that we were a little blasé about how hard it is to do,” she said. “And maybe the industry is now grappling with the difference between 2 percent tolerance and 0 percent tolerance” for mistakes. Zero percent may be the new model, especially in places that have recently experienced public outcries over spills, including Australia, Brazil and the United States, she said.

Shell’s difficulty in drilling in Arctic waters off Alaska further illustrates the technological challenges of operating in new, often adverse settings.

The industry is eager to “get access to these fragile and complicated areas” like the Arctic, said Frederic Hauge, president of the Bellona Foundation, an environmental group based in Oslo. But the risks are immense, he said, adding that in Norway, he felt that companies lacked adequate emergency response plans for their far-afield rigs.

As technology helps propel the industry further offshore, geopolitical difficulties are intruding. Many countries have overlapping maritime boundaries. Lebanon and Israel have disputed claims in the natural-gas-rich eastern Mediterranean Sea. The United States and Mexico have also had differences over rights in the Gulf of Mexico, though they signed a cooperation agreement a year ago on drilling.

In the East China Sea and the South China Sea, disputes continue as China, with its rising energy appetite, clashes with its neighbors over drilling rights and sovereignty claims.
“If these were uncontested regions, I’m sure people would have gone forward already” with drilling, said Ms. Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Should the drilling industry venture into even deeper waters, additional political complications await. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed by more than 150 countries – though not by the United States – gives the International Seabed Authority, based in Jamaica, oversight of mineral exploration in waters that lie beyond a country’s so-called exclusive economic zone, which typically extends 200 nautical miles, or 370 kilometers, from shore.

Adam Cook, a marine biologist with the seabed agency, said that while the group had agreed to 17 exploration contracts with companies, most of those companies were looking for minerals like manganese nodules, which are rock formations. So far, none are after oil or natural gas, and the consensus is that there is “unlikely to be any drilling for oil and gas beyond national jurisdiction in the near future,” Mr. Cook said in an e-mail.

A version of this article appeared in print on February 7, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Bloomberg News: Fracking Seen by EPA as No. 2 Emitter of Greenhouse Gases


Well, another good reason to oppose fracking.

By Mark Drajem on February 06, 2013

Natural gas and oil production is the second-biggest source of U.S. greenhouse gases, the government said, emboldening environmentalists who say tighter measures are needed to curb the emissions from hydraulic fracturing.

In its second-annual accounting of emissions that cause global warming from stationary sources, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the first time included oil and natural- gas production. Emissions from drilling, including fracking, and leaks from transmission pipes totaled 225 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents during 2011, second only to power plants, which emitted about 10 times that amount.

Gas and oil production “is an area where we have technological answers to our problems,” Michael Levi, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said in an interview. “We know how to fix many of these problems; we just need to make the decision to do it.”

The EPA yesterday released on its website details of emissions from about 8,000 factories, power plants and refineries. Two coal-fired power facilities owned by Atlanta- based Southern Co (SO). topped the list, followed by one owned by Energy Future Holdings Corp (TXU). of Dallas.

In total, power plants emitted 2,221 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011, down 4.5 percent from 2010, according to the agency. The EPA report showed the benefits of fracking, as it attributed the reduction to cuts in coal use and increased use of gas as fuel by electricity generators. There was also an increased use of power from renewable sources such as solar and wind, the agency said.

Top Emitters
“This report confirms that major carbon reductions from power plants wouldn’t be possible without a reliable and affordable supply of domestically produced natural gas,” Simon Lomax, research director at Energy in Depth, an industry group, said in an e-mail.

The EPA report on oil and gas looked at emissions from basins, or large production areas, not individual wells. Among the top emitters were ConocoPhillips (COP)’ operations in the San Juan basin in New Mexico, and Apache Corp (APA).’s operations in the Permian basin in Texas. Both companies are based in Houston.

“ConocoPhillips continues to seek out ways to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions,” Daren Beaudo, a spokesman for the company said in an e-mail. The company is working to cut methane venting with gas conservation and waste-heat recovery, he said.
Apache has been growing rapidly in the Permian basin, where it’s now the second-largest producer, Bill Mintz, a spokesman for the company, said in an interview. “We have done some infrastructure projects that improved our emissions performance in 2012.”

Proposed Regulations
The EPA has already proposed regulations to curb emissions from new power plants, setting a standard that would preclude the construction of new coal-fired facilities that don’t capture and sink underground the carbon coming from their smokestacks. Once those rules are finished in the coming weeks, the EPA must move to establish similar rules for existing power plants.

Environmental groups have asked the agency to establish standards to prevent methane leakages from the drilling, fracking and transport of oil and gas. The boom in that production in states such as Pennsylvania and North Dakota means that those rules are necessary, according to environmental groups. Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide, but it’s more efficient at trapping radiation, making its short-term impact 20-times greater than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

“Reducing fugitive methane emissions is a top priority because they are so powerful” a force for global warming, said Mark Brownstein, managing director of the Environmental Defense Fund in New York. “You want to make sure the goose is laying what approximates golden eggs.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Guardian, UK: Fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks are still rising


New OECD data reveals a system of fossil fuel subsidies and taxes that is horribly overcomplicated and illogical

Duncan Clark
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 February 2013 07.39 EST

Miners at Hungary’s last remaining deep-cast coal mine at Markushegy, 70 km west of Budapest, January 23, 2013. Photograph: LASZLO BALOGH/REUTERS

Last week the OECD published two new reports which shine a light on our complex and confused relationship with fossil fuels. The first looks at how we subsidise them, the second at how we tax them. The picture they paint can be summed up in two words: tangled mess.

Looking first at subsidies, the principle take-out is that government support for oil, coal and natural gas is still increasing across the developed world, despite promises to turn the situation around. Indeed, after dipping with the wider economy in 2009, the total value of subsidies or tax breaks received by those extracting or burning fossil fuels climbed relatively steeply and by 2011 was approaching the pre-crash peak of more than $80 billion.

Government support for fossil fuels

As the graph shows, coal subsidies are gradually waning, but increases in oil and gas support have more than made up for that.

In some cases, governments directly help the oil, coal and gas sector through policies such as wage subsidies, liability limitation or below-market-rate access to government goods and services. But much of the support included in the OECD’s analysis consists of fossil fuels being sold at a lower tax rate than is charged on other goods. Examples include ‘red diesel’ used in agriculture and VAT discounts for domestic electricity and heating fuel. The graph below shows that these consumer-focused forms of support make up the majority of the total. (The split is more even in countries with big fossil fuel sectors.)

Government support for fossil fuels by type of policy

If heating fuels and home electricity currently receive tax breaks in many countries, the situation is quite different for vehicle fuels. The OECD’s second report – Taxing Energy Use – shows that on average transport accounts for a remarkable 85% of energy-related tax revenue despite making up just 23% of total energy use and 27% of CO2 emissions.

Transport fuels in OECD nations

But these averages conceal a huge disparity in the actual rates applied in different countries. The graph below shows the average tax rate on transport fuels across the 34 OECD nations, expressed as an effective carbon tax – i.e. the tax rate paid by consumers relative to each unit of CO2 that the fuels will release.

Two things jump out here. One is the remarkable difference between those at the top and the bottom of the table. The rate in the UK, for example, is around 15 to 20 times higher than the federal rate applied in North America. The gap would close a bit if American state taxes were included but from a quick glance at the figures, it looks like the difference would still be almost an order of magnitude between the US and UK.

Tax rates for vehicle fuels

The other thing that jumps out from this graph is that many countries are already charging an effective carbon tax of more than ¤200 per tonne on their vehicle fuels. In Britain it’s closer to ¤300 – way more than almost anyone is talking about in terms of climate policy. On one level, that’s a positive story, as it illustrates that when it’s introduced incrementally and combined with energy-efficiency improvements, a very high carbon tax doesn’t have to be scary.

On the other hand, it’s worrying to see that North Americans are used to paying almost no fuel tax. It’s a reminder how crucial it is to start upping carbon taxes now, because there’s such a long way to go and the increase will be much more politically plausible and economically manageable if introduced gradually. (As Nigeria showed at the beginning of last year, big overnight increases in fuel tax can lead to social breakdown and policy U-turns.)

While the difference in fuel tax between nations is striking, also interesting is the gap between specific fuels within nations. Across the OECD, for example the tax per unit of CO2 is a huge 37% lower for diesel than it is for petrol. Yes, diesel engines are more efficient and achieve more miles per unit of carbon emitted, but that’s not a good reason for taxing those emissions any less. (If anything, it’s a reason for taxing them higher, because for each unit of carbon emitted, a diesel car will create more local air pollution and road use.)

But even diesel looks heavily regulated next to aviation fuel, which is exempt for most international travel and subject to a low rate even for domestic flights in most countries. The OECD estimates a typical rate of just ¤23 per tonne of CO2 emissions – approximately a tenth of the figure for petrol. (The rate would be lower still if the global warming impacts of vapour trails and other non-CO2 impacts were factored into the equation.)

Looking at both reports, the picture that emerges is a horribly overcomplicated and illogical system, both within and between nations. Things would be a lot clearer, greener, less distorting and fairer if a single carbon tax was applied across all fuels, sectors and – ultimately – countries. There’s no reason someone on a low income in a rural area making an unavoidable trip by car should pay a higher tax rate than a wealthy person heating a mansion, a banker hopping between meetings in a plane or indeed a farmer growing out-of-season tomatoes in a heated greenhouse.

As James Hansen and others have argued, the simplest and most complete approach to taxing carbon would be for nations to apply a consistent tax at the point where the fuel comes out of the ground or gets imported from overseas. If that happened, it would need to be introduced in parallel with greater efforts to insulate homes and protect vulnerable householders from higher heating bills. But under Hansen’s plan – which involves sharing the revenues of the carbon tax equally between citizens – those who don’t use much fuel would end up better off anyway.

It took 700 pages for the OECD to map out the developed world’s fiscal relationship with fossil fuels. A better system could be expressed in a few sentences.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Guardian UK: Al Gore backs growing fossil fuel divestment campaign


A US campaign to encourage universities and cities to drop their investments in fossil fuel companies is gaining momentum

Carey L. Biron for IPS, part of the Guardian Environment Network
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 February 2013 05.19 EST

Al Gore is backing a US campaign of divestment in fossil fuel companies. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

A months-old national campaign to convince U.S. colleges, universities and city governments to withdraw investments from the world’s largest oil and gas companies has seen some notable initial successes.

On Tuesday, a city supervisor in San Francisco introduced resolutions calling on the city’s retirement fund to “divest” all money it has in fossil fuel companies and gun manufacturers. That followed a significant recent decision by the city of Seattle’s two-billion-dollar retirement fund to actively shed its stocks in companies that contribute to climate change.

And Wednesday, former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, a prominent climate activist and Harvard alum, sided with a strengthening campaign to get that school to back out of its oil and gas investments.

“If I were a student, I would support what you’re doing,” Gore told students, speaking on campus at Harvard. “But if I were a board member I would do what I did when we took up the Apartheid issue. This is an opportunity for learning and the raising of awareness, for the discussion of sustainable capitalism.”

In fact, the divestment movement here in the U.S., which has burgeoned following the November presidential election, took its inspiration from the anti-Apartheid experience.

“During the 1980s, 155 schools came out against the South African Apartheid, and so we’re modelling a lot of what we’re doing now on that,” Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, an advocacy group that has spearheaded the divestment push, told IPS.

“So, it made perfect sense for us to start with universities, as these institutions have a special responsibility to make their investments live up to their missions. Many have publicly committed to sustainability and solving the big issues of the day, yet many are still putting tens of millions of dollars into companies that are wreaking havoc on the planet.”

Hampshire College, a small school in Massachusetts, was the first to follow the campaign’s lead; in 1979, it was also the first school in the United States to divest from South African holdings. Two more colleges have now followed suit.

While these are each small and notably progressive schools, Henn reports that student groups have sprung up around the issue on the campuses of at least 230 schools, including at each of the elite Ivy League schools and several large state schools. At least 20 institutions have now started processes to look at divestment options.

“We’ve been blown away by how quickly the campaign has spread – right now it’s the fastest-moving student environmental campaign of the past decade, maybe ever,” Henn says.

“And an increasing number of students are also increasing pressure on politicians to take action. Look at these numbers – Harvard’s endowment is 32 billion dollars. That perks up the ears of a lot of people.”

The Harvard administration was initially cold on the idea of divestment, however, reportedly refusing for months to agree to a meeting between the school president and student representatives on the issue. But following a concerted campaign – and a campus-wide referendum in which nearly three-quarters of students voted in favour of divestment – recent weeks have seen a significant softening of tone.

“Finally, at the end of the semester, the administration felt enough pressure to agree to a meeting with a couple of members of the school’s board, and that took place last Friday,” Alli Welton, a co-coordinator of Divest Harvard, a student group, told IPS.

“In that meeting, the board members said they were very concerned about climate change, but questioned whether divestment would have a significant impact on the issue. However, they also noted that doing so wouldn’t have a large impact on the school’s endowment.”

Indeed, that latter contention is supported by a recent report by Aperio Group, an investment management firm, which found that divesting of climate change-related holdings would bring with it remarkably little risk for university endowments.

Welton notes that negotiations between students and the administration are going to continue (“That’s pretty good after a semester of not talking to us”), with a decision slated for February 15. While she says she’s “very encouraged” by the administration’s new willingness to talk, Welton refers to a far larger impact on the student body.

“I’ve never seen anything like this happen around climate change on campus – it seems like students know a lot more about this issue and are feeling its urgency,” she says. “It really feels as though divestment is a very clear way that we can effect change.”

Critically for such a large issue as climate change – and one on which many activists have repeatedly felt let down by failures at the national and international levels to agree on substantive long-term solutions – Welton notes that organising around investments makes a massive issue feel more immediate.

“These local-level initiatives make climate change more accessible for people, and make it more possible for them to get involved,” she says. “We can see very clearly that we’re part of something gigantic, and that definitely creates identity for a national and even international movement.”

According to 350.org’s Henn, the second phase of the organisation’s divestment strategy will focus on city governments and pension funds. In this, Seattle’s actions have already become a model of sorts.

Led by the city’s mayor, Mike McGinn, in turn responding to exhortations by 350.org, last month Seattle’s retirement and pension funds reported that they had some 17 million dollars invested in oil and gas companies. On Jan. 31, those funds moved to create a mechanism to look into how potential divestments could take place.

“This was a critical first step, as there was no such mechanism even in existence,” Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for the mayor, told IPS.

While no decision has yet been made on how that money should now be used, Pickus says, “There has been a general request that it not be re-invested in companies that are polluting our climate.”

The public response has been positive, he notes, even while constituents understand that the city is at the beginning of a process that could span the next half-decade.

“There is a rapidly growing sense that something – in fact, many concrete things – need to start happening to change the trend on how we approach climate change,” Pickus says.

“That includes how we invest – not just in pensions but also, more generally, how we’re spending taxpayer money. For instance, are we going to invest in new, wider highways or in green transit options?”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Petroleum News: Questions over Arctic dispersant use


Environmental consultant questions feasibility of using oil dispersant chemicals in responding to an Arctic offshore oil spill
by Alan Bailey

Lauded by some as a major contributor to the cleanup of spilled oil following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and slammed by others as environmentally dangerous, the use of chemicals to disperse oil slicks has become a controversial topic.

The concept behind dispersant use is simple. The dispersant chemicals, acting a bit like dishwashing liquid, break the oil into tiny particles, greatly increasing the surface area of oil exposed to water and hence greatly accelerating the rate at which oil-consuming microbes devour the oil, causing the oil to disappear.

But do dispersants, demonstrated in laboratory conditions, work in the hurly-burly of a real spill response situation? And, more particularly, would dispersants work, were there to be an oil spill catastrophe in the Arctic offshore?

Jeffrey Short, an environmental consultant working for Oceana, a marine conservation organization, is very skeptical about the potential effectiveness of dispersants in the Arctic. Short, who worked as a research chemist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for 31 years and has published more than 60 scientific papers on Arctic pollution, spoke at the Alaska Forum on the Environment on Feb. 4, giving his views regarding the problems associated with dispersant use in the Arctic.

Short, who said he had been involved in the Deepwater Horizon response, working for private entities, said that claims about the effectiveness of dispersants during that response had been overstated, and that there was a lack of evidence for dispersant chemicals having had any impact in boosting the natural biodegradation of oil that had spewed from the out-of-control, seafloor well. For example, no one observed the milky appearance of dispersed oil in the water, he said.

And, although the government-published oil budget calculator for the Deepwater Horizon response indicated that dispersants had been somewhat effective, the technical underpinnings of that conclusion, as expressed in the budget calculator report, appear far short of convincing, he said.

Goldilocks circumstances
The effective use of dispersants requires a “Goldilocks” set of circumstances, in which the wind is strong enough to cause the necessary wave action for mixing oil with dispersant chemicals, but not so strong as to blow away the fine spray of dispersant, normally applied from an aircraft, Short said. And seas that are too rough can cause dispersants to escape into underlying water, rather than mix with an oil slick on the surface, he said.
Also, there is typically a relatively short time window following an oil spill, during which dispersants can be used, as evaporation and emulsification of the oil eventually renders the oil unresponsive to dispersant chemicals.

Given seasonal ice, the frequency of strong winds and the prevalence of sea fog in the Arctic Ocean, the appropriate conditions for the application of dispersants in Arctic seas may only occur for 10 percent of the time, Short said.

Lab tests
Short said that 10 years ago he had conducted some laboratory tests for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, testing the effect of a commonly used oil dispersant on Alaska North Slope crude oil in sub-Arctic conditions. Those tests demonstrated that the dispersant did not work well in cold water, with dispersant effectiveness dropping with reduced water temperatures and with low water salinity, Short said. These results do not bode well for dispersant effectiveness in the Arctic – in addition to the effect of low water temperatures on dispersant action, melting ice in the Arctic seas tends to create a layer of low salinity water near the sea surface, he said.
Compounding the technical issues relating to the potential effectiveness of dispersants in the Arctic is the sparse transportation architecture for the resupply of dispersant chemicals to field responders, Short said.

Asked about the possibility that low water temperatures would slow oil degradation, thus extending the time window within which dispersants would be effective, Short responded that the weathering of oil is less sensitive to temperature than to wind, of which there is plenty in the Arctic. The rate of incorporation of water into the oil, a phenomenon that takes place quite quickly, depends on the composition of the oil, he said.

