Written by Brendan DeMelle, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.
Royal Dutch Shell, the massive multinational oil company, badly wants to be ready to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean next summer. This year, the company's plans to begin drilling in the treacherous seas of the Arctic were thwarted by its late start and repeated failures to get even basic oil spill response equipment into place.
But the full extent of the company's failed attempts to test oil spill response gear was recently revealed by Seattle's NPR radio affiliate KUOW. Shell has faced repeated criticism and regulatory scrutiny over its cavalier attitude towards Arctic drilling, and the KUOW investigation makes clear why Shell is not "Arctic Ready" by a long shot.
Documents obtained by KUOW through FOIA requests indicate that Shell's oil spill response gear failed spectacularly in tests this fall in the relatively tranquil waters of Puget Sound.
The containment dome - which Shell sought to assure federal regulators would be adequate to cap a blowout in the event of emergency at its Arctic operations - failed miserably in tests. The dome "breached like a whale" after malfunctioning, and then sank 120 feet. When the crew of the Arctic Challenger recovered the 20-foot-tall containment dome, they found that it had "crushed like a beer can" under pressure.
That was the embarrassing news that emerged from documents released through FOIA from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which required the tests of Shell's proposed oil spill response system.
Environmentalist Todd Guiton sums up the implications of the failed tests on Shell's plans to drill in the Arctic:
"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."
Federal regulators are reviewing the wisdom of Shell's Arctic adventure, and are calling for more real-world testing in the Arctic Ocean to see how the oil spill response gear would stand up to extreme conditions.
Besides the horrifying prospect of an out-of-control oil disaster in the far north, why would the Obama administration want to flirt with catastrophe in the Arctic when there is (supposedly) a huge oil boom going on in the Lower 48 anyway? If there really is such a glut of recoverable oil in unconventional shale plays via fracking, then why would the U.S. or any other nation allow Big Oil to rush into the Arctic?
If Shell is this ill-prepared to operate critical safety equipment in the calm waters of Washington State, then they clearly have no business drilling for oil in the Arctic.
Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace Blogs
It has become tiresome to rip on President Obama for failing America and the world on climate. We could not help but get excited in November 2008 when we realized Bush II and his oil lackeys were out of office in two months. But one could argue that President Obama led us on by saying things like “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all.” And, regarding White House leadership, “That will change when I take office.”
The bar for Obama administration action on climate has become so low that it doesn’t take much to get people excited. For example, the President used the words “climate change” during his recent state of the union address, having failed to mention this existential dilemma last year. Some people read a lot into that.
So, yesterday, it was unsurprising to see an over-excited reaction to a State Department announcement on a new climate initiative. President Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called a press conference to announce that the United States and several other countries would start a new, official collaboration to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane, black carbon and HFCs. However, it’s pretty clear that this is no announcement about US policy to reduce climate pollution. It’s great countries are talking, but also not new. The US contributed $12 million for this collaboration. This is is about what Mitt Romney would have earned after taxes if he paid the same tax rate my mother does. $12 million is lot of money for one person, but for an intergovernmental partnership to tackle global climate disruption, it’s laughable.
The best thing about Secretary Clinton’s announcement yesterday is that the Obama administration publicly professed to being active on climate, and reiterated actions they’ve been taking already to reduce climate pollution. The worst thing about yesterday’s announcement is that it reminded everyone of what the Obama administration has done to increase climate pollution. A large funder of Obama’s campaign in the past, who has contributed $35 million to campaigns and environmental causes, announced her support was gone because of Obama’s failures on climate.
Let’s put this in context.
A lot was achieved up front when the President pushed for passage of the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. The bill included grants and tax incentives for efficiency and renewables production and research, smart grid development, and low-emissions vehicles. The Obama administration has continued to press continuing incentives for renewables and efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet implemented any standards for large stationary sources of climate pollution that have any significant impact, but the new vehicle standards will have an impact. Expectations for EPA, however, remain much higher than for the rest of the Obama administration, and we still hold out hope for climate pollution standards to be strengthened on both vehicles and stationary sources.
So far, we can’t put a number on how much less climate pollution the world will see because of the Obama administration. We can say that the US goal of 17% under 2005 levels by 2020 is so unambitious that it was possibly imminent before the President announced it. We can also say that the Obama administration may be doing as much to increase climate pollution through other measures.
Although the President has continued to call for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, the reality is that his administration has been a great friend to coal, oil, and gas.
President Obama’s administration has decided to increase coal mining on public lands, for example in Wyoming where federal leases will allow mining of about 758 million tons of coal. Although some of this coal will definitely be burned in the US, the administration intends to use coal mining expansion to help meet its goal of doubling exports by 2014. So, although we will succeed at shutting down old coal-fired power plants in America, US coal can still contribute to as the largest global contributor to climate disruption.
In the first quarter of 2011, US exports of coal rose by 49% compared to the same quarter of 2010, amounting to 26.6 million short tons. This is the highest amount of coal exported since 1992 (when 27 million short tons were exported).
Similarly, if vehicles in America become more efficient, the plan seems to be to make sure the oil is burned anyway. 2011 was the first year in almost two decades when the US became a ‘net exporter of fuel’. In each day of February, the US exported 54,000 more barrels of petroleum than it imported. To add insult to injury, the Obama administration now appears bent on drilling in the Arctic which is more accessible to climate polluters because they’ve made the ice melt.
