BP

US Gov't doesn't know exact Keystone XL pipeline route

The U.S. government doesn't know exactly where TransCanada wants to lay pipe for the northern section of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, according to the results of a 14-month Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. State DepartmentIn its final answer to a FOIA request by Thomas Bachand of the Keystone Mapping Project, the State Department admitted:

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.

Yes, you read that right. The U.S. State Department published its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)--supposedly an official account of the potential hazards of TransCanada's proposed pipeline on U.S. waterways, wildlife and other major considerations like global climate change--without knowing exactly where TransCanada wants to dig. Check out the full letter from State to Mr. Bachand at the Keystone Mapping Project.

Ongoing Conflicts of Interest in State Department Environmental Assessments

The State Department is already facing legitimate criticism for contracting companies with ties to TransCanada and other oil companies for its environmental impact estimates, which the Environmental Protection Agency has slammed for being "insufficient." State looked no further than oil industry contractors to run the draft SEIS--companies like Cardno ENTRIX, which calls TransCanada a "major client," and ERM Resources, a dues paying member of the American Petroleum Institute which is being investigated by the State Department's Inspector General for trying to hide its prior consulting for fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell. In fact, TransCanada chose ERM Resources to do the Keystone XL SEIS review for the State Department, and one of ERM's people working on the review was formerly employed by TransCanada. 

TransCanada has stacked the deck, wagering American waterways and private property against the promise to profit from continued extraction of dirty tar sands petroleum.

Tar Sands Pipelines Spill

The potential is too high for Keystone XL to leak just like TransCanada's existing Keystone I pipeline has repeatedly done, or rupture like ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas earlier this year, or Enbridge's tar sands pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River. The southern leg of Keystone XL is already under construction, and the if the cracks, dents and other faults in the 'new' pipe are any indication, pollution from oil spills looks inevitable. Beyond being a disaster waiting to happen, KXL guarantees the continued disaster that is tar sands mining, a process that has already poisoned entire regions--and peoples' communities--in northern Alberta, Canada.

With President Obama's recently unveiled Climate Action Plan, it would be a limp gesture to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. You'd think with the State Department having its environmental analysis run by oil industry consultants, they'd listen to the oil industry's own guarantees that Keystone XL would increase demand for tar sands mining. That's bad news for our climate -- something the State Department cannot ignore if they do a reasonable review of the "unprecedented" amount of public comments on its draft SEIS on KXL.

What remains to be seen is if the State Department will be reasonable in the last leg of its review, or if it will continue letting TransCanada and Big Oil control the process to the bitter end.

Sandy Forces Obama Endorsement from Bloomberg

Both presidential candidates have persistently avoided talking about global warming during their election campaigns, but are now under heavy pressure to end the silence in the wake of superstorm Sandy.

Today, President Obama received the coveted endorsement of New York City’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the Mayor highlighted climate change as a big reason why Mitt Romney should not get his endorsement.

Let’s be clear though. It took a Superstorm Sandy to force an endorsement of Obama for another term. As Mayor Bloomberg noted, both candidates have run administrations implementing policies to reduce pollution. What damns a Romney endorsement is not Obama’s fantastic record but the fossil industry-crazed climate denialism that has come to rule the Republic platform and Romney’s overt positions.

The climate policy record of Obama’s first term is dismal if you consider the scale of the problem. In the context of international negotiations, other governments have asked the Obama government to describe emissions reduction policies as a percentage of the country’s pollution, but the Obama negotiators have no number to provide. The only policies implemented in the last four years to make a significant dent economy-wide are the new car standards, which, optimistically, reduce pollution by a few percent.

If we are going to have any hope of avoiding runaway climate change, developed countries must cut about a third of greenhouse gas emissions in less than a decade.

The US federal government should be leading at home, and advocating strongly that other countries do the same. Far from being a climate leader, the Obama administration has dragged its feet on all fronts. We have no limits yet on current stationary sources of pollution, such as coal-fired power plants. We have no limits on climate pollution from aviation, which Obama has been fighting internationally. We have no limits on climate pollution from agriculture. And Obama’s team in the international climate talks has continuously attempted to stall and confuse the negotiations. The President has ceded political debate on climate to Fox News and friends, which has made climate politics in America even more backward.

There is little doubt that President Obama wants to deal with climate change, but so far that has not translated into him making it a priority for the country. Quite the contrary, the President has gone out of his way to please the fossil fuel industry. This pandering has been painfully obvious in the recent presidential campaigns, but the Obama administration has also been a fossil friend of substance.