Continuing debate
Short’s comments come amid a continuing debate over the realistic feasibility of conducting an offshore oil spill response in the Arctic. And a report, issued in November by the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, after overviewing the considerable body of research already done into oil spill response in the Arctic offshore made a number of recommendations for further research, including a recommendation that people evaluate the effectiveness of dispersants in Arctic conditions.

A joint industry program, known as SINTEF and based in Norway, conducted a series of large-scale field experiments in the mid-2000s, testing the use of various response techniques, including dispersants, using oil deliberately spilled in the sea under carefully controlled conditions at an Arctic location. SINTEF reported that it had found rates of oil weathering in broken ice conditions to be considerably lower than rates observed for the same oil in open water. The final report for the program also said that researchers had experienced success in dispersing oil in water around ice floes, by applying the dispersants from spray arms deployed from vessels and using the prop wash or jet motors of response boats to mix the dispersant with the oil.

Oil budget
A read of the technical documentation for the Deepwater Horizon oil budget calculator makes it clear that there was a wide range of expert opinion and no general agreement on the effectiveness of dispersants in the response to that disaster. A December 2012 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science presents an overview of the scientific findings from Deepwater Horizon. Written by senior officials from several federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the paper says that monitoring of oil in the water through a variety of techniques had provided oil particle size data consistent with expectations from chemical oil dispersion. The oil budget calculator subsequently concluded that chemical dispersion accounted for about 16 percent of the oil that had escaped from the well, the paper says.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Environment News Service: Dutch Court Finds Shell Liable for Nigeria Oil Damages


Posted by News Editor in Energy, Latest News, RSS on January 30, 2013 8:27 am / no comments

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, January 30, 2013 – A Dutch court ruled today that Shell is responsible for not preventing the pollution of farmlands at Ikot Ada Udo in Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom State and ordered the company to pay compensation for the damage.

The case was brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands and four Nigerian farmers in 2008 against the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. and its parent company Royal Dutch Shell.

This is the first time that Shell has been ordered by a court to pay compensation for damage caused by its operations. The Nigerian justice system has never produced such a ruling.

Women at a leaking oil wellhead near the community of Ikot Ada Udo in the Niger Delta, (Photo by Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR courtesy FOE Netherlands)

The case is unique because it is the first time that a Dutch multinational corporation has been brought before the court in its home country for environmental damage caused abroad.

The case focused on just three of the thousands of oil leaks in Nigeria. The plaintiffs demanded that Shell clean up the oil pollution in the villages, compensate the farmers for the damages suffered and maintain the oil pipelines better in the future.

“This win for the farmers of Ikot Ada Udo has set a precedent as it will be an important step that multinationals can more easily be made answerable for the damage they do in developing countries. We anticipate other communities will now demand that Shell pay for the assault on their environment,” said Friends of the Earth Nigeria’s Executive Director Nnimmo Bassey, who played a pivotal role in bringing to light the havoc wreaked by Shell in the Niger Delta.

The ruling is a victory for Nigerian people and the environment, said Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth Netherlands, or Milieudefensie in Dutch. “This verdict is great news for the people in Ikot Ada Udo who started this case together with Milieudefensie. But the verdict also offers hope to other victims of environmental pollution caused by multinationals,” he said.

“At the same time, the verdict is a bitter disappointment for the people in the villages of Oruma and Goi – where the court did not rule to hold Shell liable for the damage,” said Ritsema. “Fortunately, this can still change in an appeal.”

Friends of the Earth Netherlands and the Nigerian farmers will appeal the decision in the Goi and Oruma cases.

The plaintiffs will also appeal the principle point of the liability of the Royal Dutch Shell parent company.

The reason that the court did not decide to hold the parent company liable for damage done in Nigeria was that Friends of the Earth Netherlands was denied access to evidence proving that Royal Dutch Shell, based in the Netherlands, determines the daily affairs of its Nigerian subsidiary, Royal Dutch Shell owns 100 percent of Shell Nigeria shares, while Shell Nigeria profits estimated at 1.8 billion euros annually, are deposited in the Netherlands.

Nevertheless, under existing laws, Royal Dutch Shell cannot be held liable for the damage done on the basis of these facts alone. The plaintiffs must prove that governance actually comes from the corporate headquarters in the Netherlands.

Because Shell has not been ordered by the court to allow access to internal company documents which would expose this governance, it has been very difficult to prove this.

Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe, said, “Many European companies are involved in similar situations to that of Shell and are causing environmental damage outside Europe. We see a clear gap in European legislation. It allows European parent companies such as Royal Dutch Shell to pocket the profits from a foreign subsidiary, but these parents cannot be held liable for the damage they cause while making those profits.”

Friends of the Earth Europe is urging the European Commission to ensure that parent companies are automatically held liable for the actions of their foreign subsidiaries.

Next week, on February 6, the European Commission will discuss with stakeholders steps it can take to limit the adverse human rights and environmental impacts of business.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands finds it “incomprehensible” that the court ruled that Shell proved sabotage was involved in two of the three villages. The court has allowed itself be convinced by a number of blurry Shell photos and poor quality video images.

The environmental group remains convinced that poor maintenance is the cause of the spills. But even in oil spills where sabotage is involved, the group believes that Shell bears responsibility and is liable for the damage.

“An oil giant cannot leave 7,000 kilometres of pipeline and hundreds of installations unprotected and unguarded in a politically unstable and economically underdeveloped region,” said Ritsema.

Plaintiff Chief Eric Dooh lost his farm and fish ponds due to an oil spill from a Shell Nigeria pipeline.

Shell oil spill into Chief Eric Dooh’s creek caught fire. (Photo courtesy FOE Netherlands)

“In September 2004, a leak occurred along the Trans-Niger pipeline, which is owned by Shell,” says Chief Dooh. “The spilled oil streamed from the leak into the creeks. A large fire quickly developed. It spread out over the oil slick in rapid tempo, and the whole creek was ablaze.”

“We gathered together a group of people as quickly as possible to take up contact with Shell,” recounts Chief Dooh. “Shell came here the following day with firemen, police officers and soldiers. For three days they tried to put out the fire, but when they were unable to do so, they simply let the fire burn itself out and all the mangrove trees were burned.”

“Because of the spill, I’ve lost everything,” he says. “The embankments around my fish ponds were destroyed by the fire, so oil streamed into my ponds and killed all my fish. The five canoes I owned burned, my cassava farm burned down and the trees I had planted have gone up in smoke. I have nothing left. All the money I saved, all my hard work, it was all for nothing.”
An oil disaster has been ongoing in Nigeria for decades. Tens of millions of barrels of oil have been spilled there since the 1950s.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands says that Nigeria’s oil spill disaster does not receive the attention it deserves, in contrast to other oil disasters such as the Exxon Valdez tanker in Prince William Sound Alaska or the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, where there was massive public outrage that resulted in an emergency plan. The group said today, “The Nigerian disaster is a silent one, which has disastrous consequences for people, wildlife, nature and the environment, but little is being done about it.”

The Niger is the third-largest river in Africa and the oil-rich Niger Delta region, with its mangrove forests, is one of the world’s largest wetland areas. But now a black layer of oil covers many of the Niger Delta’s creeks, ponds, mangroves and rivers. Many of the region’s animals are threatened, including chimpanzees, leopards and elephants.

Niger Delta residents experience the burdens of oil extraction, but reap no benefits. Most are dependent on agriculture, fishing and fish farming and gathering snails and other products from the forests. For them, oil pollution means a lack of drinking water, inedible fish, agricultural fields that must lie fallow for years and crops that never grow.

In August 2011, the UN Environment Programme issued the results of its 14-month investigation covering more than 200 locations, 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, more than 5,000 medical records and talks with 23,000 people at local community meetings.

UNEP found that control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure “has been and remains inadequate. The Shell Petroleum Development Company’s own procedures have not been applied, creating public health and safety issues.”

UNEP concluded that environmental restoration of the section of the Niger Delta known as Ogoniland “could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health.”

A Niger Delta resident shows a Shell Nigeria worker a pool of spilled oil. (Photo courtesy FOE Netherlands)

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

Environment News Service (http://s.tt/1z9qT)

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Oil and Gas Journal: Senate Democrats oppose Atlantic offshore seismic tests


Oil and Gas Journal: Senate Democrats oppose Atlantic offshore seismic tests
By Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

Seven other US Senate Democrats joined Frank R. Lautenberg (NJ) in expressing concern over Atlantic offshore seismic tests planned as part of the Obama administration’s 2012-17 Outer Continental Shelf management program.

“While we support your administration’s decision not to allow lease sales for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, the proposed seismic testing poses a serious threat to our coastal economy, environment, and marine life,” they said in a Jan. 30 letter to US President Barack Obama.

Seismic testing off the US Atlantic coast from Delaware to the middle of Florida “could injure or kill thousands of marine mammals and fish, including endangered speciesŠin addition to moving the region closer to risky offshore oil drilling,” the letter noted.

In addition to Lautenberg, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), Robert Menendez (NJ), Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), and Maria E. Cantwell (Wash.) signed the letter.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: David vs. Goliath: Keystone XL Multinational Bullies Pipeline Protestors into Settlement


I can’t believe the court sided with Transcanada. Sad comment on our civil liberties. dv

Published on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 by
Tar sands activists vow to keep fighting despite repressive tactics
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Transcanada, the multinational giant behind the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, has followed a new corporate strategy by filing crushing lawsuits against individual activists and financially vulnerable organizations that have tried to halt to the construction of the controversial project.

(Photo: Tar Sands Blockade) Despite the repressive tactics designed to censor opposition and intimidate others from joining such activities, those targeted vow to continue the fight to protect “their homes and futures from toxic tar sands.”

The suit’s defendants, which included several environmental groups including anti-pipeline coalition Tar Sands Blockade and 19 individual protesters, “were threatened with losing their homes and life’s savings if the lawsuit went forward,” Tar Sands Blockade said a press statement.

Kevin Gosztola of FireDogLake explains:

The suit brought was what is known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Such lawsuits enable fascism by providing a mechanism for a corporation to go after individuals or groups engaged in protest or freedom of speech. They are often used against people who lack resources or cannot afford to pay the legal expenses necessary to stand up to a corporation in court.

Despite the legal setback, members of Tar Sands Blockade vowed to keep fighting.

“TransCanada is dead wrong if they think a civil lawsuit against a handful of Texans is going to stop a grassroots civil disobedience movement,” said spokesperson and defendant Ramsey Sprague. “This is nothing more than another example of TransCanada repressing dissent and bullying Texans who are defending their homes and futures from toxic tar sands.”

Tammie Carson, another target of the lawsuit and grandmother from Arlington, TX, said she took the action to protect her grandkids’ future. “I couldn’t sit idly by and watch as a multinational corporate bully abused eminent domain to build a dirty and dangerous tar sands pipeline right through Texans’ backyards,” she said. “I had no choice but to settle or lose my home and everything I’ve worked for my entire life.”

Citing one court’s opinion of the SLAPP lawsuit, the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) writes, “Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined.”

In reaction to the settlement, Lauren Regan, veteran attorney with CLDC who helped coordinate legal representation for the activists, said:

This is a David versus Goliath situation, where an unethical, transnational corporation is using its weight to crush First Amendment rights of people speaking out and resisting the irreparable destruction that will result from construction of this highly controversial XL Pipeline…But the resistance to the pipeline is growing, not shrinking; it’s coming from everywhere. This is a national and global issue that will effect us all.

Lawyers from the CLDC represented the Tar Sands Blockade, Rising Tide North America and Rising Tide North Texas as well as the other targeted individuals. As part of the settlement, the activists agreed to no longer trespass or cause damage to Keystone XL property throughout the pipeline’s entire southern leg, including any demonstrations “aimed at interfering with pipeline construction,” the Toronto Star reports.

However, as Gosztola adds, “what it does not do is stop individuals unknown to TransCanada and groups other than Tar Sands Blockade or Rising Tide chapters from engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience or disruptive activity.”

Common Dreams: You Ain’t Gonna Frack Near Maggie’s Farm: Action Blockades Shell Site


Published on Monday, January 28, 2013

In fight against fracking, activists say: ‘Our voices and our numbers are growing’
– Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Anti-fracking activists in Bessemer, Penn. on Sunday. A flare from Shell’s drilling is visible in the background. (Photo: Shadbush Collective)

We need farms, not fracking.

This was the message from a group of concerned activists on Sunday afternoon as they blocked a Shell fracking site in Pennsylvania in part of the wave of rising actions against fossil fuels.

Wearing signs reading “Fracking Threatens Food” and “Protect Farms for Our Future,” members of the Shadbush Environmental Justice Collective rallied behind the passionate Maggie Henry, whose organic pork and poultry farm is less than 4,000 feet from Shell’s drilling site.

“People buy my food because they know that it is literally the purest that you can get. My animals run around out on ground, in pasture. They’re not cooped up in cages,” said Henry, who’s been farming for 35 years. “Agriculture, not fracking, is the number one industry in Pennsylvania. This threatens my air, my water, my farm, my livelihood.”

She’s put her blood and sweat into her “beyond organic” farm, she said. “Every single penny we’ve earned we’ve invested into this farm.”

With her farm, water and environment potentially ruined from Shell’s fracking, Henry asked, “How is this different from Shell sticking their hand in my pocket and stealing from me?”

Devon Cohen, one of the protesters involved in the day’s action, added, “Why are we willing to risk so much at the hands of multinational corporations like Shell who have shown their hand in the past as human rights abusers and irresponsible parties of environmental destruction?”Photo: Shadbush Collective

Hundreds of abandoned oil wells make the site a particularly risky place to frack, the group says. Hydro-geologist Daniel Fisher, who has studied the area, warned, “Each of these abandoned wells is a potentially direct pathway or conduit to the surface should any gas or fluids migrate upward from the wells during or after fracking.”

Four of the protesters locked themselves to a large papier-mâché pig named Henrietta, which blocked traffic to the site for three hours. Henrietta was made to symbolize the farm as well as “the gas industry [which] is piggish about the carbon-based fuel in the ground and are taking it at our expense,” Henry said.

When the protesters locked in the “pig” agreed to disperse and avoid arrest after several hours, Shell took it. In Henry’s words, “They stole Henrietta.”

Nick Lubecki, one of the protesters who was locked to Henrietta, started his own farm this year in Pittsburgh and said, “It is extremely disturbing as a young farmer to have to worry about the safety of the water supply and a chaotically changing climate while these out of state drillers have the red carpet rolled out for them. In a few years the drillers will all be gone when this boom turns to bust like these things always do. I don’t want to be stuck with their mess to clean up.”

The group stated, “Henrietta’s fate is in Shell’s hands, but we’re free to fight another day, our voices and our numbers are growing, and we won’t stop until we win.”

Maggie Henry is not about to stop fighting, either. “We’re not giving up until they give up,” she said.

Farmer Maggie Henry and activists locked to Henrietta. (Photo: Shadbush Collective)

Common Dreams: More Threats From Fracking: Radioactive Waste


Published on Friday, January 25, 2013 by Common Dreams

Pennsylvania’s DEP begins study on radioactivity from oil, gas development; follows other studies showing high levels of radium, boron
by- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The controversial drilling practice known as fracking is under renewed scrutiny, this time for producing radioactive waste.

A resident holds up contaminated water from her well, located near a fracking site. (Photo: Public Herald)

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday it was embarking on a year-long study of radioactivity in by-products from oil and natural gas development.

But findings and any action from the study may come too late for people like Portage, Pennsylvania resident Randy Moyer, who is suffering from a flurry of health problems he believes are the result of radiation exposure from his work transporting fracking wastefluids. Pennsylvania’s Beaver County Times reports:

Moyer said he began transporting brine, the wastewater from gas wells that have been hydraulically fractured, for a small hauling company in August 2011. He trucked brine from wells to treatment plants and back to wells, and sometimes cleaned out the storage tanks used to hold wastewater on drilling sites. By November 2011, the 49-year-old trucker was too ill to work. He suffered from dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, difficulty breathing, swollen lips and appendages, and a fiery red rash that covered about 50 percent of his body.

“They called it a rash,” he said of the doctors who treated him during his 11 trips to the emergency room. “A rash doesn’t set you on fire.”

Moyer spent most of last year in his Portage apartment, lying on the floor by the open screen door because his skin burned so badly, while doctors scrambled to reach a diagnosis.

Rather than putting the brakes on fracking, the DEP study appears to cement the industry’s foothold. John Hurdle writes in the New York Times’ Green blog:

Kevin Sunday, a spokesman for the department, said the new study, which covers both conventional oil and gas development and hydraulic fracturing, was not a response to any evidence of excessive radiation levels at drilling sites. Rather, he said, it is a “forward-looking” exercise that anticipates the long-term expansion of the industry.

“We recognize that the industry is here to stay, and we want the public to be protected,” Mr. Sunday said.

A recent study out of Penn State looking at wastewater, also called flowback, from fracking in the Marcellus shale found high levels of radioactive radium and barium.

“Improper disposal of the flowback can lead to unsafe levels of these and other constituents in water, biota and sediment from wells and streams,” the researchers said.

A 2011 study from the U.S. Geological Survey also found that fracking wastewater can be highly radioactive.

Despite numerous studies on fracking’s dangers, the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), in a release on its May 2012 report that looked at how Pennsylvania gas companies dealt with the waste from fracking, stated:

All currently available options for dealing with contaminated wastewater from fracking inadequate to protect human health and the environment.

Santa Rosa Press Democrat: Marine sanctuary expansion praised at hearing


Santa Rosa, California

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:36 p.m.

BODEGA BAY – No contrary words were heard at a public meeting that filled Bodega Bay’s Grange Hall with about 70 citizens, federal officials and fishing industry representatives on Thursday night concerning a plan to protect an additional 2,770 square miles of the ocean off the rugged North Coast.

“There’s celebration in the air,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who attended the first of three hearings on the proposed expansion of two national marine sanctuaries that have been in place since the 1980s.

“It was great,” said Norma Jellison of Bodega Bay, who sat at one of five tables where residents gave feedback to sanctuary officials.

Jellison said she’d like to see sanctuary officials establish an office in Sonoma County, possibly at the Bodega Marine Lab. “The sanctuary office in San Francisco is kind of far away.”

All the comments at her table were supportive of the proposed expansion, which will move the sanctuaries’ northern border from Bodega Bay more than 60 miles north to Alder Creek, near Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.

Oil, gas and mineral development are prohibited within the sanctuaries, which are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The expansion plan, announced last month, brings to an apparent end the four-decade battle to preserve the Sonoma Coast from offshore oil drilling.