An irony about the State Department initiative to reduce emissions of methane is the Global Shale Gas Initiative, and other efforts by the Obama administration, to push US methane (natural gas) abroad. There is a likelihood using shale gas for electricity leads to emissions as high as with coal, or higher. Shale gas that is liquified, transported, thousands of miles, and re-gasified I argue certainly has a higher carbon footprint than local coal.
It seems the general attitude among climate advocates has gone from glum to numb. To be fair, our despair about climate policy is fueled by the undying Republican platform that environmental ignorance and scorn are praiseworthy. There are also Democrats who have donned ignorant and scornful attitudes about climate disruption, but mostly their problem is letting Republicans spearhead the debate on climate. Climate disruption for the Obama White House seems to be viewed not as a real problem but a political problem.
Rachael Robson was a co-author of this blog.
The annual State of the Union address is political theater at its best--millions of Americans tune in to watch the big wigs schmooze, applaud the President in partisan waves and reveal the administration's platform for the rest of the year. Entertaining as it can be, the State of the Union also gives frustrating examples of who is successfully framing the national debates in our country. This year it was obvious that Big Oil, particularly the American Petroleum Institute (API), is forcing the U.S. to adopt it's narrow idea of America's "energy future."
In fact, the President of the United States sounded a lot like the self-appointed President of U.S. Energy--API president and CEO Jack Gerard. Compare one of Jack Gerard's key talking points from his recent "State of American Energy" address with a line from Obama's State of the Union speech last night (emphasis added):
GERARD: "We need all of our resources—oil and natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuels and more."
OBAMA: "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy - a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs."
It appears that, after repeated circulation among oil lobbyists and their apologists in Congress, President Obama has bought into this "all of the above" nonsense, an empty rhetorical gesture designed to keep our country dependent upon dirty energy like synthetic tar sands crude oil and gas obtained through controversial hydraulic fracturing. The "all of the above" line has been promoted on the websites of the American Petroleum Institute as well as API's "Energy Tomorrow" blog, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers website and among members of Congress.
What Big Oil really means is that they'll continue to wave the carrot of clean energy in our faces as they push aggressively for increased oil and gas projects, subsidies and profits. This agenda infiltrates our government through the millions spent on Congressional campaign contributions and millions more on federal lobbying, and infiltrates the American public through expensive advertising campaigns like API's new "Vote 4 Energy" commercials. See Greenpeace's mock Vote 4 Energy commercial at the bottom of the blog.
While I'm sure Gerard and other oil lobbyists are thrilled with the results of their mass media campaigns and federal influence peddling, you can be their public response to the President's speech will be less appreciative.
Dirty energy lobbyists like Jack Gerard aren't going to stop harassing President Obama even if his administration "opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration." It will never be enough for Big Oil, which is why it's alarming that the President just bowed to two of the American Petroleum Institute's three major demands: opening up "75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," which spells inevitable doom for our coastlines, and pushing dangerous gas fracking forward despite the inability for state regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency to keep up with the industry's voracious appetite. API and it's Big Oil members aren't going to stop griping over the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because of these concessions--they will continue to demonize Obama's cabinet as a perpetual obstruction to "freedom" and "prosperity" and bombard us all with inflated jobs claims cooked up by their own reports. Congressional Republicans are already demanding more in response to Obama's energy plan despite it's destructive concessions, repeating the "all of the above" line in the process.
These criticisms are not to say that the President got it all wrong on his energy ambitions. His statements on prioritizing clean energy development and investing in widespread energy efficiency are crucial to the reduction of greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere as well as securing our energy infrastructure, creating space for newer, safer jobs while reducing unnecessary risks like deadly air pollution from refineries and unstoppable oil spills started by foreign companies like BP.
Without making the connection to the oil industry (and every other large industry meddling in federal policies), President Obama mentioned the "corrosive influence of money in politics." The oil industry has spent over $55.7 million on federal politicians in the last five years and an additional $651 million on federal lobbying in the same timeframe. Activist leader and scholar Bill McKibben notes that the 234 House Representatives who voted last December to fast track the Keystone XL pipeline took $42 million from the fossil fuel industry, while the 193 opposing members took a cumulative $8 million.
If that's not corrosive influence, then I don't know what is.
Vote 4 Energy mock commercial:
Two days ago, President Obama denied the permit for the destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, much to the dismay of Big Oil's top lobbyist and propagandist. Speaking at the National Press Club to an audience dominated by oil, coal and nuclear representatives and lobbyists, American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard continued to lash out at President Obama over the pipeline decision. However, activists attending their event fact checked Jack's big oil talking points.
Shortly after asking the president, "what are you thinking?!" a group of activists stood and delivered a call-and-response "fact check" over Gerard's speech -- see the full Fact Check video. After the event, PolluterWatch's Connor Gibson approached Jack Gerard on camera and repeatedly asked him how much the American Petroleum Institute (API) is spending on its new "Vote 4 Energy" advertising campaign (which, as Mr. Gerard has absurdly claimed, is "not an advertising campaign"). Jack refused to answer:
Vote 4 Energy, which was mocked by a parody commercial during its public release, is the American Petroleum Institute's newest money dump to pretend that most Americans support politicians who represent Big Oil more than their own constituents. Wrapping its talking points in patriotic rhetoric, API's real intent is to continue getting billions of taxpayer dollars each year to corporations like ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron, which rank among the most profitable companies in the world.