For instance…

The Department of Interior has energetically scaled up fire sales of publicly-owned coal. This coal is sold under the auspices of satisfying domestic demand, although it is often to foreign buyers who fully intend to export. The climate doesn’t know the difference. Despite one of the worst human-caused environmental disasters ever, the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration opened up new areas to dangerous ultra-deepwater drilling on the outercontinental shelf and signed an historic agreement with Mexico to drill the deepest wells ever even further offshore. The administration hasn’t ruled out the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and continues to move forward with drilling in the fragile Arctic Ocean. Leaving unanswered a letter from 68 organizations calling on Obama to stop fracking in the absence of regulations and adequate knowledge of impacts, the administration seems intent to both allow fracking on public lands and to possibly approve exports of high carbon-footprint fracked gas.

In effect, the Obama administration is actively increasing supply of carbon polluting sources of energy, while dillydallying on policies and advocacy to reduce carbon pollution.

Mayor Bloomberg also criticized both candidates for failing to cite the “hard decisions” they would take to get the economy back on track. We should be asking the same regarding runaway climate disruption. The problem with endorsing Obama for his overt position on climate is that just as many, if not more, of his hard decisions have benefited climate polluters.

mitt romney president barack obama climate change silence hurricane sandy

Petroleum Broadcasting System's "Newshour" and the Merchants of Climate Doubt

Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog

There's an old German proverb that goes, "Whose bread I eat his song I sing."

Enter a recent spate of reportage by the Public Broadcasting System's (PBS) "Newshour." In a September 17 story titled, "Climate Change Skeptic Says Global Warming Crowd Oversells Its Message" (with a URL titled, "Why the Global Warming Crowd Oversells its Message") the Newshour "provided an unchecked platform for Anthony Watts, a virulent climate change denier funded by the Heartland Institute," as described by Forecast the Facts.

Forecast the Facts created a petition demanding that the "PBS ombudsman...immediately investigate how this segment came to be aired," stating that, "This is the kind of reporting we expect from Fox News, not PBS."

Very true, this is exactly the type of reporting we've come to expect out of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, a cable "news" network that provides a voice for right-wing propagandists on all policy issues, including climate change denial. But perhaps expectations are too high for PBS' "Newshour" and we should've expected exactly what we got: a friendly platform for the climate change denying merchants of doubt

What's at play here goes above and beyond a single bad story by "Newshour." Rather, it's a small piece and the result of an aggressive campaign that's been going on for nearly two decades to destroy public television in the public interest.

Based on the shift in how the "Newshour" has funded itself over the years, it's evident that the once-esteemed "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" streamed on the Public Broadcasting System has transformed PBS into what investigative reporter Greg Palast calls the "Petroleum Broadcasting System."

"Petroleum Broadcasting System" Sponsored by Chevron, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Et Al 

In an October 2010 story, Palast pointed out that the "Newshour" is funded by Chevron in critiquing its softball coverage of the BP oil disaster. This led him to refer to PBS as the "Petroleum Broadcasting System."

Above and beyond funding from Chevron, "Newshour" also lists Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), owned by Warren Buffett under the auspices of Berkshire Hathaway, as a sponsor. As previously reported here on DeSmog, BNSF - the second largest freight rail company in the U.S. behind Union Pacific - is a major transporter of tar sands infrastucture to the Alberta tar sands. It's also a major mover of coal being sent to coastal terminals and exported to Asia.

BNSF also inked a deal in June 2012 with U.S. Silica Holdings Inc. to "build and run a major warehousing operation...to store sand destined for the Eagle Ford Shale." The Texas-based Eagle Ford Shale basin, like all shale basins, requires vast amounts of fracking sand (aka sillica sand) in order to tap into the gas located deep within the shale reservoir. This sand predominantly comes from western Wisconsin's "sand land," as we explained in a recent short documentary.

The San Antonio Business Journal explained the situation in-depth:

The proposed facility, scheduled to open in early 2013, will be constructed on 290 acres of land the railroad purchased late last year. It will be able to store up to 15,000 tons of sand used by drillers during the hydraulic fracturing process to release oil and gas from dense shale rock.

The Fort Worth-based railway will haul up to 40,000 tons of silica sand and other products per month to San Antonio from U.S. Silica operations in Ottawa, Ill., and Rochelle, Ill.