Sanctuary officials said they expect to complete the approval process by July 2014.
Former Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma, who retired this month after 20 years in Congress, got hearty applause and credit for establishing the coastal protection she had sought since 2004.

“We want to protect our fishing industry and we want to protect our environment. That’s it in a nutshell,” Woolsey said.

Two more public hearings on the sanctuary expansion plan are scheduled, at Point Arena on Feb. 12 and Gualala on Feb. 13, and written comments will be accepted through March

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Santa Rosa Press Democrat: First hearing Thursday on plans to expand ocean sanctuaries


Santa Rosa, California

Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.

Plans to expand two ocean sanctuaries and put all of Sonoma County’s coast and a third of Mendocino’s off limits to oil drilling are set to get their first public airing Thursday in Bodega Bay.

Federal officials are scheduled to hold a 6 p.m. hearing at the town’s Grange Hall to discuss the proposed expansion of the protected ocean areas, announced by the Obama administration and congressional representatives last month.

Under the proposal, the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries would take in an additional 2,770 square miles, including more than 60 miles of coast from Bodega Bay to Point Arena, in southern Mendocino County.

The two protected areas currently span about 1,800 square miles, stretching more than 50 miles off the coast in some spots from San Francisco Bay to Bodega Bay. The sanctuaries allow fishing but restrict other activities, including energy development, seafloor disturbance and discharges by ocean liners.

Thursday’s hearing, the first of three planned on the North Coast, will unveil the proposal and allow public comment on the expansion. The other two meetings are planned next month for Mendocino County, in Point Arena Feb. 12 and in Gualala Feb. 13. Written comments will be accepted through March 1.

“Our main goal is to get everyone sitting down at the table and make sure we’re hearing what their concerns are and what their suggestions are,” said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

At least one additional round of public comment is envisioned once the federal government completes its draft environmental study. The new borders could be finalized in 18 to 24 months, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees marine sanctuaries.

The action by the Obama administration would put an apparent end to the four-decade battle to prevent oil drilling off the Sonoma coast.

Previous efforts to achieve a permanent ban and expand the sanctuaries through congressional action have come up short. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the now-retired Petaluma Democrat, saw her sanctuary bill die in the Senate in 2008 before being thwarted recently by oil-friendly House Republicans.

Environmentalists, commercial fishing representatives and others have hailed the new plans, saying they protect an important resource, and not just for wildlife.

“Sanctuaries are known allies to the economic interests that depend on a clean coast,” said Richard Charter, a veteran anti-drilling lobbyist and Jenner area resident who serves as senior fellow of the Ocean Foundation.

Given the large North Coast crowds that have turned out in the past to oppose drilling proposals, Thursday’s hearing on enhanced protection for the coast could mark a historic turning point, Charter said.

“People have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” he said. “It’s finally something we can avidly support.”

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or Brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.


Hearings on marine sanctuary expansion
Thursday, 6 p.m., Grange Hall, Bodega Bay
Feb. 12, 6 p.m., Point Arena High School, Point Arena
Feb. 13, 6 p.m., Gualala Community Center, Gualala
Public comment will be accepted through March 1. For more information, visit http://farallones.noaa.gov/manage/northern_area.html

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Sanders Welcomes Obama Statement on Global Warming

January 22, 2013
4:46 PM

CONTACT: Senator Bernie Sanders

Michael Briggs (202) 228-6492

WASHINGTON – January 22 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today issued the following statement welcoming President Barack Obama’s support for action to combat climate change:

“The president is right to make action on global warming a central goal of his administration. The overwhelming scientific consensus is clear. Unless we take bold action soon the temperature of our planet could rise by up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. That would be catastrophic. The Senate is about to vote on more than $50 billion in aid to help recover from Hurricane Sandy and insurers tell us that is only a fraction of the price we will continue to pay for extreme natural disasters made worse by our warming planet.

“While the president can, and must, move aggressively to use executive powers to reduce pollution and reject harmful projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, he also must help lead an effort to pass strong legislation that moves our nation away from polluting fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

“Next month, I will introduce comprehensive legislation that will charge the fossil fuel corporations a fee for their carbon pollution. My legislation will end fossil fuel subsidies, and as the president called for, make historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. This bill will also ensure that all Americans receive a rebate to offset any efforts by the fossil fuel companies to jack up their prices.

“The president and Congress have made some good progress in his first term, including significant investments in clean energy and strong new fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. To put meaning into the words he eloquently expressed in his Inaugural Address, and to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, we must do much, much more. We must do nothing less than transform our energy system away from fossil fuels into energy efficiency and sustainable energy. When we do that we will not only lead the world in a new direction but create millions of jobs in the United States.”

United States Senator for Vermont

Common Dreams: Outrage as “Public” Locked Out of “Public Hearings” on Tar Sands Pipeline

Published on Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Environmentalist and indigenous groups rally against Northern Gateway and unfair proceedings in British Columbia
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Protesters braved a rare, wet snow as they demonstrated against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in Vancouver on Monday Jan. 14. (Photo:Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)Thousands of activists marched on downtown Vancouver Monday to protest the nature of public hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, claiming that “the public” opponents of the pipeline are being locked out while industry backers are given special access.

Buoyed by the recent vigor of the Idle No More campaign, environmental activists, indigenous groups and other opponents of the proposed tar sands pipeline condemned the public portion of the National Energy Board (NEB) panel hearings on the basis that they limit public comment.

“They’re constraining the dialogue,” said protest organizer Suresh Fernando, explaining that the presenters are being restrained in what they can say. For example, they “can’t make reference …to the oilsands and the bigger picture.”

Despite being heralded as “public”, the hearings are restricted to presenters, members of the NEB panel, industry backers including Enbridge representatives; members of the community are secluded to a seperate venue where they watch the proceedings via live stream.

According to a blog post on the Pipe Up Against Enbridge site, “the process set up to review the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers project, is keeping the public out of the public process.”

They continue:

Anyone who wishes to witness the proceedings can only do so at a separate hotel, three kilometres away, via a video feed.

This separation of public from public process is happening only for the community hearings in Victoria and Vancouver. These hearings are the only substantive opportunity for concerned citizens to share their concerns with the panel. They should also be the opportunity for us to witness our friends, neighbours, and community members, to watch and listen to the diversity of voices, the diversity of reasons for opposing tankers and pipelines.

Because it is through bearing witness, through listening to each other, that we build community and can work together to take whatever steps are needed to protect our coast.

But we are being denied witness.

In an address to the crowd outside, Eddie Gardner of the Stó:lo Nation blasted Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, and other conservatives for recent changes made to environental laws declaring, “the Harper government has one of the most aggressive, high-carbon strategies in the world.”

He continued:

[Harper] implemented that legislation, it has become law, and he did it with crass and ruthless disregard for the environment.

Stephen Harper is hell bent to expand the tar sands.

Canada is coming alive to Harper’s real agenda… He is one of the biggest enemies of the environment.

The Canadian Press reports that the protests were “bolstered” by the “nationwide Idle No More campaign, which brought First Nations from as far as the Haisla Nation on the North Coast, near the would-be tanker port of Kitimat, B.C.”

The joint review panel is canvassing communities throughout B.C. and Alberta for comment on the proposed pipeline and has scheduled eight days of community hearings in Vancouver in the coming weeks. According to NEB spokeswoman Kristen Higgins, “(Whatever) information is on the public record is the information the panel can use to write their reports and make their recommendations.”


Those who did make it in to the hearings did so with great effort. According to Pipe Up Against Enbridge, presenters had to register 18 months ago and schedule a presentation six months ago, “all without knowing when or where you would be speaking.” Reporting on some of the pipeline opponents testimonies, they wrote:

Dr. Gerald Graham, trained in marine response by the Canadian Coast Guard, said “the consequences of a major spill could be catastrophic and irreversible.” Reverend Ken Gray, an Anglican priest, reminded us to not treat others—including First Nations and all of creation—as we do not wish to be treated. This project, he said, “will injure us all and provide a shameful heritage for generations to come.”

A tar sands worker, Lliam Hildebrand, said that he would rather be using his trade to work in renewable energy. He shared with the panel a survey he conducted with his coworkers, “the hands and feet of our energy future.” A strong majority of these workers support a moratorium on raw oil exports and the transition of oil and gas subsidies to the renewable energy sector. “Workers in the oil sands understand that this project doesn’t make sense to Canada.”


Outside of the hotel where the panel is taking place, a group of local multi-media artists erected a 25-foot-long installation called Hope the Whale. Twitter posts (#hopethewhale), videos and photos are projected onto the white whale’s skin, “to symbolize the expansive and growing community of people with a vision of an oil-free coast in BC,” wrote the group Pipe Up Against Enbridge.

Common Dreams: Climate Scientists to Obama: Heed the Planet’s Warnings, Reject the Tar Sands Pipeline


Published on Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Letter issued Tuesday from 18 leading scientists urges Obama to show “climate convictions”
– Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Some of the nation’s leading climate scientists on Tuesday are urging President Obama to show his “climate convictions” and reject the tar sands-carrying Keystone XL pipeline.

(Photo: Emma Cassidy / Tar Sands Action) In an open letter, the 18 scientists, including noted climate scientist James Hansen, Ralph Keeling of Scripps CO2 Program Scripps Institution of Oceanography and James Box of the Byrd Polar Research Center, write that rejecting the pipeline would be a “relatively easy” step to take to address the planet’s rising temperature.

The letter reads, in part:

“As you may know, the U.S. has just recorded the hottest year in its history, beating the old mark by a full degree; the same year that saw the deep Midwest drought, and the fury of Hurricane Sandy, also witnessed the rapid and unprecedented melt of the Arctic ice pack. ” […]

“Eighteen months ago some of us wrote you about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, explaining why in our opinion its construction ran counter to both national and planetary interests. Nothing that has happened since has changed that evaluation; indeed, the year of review that you asked for on the project made it clear exactly how pressing the climate issue really is.”

The Keystone XL, which would carry tar sands crude out of Alberta into the US, has met fierce resistance by climate activists and members of communities in the pipeline’s path.

In a call for civil disobedience at the White House in Aug. of 2011, Hansen, author Naomi Klein and 350.org’s Bill McKibben were among those who called the Keystone XL “a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous. ”

To make sure “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb” is put out, climate activists are mobilizing for another mass action in DC on the February 17. Organizers write:

Just over a year ago, 15,000 people surrounded the White House — and President Obama listened, delaying the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This is our best chance to show the President how strong this movement has become since then — sign up today.

The application for the pipeline by its company, TransCanada, is under review from the State Department with a decision likely by the end of the first quarter of 2013.

Skytruth: Shell’s grounded rig


Lots of folks lately, us included, have chronicled Shell’s confidence-shaking series of missteps, bad decisions and outright failures associated with their years-long, multi-billion-dollar campaign (technical and political) to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska. Shell has decided to downplay their latest mishap — losing control of their multimillion dollar drill rig, the Kulluk, while it was being towed to Seattle from the drilling site in the Chukchi Sea — as no big deal since the rig wasn’t actually drilling at the time.

Uhhh…so we’re supposed to feel better? Because they can’t get the simple stuff right? Understand that nothing is “simple” in these often wild waters, but in the scheme of things, if you can’t even move your equipment around without mishap, then how can you be trusted with the relatively complex and challenging processes of drilling and completing offshore oil wells in these waters? Or mounting a swift and effective oil spill response in ice-choked seas?
High-resolution satellite image showing the drill rig Kulluk aground off the coast of Alaska on January 4, 2013. Image courtesy DigitalGlobe. Subscribe to their WorldView report to see more great images.
It’s not just technology failures that lead to major disasters. Bad / risky decisionmaking plays a major part too. This November 9 news report said the Kulluk had been scheduled to spend the winter downtime in Dutch Harbor. So why was it being moved? Ostensibly for maintenance work that couldn’t be done in Dutch, but Shell admitted they were towing the Kulluk into the teeth of a major winter storm system in part to avoid paying taxes to the sate of Alaska. Shell said the storm was unexpected. This analysis of the forecasts for the area by meteorologist Cliff Mass suggests otherwise, raising the possibility that Shell risked personnel and very pricey hardware to dodge a $6 million tax bill; about 1/10th of 1 percent of the total project investment. And guess who came to the rescue of the crew and the stranded Kulluk? The US Coast Guard, courtesy of US taxpayers. What a deal.

Shell was allowed to start shallow “tophole” work on two of their planned wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas last summer, but they still need to secure Federal approval to continue drilling these wells to their full target depths. This disturbing pattern of technical and decisionmaking failures suggests the kind of corporate culture that investigators have implicated as the underlying cause of the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf in 2010.

That approval needs to be withheld until investigators, regulators and the public have enough information to confidently make the correct decision. There’s no rush. The oil ain’t going anywhere. And after all, down here in the Lower 48, Shell is producing so much oil they want permission to export it to Canada.

Let’s slow down and make sure we get this right.

Posted By John Amos to SkyTruth at 1/11/2013 12:27:00 PM

John Amos – President, SkyTruth
P.O. Box 3283
Shepherdstown, WV 25443-3283
(o) 304.885.4581 (m) 304.260.8886
skype: skytruth.amos
Satellite images and digital mapping for environmental protection,
education and advocacy – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
Visit us on the Web at http://www.skytruth.org
Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Blogger

Special thanks to Richard Charter

SarasotaPatch: Mote Study: BP Oil Spill Cleaning Chemical Kills Coral


Dr. Ritchie is right on target with this analysis. Dispersants and especially Corexit should be banned in fragile coral reef ecosystems. DV

Sarasota, Florida

A Mote Marine Laboratory study of the cleaning agent Corexit 9500 showed that the cleaning agent in BP oil spill disaster also caused great harm to coral.

By Charles Schelle
January 9, 2013

A new report from Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota released Wednesday reports that cleanup efforts from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster could be causing a real threat to fragile coral reefs.

The study focused on studying coral larvae and seeing how a dispersant that is used to cling to oil slicks and diffuse it from reaching shores could actually be just as toxic. The findings are published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

The 2010 BP disaster spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and responders used these dispersants, one called Corexit 9500, to prevent the oil from reaching beaches.

“Overall, these findings indicate that exposure of coral larvae to the dispersant Corexit 9500 is toxic and will result in loss of coral recruitment,” the study states.
It turns out that the dispersant is just as harmful to certain marine life as the oil itself.

“Dispersant, and the mixture of oil and dispersant, may be highly toxic to coral larvae and prevent them from building new parts of the reef,” said Dr. Kim Ritchie, principal investigator on the emergency Protect Our Reefs grant supporting this study and manager of the Marine Microbiology Program at Mote. “In addition, our results support the growing knowledge that certain coral species may fare worse than others during oil spills.”

Mote scientists looked to study the effects of two Florida Keys coral species-mustard hill coral and mountainous star coral-and placing larvae of these corals in different sets of solutions.

The test solutions include saltwater plus Dissolved Deepwater Horizon oil from the rig, weathered oil, Corexit 9500 and a final one with the oil and the Corexit 9500. The coral larvae was placed in various concentrations of solutions for 72 hours while the mountainous star coral larvae was tested in slowly diluted solutions during a 96-hour period, according to Mote.

As expected, the larvae exposed to oil died sooner than ones only in seawater, and the mountainous star coral had a lower chance of surviving in the lowest oil concentration tested of .49 parts per million diluted over that 96-hour window, according to the study.
Even worse was the Corexit 9500-the very chemical that many hoped would clean up the oil and save marine life.

No mountainous star coral larvae settled or survived at the medium and high concentrations of 50 and 100 parts per million and no mustard hill coral larvae settled or survived at 100 parts per million.

The study says that most of the mountainous star coral didn’t even survive the lowest concentration test of .86 parts per million.

What do these scientific measurements mean to the naked eye?

“Depending on the concentration, the higher the concentration of oil and dispersant, the more opaque it becomes. With the dispersant only (Corexit 9500), there was little cloudiness and with the water soluble oil mixture (WAF) it was perfectly clear,” said Dr. Dana Wetzel, manager of Mote’s Environmental Laboratory for Forensics. So it’s not exactly water that humans would be fond of interacting with either.

The water soluble oil mixture is the chemicals from the oil that are able to dissolve in water; oil has many different chemical components, Wetzel continued to explained.
Fresh oil from Deepwater Horizon also started killing the larvae within the first 24 hours, according to the study.

Ritchie led the investigation along with Wetzel, Dr. Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, former Mote postdoctoral researcher who is now an instructor at Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, and were conducted both in Sarasota and at the Mote Tropical Research Laboratory on Summerland Key.

“The decision to use dispersant chemicals poses trade-offs for oil spill responders. While a dispersed surface oil slick is rendered less likely to reach the shore, treatment of major oil spills with dispersant chemicals has been shown to result in significant environmental degradation as a result of increased hydrocarbon dissolution and surfactant toxicity,” the team wrote in their study.

Wetzel said what this study does is provide information on how oil and dispersants effect coral larvae because that wasn’t available before. Scientists have known how fish and shellfish were damaged though.

The Florida Keys coral were not directly affected by Deepwater Horizon, according to the study, but these types of coral are also found in the Northwestern Gulf closer to the oil rig, but those coral were not directly affected either, according to the study.

Scientists believe, however, that oil exploration near Cuba could pose further harm.

“To understand how oil and dispersant could affect wild corals, more research is needed on their complex natural life cycles,” Ritchie said. “Coral larvae seem to settle with help from landing pads called ‘biofilms’ that are formed by microbes like marine bacteria. This delicate natural process might be interrupted by dispersant and its mixture with oil, so it’s important to know how it works in detail.”

BP settled in November with the federal government in for $4.5 billion for its role in the spill. Sarasota County hopes it can claim $5.25 million from the case.

The owner of the rig itself, Transocean Ltd., was due in New Orleans federal court Wednesday to pay a $400 million settlement with the Justice Department for violating the Clean Water Act, the Associated Press reported.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Nola.com: Federal appeals court in New Orleans hands rare win to environmental group in BP oil spill case



Fireboats try to extinguish the blaze on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig south of Venice after an explosion on Wednesday, April 21, 2010. The explosion killed 11 workers on the rig. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
By Mark Schleifstein, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on January 09, 2013 at 8:01 PM, updated January 10, 2013 at 7:31 AM

BP and its partners in the Macondo well that released an estimated 4.9 million gallons of oil over three months beginning in April 2010 should be required to inform state officials — and the public — of the toxic materials included in the spill, and the potential health effects of those materials, a three-judge appellate panel ruled in New Orleans on Wednesday. In winning the unanimous decision, the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group scored a rare partial victory before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in its attempts to pry more compliance with federal environmental laws out of BP in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The federal appeals court agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier that most of the center’s efforts to require BP to pay additional fines or otherwise be penalized for violations of the Clean Water Act; Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation and Liability Act; and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) under provisions of those laws allowing individuals to enforce them became moot when federal officials declared BP’s Macondo well to be capped on July 15, 2010, and effectively “killed” on Sept. 19, 2010, by cementing its wellhole after being intercepted by a relief well.