To top it off, Buffett himself has major personal investments in Big Oil, as we've written about on DeSmog. As of August 2011, he owned 29.1 million shares of stock in ConocoPhillips, 421,800 shares of stock in ExxonMobil, and 7.777 million shares of stock in General Electric, all three of which are involved in various aspects of the tar sands extraction industry and the shale gas extraction industry.

In sum, BNSF is cashing in big time from the shale gas boom, the tar sands boom, and the coal export boom. 

Koch Industries - a major Heartland Institute funder and key behind its founding - has also funded PBS' "Nova" to the tune of $7 million. ExxonMobil has also provided funds to PBS' "Nova," "Nightly Business Report" and "Masterpiece Theatre." Both ExxonMobil and Koch Industries are among the top funders of the climate change denial machine.

The Plan: Cut Public Funding, Make PBS Rely on Fossil Fuel Industry Money

Looking at the situation more broadly, it's important to understand that PBS didn't always rely on fossil fuel industry largesse to keep itself afloat.

Rather, over the past two decades, PBS has been under attack by the Republican Party, with constant threats and a coordinated campaign to defund a network originally set up to be a public educational service via the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

As explained in a February 2011 ABC News story,

One of Newt Gingrich's first acts as speaker of the House in 1995 was to call for the elimination of federal funding for CPB, and for the privatization of public broadcasting. Neither attempt was successful, though it did keep the hot-button issue in the limelight for years. 

During the early 2011 budget debates, ABC explained that "The House Republicans' budget would rescind any funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which partially supports these two organizations -- for the remainder of the year, and zero out millions in funds after that."

President Barack Obama joined in on the attack on public television with his "bipartisan deficit commission" -- referred to as the "Catfood Commission" by FireDogLake -- calling for "eliminating funding for the CPB, estimating that it would save the government $500 million in 2015," ABC explained. His Republican Party opponent for the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney, has also called for the defunding of PBS.

Private funding of what was originally supposed to be a publicly-funded television station comes with its own agenda. This agenda departs from the mission set out by the 1967 Act, which deemed it "in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public...television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes" and said it "should be created...to afford maximum protection from extraneous interference and control."

The New York Times said it best in a May 2008 story: benevolent corporate underwriting of public television is "increasingly out of step with the...needs of corporations" as they don't "sponsor public television programs for purely philanthropic reasons."

Plenty of Money for PSYOPs Campaigns Abroad

Even PBS President Paula Kerger has internalized the message that the U.S. government is "broke," stating after the latest attempt to defund NPR by House Republicans, "While we understand the many difficult decisions appropriators must make and that the nation is facing challenging economic times, if enacted, such drastic cuts in federal funding could have a devastating effect on public television stations."

Far from being strapped for cash, though, the U.S. government has plenty of money to spend on overseas psychological operations (PSYOPs) campaigns around the world of the sort covered by DeSmog during the shale gas industry's PSYOPs revelation of November 2011.

Media scholar Bob McChesney explained this phenomenon in a March 2011 Democracy Now! appearance, during the middle of the previous round of PBS funding cuts debate in the U.S. House of Representatives:

You know, currently the United States spends roughly twice as much money bankrolling international broadcasting — Voice of America and the various Radio Martís and things like that — than it does paying for domestic public broadcasting and community broadcasting, roughly twice as much — $750 million, roughly, last year. And the idea of raising that and putting more propaganda out to sort of enhance the view of the United States vis-à-vis other nations of the world is entirely the wrong way to go. 

That $750 million is more than the $500 President Obama said the U.S. could save by slashing publicly-funded media. In leiu of public funding, American citizens are being shafted with fossil fuel-funded disinformation here at home, while subsidizing it with their tax dollars abroad. 

Unless we see big changes in funding for public television, it'll continue to be a standard operating procedure for outlets like PBS to transform into iterations of the newfangled "Petroleum Broadcasting System" - and to end where we began - play the game of "Whose bread I eat his song I sing."

Image Credit: Forecast the Facts

API's Jack Gerard Refuses to Answer Activists on Vote 4 Energy Advertising Costs

Referees call foul on Big Oil Lies

We'll get to the encounter with Mr. Gerard below, but first, some context:

Gas prices! Everyone's talking about them, including our government at a Congressional hearing today held by the House of Representatives Energy & Power Subcommittee featuring, among others, Mr. Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute. As API's president, Jack Gerard is Big Oil's top lobbyist, and today he was doing what companies like Exxon and Shell pay him the big bucks to do - justify government subsidies and giveaways to Big Oil.
 