“It’s a very important victory that BP could be finally forced to publicly disclose all the toxic components it spilled into the waters, but we’re disappointed by the dismissal of our Clean Water Act claims,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the center.
“Throughout it all, we’ve insisted that those responsible for one of the worst environmental disasters in America’s history should be held fully accountable for the profound damage they caused. The Gulf needs to be fully restored, both for the sake of its wildlife and for the people who depend on it for survival. We’re certainly not there yet.”

BP and other companies responsible for the spill still face a civil court proceeding over environmental fines and other actions required under the federal environmental laws, as part of the complex combination of lawsuits that have the federal government and attorneys representing private plaintiffs opposing them in court on Feb. 25.

But the court also ruled that Barbier incorrectly found to be moot a provision of the Right-to-Know Act that required BP to report what hazardous substances were released during the spill to state and local government authorities, including local emergency planning committees, with the information then made available to the public.

In opposing the appeal, BP attorneys argued that such information was being made available in the aftermath of the spill at various government web sites, but the three-judge panel was not persuaded by that argument.

“Our review of those web sites reveals a voluminous amount of information about the spill and the government’s response, but the specific information required by EPCRA is not immediately apparent.”

The ruling could require BP to reveal the hazardous materials involved in the spill and their health effects, and make the information public.

They found that the Right-to-Know Act specifically required the company to include “the name and estimated quantity of any substance involved in the release, the medium or media into which the release occurred, any known or anticipated acute or chronic health risks associated with the release, and the precautions to take as a result of the release.”

Those notices are required to be maintained by the state’s emergency response commission and must be made available to the public, they said.

In its suit, the center provided affidavits from members saying they’d been exposed to substances from the disaster, either through direct physical contact in the Gulf of Mexico or onshore, or through contact with fish and other wildlife.

“Those members averred that they were concerned about breathing air or ingesting water exposed to the substances and wanted to know what types of substances were involved in the Deepwater Horizon release so that they could assess the possible health effects of exposure,” said the ruling.

“Here, however, BP has never claimed that it has at any time complied with EPCRA’s reporting requirements for a written notice,” the ruling said, and the company’s failure to do so was a continuing violation of the law.

“An order from the district court that the defendants comply with EPCRA’s reporting requirement for that release could therefore redress the center’s claimed informational injury.”

The ruling, written by Judge Carolyn Dineen King of Houston, Texas, and agreed to by Chief Judge Carl Stewart of Shreveport and Priscilla Owen of Austin, Texas, sends the case back to Barbier for further action. King was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, Stewart by President Bill Clinton, and Owen by President George W. Bush.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Richard Charter: Sanctuary Expansion: Permanent Protection for Our Sonoma and Mendocino Coastlines is Within Reach


Check out this link; it explains how the expansion of our National Marine Sanctuaries will grant permanent protection from offshore drilling to one of California’s most iconic stretches of coastline, the dates and locations of the fast-approaching public hearings, and contains links for submitting written comments by the March 1, 2013 deadline.

Thanks very much.

Nola.com: Oiled pelican photo in “HOLD BP ACCOUNTABLE” ad greets Justice employees at Washington Metro station


By Mark Schleifstein, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on January 07, 2013 at 11:40 AM, updated January 07, 2013 at 1:42 PM

A photo of a struggling pelican coated with oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico now greets workers arriving at the Navy Archives Metro station, close to the Department of Justice’s Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters building. The photo is part of a National Wildlife Federation advertising placard demanding “HOLD BP ACCOUNTABLE.”

They’ve been placed at the station just weeks before the Feb. 25 beginning of the first phase of a federal trial that will determine the size of fines BP will face for violating the federal Clean Water Act. But they’re also aimed at urging Justice officials not to reduce the amount BP should be fined, if a settlement is reached before trail.

“Americans from all walks of life reeled in horror as BP’s negligence sent more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico,” said Aileo Weinmann, associate communications director for the National Wildlife Federation, in a news release announcing the new ad campaign. “We’re sending a signal to staff at the Department of Justice to hold BP fully accountable for up to $50 billion in civil fines and penalties.

“These Metro ads are a cost-effective way to press Department of Justice staff about the proper size of any BP settlement,” Weinmann said. “We used the famous AP/Charlie Riedel photo of an oiled pelican because it is such a distressing image that we knew it would be hard to ignore.”

Most estimates of BP fines focus on the company’s violation of the Clean Water Act, which would fall within $5 billion to $21 billion, based on how much the company would pay per gallon under the Clean Water Act, based on the release of 4.1 million barrels of oil during the spill, with the higher amount being paid if the company was found to be grossly negligent in its actions concerning the spill.

However, BP also faces significant liability under the Oil Pollution Act’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment provisions, which requires it to pay for any projects aimed at restoring natural resources and compensating the public for the loss of those resources during and after the spill. The federation estimates BP’s liability under the act to be at least $31 billion, based on the costs of natural resource damage restoration following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989.

And the company may also face additional fines for violation of other federal laws governing damage to natural resources, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The ad also includes a link to a page on the federation’s web site that allows people to send their own written message to Attorney Gen. Eric Holder requesting BP be held fully accountable.

View full size
This National Wildlife Federation advertising placard is in a Washington Metro stop used by Justice Department employees.
National Wildlife Federation

BPplackardWWFsm.jpg BPplackardWWFsm.jpg
Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Tar Sands Blockaders Take Over TransCanada Offices in Texas, Elsewhere

Published on Monday, January 7, 2013 by Common Dreams

Actions in Texas, Massachusetts and Maine target pipeline company and its financial backers
– Jon Queally, staff writer

Update (3:15 PM):

Members and supporters of the group Tar Sands Blockade staged public actions in Texas, Massachusetts, Maine and elsewhere on Monday in a series of independent protests at offices of the Transcanada Corporation—which is building the Keystone XL pipeline—and financial institutions supportive of tar sands infrastructure projects, such as TD Bank.

The largest action took place in Houston, Texas (see below), but others sprang up as the day progressed.

Campaigners in Westborough, Massachusetts—reportedly students—occupied the inside the entryway at the company’s offices and refused to leave.

The group explained their motivations in a prepared statement, which read in part:

“Our actions today aim to raise awareness and build momentum to halt the destruction that fossil fuel corporations knowingly cause. Science, and economics and logic provide an obvious imperative for action. However, even overwhelming factual evidence has not compelled our political leaders to stand up to these corporations. Our elected representatives have not yet found the courage to draw a clear line in the sand and prevent the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Meanwhile, citing the financial institution’s investment in the the Keystone XL pipeline project, several activists in Portland, Maine, blocked the entrance to a local branch of TD Bank and sent out this image:

A gathering was also reported in Detroit, Michigan.


Members of the Tar Sands Blockade have staged a mass action in the Houston offices of the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada.

Tar Sands Blockaders take over TransCanada offices in Houston. (Photo: via Twitpic)

According to Tar Sands Blockade—a group of environmentalists and landowners working to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline—more than one hundred protesters gathered to confront the Canadian-based pipeline company at its US headquarters in downtown Houston.

Citing land rights abuses, toxic legacy and climate change connected to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, some of the protesters staged a die-in in the lobby and are refusing to leave.

“This action kicks off a new phase of the Tar Sands Blockade targeting the corporate and financial infrastructure behind the Keystone XL pipeline,” the group said in a statement. “TransCanada’s pipeline uses seized land to transport toxic tar sands oil through Texas and Oklahoma communities, in order to export it from Houston ports. These dangerous business practices and the backlash from communities across the country make this pipeline a toxic investment for our state and TransCanada’s corporate lenders.”

Several arrests were reported.

The group also posted a request for supporters of their action in Houston to call TranCanada’s office and voice support for those currently in the lobby.

“You can help shut down work in TransCanada’s offices by flooding the phone lines all today to tell them we don’t want their dirty pipeline in anyone’s backyard,” the message said.

“Can you call TransCanada’s Keystone XL headquarters now to tell them you stand with your fellow Blockaders inside and outside their office today?” the group asked. The group also provided suggested names and numbers to call.

The group has been staging ongoing actions in Texas against the pipeline since last year, including an eighty-five day blockade in Winnsboro, Texas which saw a series of actions and numerous arrests surrounding a centralized encampent that resulted in a re-routing of the pipeline’s route. A more a recent tree-sit protest last week that ended in the arrest of several activists in Diboll, Texas.

Special thanks to Common Ground.

Grist: Surprise: Shell’s rig ran aground in Alaska because the company was trying to avoid taxes


Why am I not surprised????? Drilling in the Artic should be banned given the oil & gas industry’s inability to deal responsibly with their operations.

By Philip Bump

On New Year’s Eve, in the middle of a storm, Shell was trying to tow its Kulluk drilling rig from Alaska to Seattle. Why then? Why risk the bad weather, which, as it turned out, caused the rig to break free from its tugboats and run aground on Kodiak Island?

To avoid paying state taxes, of course. From Alaska Dispatch:
A Shell spokesman last week confirmed an Unalaska elected official’s claim that the Dec. 21
departure of the Kulluk from Unalaska/Dutch Harbor involved taxation.

City councilor David Gregory said Shell would pay between $6 million and $7 million in state
taxes if the Kulluk was still in Alaska on Jan. 1.

Ah, but the weather had other plans, sorry to say. Shell will end up having to pay that money after all, and then some.

Gregory said the departure of the Kulluk took money away from local small businesses servicing the rig. He predicted the maritime mishap will prove very costly to the oil company.

“It will cost them more than that $6 million in taxes. Maybe they should have just stayed here,” Gregory said.

The Kulluk grounding is costing taxpayers too. The 630 people working on the unified relief effort include employees of the state of Alaska and the U.S. Coast Guard. Twenty-one vessels are on the scene or nearby, and that doesn’t include aircraft.

Last night, the unified command held a press conference to update reporters on the status of the recovery. In short: Not much has changed. The Kulluk remains where it ran aground. Efforts to determine damage are still incomplete. The tens of thousands of gallons of fuel onboard don’t appear to be leaking.

One reporter asked a pointed question about how forthcoming Shell will be in sharing its assessment of the accident. You can guess the response.

Margie Bauman [reporter from Fishermans News Seattle]: [G]iven the seriousness of this
incident, why would Shell’s own investigation of this not be made public along with the Coast
Guard investigation? Thank you.

Sean Churchfield [Incident Commander and the Operations Manager for Shell Alaska]: OK. So
I think the main point I’d like to make on the investigation is Shell will collaborate, completely
cooperate-collaborate-collaborate completely with the Coast Guard and other investigations that are required.

Margie Bauman: Yes. But I’d like to know (cross talking)Š
Captain Paul Mehler [Coast Guard Federal On Scene Coordinator]: (Inaudible). But the Coast
Guard investigation, as I say, we’re bringing up investigators from the Center of Excellence, and we have our investigators working that. And of course the results of those findings will be made public.

Margie Bauman: And would that include Shell’s Š
Amy Midget [unified command representative]: And we will have those said (ph) remarks posted online for anybody who-on the phone system who is not able to hear them.
In other words, don’t hold your breath for Shell to be forthcoming.

There is some good news in all of this, for Shell anyway: The U.S. government shows no indication that it will reconsider the company’s permit to drill in the Arctic.

“The administration understands that the Arctic environment presents unique challenges and
that’s why the [interior] secretary has repeatedly made clear that any approved drilling activities will be held to the highest safety and environmental standards,” Salazar spokesman Blake Androff said Thursday. “The department will continue to carefully review permits for any activity and all proposals must meet our rigorous standards.”

Salazar has not given Shell permission to drill deep enough to actually hit oil. The company
hopes to get that approval this summer.

Shell didn’t get that permission last year because it was unable to demonstrate to the government that its spill-containment system would work, even after repeated testing.
All this mess so Shell could avoid $6 million in state taxes – an amount equal to 0.1 percent of its profits in the third quarter of 2012. Good to know that Shell puts money over safety. Bodes well.

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Greenwire: An E&E Publishing Service, ARCTIC: Enviros call for moratorium on drilling, citing Shell’s season of mishaps


(Thursday, January 3, 2013) Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

Three days after a Royal Dutch Shell PLC drillship grounded onto an Alaskan island, environmentalists today called on the Obama administration to place a moratorium on all Arctic drilling, arguing that the company’s season of mishaps and regulatory problems could spell disaster.

While the Coast Guard, state and industry officials continue to monitor Shell’s Kulluk drillship — which continues to rock gently on a beach south of Kodiak, carrying more than 150,000 gallons of fuel — environmentalists said the administration should put the kibosh on the company’s 2013 exploration plans.

“Shell is not Arctic-ready,” said Chuck Clusen, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s national parks and Alaska projects, in a teleconference with reporters. “We have lost all faith in Shell.”

In the coming days, environmental groups plan to reach out to administration officials to urge that Shell and federal partners “stand down” on Arctic exploration activities, Clusen said.

They did not say how long such a moratorium should be in place but argued that more research must be put into Arctic ecosystems, that better regulatory and legislative protections must be in place and that adequate cleanup methods must be available before new drilling is authorized.

Their call comes days after the Kulluk was sent adrift by hurricane-like winds and four-story waves as it was being towed south to Seattle for repairs (Greenwire, Jan. 2).
It was the latest, and potentially most significant, mishap during Shell’s 2012 drilling season, which resulted in two exploration wells being spud in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas by the drillships Kulluk and Noble Discoverer, respectively — the first in roughly 20 years.

The mishaps include the near-grounding in July of the Noble Discoverer, which stopped about 100 yards short of the Dutch Harbor shore (Greenwire, July 16, 2012). Drilling activities were also slowed significantly by lingering sea ice; delays in the Coast Guard’s certification of Shell’s Arctic Challenger oil spill response vessel; the company’s failed test of its oil spill containment dome; and Shell’s inability to meet initial air pollution standards.

It is unclear what kind of damage the Kulluk sustained and how much time and money will be spent to fix it before drilling is set to resume in midsummer. It is unlikely Shell could drill any wells in the Arctic without the Kulluk, which federal officials have required to be available to drill a relief well in the case of a blowout in the Chukchi.

“It may be the federal government doesn’t have much discretion in the matter,” said Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society, who cited the darkness, ice, freezing temperatures and this past week’s cyclone in the Gulf of Alaska as examples of the risks Shell and others will face.

“There’s no credible evidence that Shell can operate safely and without incident,” Epstein said.

A spokesman for the Interior Department today said that if drilling does occur this summer, the agency will continue to have inspectors on board each drill rig around the clock.

“The administration understands that the Arctic environment presents unique challenges, and that’s why the secretary has repeatedly made clear that any approved drilling activities will be held to the highest safety and environmental standards,” Blake Androff said. “The department will continue to carefully review permits for any activity and all proposals must meet our rigorous standards.”

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has yet to issue drilling permits for Shell for the 2013 season.

BSEE yesterday said the Coast Guard is in charge of the design, construction, manning and navigation of the Kulluk when it is in transit and will continue to certify compliance of all mobile offshore drilling units sailing within the United States. The Coast Guard said it would make its investigation of the grounding available to the public.

In addition to drilling permits, Shell must also obtain new air permits for its summer drilling, and its oil spill response plan is still the subject of a federal lawsuit, Clusen said.
Shell has not said what impact the grounding of the Kulluk will have on its drilling plans this summer.

After an exhaustive review, the Obama administration last summer permitted the company to drill “top-holes” that stop short of oil-bearing reservoirs, as Shell struggled to certify its main oil spill response vessel, the Arctic Challenger.

President Obama is seen as favorable to Arctic drilling, and a moratorium there would open him up to fresh attacks from oil backers in Congress who say he has stifled oil and gas production from federal lands and waters.

But a moratorium would find support among many Democrats, including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. He sent letters today to the Coast Guard and Shell requesting information on how the company plans to respond to incidents such as this week’s grounding and how it will safely drill in the Arctic.

“This is just the most recent incident in Shell’s attempt to drill offshore in the Arctic and it raises serious questions about the company’s ability to conduct these operations safely and in a way that protects the environment,” Markey said in the letters.

But proponents of Arctic drilling were quick to point out that Monday’s grounding was a transportation accident far from Shell’s drilling sites and that it did not involve any crude oil.

Shell has taken unprecedented steps to ensure that a blowout does not occur off the North Slope, pledging to allow 24-hour monitoring by federal inspectors; to use double shear rams on its blowout preventers; and to have a fleet of oil spill response vessels on guard nearby, proponents said.
Latest on the Kulluk
Recovery personnel continue to monitor the Kulluk, which is on a sand and gravel beach off southeast Sitkalidak Island, an uninhabited island separated by a narrow strait from Kodiak Island.

The grounding took place Monday night about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City after towboats lost power and disconnected from the Kulluk amid hurricane-like winds.

After being thwarted by inclement whether Tuesday, a team of five salvage experts yesterday was able to board the drillship for the first time to conduct a three-hour structural evaluation and begin finalizing salvage plans.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter also delivered an emergency towing system to the Kulluk deck to assist in towing the 30-year-old vessel, which has no propulsion, to a place of refuge.

Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler, the federal on-scene coordinator, said yesterday that no divers were deployed to inspect the ship. There are still no signs of oil sheen or environmental impact.

The vessel’s three fuel tanks are clustered together near the center of the drillship and are protected by a double hull and space around the tanks.

“It’s a little premature for us to speculate on different ideas” about the salvage plans, Mehler said, according to a Twitter post from the Unified Command, which includes the Coast Guard, Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Shell and Noble Corp., whose personnel were manning the Kulluk.

The weather as of 6:30 Alaska Standard Time last night was slightly calmer, with winds at about 35 mph and seas at about 12 feet with occasional wave heights of 18 feet. Today’s weather is expected to be calmer still, with southeast winds of about 15 mph, gusting to 25 mph, and seas up to 9 feet.

Alaska DEC said two locations have been identified where steps could be taken to protect known salmon streams in the immediate area.

Threatened or endangered species potentially in the vicinity of the accident include Steller’s eiders, Southwest sea otters and Steller sea lions.

The Kulluk assessment team has spotted sea lions in the water near the ship, and goats were spotted on the adjacent uplands.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

San Francisco Chronicle: Calif. ocean sanctuaries to be doubled

slideshow online at:

Peter Fimrite
Updated 11:00 pm, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

President Obama is poised to protect 2,093 square nautical miles of ocean habitat off the coast of Sonoma and Mendocino counties, a move that would more than double the area covered by two national sanctuaries off the West Coast and permanently ban offshore oil drilling there.

The decision, expected Thursday, would create an enormous preserve stretching some 50 miles along the California coast and extending some 30 miles out to sea. It would also fulfill the long-held dream of Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who has tried repeatedly since 2004 to pass legislation protecting the coastal ecosystem.

Woolsey announced that she will be joined by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and a host of other dignitaries Thursday “to announce developments regarding the expansion of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries.”

End-around by Obama
The proposed expansion from Bodega Bay north to Point Arena in Mendocino County has been blocked repeatedly by congressional Republicans. The only foolproof way to accomplish it now in the face of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives is for President Obama to proclaim it a protected area by executive order, experts say.

“We’ve been leaning on the door to get this coast protected for a very long time, and I think the door is about to open,” said Richard Charter, a senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation who has been working for 35 years trying to create the sanctuary. “This is a historic and globally significant piece of protection. It would be the best possible Christmas present I could imagine, but not just for me. This would protect our coastal economy and our coastal ecosystem for future generations and be a legacy not only for Congresswoman Woolsey, but for President Obama.”

The expanded sanctuaries would cover a total of 3,458 square nautical miles – an area about the size of Delaware – and would create a continuous zone of protected ocean from southern Mendocino County all the way to Monterey Bay, which falls within a separate sanctuary. The ban on drilling, oil exploration and other industrial uses within the existing sanctuaries would be expanded, but fishing would be allowed.
Green energy, like wind or wave farms, would not necessarily be banned, but the sanctuary designation would offer an extra level of protection from potential environmental damage.

‘Yosemites of the sea’
The proposal would protect what marine biologists say is one of the most abundant ecological regions in the world, “Yosemites of the sea,” say environmentalists – all within view of some of California’s most picturesque and historic communities, including Jenner, Sea Ranch and Fort Ross.

The nutrient-rich waters from deep ocean upwellings in the Cordell and Farallones regions support about 20 percent of the world’s fish, including salmon. Birds and marine mammals, including sea lions, orcas and gray, blue and humpback whales, also thrive in the area.

It is important, Woolsey and others argue, because oil companies have had their eyes on the region for decades. Oil rigs were proposed in the 1970s, provoking widespread opposition. James Watt, interior secretary under President Ronald Reagan, diligently pursued oil exploration there in the 1980s.

After four years of trying, Woolsey finally managed to get a bill through Congress in 2008, but companion legislation introduced by Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., stalled in the Senate. Woolsey’s latest effort, HR192, has been blocked by House Republican leaders, primarily because it might limit future oil and gas production.

Network of preserves
The expected ruling would come a day after the California Fish and Game Commission finalized a network of undersea state reserves, called Marine Protected Areas, extending from Mexico to Oregon. The interconnected series of protected marine environments, most of which do not allow fishing, go 3 miles out from shore. The proposed national sanctuaries would extend 10 times farther out to sea.

Woolsey, who is retiring from Congress on Jan. 3, said the sanctuary designation is supported by environmentalists, fishing interests, state and local governments, university scientists and business leaders.

“The only meaningful opposition comes from national oil interests and their allies in Congress, outsiders who want to drill at any cost,” she wrote in support of her bill. “This is more than just a matter of environmental urgency; thousands of jobs hang in the balance too. The local fishermen support my sanctuary bill because their livelihoods depend on a rich harvest that’s only possible in a thriving marine ecosystem.”

Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: pfimrite@sfchronicle.com

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Calif-ocean-sanctuaries-to-be-doubled-4133535.php#ixzz2FZuRNcJK

Special thanks to Richard Charter

InsideBay Area: Obama to expand national marine sanctuaries, permanently ban oil drilling, up Sonoma and Mendocino coasts


By Paul Rogers progers@mercurynews.com
Posted: 12/20/2012 08:38:27 AM PST
Updated: 12/20/2012 09:34:51 AM PST

In a move that would permanently ban oil drilling along more than 50 miles of Northern California coast, the Obama administration is scheduled this morning to announce plans to expand two northern California marine sanctuaries, extending them up the rugged Sonoma and Mendocino Coast.

The announcement, scheduled at an 11:15 am PST news conference in Washington D.C., with members of the Bay Area congressional delegation and officials from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will mark the largest expansion of national marine sanctuaries in California in 20 years — since President George. H.W. Bush established the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992.

The new protected area will enlarge of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries by 2,771 square miles, more than doubling their size, and will extend from Bodega Bay near the Marin County-Sonoma County border north to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

The area is one of the West’s most scenic coastal landscapes, famous for its steep cliffs, rugged wind-swept bluffs and long sandy beaches. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, oil companies showed interest in sinking new rigs off the area, which includes the communities of Jenner, Sea Ranch and Gualala, along with Fort Ross, a former Russian fur-trading outpost dating back to 1812.
“The waters off the northern California coast are incredibly nutrient-rich and drive the entire natural
system and, for almost a decade, local communities have been petitioning their elected officials to expand sanctuary protection to these areas,” said Daniel J. Basta, director of the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

In recent months, retiring Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-San Rafael, led efforts to urge Obama to create a new national monument along the scenic Sonoma coast using his executive authority. Obama declined to create a monument and instead used the NOAA administrative process, which requires public hearings and environmental studies and is expected to take months, if not a year, to finalize.

The reason: President George W. Bush used executive authority to create a marine monument in the remote Northern Hawaiian islands during his presidency, upsetting some Gulf of Mexico senators who were concerned the authority might one day be used by presidents to ban oil drilling there, an administration source said Thursday. As a result, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said during her confirmation hearings several years ago that the Obama administration would not create national monuments in the oceans, but instead use existing NOAA rules.

NOAA has the authority, without a vote of Congress, to enlarge sanctuary boundaries. Efforts are already under way by NOAA, for example, to expand the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to include a small section of water in front of the Golden Gate Bridge that was left out of the original Monterey sanctuary designation in 1992.

Although technically, the Obama administration could change its mind after the public hearings, that is highly unlikely. The expanded boundaries are supported by Gov. Jerry Brown and a large number of the state’s congressional representatives. And NOAA has never reversed course after starting a sanctuary expansion and decided not to proceed.
National marine sanctuaries ban oil drilling and other extractive activities. They do not ban fishing or boating, however.

At a White House Christmas party earlier this month, Woolsey discussed expanding sanctuary protections up the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts with Vice President Joe Biden and briefly with the president as he was posing for photos with members of Congress.

Last month, she talked with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the issue when he visited Marin County.

Meanwhile, 12 California House members sent Obama a letter in recent weeks seeking the new preserve. The signatories included Northern California Democrats Jackie Speier, Zoe Lofgren, George Miller, Barbara Lee, John Garamendi, Mike Thompson, Anna Eshoo and Sam Farr.

“Unfortunately, the hazards faced by our coast area are real and imminent,” the letter said.
Woolsey has tried to pass bills in Congress since 2004 with the same goal. But her most recent effort, HR192, has been blocked by House Republican leaders who oppose new limits on oil and gas production. And Woolsey is retiring from Congress when the current session ends Jan. 3.

Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Huffington Post: California Fracking Rules Slammed By Environmentalists As Shale Oil Boom Threatens To Remake State


Posted: 12/19/2012 5:48 pm EST | Updated: 12/19/2012 8:00 pm EST

SAN FRANCISCO — Just below California’s surface lies enough shale oil to fundamentally transform the state’s entire economy.

And for the first time in the state’s history, California regulators have seriously started to grapple with how the state deals with the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in order to retrieve that oil.

Industry representatives insist the practice — which involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into an oil or natural gas well to stimulate production — is safe, and note that it has been employed in some California wells for decades. But environmentalists worry that fracking could soon become ubiquitous, doing untold damage to the state’s environment in the process.

“These are the first steps in a larger discussion about fracking we’re going to have,” explained Jason Marshall of the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources during a conference call Tuesday announcing a new set of rules governing fracking in the state.

California has previously lacked a specific set of guidelines for how to deal with fracking, which has sparked oil and natural gas bonanzas in places Pennsylvania, North Dakota and northeastern Texas. Due to a loophole inserted into the Bush Administration’s 2005 energy bill, a large portion of what happens with fracking — particularly natural gas drilling — is exempted from federal oversight, so the practice is entirely left up to the individual states.

California’s proposed regulations include requirements that all wells using hydraulic fracturing take safety measures to prevent seepage and test machinery regularly. They specify how wastewater is to be stored and discarded and mandate energy companies to regularly monitor old wells after active drilling has ceased.

The rules also require energy companies to publicly release a whole host of information about each well they frack — from the exact location to the makeup of the fluid being injected.

“If these requirements keep someone out of the fracking market because they can’t afford it,” Marshall said, “we’re fine with that.”

Some environmental activists, such as the Center For Biological Diversity’s Kassie Siegel, are less than impressed with the new rules.

Siegel, whose organization is suing both the state of California and the federal government for not doing enough to regulate fracking on public lands leased in an increasingly controversial set of mineral rights auctions, charged that the latest measures don’t ensure environmental safety. “These draft regulations would keep California’s fracking shrouded in secrecy and do little to contain the many threats posed by fracking,” Siegel said in a statement. “[They] are going to have to be completely rewritten if the goal is to provide real protection for our air, water, and communities.”

Siegel argues that the regulations fail to address air pollution and don’t require drilling operations to capture the methane released in the process.

She said that a quarter of all the chemicals used in fracking are known carcinogens, and some people living near fracked wells have reported health ailments like vomiting, nausea and seizures. “We should have baseline testing of air and water quality around fracked wells, but we don’t,” Siegel said.

Conversely, industry backers have pointed to a year-long study conducted in Southern California’s Ingleside Oil Field that found no negative health, air quality or seismic effects from the fracking occurring there. The study, sponsored by an oil company as part of a lawsuit, has been criticized by environmentalists for not looking at the long-term heath effects of fracking and failing to disclose that one of its peer reviewers had close ties to the energy industry.

California has been a major oil producer for over a century and is one of the top five oil-producing states in the nation. But a report issued last year by the U.S. Energy Information Administration released information that could easily kick state production into overdrive.

The research found that the Monterey Shale, a rock formation running underneath much of Central California, contains 15 billion barrels of oil, or some 64 percent of all the recoverable shale oil in the United States. “This shale alone could provide for our domestic oil needs for 50 years,” said Dave Quast of the industry-backed research and public outreach group Energy In Depth.

Despite the area’s enormous oil reserves, the formation’s unique geology has impeded previous efforts to drill. The conditions underground vary widely from one location to another, making it difficult to predict the productivity of any given well based on its neighbors. One well could yield a torrent of oil while the one next door could turn up dry.

As a result, it’s a lot riskier, therefore significantly more expensive, to tap directly into the Monterey Shale than continue to rely on the traditional plays that have long been the backbone of the state’s oil production.

No one yet has been able to find the key to unlocking vast oil wealth hidden inside the Monterey Shale. When they do, however, not only will those techniques likely involve fracking, but the economic and environmental implications have the potential to be enormous.

Environmentalists predict that much drilling would be devastating. “The 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale are a carbon bomb,” Siegel said. “If we dig this up and burn it, we’re going to counteract all of California’s pollution reduction efforts.”

On the other hand, California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, something that boosters of increased oil production argue could be largely remedied through more drilling. “North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country and that’s largely due to oil and gas development,” said Quast, of Energy In Depth.
Californians themselves are relatively split on fracking, with a recent Public Policy Institute poll showing a roughly even number of Golden State residents falling on either side of the issue.

The poll found opposition to fracking falling along the expected partisan lines, with liberals and urban dwellers in regions like Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area less like to support the practice. However, some residents in California’s rural, agricultural centers — areas like Kern County, where the majority of the state’s oil production takes place — have also voiced concerns.

“We work with a lot of agricultural groups and small farmers, most of whom are shocked to discover that fracking is happening near them,” said Kristen Lynch of Food & Water Watch, a national organization that opposes fracking. A recent report by the Oakland-based group noted that 10 chemicals commonly used in fracking are known to cause cancer or reproductive harm, and some farmers are concerned about these chemicals contaminating the groundwater and affecting their crops.

State regulators said they have yet to see any instances of significant contamination coming from a fracked well.

Some California municipalities, such as Culver City and Los Angeles, have taken steps toward banning the practice entirely.

California State Assemblyman Bob Wiecowski’s (D-Fremont), who reintroduced a bill earlier this month that seeks to clarify the state’s rules on fracking, shrugs off an outright ban as both premature and extreme. “We’re Californians and we like to hate oil companies. There are always going to be people who are looking to shoot Goliath in the eyeball,” he said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a moratorium before all the information about fracking has been disclosed. You don’t want to be in the dark when you make your decisions, and we’re all in the dark right now.”

Wiecowski emphasized that establishing a clear set of rules and regulations should be the state’s first priority. “It’s important to get all of this squared away now, before companies really figure how to tap into all of the oil in the shale,” he said. “Then we can all fight about Monterey.”

Fracking Photos

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Special thanks to Richard Charter

Mother Jones: Ouch! Sharp Lessons From Deepwater Horizon -By Julia Whitty


Fri Dec. 14, 2012 3:18 AM PST

The science journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) has published a Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Special Feature taking a look back 20 months after the explosion that killed eleven people and upended countless lives along the Gulf Coast. Specifically at what happened, what we learned, and what could be done better the next time around. The introduction is authored by Jane Lubchenco, administrator of NOAA, and Marcia McNutt, director of the USGS, among others. They write about the unprecedented scientific and engineering challenges suddenly thrown down in an arena of chaos:*

[S]topping the flow of oil, estimating the amount of oil, capturing and recovering the oil, tracking and forecasting surface oil, protecting coastal and oceanic wildlife and habitat, managing fisheries, and protecting the safety of seafood. Disciplines involved included atmospheric, oceanographic, biogeochemical, ecological, health, biological, and chemical sciences, physics, geology, and mechanical and chemical engineering. Platforms ranged from satellites and planes to ships, buoys, gliders, and remotely operated vehicles to laboratories and computer simulations… Many valuable lessons were learned that should be applied to future events.

High on their wish list:

-The importance of preparedness. The consequences of lack of investment in recent decades in scientific understanding and technological development were brutally obvious during BP’s mess.

-Preparedness means a better basic understanding of the places likely to be affected by a spill at the scale of ‘large marine ecosystems’ such as the the Gulf of Mexico.

-We need to mobilize funding for research fast during a spill, especially early on.

-We need a better way for government to talk to the broadly-dispersed scientific community during a spill.

-We need a new way for scientists to maintain intellectual property of their data so that it will still be considered publishable by journals later on, even as it’s released so the media and public can know what’s going on in as it happens.

Here’s a quick look at the findings of a few of the other papers in the special feature.

Photo: Howard Jelks via Wikimedia Commons. Mashup: Julia Whitty.
This paper begins by noting that the biological consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are unknown especially for plants and animals that live year-round in areas that were oiled. The authors studied killifish-small dwellers of the coastal marshes of the Gulf coast-during the first four months of the spill. They found that fish living in oiled areas showed significant biological changes including genetic changes. The embryos and larval forms of killifish exposed to contaminated waters showed genetic changes of the type that lead to developmental abnormalities, decreased hatching success, and decreased survival. Overall the levels of biological and genetic changes in Gulf killifish in oiled waters were similar to what was seen in fish, sea otters, and harlequin ducks who initially survived the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska but who afterwards suffered population declines.
-Andrew Whitehead, et al. Genomic and physiological footprint of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on resident marsh fishes. PNAS 2012. doi:10.1073/pnas.1109545108

Photo: pennstatelive via Flickr. Mashup: Julia Whitty.
This paper assessed the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deep-water coral communities of the Gulf of Mexico. The authors examined 11 sites three to four months after the well was capped. They found healthy coral communities at all sites (map here) more than 12 miles / 20 kilometers from the Macondo well. But one site less than 7 miles / 11 kilometers away got walloped. The coral colonies there showed widespread signs of stress including: varying degrees of tissue loss; enlargement of sclerites (small bonelike supports); excess mucous production (think: snot); brittle stars (like the one wrapped around the coral sea fan in the photo above) that were bleached (think: stressed and unhealthy); and corals smothered with brown fluffy material called floc. Forty-three corals colonies were photographed at the contaminated site. About half of those colonies showed signs of stress in more than half the colony. A quarter of those colonies showed signs of stress in >90 percent of the colony. The brittle stars living commensally with the deep-water corals were hard hit too, with 53 percent displaying abnormal colors and/or attachment to the corals. Petroleum biomarkers in the floc bore the signature of oil from Deepwater Horizon. The authors write:
The presence of recently damaged and deceased corals beneath the path of a previously documented plume emanating from the Macondo well provides compelling evidence that the oil impacted deep-water ecosystems. Our findings underscore the unprecedented nature of the spill in terms of its magnitude, release at depth, and impact to deep-water ecosystems.
-Helen K. White, et al. Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep-water coral community in the Gulf of Mexico. PNAS 2012. doi:10.1073/pnas.1118029109

Photo: SkyTruth via Flickr. Mashup: Julia Whitty.
This paper reports on a wide range of gases and aerosols measured from aircraft around, downwind, and away from the Deepwater Horizon site, plus hydrocarbon measurements made from ships in the area. As you might guess air quality issues were different for workers at the site than for people living along the Gulf coast. Four sources of primary air pollutants attributable to the oil spill were detected including: hydrocarbons evaporating from the oil; smoke from deliberate burning of the oil slick; combustion products from the flaring of recovered natural gas; and ship emissions from the recovery and cleanup operations. Secondary organic aerosols that formed over the oil spill were dispersed in a wide plume which continued to increase in mass downwind, likely increasing aerosol particles in coastal communities. Hydrocarbons and ozone were also found downwind of the spill site though confined to narrower plumes.
-Ann M. Middlebrook, et al. Air quality implications of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. PNAS 2012. doi:10.1073/pnas.1110052108

Photo and mashup: Julia Whitty
Other papers in the special issue deal with estimating the flow rate of the well after blowout, plus the decision to cap the well, federal seafood safety response, and a lot more. All the Deepwater Horizon papers in this PNAS issue are open access so you can read without a subscription.
This paper and this one looked at the effects of the microbial communities in reponse to the sudden eruption of oil and gas into the surface and deep waters of the Gulf. The blowout fed a deep sea bacterial bloom that ate hydrocarbons, formed a localized low-oxygen (hypoxic) zone, and altered the microbiology of the region. Blooms of microbes arose in the plumes of oiled and gassed water, plumes which then sometimes cycled on currents back to the spill site now ready populated with microbes ready to eat more erupting oil and gas. This made for an efficient natural compost system. Since crude oil is composed of thousands of different hydrocarbon compounds that biodegrade at different rates in different depths and water temperatures, the erupted plumes were colonized by different species of microbes at different stages, depths, and ages. (Thanks microbes!)
-David L. Valentine, et al. Dynamic autoinoculation and the microbial ecology of a deep water hydrocarbon irruption. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2012 109 (50) 20286-20291 doi:10.1073/pnas.1108820109
-Molly C. Redmond and David L. Valentine. Natural gas and temperature structured a microbial community response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. PNAS 201. doi:10.1073/pnas.1108756108

* Jane Lubchenco, et al. Science in support of the Deepwater Horizon response. PNAS 2012. doi:10.1073/pnas.1204729109

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: Wyden to push energy bills, not carbon tax, to address warming

Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Energy policies and not carbon prices will drive the U.S. response to climate change for the foreseeable future, the incoming Senate leader on energy issues said yesterday.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is expected to claim the gavel of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee next month, said in a brief interview that although certain lawmakers support a carbon tax, such a policy has little prospect of becoming law in the near future.