Also attending the hearing: referees raising the red flags on misleading statements and calling attention to the $5.97 million that oil companies have given to current members of the Energy & Power subcommittee since 1999 (data provided by the Center for Responsive politics through DirtyEnergyMoney).

This particular meeting of the subcommittee exposed some of the more blatant absurdities that API and their oil funded buddies in Congress like to propagate. Take gas prices - Jack Gerard likes to say "we need more American energy," by which he means we need to open up every square inch of soil and water to oil and gas extraction. His argument is that gas prices would be lower if we sacrificed our land and investment capital to Big Oil's drill.

Luckily Congressman Edward Markey was there to point out how ridiculous it is to assume anything extracted by multinational oil corporations is "American." Once multinationals like BP and Exxon get oil from American sources, it becomes their oil, to sell on the open world market for the best price. The fact is, letting companies drill for oil on American soil won't result in any drop in price at the gas pump because the amount of oil American sources would produce is miniscule in comparison to the amount consumed globally. Allowing companies like Shell to drill off Alaskan shores or in other high-risk ways wouldn't save American consumers a dime, but would add many millions of dollars to Shell's bottom line. Gerard's refusal to acknowledge this belies a truth about API that he doesn't want the public to know - the American Petroleum Institute does not want to lower gas prices for Americans, API wants to increase the political power and profits of their member organizations.

That's why Rep. Markey suggested some more appropriate labels for Gerard's group than the American Petroleum Institute; like the "World Petroleum Institute" due to multinational members like BP and Shell who will sell oil from America to the highest bidder,  the "Wall Street Petroleum Institute" because Gerard and API refuse to acknowledge the role speculation plays in driving up oil prices, or the "Caymen Islands Institute", because of API's dedicated defense of tax breaks, subsidies, and other loopholes which keep oil corporations from paying their fair share.

If Gerard meant it when he said "The more transparent the discussion, the better off we'll be," he would take one of Rep. Markey's suggestions. That way the American public would know that API's attacks blaming the president for high gas prices, repeated lies about Keystone XL's affect on gas prices, or blocking rules to protect air and water from the dangers of fracking are all part of an extensive dirty energy PR campaign.
 
Short of re-branding his organization, Jack could at least be transparent about the amount of oil industry money he is using to influence elections through the Vote 4 Energy ad campaign. The Vote 4 Energy campaign has blanketed cable television and much of Washington DC in misleading pro-drilling, pro-fracking propaganda in an attempt to further Big Oil's political agenda by misleading voters. API wants you to vote for ExxonMobil and Shell instead of yourself.

In spite of Mr. Gerard's lip service to "transparent discussion," when we repeatedly asked him how much oil money he is using to influence the upcoming election with Vote 4 Energy propaganda, he didn't want to be part of the discussion. If Mr. Gerard is so proud of the ad campaign, why won't he talk about how much of API's $200 million budget is going toward Vote 4 Energy?

 

And if you haven't seen our own Vote 4 Energy commercial mocking API's prized public relations campaign, compare both Vote 4 Energy ads yourself.

Gerard photo credit: Houston Chronicle

Oil lobbyist Jack Gerard fact checked during Press Club speech

Jack Gerard announcing the Vote 4 Energy campaign in early January.

Photo: Fortune/CNN Money

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

Vote 4 Energy sets the stage for API to push it's key priorities--unlimited offshore drilling, including in the Arctic, hydraulic fracturing for gas, pushing the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and keeping those massive taxpayer subsidies
 
On E&E TV yesterday, Jack Gerard was asked to address the fact that Keystone XL serves as a tool to export large amounts of Canadian tar sands to foreign markets after pumping it across the US. Rather than being able to echo API's dishonest claims of "energy security" through increased access to Canadian oil, Gerard was forced to acknowledge that Keystone XL could be used to boost foreign exports.
 
Despite a rocky week and an advertising campaign mocked by the spoof Vote 4 Energy commercial, Jack Gerard will continue working to increase Big Oil's influence on our election. Numerous API advertisements are airing across the country and API is holding "Energy Forums" in key states, peddling their energy lies to American voters. What voters should keep in mind is that Big Oil's Vote 4 Energy advertising campaign is really about a Vote 4 Big Oil.
 

Mock commercial undermines new Vote 4 Energy oil advertisement

A Greenpeace activist hands out flyers promoting a mock Vote4Energy commercial calling attention to Big Oil's astroturf campaigns.