“I think this is a very significant lift right now politically,” Wyden said.

Wyden took part in bipartisan efforts earlier this fall aimed at avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1 if the White House and Congress do not act. Legislation addressing the crisis was once viewed as a possible opening for a carbon tax.

But while he took a dim view yesterday of chances for a carbon tax, Wyden said the same objective of reducing emissions could be achieved if the next Congress enacts policies that promote low-carbon energy.

“What I’m going to try to do in every practical way I can is to promote bipartisan approaches that advance a low-carbon economy,” he said.

Wyden’s comments echoed those made by Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) at a forum late last month (Greenwire, Nov. 28).
Wyden said some renewables, like biomass and hydropower, had been overlooked by policymakers despite having the potential to generate cleaner power in diverse regions of the country.

“What I’m going to try to do is be very results-oriented,” he said. He added that he was already talking to colleagues about ways to promote low-carbon energy.

While Wyden is expected to chair the energy panel, the death yesterday of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) opened the possibility that he could head the Intelligence Committee in the new Congress instead. But Wyden waved away questions about that possibility yesterday.

“I’m going to let Sen. [Harry] Reid make any announcements with respect to committees,” he said, referring to the Senate majority leader. But he added that he was continuing to lay the groundwork for his chairmanship of the energy panel.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: OFFSHORE DRILLING: Green group sues to block Interior’s 5-year leasing plan

Yes we can! DV

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, December 17, 2012

An environmental group today filed a lawsuit challenging the Interior Department’s five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan, arguing the agency has failed to accurately analyze the costs and benefits of the plan.

The Center for Sustainable Economy, in a filing to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and Administrative Procedure Act last summer when it finalized a plan to allow a dozen new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and up to three off the shores of Alaska.

The plan threatens catastrophic spills that could harm Gulf coastlines while failing to maximize revenue from lease sales, said the Santa Fe, N.M.-based group, which is represented in the case by Steven Sugarman and Michael Livermore of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law.

“Key factors were ignored by BOEM including the massive uncertainty associated with the potential for deepwater drilling disasters, the current glut in gas production, record U.S. fuel exports and the fact that millions of acres of existing leases are idle,” Sugarman said in a statement. “These omissions from BOEM’s economic analysis create an extreme and illegal bias in favor of new leasing.”

Recent lease sales have included 35 tracts in waters deeper than the BP PLC oil spill in April 2010, the group said.

An Interior spokesman today said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The agency in late June finalized a leasing plan that includes targeted new development off the North Slope of Alaska but forgoes sales in the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. Interior officials called it a “cautious but forward-looking” solution (E&ENews PM, June 28).

It was followed by the release of the final version of a rule designed to prevent a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 men and spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The agency’s drilling safety rule set in stone interim steps companies have largely followed since the Macondo well blowout to enhance well integrity, well control systems and blowout preventers
(Greenwire, Aug. 16).

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Cuba Uses New Rig to Continue Offshore Oil Exploration


2012-12-16 04:21:08 Xinhua Web Editor: Wang Wei

A new platform will be used to further explore the waters to the north of Cuba’s central region for oil, state oil company Cubapetroleo (CUPET) said Saturday.

The Norwegian oil rig, Songa Mercur, will start to drill the well L-01X in the next few days under a contract signed with Russian company Zarubezhneft, according to a release from the company published in the official Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma.

“As usual, this platform received inspections by CUPET experts and Cuban regulatory authorities to ensure that the operations are conducted with maximum safety and without damage to the environment,” it said.

The new rig replaces the oil platform Scarabeo 9, which left for North Africa on Nov. 14. The operation is scheduled to last approximately six months.

The well, with a depth of 6,500 meters, will be the deepest so far drilled in Cuba.

The oil rig was under inspection to verify that less than 10 percent of its components are manufactured in the United States, a restriction imposed by the U.S. as part of its economic sanctions against the island.

Cuba estimates about 20 billion barrels of oil reserves in its exclusive economic zone at the Gulf of Mexico, but the U.S Geologic Service considers a more modest figure of about 5 billion to 9 billion barrels.

The platform Songa Mercur is owned by the Norwegian company Songa Offshore and has all the necessary means to ensure the work to be done efficiently and safely, the release said.

Scarabeo 9, the previous oil rig, was also inspected by US experts in waters of Trinidad and Tobago, with the permit of the Spanish company Repsol, which had hired the platform.
Russian sources said that the first result of the operation will be announced in May 2013. Zarubezhneft, president of the directing board, Nikolai Brunich, traveled to Cuba in November as part of a high level delegation, which visited the Songa Mercur after its arrival in the island.

This will be the fourth exploratory trial, after the failure of the Scarabeo 9, which operated in three different blocks hired in consecutive occasions by the Spanish company Repsol, the Malaysian PC Gulf, the Russian group Gazprom Neft, and the Venezuelan state- owned PDVSA.

Since 2003, Cuba produces annually 21 million oil barrels and 1. 1 million cubic meters of natural gas, but this figure covers only half of its domestic power needs.

To compensate the other 50 percent, the island receives 10,000 oil barrels daily from Venezuela, its main political and economic ally, and the strongest oil power in the region. However, that supply has raised concerns after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had to go through a complicated fourth anticancer surgery in Havana, the capital of Cuba, including the removal of two vertebras of his backbone, and his previous announced warning on the possibility that he could not continue in office.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

UPI: BP asked to be open about gulf accident


Published: Dec. 14, 2012 at 6:02 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 (UPI) — British energy company BP is suspected of withholding evidence about a new oil sheen in the Gulf of Mexico, Democratic lawmakers said.

The U.S. Coast Guard, BP and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have worked to assess sheen observed in the Gulf of Mexico this fall. The Coast Guard confirmed that sheen was from the well that failed in 2010 and backed plans for a subsea survey.

U.S. Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., members of House energy committees, called on BP, the Coast Guard and other concerned parties to disclose what they’ve learned about the latest incidents.

“There is no statute of limitations or protections for a crime against the environment, and BP should immediately hand over any and all information related to this new chapter in their oil spill disaster,” Markey said in a statement.

BP had put a 750-pound cap over an opening in the so-called cofferdam, which was a failed attempt to seal the leak that resulted from an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010.

Duke Walker, federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon response, was quoted by New Orleans broadcaster WWL-TV as saying the “only” place oil could be was in the containment dome.

“During all three of our previous missions, we found no indications on any of the three well head sites, particularly the primary, that there was anything to be concerned about, and there was no sign of leaking oil,” he said. “Out of an abundance of caution, every time we’re down there, we’ll look again to verify that that’s the still case.”


UPI: BP in hot seat for Gulf of Mexico sheen

Published: Dec. 10, 2012 at 7:29 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (UPI) — U.S. lawmakers said they were turning to the U.S. Coast Guard to get information about sheen from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig accident.

The Coast Guard, BP and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have worked to assess sheen observed in the Gulf of Mexico in late September. The Coast Guard confirmed the sheen was from the well that failed in 2010 and backed plans for a subsea survey.

U.S. Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., members of House energy committees, issued a letter to the Coast Guard requesting more information about sheen observed in the area of the Deepwater Horizon wreck.

Markey and Waxman said they were concerned about lingering environmental effects from the 2010 spill.

“It is imperative that BP take all available actions to mitigate further environmental damage from its oil spill,” the letter read.

A review of peer-reviewed research on the spill by the U.S. Geological Survey said “for the most part” oil spilled during the incident was consumed by bacteria.

BP had put a 750-pound cap over an opening in the so-called cofferdam, which was a failed attempt to seal the leak that resulted from an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

CBS Evening News: Oil may be seeping from Deepwater Horizon site


Not again. This is so unbelieveable. It never ends! DV

December 13, 2012 7:42 AM

Sharyl Attkisson


CBS News has learned that BP is set to embark Thursday on the fifth day of a little-known subsea mission under Coast Guard supervision to look for any new oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The BP oil rig exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and sending a total estimated 206 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for three months before it was capped.
In September, a new oil sheen was spotted about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Tests confirmed the oil came from the infamous Macondo well underneath the Deepwater Horizon. BP’s underwater vehicle observed oil seeping from the well’s containment dome and, after a remote operation, declared the leaks plugged on October 23. The company and the Coast Guard said it wasn’t feasible to clean up the slick, and that it didn’t pose a risk to the shoreline.

But more oil continues to surface. Slicks and sheens of varying sizes and shapes have been documented by satellite photos, as well as aerial video recorded by the non-profit environmental group “On Wings of Care.” It’s suspected that an unknown amount of oil trapped in the containment dome, and in the wreckage and equipment from 2010, could be seeping out.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., helped lead the original investigation of BP after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, and says it’s deja vu: BP is not turning over videos and information requested by Congress.

“My concern is that substantial amounts of oil could still be leaking from the wreckage,” Markey told CBS News.

Last month, BP pleaded guilty to more than a dozen felonies from the 2010 disaster, including lying to Congress about how much oil was really pouring into the water.

Markey says BP is now repeating its stonewalling behavior of two years ago. For more than two months, Markey and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., have been asking BP for underwater video and information such as the size of the slicks and how much oil could be trapped, but BP has said it will not provide the information due to pending investigations and litigation.

“Back in 2010, I said BP was either lying or incompetent. Well, it turns out they were both,” says Markey. “This is the same crime scene, and the American public today is entitled to the same information that BP was lying about in 2010 so that we can understand the full dimension of the additional environmental damage.”

BP spent a fortune after the 2010 disaster — on ads to improve its image. It also spent $18 billion on cleanup and victims, and $4.5 billion more to settle criminal charges.
The Coast Guard canceled an interview with CBS News at the last minute on Wednesday. BP also declined to be interviewed but told us in a statement, “The Macondo well and its associated relief wells are secure.” BP also says it will work with the Coast Guard “on any further steps, as needed, to address the results” of this week’s survey of the wells and wreckage where oil from 2010 could still be trapped.


Special thanks to Richard Charter

The Ocean Foundation: Arctic Shipping is a Disaster Waiting to Happen by Richard Steiner


Posted on December 8, 2012

By Richard Steiner

When the Malaysian freighter Selendang Ayu grounded in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands eight years ago this week, it was a tragic reminder of the growing risks of northern shipping. While in-route from Seattle to China, in a fierce Bering Sea winter storm with 70-knot winds and 25-foot seas, the ship’s engine failed. As it drifted toward shore, there were no adequate ocean tugs available to take it in-tow, and it grounded off Unalaska Island on December 8, 2004. Six crewmen were lost, the vessel broke in half, and its entire cargo and over 335,000 gallons of heavy fuel spilled oil into waters of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge). Like other large marine spills, this spill was not contained, and it killed thousands of seabirds and other marine wildlife, closed fisheries, and contaminated many miles of shoreline.

Like most industrial disasters, the Selendang Ayu tragedy was caused by a dangerous combination of human error, financial pressures, mechanical failure, lax and government oversight, ([PDF]Grounding of Malaysian-flag Bulk Carrier M/V Selendang Ayu on). For a time, the disaster focused attention the risk of northern shipping. But while some risk factors were addressed, complacency quickly returned. Today, the Selendang tragedy is all but forgotten, and with increasing ship traffic, the risk now is greater than ever.

Every day, some 10-20 large merchant ships – container ships, bulk carriers, car carriers, and tankers – travel the “great circle route” between Asia and North America along the 1,200-mile Aleutian chain. As trade rebounds from the recession, shipping along this route is steadily increasing. And as global warming continues to melt summer sea ice, ship traffic is also rapidly increasing across the Arctic Ocean. This past summer, a record 46 merchant ships transited the Northern Sea Route between Europe and Asia across the Russian arctic (Barents Observer), a ten-fold increase from just two years ago. Over 1 million tons of cargo was hauled on the route in both directions this summer (a 50% increase over 2011), and most of this was hazardous petroleum product such as diesel fuel, jet fuel, and gas condensate. And the first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tanker in history traveled the route this year, carrying LNG from Norway to Japan in half the time it would have taken to travel the normal Suez route. The volume of oil and gas shipped on the Northern Sea Route is projected to reach 40 million tons annually by 2020. There is also increasing traffic of cruise ships (particularly around Greenland), fishing vessels, and ships servicing arctic oil and gas facilities and mines.

This is risky business. These are large vessels, carrying hazardous fuel and cargo, sailing treacherous seas along ecologically sensitive shorelines, operated by companies whose commercial imperatives often subvert safety, and with virtually no prevention or emergency response infrastructure along the way. Much of this traffic is foreign flagged and on “innocent passage,” under a Flag-of-Convenience

(What are Flags of Convenience?), with a Crew-of-Convenience, and with lower safety standards. And it all happens virtually out-of-sight, out-of-mind of the public and government regulators. Each of these ship transits puts at risk human life, economy, and environment, and the risk is growing every year. Shipping brings with it invasive species introductions, underwater noise, ship-strikes on marine mammals, and stack emissions. But as some of these vessels carry millions of gallons of heavy fuel, and tankers carry tens of millions of gallons of petroleum or chemicals, clearly the greatest fear is a catastrophic spill.

In response to the Selendang disaster, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, Alaska Natives, and commercial fishermen joined together in the Shipping Safety Partnership to advocate comprehensive safety improvements along the Aleutian and Arctic shipping routes (Alaska Oil Spill Motivates New Shipping Safety Coalition). In 2005, the Partnership called for real-time tracking of all ships, ocean rescue tugs, emergency tow packages, routing agreements, areas-to-be-avoided, increased financial liability, better aids-to-navigation, enhanced pilotage, mandatory communication protocols, better spill response equipment, increased cargo fees, and vessel traffic risk assessments. A few of these (the “low-hanging fruit”) have been implemented: additional tracking stations have been built, portable tow packages are pre-staged in Dutch Harbor, there is more funding and spill response equipment, an Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment was conducted (PUBLICATIONS > Related > AMSA – U.S. Arctic Research …), and an Aleutian shipping risk assessment is underway (Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment Project Home Page).

But in reducing the overall risk of Arctic and Aleutian shipping, the glass is still perhaps one-quarter full, three-quarters empty. The system is far from secure. For instance, ship-tracking remains inadequate, and still there are no powerful ocean rescue tugs stationed along the routes. By comparison, after Exxon Valdez, Prince William Sound now has eleven escort & response tugs on standby for its tankers (Alyeska Pipeline – TAPS – SERVS). In the Aleutians, a 2009 National Academy of Sciences report concluded: “None of the existing measures are adequate for responding to large vessels under severe weather conditions.”

Two areas of greatest concern, through which most of these ships travel, are Unimak Pass (between the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea in the eastern Aleutians), and Bering Strait (between the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean). As these areas support more marine mammals, seabirds, fish, crab, and overall productivity than virtually any other ocean ecosystem in the world, the risk is clear. One wrong turn or loss of power of a loaded tanker or freighter in these passes could easily lead to a major spill disaster. Accordingly, both Unimak Pass and Bering Strait were recommended in 2009 for international designation as Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas, and Marine National Monuments or Sanctuaries, but the U.S. government has yet to act on this recommendation (Don’t Expect New Marine Sanctuaries Under … – Common Dreams).

Clearly, we need to get a handle on this now, before the next disaster. All of the Shipping Safety Partnership’s recommendations from 2005 (above) should immediately be implemented across the Aleutian and Arctic shipping routes, particularly continuous ship tracking and rescue tugs. Industry should pay for it all via cargo fees. And, governments should make mandatory the International Maritime Organization’s Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic ice-covered Waters (IMO | Polar Shipping Safety), enhance search and rescue capacity, and establish Regional Citizens’ Advisory Councils (Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council) to oversee all offshore commercial activities.

Arctic shipping is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s not if, but when and where the next disaster will occur. It could be tonight or years from now; it could be in Unimak Pass, Bering Strait, Novaya Zemlya, Baffin Island, or Greenland. But it will happen. Arctic governments and the shipping industry need to get serious about reducing this risk as much as possible, and soon.

Richard Steiner conducts the Oasis Earth project – a global consultancy working with NGOs, governments, industry, and civil society to speed the transition to an environmentally sustainable society. Oasis Earth conducts Rapid Assessments for NGOs in developing nations on critical conservation challenges, reviews environmental assessments, and conducts fully developed studies.

Special thanks to Mark Spalding and The Ocean Foundation.

Truthout.org: BP to Shareholders: We’re Already Working With EPA to Lift Federal Contract Ban


Thursday, 29 November 2012 10:28 By Jason Leopold, Truthout | Report

Despite a long history of “egregious violations,” the behemoth oil company’s temporary suspension from obtaining lucrative government contracts may turn out to be much shorter than expected.

“BP is a serious serial corporate environmental criminal and a corporate serial killer…. [The company] always settles its cases with the government and promises to change its culture, but it continues to do the same thing over and over again.”
— Jeanne Pascal, former EPA debarment counsel
On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a surprise announcement stating that, effective immediately, the oil behemoth and more than a dozen of its subsidiary companies will be “ineligible” to “receive any federal contract or approved subcontract” as a result of BP’s agreement to plead guilty two weeks ago to a wide range of crimes directly related to the deadly April 2010 disaster in the Gulf.

“EPA is taking this action due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill and response as reflected by the filing [by the Justice Department] of a criminal information,” the EPA said in its statement.

The notice of suspension, sent to BP PLC chief executive Robert Dudley, states that on November 23 the EPA’s suspension and debarment division recommended that BP immediately be suspended from government contract work. The notice of suspension typically is preceded by a complaint document that lays out all of the reasons suspension and debarment is sought. The EPA did not provide Truthout with a copy of the complaint.

In a news release BP issued after it settled criminal charges related to the Gulf disaster, BP said the company “has not been advised of the intention of any federal agency to suspend or debar the company in connection with this plea agreement.”

The EPA’s announcement, which does not apply to BP’s existing federal contracts, was made the same day the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opened up for sale to oil companies more than 20 million acres in the Western Gulf of Mexico for oil and natural gas exploration and development. Also, on Wednesday, two BP supervisors who were aboard the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded were arraigned on manslaughter charges, and a former BP vice president was arraigned on false statements and obstruction of Congress. All three pleaded not guilty.

A BP spokeswoman said the company already had decided before the decision by the EPA to sit out Wednesday’s lease sale. But the EPA’s suspension would also have covered new drilling leases and so the timing of the agency’s announcement does not appear to be coincidental. BP was the high bidder in June for 43 leases to drill in the Central Gulf of Mexico, not far from the site of where the Macondo well ruptured and spewed millions of barrels of oil into the waters. BP is the largest deepwater leaseholder in the Gulf.

But after the EPA announced BP’s suspension, BP quickly issued a statement, downplaying the EPA’s action and attempting to reassure its shareholders, saying that the corporation “has been in regular dialogue with the EPA” and is already negotiating with federal regulators to lift the ban.

“The EPA has informed BP that it is preparing a proposed administrative agreement that, if agreed upon, would effectively resolve and lift this temporary suspension,” BP’s statement says. “The EPA notified BP that such a draft agreement would be available soon.”

BP noted that it has already provided “both a present responsibility statement of more than 100 pages and supplemental answers to the EPA’s questions based on that submission.”

“Moreover, in support of BP’s efforts to establish present responsibility, the US Department of Justice agreed, in the plea agreement, that it will advise any appropriate suspension or debarment authority that in the Department’s view, BP has accepted criminal responsibility for its conduct relating to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill and response,” BP’s statement said.

However, in a statement issued to Truthout, the EPA said that while the agency cannot specifically comment on BP’s claims about negotiations to lift the contracting ban, the plea agreement the company entered into “includes a remedial order that, if accepted by the court at sentencing, will specifically provide for BP to submit to the government a plan for addressing the conditions which gave rise to the statutory violations within 60 days.

“This plan must be approved by the government, at which time it becomes a condition of BP’s criminal probation,” the EPA statement said. “In addition, there are pending civil proceedings. The suspension could therefore continue until those proceedings are completed.”

Those civil proceedings could continue for at least another year.

Still, Scott Amey, general counsel with the watchdog organization Project on Government Oversight (POGO), which applauded the temporary suspension, said he is not surprised that “BP is doing its due diligence to convince the government that is a responsible company.

“However, the EPA should be watchful of promises, especially this late in the game,” Amey added. “A company’s culture can’t change overnight or over the course of a few days.”

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer cited the company’s corporate culture, in which it puts profits ahead of the safety and integrity of its operations, during a news conference in New Orleans two weeks ago, where the Justice Department announced that it had reached a settlement with BP over crimes related to the Gulf disaster.

“The explosion of the [Deepwater Horizon] was a disaster that resulted from BP’s culture of privileging profit over prudence,” Breuer said.

BP’s corporate culture has resulted in more than $10 billion in civil and criminal penalties against the oil giant over the past 17 years, evidenced most significantly by more than 700 infractions and/or violations identified by federal regulators in 2010 at its refineries, and alleged neglect at its other drilling rig in the Gulf called Atlantis.

It was BP’s negligence at the company’s Texas City refinery and its pipelines in Alaska, along with its manipulation of the Midwest propane market, to cite just a few examples, that originally led former EPA debarment counsel Jeanne Pascal to recommend in 2010 that the company be stripped of receiving additional federal contracts.

Pascal made that recommendation just a couple of months before the Gulf disaster and her retirement from the agency. She said she had prepared a “suspension and debarment complaint” against BP, “with about 60 exhibits, but “the debarment action went nowhere, not even after the well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Pascal told Truthout the EPA should not be engaging in any settlement discussions with BP over their federal contracts. She said BP’s statement tells her that the EPA gave the company a “heads-up” about the suspension.

“BP is a serious serial corporate environmental criminal and a corporate serial killer,” Pascal said. “They killed eleven people in the Gulf and fifteen people in Texas City – 26 people in the span of five years. BP always settles its cases with the government and promises to change its culture but it continues to do the same thing over and over again. They need to be held to the same standard that other [suspension and debarment] respondents are held to.”

A passionate environmentalist, Pascal said she believes there are certain companies whose “egregious violations” don’t warrant settlement, and BP is one of them.
“BP has killed millions of fish and marine mammals; they have ruined the fisheries in the Gulf as well as the tourist industry. The paltry $4 billion settlement [BP entered into with the government earlier this month] is not nearly enough to rectify the damage BP has done to the Gulf and its people. It’s not in the public interest to settle with BP at this time,” she said. “The government should insist on a period of years in which BP proves its corrupt corporate culture has changed, and that is has stopped putting profit over American lives and the safety of the environment.”

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) agreed that BP’s conduct warranted suspension.
“After pleading guilty to such reckless behavior that killed men and constituted a crime against the environment, suspending BP’s access to contracts with our government is the right thing to do,” said Markey, the ranking member o f the Natural Resources Committee. “When someone recklessly crashes a car, their license and keys are taken away. The wreckage of BP’s recklessness is still sitting at the bottom of the ocean and this kind of time out is an appropriate element of the suite of criminal, civil and economic punishments that BP should pay for their disaster.”

Rena Steinzor, the president of the Center for Progressive Reform and a professor a the University of Maryland School of Law, made the case for permanently debarring BP from receiving federal contracts because of its poor safety record.

But Amey, the POGO attorney, said, “suspension of large contractors doesn’t last that long. In past cases, it has lasted mere days.”

Pascal said suspension and debarment is an action taken “because of an immediate need for the government to protect itself.”

“I can guarantee you the EPA coordinated this action with the Department of Interior and the Department of Defense,” Pascal said. “EPA normally suspends or debars a company guilty of environmental crimes in the wake of a criminal action because conduct rising to criminal conduct is not presently responsible. This suspension is clearly designed to prevent BP from bidding on leases. That was, in part, the immediate need that needed action.”

BP’s contracting work has been a financial boon for the corporation.

In September, while BP was engaged in settlement discussions with the government over its role in the Gulf disaster, the company was awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in new Pentagon fuel contracts.

BP PLC is one of the Pentagon’s main fuel suppliers and one of the government’s top 100 contractors, with $1.47 billion worth in Fiscal Year 2011, which represents 179 government contracts, according to the web site USASpending.gov. This year alone, BP has won $1.1 billion in federal contracts. In just two years, BP has earned from the government more than half the money it is obligated to pay in fines related to the Gulf disaster.

At the same time, according to POGO, BP has racked up more instances of misconduct – 61 since 1995 -than any of the other top 100 corporations that receive government contracts and has paid $10 billion in civil and criminal penalties.
In an interview in 2010, Pascal said she had to proceed with caution when she considered debarring the oil company from receiving government contracts because of its relationship with the Pentagon.

“If I had debarred BP while they were supplying 80 percent of the fuel to US forces it would have been almost certain that the Defense Department would have been forced to get an exception,” Pascal said.

She noted at the time that the 80 percent figure was provided by her “contact,” an attorney, who works at the Defense Energy Support Center, part of the Defense Logistics Agency, which is responsible for purchasing all of the fuel for the military.
A Defense Logistics Agency spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Because the Pentagon is so heavily reliant on BP for fuel, top Pentagon officials can still seek to lift the ban for BP if they write a justification letter to Congress requesting permission to use the suspended contractor.

Pascal pointed to an executive order issued by Ronald Reagan in 1986 authorizing the federal government to use suspended, debarred or excluded contractors, in certain circumstances:
An agency may grant an exception permitting a debarred, suspended, or excluded party to participate in a particular transaction upon a written determination by the agency head or authorized designee stating the reason(s) for deviating from this Presidential policy. However, I intend that exceptions to this policy should be granted only infrequently.

BP has to convince the federal government that it’s now a responsible corporation in order to win back the government’s business. But Pascal rattled off a list of major violations dating back to 1999 that she said proves BP’s “promises and assurances” should not be “trusted as truth.”

“BP needs to prove they have changed,” she said. “The Deepwater Horizon disaster was too extensive to trust BP…. Promises from this company should be disregarded.”
Copyright, Truthout.

Jason Leopold
Jason Leopold is lead investigative reporter of Truthout. He is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir. Visit jasonleopold.com for a preview. His most recent investigative report, “From Hopeful Immigrant to FBI Informant: The Inside Story of the Other Abu Zubaidah,” is now available as an ebook. Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonLeopold.
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Special thanks to Richard Charter

KUOW: Sea Trial Leaves Shell’s Arctic Oil-Spill Gear “Crushed Like A Beer Can”



Credit BSEE
The Arctic Challenger’s containment dome, crumpled after a field test in Puget Sound

Shell Oil has been building and testing equipment designed for the Arctic Ocean here in Puget Sound. In September, a key test of underwater oil-spill equipment was a spectacular failure.

It forced the energy giant to postpone drilling into oil-bearing rocks beneath the Arctic Ocean until next summer. Shell and its federal regulators have been tight-lipped about the failed test.

But a freedom-of-information request reveals what happened beneath the surface of Puget Sound.

The final obstacle to Arctic drilling
Before Shell can drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, it needs to prove to federal officials that it can clean up a massive oil spill there. That proof hinges on a barge being built in Bellingham called the Arctic Challenger.

The barge is only one component of Shell’s plans for handling oil spills off the remote north coast of Alaska. But the Obama Administration won’t let oil drilling get under way until the 36-year-old barge and its brand new oil-spill equipment are in place.

On board the Arctic Challenger is a massive steel “containment dome.” It’s a sort of giant underwater vacuum cleaner. If efforts to cap a blown-out well don’t work, the dome can capture spewing oil and funnel it to a tanker on the surface.

The Arctic Challenger passed several US Coast Guard tests for seaworthiness in September. But it was a different story when its oil-spill containment system was put to the test in 150-foot-deep water near Anacortes, Washington.

The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement required the test of the oil-spill system.

“Breached like a whale”
According to BSEE internal emails obtained by KUOW, the containment dome test was supposed to take about a day. That estimate proved to be wildly optimistic.

Day 1: The Arctic Challenger’s massive steel dome comes unhooked from some of the winches used to maneuver it underwater. The crew has to recover it and repair it.
Day 2: A remote-controlled submarine gets tangled in some anchor lines. It takes divers about 24 hours to rescue the submarine.

Day 5: The test has its worst accident. On that dead-calm Friday night, Mark Fesmire, the head of BSEE’s Alaska office, is on board the Challenger. He’s watching the underwater video feed from the remote-control submarine when, a little after midnight, the video screen suddenly fills with bubbles. The 20-foot-tall containment dome then shoots to the surface. The massive white dome “breached like a whale,” Fesmire e-mails a colleague at BSEE headquarters.

Then the dome sinks more than 120 feet. A safety buoy, basically a giant balloon, catches it before it hits bottom. About 12 hours later, the crew of the Challenger manages to get the dome back to the surface. “As bad as I thought,” Fesmire writes his BSEE colleague. “Basically the top half is crushed like a beer can.”

Representatives of Shell Oil and for BSEE declined to answer questions or allow interviews about the mishaps. In an email, Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh writes:
Our internal investigation determined the Arctic Challenger’s dome was damaged when it descended too quickly due to a faulty electrical connection, which improperly opened a valve. While safety systems ensured it did not hit the bottom, buoyancy chambers were damaged from the sudden pressure change.

Environmental groups say the Arctic Challenger’s multiple problems show that Shell isn’t prepared for an Arctic oil spill.

Environmentalist Todd Guiton lives on Sehome Hill in Bellingham. His condo overlooks the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, where the Arctic Challenger has been under construction for a year now.

“Just look out our window, and there it is,” Guiton says.

He says the steel dome came back from its sea trial with its top half crumpled like a piece of paper. In the two months since, Guiton says, he’s been watching Shell contractors rebuild the dome and reinforce it with more steel.
“This has to be a very beefy operation to do what they claim it’ll do,” Guiton says.

It failed under very calm, tranquil conditions in the best time of year up here in the Pacific Northwest. If it can’t handle the best we have here, I really have my doubts it can handle even a little adversity in the Arctic.

Spokeswoman op de Weegh wouldn’t say what Shell is doing to fix the dome or when it would be ready for testing again.

Earlier in November, the Obama administration called for more research into handling oil spills in the far North.

The Arctic Research Commission said oil-spill experiments and tests need to be done in the Arctic Ocean and that federal regulators need more staff or more time to properly vet proposals for offshore drilling at the top of the world.

Emails obtained by KUOW between Mark Fesmire, the head of BSEE’s Alaska office, and his colleague at BSEE.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Cuba Standard: Russian oil company to invest $126m in offshore exploration


November 17, 2012

Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft will spend close to $126 million on near-shore exploration off north-central Cuba that will begin in December, a Russian official said during a visit to the island.

The Songa Mercur, a Soviet-built and Norwegian-owned semi-submersible, arrived Nov. 15 in Cuban waters, Russian Comptroller Sergei Stepashin confirmed. According to Russian news service rt.com, a delegation of Russian and Cuban officials visited the platform Thursday, after it arrived in Cuban waters from Trinidad & Tobago. The group included Stepashin, Zarubezhneft CEO Nikolay Brunich, and Russia’s ambassador to Havana, Mikhail Kamyshin.

Zarubezhneft chartered the semi-submersible for 325 days to drill in Block L, the easternmost of four blocks the company leased in 2009. Block L is located off the keys of Villa Clara province, near Cayo Santa María, a new beach tourism destination Cuba has been developing over the past 10 years.

The first exploration results, according to Stepashin, will be announced in May.

“It’s an important investment, but it’s an investment in the future,” Stepashin said, according to RIA Novosti, before meeting with Raúl Castro. Both expressed confidence, according to the Russian news service.

“We hope that in a fourth intent, following three failed ones, we will see ‘big oil’,” the Russian official said, referring to exploratory drilling this year by the Scarabeo 9 platform. “This would be of enormous help to the Cuban economy and a step ahead in our relations, as well as a response to the defenders of the [U.S. embargo].”

Zarubezhneft’s confidence is based on prospecting done by the Soviet predecessor company, he said.

The Songa Mercur is owned by Oslo-based Songa Offshore AS. The shallow-water rig, built in in a Soviet shipyard 1989 and updated in Galveston, Texas, in 2007, can drill in depths of up to 1,200 feet. In contrast, the Scarabeo 9 platform, used by Repsol, Petronas and PdVSA in Cuba, can drill in depths up to 12,000 feet; the Scarabeo was custom-built in China and Singapore with minimal U.S. content, to comply with U.S. sanctions.

Zarubezhneft subsidiary JSC RMNTK Nefteotdacha has also begun onshore prospecting in the Boca de Jaruco area near Havana and expects to begin drilling in March or April. Last year, the Russian oil company signed an agreement with CubaPetróleo about the use of experimental technology to maximize production in the mature oil field. If the technology is successful, Zarubezhneft and CubaPetróleo will expand their cooperation.

Before the visit to the oil rig, Stepashin and Cuban officials signed anti-corruption agreements in Havana that include training and professional enhancement courses for Cuban auditors.

Zarubezhneft is drilling in Block L, the easternmost of four blocks contracted in 2009

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Huffington Post: U.S. Poised To Become World’s Top Oil Producer; May Soon Overtake Saudi Arabia


By JONATHAN FAHEY 10/23/12 04:10 PM ET EDT

NEW YORK – U.S. oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest producer.

Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.

The boom has surprised even the experts.

“Five years ago, if I or anyone had predicted today’s production growth, people would have thought we were crazy,” says Jim Burkhard, head of oil markets research at IHS CERA, an energy consulting firm.

The Energy Department forecasts that U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons, which includes biofuels, will average 11.4 million barrels per day next year. That would be a record for the U.S. and just below Saudi Arabia’s output of 11.6 million barrels. Citibank forecasts U.S. production could reach 13 million to 15 million barrels per day by 2020, helping to make North America “the new Middle East.”

The last year the U.S. was the world’s largest producer was 2002, after the Saudis drastically cut production because of low oil prices in the aftermath of 9/11. Since then, the Saudis and the Russians have been the world leaders.

The United States will still need to import lots of oil in the years ahead. Americans use 18.7 million barrels per day. But thanks to the growth in domestic production and the improving fuel efficiency of the nation’s cars and trucks, imports could fall by half by the end of the decade.

The increase in production hasn’t translated to cheaper gasoline at the pump, and prices are expected to stay relatively high for the next few years because of growing demand for oil in developing nations and political instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

Still, producing more oil domestically, and importing less, gives the economy a significant boost.

The companies profiting range from independent drillers to large international oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, which increasingly see the U.S. as one of the most promising places to drill. ExxonMobil agreed last month to spend $1.6 billion to increase its U.S. oil holdings.

Increased drilling is driving economic growth in states such as North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana and Texas, all of which have unemployment rates far below the national average of 7.8 percent. North Dakota is at 3 percent; Oklahoma, 5.2.

Businesses that serve the oil industry, such as steel companies that supply drilling pipe and railroads that transport oil, aren’t the only ones benefiting. Homebuilders, auto dealers and retailers in energy-producing states are also getting a lift.

IHS says the oil and gas drilling boom, which already supports 1.7 million jobs, will lead to the creation of 1.3 million jobs across the U.S. economy by the end of the decade.

“It’s the most important change to the economy since the advent of personal computers pushed up productivity in the 1990s,” says economist Philip Verleger, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

The major factor driving domestic production higher is a newfound ability to squeeze oil out of rock once thought too difficult and expensive to tap. Drillers have learned to drill horizontally into long, thin seams of shale and other rock that holds oil, instead of searching for rare underground pools of hydrocarbons that have accumulated over millions of years.