Today, the American Petroleum Institute unveiled its 2012 Vote 4 Energy astroturf campaign, centered around a major election-linked CNN advertising package that PolluterWatch helped expose last month with audio recordings from inside the studio. Vote 4 Energy attempts to show 'real Americans' who are 'energy voters,' meaning they are committing to vote for whichever politicians support Big Oil's dirty agenda in this election year. Typical. API also bought the back page of the A section of the Washington Post with a Vote 4 Energy ad, space that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to normal people.

Anticipating this new misinformation campaign, PolluterWatch created a mock commercial to show how API and it's oil company members (Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron and all the usual suspects) have to fake citizen support for the oil industry:

The American Petroleum Institute (API) is Big Oil's top lobbying firm, using a $200 million budget to push dirty energy incentives and tax handouts for oil companies into our national laws. They have been caught in the past staging rallies for their Energy Citizens astroturf campaign, as revealed by Greenpeace in a confidential API memo to oil executives. Why do they fake citizen support? Probably because Americans overwhelmingly support clean energy over dirty oil development.

Knowing that API is rolling out the astroturf on cable TV, we decided to roll out actual astroturf at the location of their press conference today, literally making attendees walk down a long astroturf 'green carpet' shrouded by Big Oil logos as they entered the event. The K St lobbyists seemed downright confused by seeing the corporate logos that are normally invisible at API events.

Inside, API CEO Jack Gerard announced the campaign and promoted dirty energy development like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in his "State of American Energy" address. Apparently Jack thinks he's the President of United States of Energy, I thought he was just an oil lobbyist. Reporters leaving the session spoke about how bogus the event was--same old same old from Jack.

Jack Gerard may want to trick Americans into his Vote 4 Energy nonsense, but he demonstrates the same predictable rhetoric that oil companies always use to make themselves sound somewhat responsible, when everyone knows they aren't--see our profiles for ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, all multi-billion dollar corporations, making record profits even in a global recession, and looking for more tax breaks and handouts. If you are watching election coverage on CNN and spot API's astroturf ad, don't buy the lie. Vote for yourself, not oil executives.

Canada, Shell, BP Lobby Europe on Tar Sands

The Guardian reports Canadian cooperation with oil supermajors BP and Shell in what Friends of the Earth Europe calls an "unprecedented" lobbying effort to peddle the world's dirtiest oil across the Atlantic. The Guardian's Terry Macalister writes:

"The Canadians have managed to delay the EU's original deadline of January 2011 for confirming baseline default values despite new peer-reviewed studies to support the European position."

Known for crippling our global climate, the tar sands also have a notably destructive impact on the indigenous community inhabiting the area that is now Northen Alberta, poisoning food and water sources while ignoring their calls for help from the government, which at the provincial and national level has repeatedly favored Big Oil. This excellent photo essay documents how destructive tar sands development has impacted the life of Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Greenpeace Canada's Climate and Energy Campaigner and member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation community:

Here in the United States, corporate titans like ExxonMobil ignore these fatal consequences as they push pro-tar sands advertisements onto consumers. As the debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline rages on, the US Chamber of Commerce is running a dirty lobbying campaign to support the project while the American Petroleum Institute has actually used recent oil pipeline spills as their nonsensical justification for the pipeline's construction. Check out PolluterWatch's profiles for each of these climate villians for documentation of their role in perpetuating global warming denial and inaction.

In spite of the continued and predictable madness demonstrated by Big Oil and its widespread apologists over the Keystone XL issue, activists are organizing a full two weeks of nonviolent civil disobedience outside of the White House to ensure the Keystone XL project is not actualized. More information can be found on the Tar Sands Action website.

Rising Tide's Day of Action Against Extraction [VIDEO]

Photo Credit: It's Getting Hot in Here

Rising Tide North America has put together a short video demonstrating nonviolent protests and direct action for the Day of Action Against Extraction. Events across the United States and Canada were conducted on April 20, 2011--the one-year anniversary of the disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon oil gusher. In addition to the oil spill in the Gulf, protests called attention to other monumental forms of destruction, such as tar sands mining, mountain top removal and other forms of strip mining to extract coal, and air pollution from dirty coal plants in Chicago. In addition to the irreparable harm the fossil fuel industry places on ecosystems and the people they sustain, these products ultimately contribute to the looming global climate crisis.

The government the polluters paid for

Written by Mark Floegel, crossposted from Greenpeace USA.

Happy Chernobyl Day. It was 25 years ago today Soviet engineers were conducting a systems test on that nuclear reactor when a sudden power surge led to a series of explosions, a fire and the worst nuclear reactor disaster in history… so far. The ongoing disaster in Fukushima, Japan may be worse by the time that situation is under control.