To free the oil and gas from the rock, drillers crack it open by pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure, a process is known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

While expanded use of the method has unlocked enormous reserves of oil and gas, it has also raised concerns that contaminated water produced in the process could leak into drinking water.

The surge in oil production has other roots, as well:
_ A long period of high oil prices has given drillers the cash and the motivation to spend the large sums required to develop new techniques and search new places for oil. Over the past decade, oil has averaged $69 a barrel. During the previous decade, it averaged $21.

_ Production in the Gulf of Mexico, which slowed after BP’s 2010 well disaster and oil spill, has begun to climb again. Huge recent finds there are expected to help growth continue.

_ A natural gas glut forced drillers to dramatically slow natural gas exploration beginning about a year ago. Drillers suddenly had plenty of equipment and workers to shift to oil.

The most prolific of the new shale formations are in North Dakota and Texas. Activity is also rising in Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio and other states.

Production from shale formations is expected to grow from 1.6 million barrels per day this year to 4.2 million barrels per day by 2020, according to Wood Mackenzie, an energy consulting firm. That means these new formations will yield more oil by 2020 than major oil suppliers such as Iran and Canada produce today.

U.S. oil and liquids production reached a peak of 11.2 million barrels per day in 1985, when Alaskan fields were producing enormous amounts of crude, then began a long decline. From 1986 through 2008, crude production fell every year but one, dropping by 44 percent over that period. The United States imported nearly 60 percent of the oil it burned in 2006.

By the end of this year, U.S. crude output will be at its highest level since 1998 and oil imports will be lower than at any time since 1992, at 41 percent of consumption.
“It’s a stunning turnaround,” Burkhard says.

Whether the U.S. supplants Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest producer will depend on the price of oil and Saudi production in the years ahead. Saudi Arabia sits on the world’s largest reserves of oil, and it raises and lowers production to try to keep oil prices steady.

Saudi output is expected to remain about flat between now and 2017, according to the International Energy Agency.

But Saudi oil is cheap to tap, while the methods needed to tap U.S. oil are very expensive. If the price of oil falls below $75 per barrel, drillers in the U.S. will almost certainly begin to cut back.

The International Energy Agency forecasts that global oil prices, which have averaged $107 per barrel this year, will slip to an average of $89 over the next five years – not a big enough drop to lead companies to cut back on exploration deeply.

Nor are they expected to fall enough to bring back the days of cheap gasoline. Still, more of the money that Americans spend at filling stations will flow to domestic drillers, which are then more likely to buy equipment here and hire more U.S. workers.

“Drivers will have to pay high prices, sure, but at least they’ll have a job,” Verleger says.
Follow Jonathan Fahey on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Canada Politics: ‘Defend our coast’ protesters to stage mass rally at B.C. legislature over Northern Gateway pipeline


By Andy Radia
Politics Reporter

By Andy Radia | Canada Politics – 14 hours ago

Anti-oil pipeline activists have planned two events: one rally starting on Monday morning on the grounds of the Š

It’s going to be a protest-mania this week in British Columbia.

Anti-oil pipeline activists have planned two events: one rally starting on Monday morning on the grounds of the legislature and a series of rallies on Wednesday at MLA offices throughout the province.

Some are dubbing Monday’s sit-in the “largest act of peaceful civil disobedience on the climate issue that Canada has ever seen.” Organizers are expecting upwards of 3,500 protesters and a series of high profile guest speakers including Green Party leader Elizabeth May and B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix.

Zoe Blunt from the Forest Action Network says while she expects the event to be peaceful, they want to send a message to Prime Minister Harper and B.C. premier Christy Clark that Canadians don’t want tar sands pipelines and tankers on the west coast.

“We’re sending a signal to the government about exactly how strongly people feel about stopping tankers and pipelines and how far they’re willing to go to make sure that happens,” she told Yahoo! Canada News.

“People are willing to commit civil disobedience and they’re willing to risk arrest and risk their freedom to show the government that this is not acceptable. People will not accept this.”
The demonstrators will essentially be protesting in front of an empty building, given that the governing Liberals have cancelled the Fall sitting of the legislature.
The cancellation was one of the reasons organizers added the second day of protest, at the constituency offices of 55 MLAs.

George Hoberg, a UBC professor who is organizing the demonstration in premier Clark’s riding, says he’s expecting about 250 people at his event.

“We’re expecting [Clark] to be there, because if she’s not at the legislature she should really be in her constituency office, right?” he told Yahoo!.

The so-called ‘Defend our coast’ protests are endorsed by the likes of David Suzuki, Stephen Lewis, Daryl Hannah, Michael Moore, Ellen Page and Pamela Anderson.
In a recent interview with Vancouver Co-op Radio, reprinted at Rabble.ca, Suzuki talked about the need for civil disobedience in the battle against pipelines.

“I think we should be ready to put our bodies on the line if it’s imperative to really make a demonstration about how urgently we feel about this,” he said.

“We’ve got to be ready to put our bodies on the line.”

The protests get under way at 11am pacific standard time.

B.C. legislature jammed with pipeline protesters
: Thousands of opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline packed the lawn at the B.C. legislature in Victoria.

[ Related: Jim Prentice predicts legal confrontation with First Nations over oil sands pipeline ]

Special thanks to Richard Charter

SustainableBusiness.com News: Amazon Farmers Seize Chevron Assets


This is the BEST news I have heard in ages. The last sentence is the zinger!!!!

10/17/2012 02:17 PM

In a huge success for Amazon farmers that have been suing Chevron for 18 years, an Ecuadorian court ruled they can seize $200 million in assets from the oil company.

That includes $96.3 million the Ecuador government owes Chevron, money held in Ecuadorean bank accounts by Chevron, and licensing fees generated by the use of the company’s trademarks in the country, reports Reuters.

Chevron has been struggling to get out of paying $19 billion in damages to Ecuadorean villagers for polluting rivers with 16 billion gallons of oil sludge from 1964-1990.

This is a critically important case – the first time an indigenous community has prevailed against a multinational corporation. Oil companies are, of course, keeping close watch on this case as it provides an important precedent for communities to fight their pollution. Shell has a similar case against it in Nigeria.

The company even took it to the US Supreme court, which last week rejected Chevron’s attempt to overturn the $19 billion judgment against it.

The suit was originally brought against Texaco (bought by Chevron in 2001). In February 2011, an Ecuadorean judge imposed damages for $8.6 billion – the fine has more than doubled since then because Chevron has not made the public apology the court required.
Instead, the company filed an appeal in New York to block the judgment, saying it was illegal and unenforceable under the state’s law – and a federal judge took its side in March 2011.

But earlier this year, an appeals court overturned that decision, noting US courts can’t interfere with courts from other countries. So Chevron appealed again – this time to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s rejection of that appeal opened the door for this week’s ruling, issued in the Amazon town of Lago Agrio.

“This is a huge first step for the rainforest villagers on the road to collecting the entire $19 billion judgment,” Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the communities, told Reuters.
Chevron is fighting back again, charging racketeering against New York attorney Steven Donziger, a group of Ecuadoreans and the environmental groups that helped win the original judgment against it.

It is also bringing the matter to an international trade arbitration panel which is scheduled to begin hearings on the dispute in November, reports Reuters.

After the original judgment, Ecuador and the United Nations Development Program signed a historic deal to leave an estimated 846 million barrels of crude oil untapped beneath Yasuní National Park, a World Biosphere Reserve since 1989.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Examiner: Macondo not dead, BP hiding crude oil source



Government scientists definitively linked a new Gulf of Mexico oil slick, that has moved to some 90 miles from the sinkhole, to BP’s 2010 oil catastrophe, saying it is probably from a BP Deepwater Horizon rig pipe, but one expert is not buying it and people are demanding evidence about the source of the crude oil, both in the gulf and the sinkhole.

Catastrophic Gulf Operation continues

“People are demanding evidence of where the fresh crude is coming from, because the storyline that BP is floating out there now – that a small amount of leftover oil is now being released from a bent riser at the rig that exploded in 2010 – simply is not holding water,” environmental attorney Stuart Smith stated Monday in his blog post.

According to a senior government scientist, the most likely source of the new oil in the Gulf is the mile-long length of pipe from the Deepwater Horizon rig, now in a “crumpled loop on the ocean floor” near the Macondo well, the Guardian reported Friday.

“At worst, he said, the pipe was thought to contain some 1,800 barrels of oil – a minuscule amount compared with the 4.9m barrels that gushed into the ocean from BP’s well during the 2010 oil disaster.”

“When you look at all those pieces of information and put them together, there is a high degree of confidence that the oil we are seeing and the sheening on the surface is coming from the riser, and that this is residual oil,” said Frank Csulak, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) scientific co-ordinator for the Deepwater Horizon disaster site.

BP says its tests confirmed the oil was from the riser, and samples contained compounds found in drilling mud.

“The size of the sheen, its persistent point of origin and other factors indicate the most likely source is the bent riser pipe that once connected the rig to the well head, where a mix of oil, drilling mud and sea water were trapped after the top kill operation,” BP spokesman Brett Clanton said.

“It’s very reasonable and logical to conclude that maybe a little crack formed in one of the creases, in one of the bends, and that is where the oil is leaking out of.”

Last week, the sheen, only microns thick, extended three miles, from near the BP-wrecked Macondo well about 50 miles offshore of Louisiana and about 90 miles from the giant sinkhole that emerged in Bayou Corne. New evidence has shown that BP possibly cracked the ocean floor

The United States Coast Guard said in a statement Wednesday night that lab tests, performed at a government facility in Connecticut, matched the slick oil to the Deepwater Horizon.

The size and persistence of the new sheen near BP’s disaster site at Macondo well, first detected by satellite images on 9 September, prompted further investigation.

“The exact source of the oil is unclear at this time but [it] could be residual oil associated with the wreckage or debris left on the seabed from the Deepwater Horizon incident,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The Washington Post said other government officials said it is unlikely that oil could be leaking again from the original Macondo well head. Engineers poured thick plugs of cement into both ends of the well to finally cap it last July 2010, and officials said a new breach was very unlikely. “With what we did to it it’s pretty hard to imagine,” Marcia McNutt, who heads the US Geological Survey, told the Post.

A more detailed chemical analysis also ruled out a natural seep from the well reservoir. Csulak said researchers discovered the presence of drilling mud, which had been in the riser.

She appeared to “downplay concerns about more oil entering the Gulf.”
“We don’t feel that is causing an environmental impact. It’s not going to reach the shore-line.” McNutt said

Macondo not dead

Americans along the Gulf Coast still want answers about both the 2010 BP-wrecked Macondo Well and now, its possible relationship to south Louisiana’s monster sinkhole, both seeping crude oil and methane. Predictions had been made in 2010 that methane from the Macondo Well could cause a sinkhole problem.

Today, as one citizen reporter reports dissatisfaction seeing a large order of generators in a Panama City, Florida Home Depot heading to New Orleans, 70 miles from the disastrous crude-inundated sinkhole in Bayou Corne, environmental attorney Stuart Smith says he is not satisfied with answers provided by the government and BP.

(Watch “Alert! Imminent Disaster About to Happen in New Orleans” video on this page.)
Responding to what the Washington Post called “persistent rumors and allegations on blogs that Macondo is not truly dead, and that it is continuing to spew oil into the gulf,” Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, spoke to the Post.

McNutt said rough calculations show the riser, if full of oil, could hold around 1,000 barrels of oil and because it’s open on two ends, it’s unlikely to have that much oil.

“McNutt said it’s unlikely that oil came from the deep reservoir” of Macondo well.
“The well was plugged from both the top and the bottom, and has a mile of cement crammed into it.

“With what we did to it, it’s pretty hard to imagine, ” added McNutt.

Matt Simmons had claimed that what they did do was a sham, that the well-capping shown on TV was a performance, a “dog and pony show.” After the untimely death of Simmons, a surveyor, using government data, proved Simmons correct.

Now, according to Smith on Monday, BP and the government are still trying to hide the real cause of the sheen and people want the truth.

“BP wants us to believe that this new sheen is coming from residual oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig and the equipment that was used to cap it after the April 2010 explosion that killed 11 people and spewed an unbelievable 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico,” Smith states.

“But most experts fear that the more likely source is a more troubling scenario, which is that the efforts to cap the massive leak two years ago led to cracks in the sea floor that are releasing fresh oil that cannot easily be stopped.

Smith points to “a good independent analysis of the situation” as follows:
But there is not that much oil in the riser. As the Washington Post reported Wednesday:
Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said a rough calculation showed that the riser, if full of oil, could hold about 1,000 barrels of oil. Because it’s open on two ends it is unlikely to have that much oil, she said.

Indeed, Dr. Ian MacDonald – an expert in deep-ocean extreme communities including natural hydrocarbon seeps, gas hydrates, and mud volcano systems, a former long-time NOAA scientist, and a professor of Biological Oceanography at Florida State University-

told us today:
The key statement in the BP discussion was the fact that oil recovered on the ocean surface was not biodegraded. This is not consistent with a pool of oil supposedly trapped in the wreckage of the riser, which would have been exposed to ambient bacterial activity for over two years.

This piece also responds to the question, “So where is the oil coming from?”

We’re not sure yet. But top oil spill experts – such as UC Berkeley professor and government consultant Robert Bea and LSU professor Ed Overton – have told us that oil blowouts such as the one in the Gulf can create new pathways to the seafloor and enlarge natural oil seeps Š so that leaks can continue for years.

“Exactly,” says Smith. “But BP and the feds have plenty of good reason not to let people know if this is what’s indeed happening under the Gulf.

“That’s because that would mean that the Deepwater Horizon spill is still an ongoing event – one with no immediate end in sight – which would thwart the oil giant’s efforts to put the disaster behind them.”

Smith continues, “In particular, it would really mess up BP’s efforts to settle its ongoing legal woes from the 2010 explosion. I’ve told you a lot recently about problems with BP’s proposed $8.7 billion settlement about claims by Gulf residents and small businesses.”

“These things are not happening in a vacuum. They’re all connected,” Smith says, asserting what other independent scientists have said relating to the Louisiana sinkhole that is regurgitating and spreading crude from an unknown source throughout swamplands north of Macondo well.

“BP wants to sweep what’s going on at the Macondo field under the rug because it wants to settle its outstanding claims as quickly and with as little damage as possible. We can’t allow this to happen,” Smith asserts.

“There needs instead to be a thorough – and independent – investigation of where this new oil is really coming from.”

Citizens also want an independent investigation including one that answers how far far inland that crude can travel into south Louisiana, comprised mainly of water, and whether it is linked to or even triggered the giant sinkhole if BP cracked the ocean floor.

Smith explained on Oct. 4 that since BP wrecked the underwater Macondo well with its catastrophic deep sea drilling, blocked crude continues seeking a path to the surface, and that could create fissures or cracks in the sea floor for the hydrocarbons to escape.
According to Gary Hecox, Geologist with Shaw Environmental contracted by the Department of Natural Resources, 54,600 gallons of crude oil has been collected at the Bayou Corne sinkhole site near a collapsed storage cavern.

“Now we’ve got 1,300 barrels in a… tank,” Hecox said at a sinkhole Resident Meeting last Tuesday, after the sinkhole with an insatiable appetite for Cajun swampland grew to 4.2 acres. “If the source is coming in from crude, that resolves that discrepancy, but there is crude oil coming into the cavern.”

Deborah Dupré is author of the book, Vampire of Macondo, out soon.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Washington Post: Oil in new Gulf slick matches that of 2010 spill

By Steven Mufson and Joel Achenbach, Published: October 10

The oil in a slick detected in the Gulf of Mexico last month matched oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill two years ago, the Coast Guard said Wednesday night, ending one mystery and creating another. “The exact source of the oil is unclear at this time but could be residual oil associated with the wreckage or debris left on the seabed from the Deepwater Horizon incident,” the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard added that “the sheen is not feasible to recover and does not pose a risk to the shoreline.” One government expert said the thin sheen, just microns thick, was 3 miles by 300 yards on Wednesday.
Some oil drilling experts said it was unlikely that BP’s Macondo well, which suffered a blowout on April 20, 2010, was leaking again given the extra precautions taken when it was finally sealed after spilling nearly 5 million barrels of crude into the gulf.

BP declined to comment. But a BP internal slide presentation said the new oil sheen probably came from the riser, a long piece of pipe that had connected the drilling rig to the well a mile below the sea surface.

The presentation said that “the size and persistence of this slick, the persistent location of the oil slick origin point, the chemistry of the samples taken from the slick … suggest that the likely source of the slick is a leak of Macondo … oil mixed with drilling mud that had been trapped in the riser of the Deepwater Horizon rig.”

But Ian MacDonald, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University and a spill expert, cautioned said that the origin of the new oil remains uncertain. “The jury is out here,” he said, adding that it was too early “to rule out that this is oil freshly released from the reservoir.”

The sheen, located about 50 miles off Louisiana’s shore in the Mississippi Canyon block 252 where the Macondo well was drilled, was detected in satellite images taken on Sept. 9 and Sept. 14. The Coast Guard said the size of the sheen has varied with weather conditions.

Samples of the crude were collected and sent to a Coast Guard laboratory in New London, Conn. On Tuesday, the Coast Guard told BP and Transocean, owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that caught fire and sank, that the oil from the sheen and spill matched. In a meeting Wednesday, the Coast Guard told the companies to come up with a plan of action for determining the source. “No one’s 100 percent as to where it’s coming from,” said Frank Csulak, scientific support coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Since the disaster in 2010, which killed 11 workers, the wreckage of the massive rig, the crumpled riser and some hardware used in the attempt to kill the well have remained on the gulf floor. An August 2011 investigation, which came after oil blobs were observed on the surface and which included a visit to the wellhead by a remotely operated vehicle, turned up no sign that the well was leaking. That inspection was conducted by BP with federal government officials observing the process.

Nonetheless, there have been persistent rumors and allegations on blogs that Macondo is not truly dead, and that it is continuing to spew oil into the gulf. Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said a rough calculation showed that the riser, if full of oil, could hold about 1,000 barrels of oil. Because it’s open on two ends it is unlikely to have that much oil, she said.

McNutt said it’s unlikely that oil came from the deep reservoir. The well was plugged from both the top and the bottom, and has a mile of cement crammed into it. “With what we did to it, it’s pretty hard to imagine, ” McNutt said.

Special thanks to Richard Charter