How are you celebrating Chernobyl Day? The folks in Texas City, Texas are celebrating by staying indoors and sealing their windows and door with duct tape. It’s called “shelter in place” and it’s not really a Chernobyl Day commemoration, it’s the citizens only defense against noxious fumes emanating from three refineries and a vinyl acetate facility that have experienced a power loss. Power loss, the same thing that kicked off the Fukushima disaster.

The three Texas City refineries are owned by Valero, Marathon and BP. The BP refinery is the most famous of the three, due to an explosion in 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured 180 others. The federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration found BP had ignored safeguards prior to that explosion. BP is trying to sell that refinery. So far, no takers.

According to wire reports, area residents report noxious fumes in the air, making breathing difficult. The refineries’ flares are still burning, so it’s unclear why people are choking. Other gaseous emissions may be occurring. Later reports say the power outage was caused not by the local utility, but by problems inside the industrial facilities.

We at Greenpeace have witnessed many industrial accidents. One sad feature of them all is that the industry in question always gives out incomplete or misleading information on day one. There always seems to be more concern for controlling the PR than for protecting the health of people who live nearby. There are 550,000 people who live in the “vulnerability zone” around the BP refinery. These are the folks who’ve been told to duct tape themselves into their homes.

The weather report says it’s 80 degrees and hazy in Texas City. Of course, you have to shut off your air conditioner when you “shelter in place.” What would you do if you lived there? Tape the windows, swelter, turn on the radio, pray? Or grab the kids and run for the car, risk being overcome by fumes, just try to get out of there? Where would you go?  These are not gated communities of McMansions.  People who live near refineries don’t have much money.

Dow Chemical owns the vinyl acetate facility. The plant was part of Union Carbide, which Dow purchased in 2001. In 1984, a Union Carbide facility in India leaked methyl isocyanate. The “vulnerability zone” around that plant had a half million poor people living in it, too. Twenty thousand of them died; another 150,000 were severely injured.

According to the material safety data sheet for vinyl acetate, it is immediately threatening to the eyes, skin and lungs and cancer-causing in the longer term.

We at Greenpeace have been working for a nearly a decade – since before the 9/11 attacks – to convert America’s industrial facilities from the use of hazardous feedstocks to available safer alternatives, ones that don’t require huge amounts of poison gasses in the communities where we live and raise out children.

In 2004, then-Congressman Jim Turner (D), who represented a nearby area, called such plants “pre-positioned toxic weapons of mass destruction.” Unfortunately, a decade of efforts by legislators like Mr. Turner has run into a wall of pre-positioned lobbyists from the chemical industry and the politicians whose campaigns they finance.

Our nation was attacked by terrorists and no measures were taken to protect us from distinct hazards nestled among a half million people. Our economy crashed and no effort was made to recoup the thieved billions or regulate our financial markets. Three reactors and four spent fuel pools in Japan have been in crisis for weeks and our government does nothing to examine the 23 similar reactors in this country.

You get what you pay for, except this isn’t the government you paid for. It’s the one the polluters paid for.

Just released: 30k pages of BP oil spill documents. Help us find out what we've got!

The research team here at Greenpeace USA does some really great stuff. Uncloaking the Koch brothers, figuring out the truth about fracking, and pressuring polluters who are trying to influence our elected leaders.

But they can only do so much. In July 2010 the team began submitting Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to the federal government about the BP oil disaster. They began to trickle back, slowly, and we stayed on top of it. But just like the gusher in the Gulf the trickle became a flood, and now we have around 30,000 pages of memos, reports and even flight records about the worst oil spill in American history.

While some of the agencies have simply ignored our requests, others have gotten back with some interesting documents. The problem is we simply don’t have time to go through them all. The Guardian ran a series of stories about them last week  but no one has the manpower to read the fine print. Plus, we’re getting more through the letterbox almost every day.

This is where you come in. We’ve created a new site which allows anyone to view, download and comment on these documents. We’re updating it with new stuff and categorizing it to make your life easier. Always imagined yourself winning a Pulitzer? Still mad at BP and want to find out what really happened out there? Searching for evidence for a compensation claim? Now’s your chance to dig up some gems.

Log on to www.polluterwatch.org/research and help us sift through the mountain of data. Get in touch if you find something interesting and we’ll try to get the news out.

You’re all part of the research team now.

Crossposted from Greenpeace USA with minor discrepancies (video added, link to NY Times photos).

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