Dubious LNG exports study was conducted in secret by contractor with ties to coal and oil industries
A study on the economic effects of exporting gas fracked in the US has opened the door for what Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) have called “a transfer of wealth from consumers to oil and gas companies.”
This particular study, which focuses on the economic impacts of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG), was commissioned by the US Department of Energy, and will heavily influence the DOE’s decisions on the permitting of 15 proposed LNG export facilities.
Because of the way that exports of natural gas are regulated, the oil industry must convince the US Department of Energy that exporting America’s fracked gas is in the best interest of the country, in order for the DOE to approve any LNG export projects.
Alarmingly, the DOE kept the identity of NERA a secret from the public, and refused to answer Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by Greenpeace, as well as requests from senators’ offices. The DOE’s excuse? According the DOE FOIA officer I spoke with, they didn’t want outside groups to “influence” the study.
It was Reuters that eventually revealed the identity of NERA, weeks before the DOE publicly released the the details of the contract. Reuter’s credited “industry sources” for the information.
So to recap, the DOE refused to tell the public the identity of group conducting an extremely important study on natural gas exports, citing a desire to protect the contractor from “influence,” a tacit admission that these studies are somehow corruptible. Then we find out that the notoriously unscrupulous gas industry knew the identity of the contractor before the DOE announced it publicly - the same gas industry willing to use psychological warfare techniques on rural Pennsylvanians - and it was the industry that leaked the contractor’s identity to the press.
Now the study has come out, and surprise, surprise, it says everything the gas industry wanted to hear. The NERA study supports the unlimited export of natural gas, which opens the door for the gas industry to sell fracked gas in foreign markets. Not only will that lead to higher gas prices here in the US, making fracking more profitable and therefore assuring the drilling of many more wells, but it also means more natural gas infrastructure, more methane leaks, and another blow to our already fragile climate. All the while increasing the profits of oil and gas corporations, like ExxonMobil.
According to NERA’s study:
"Across all these scenarios, the U.S. was projected to gain net economic benefits from allowing LNG exports. Moreover, for every one of the market scenarios examined, net economic benefits increased as the level of LNG exports increased. In particular, scenarios with unlimited exports always had higher net economic benefits than corresponding cases with limited exports."
Considering the DOE considers NERA to be vulnerable to outside influence, and we know the gas industry knew of NERA’s study before the public did, the NERA study and its results must be questioned.
Crossposted from DeSmog Canada, written by Carol Linnitt: PHOTOS: Famed Photographer Alex MacLean’s New Photos of Canada’s Oilsands are Shocking
Alex MacLean is one of America’s most famed and iconic aerial photographers. His perspective on human structures, from bodies sunbathing at the beach to complex, overlapping highway systems, always seems to hint at a larger symbolic meaning hidden in the mundane. By photographing from above, MacLean shows the sequences and patterns of human activity, including the scope of our impact on natural systems. His work reminds us of the law of proximity: the things closest to us are often the hardest to see.
Recently MacLean traveled to the Alberta oilsands in western Canada. There, working with journalist Dan Grossman, MacLean used his unique eye to capture some new and astounding images of one of the world’s largest industrial projects. Their work, funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will form part of a larger, forthcoming report for GlobalPost.
DeSmog Canada caught up with MacLean to ask him about his experience photographing one of Canada’s most politicized resources and the source of the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines.
Forest removal for exploratory well pad. Shell Jackpine mining site, North of Fort McMurray, Canada.*
Beds leading up to tailing pond.
DeSmog Canada: What was it like photographing the oilsands? Was it different from photographing other large-scale human spaces like highways or beaches?
Alex MacLean: The oilsands covered a vast area of which I was only able to photograph part of. It was not only different from highways, beaches, etc., in that those are linear formations, but the scale of the oilsands area and the devastation to the landscape was overwhelming. I felt a relation between highways and the mines in that open pit mines and seismic exploration lines fragment the boreal forest just as highways do through urban areas.
Steam and smoke rise from the Syncrude Mildred Lake mining facility.
Patches of boreal forest intertwined with snow-covered muskeg, near McLelland Lake, Alberta, Canada.
Clearing, dewatering, and seismic grid over the once boreal forest. Syncrude mining site, Alberta, Canada.
Syncrude Mildred Lake mining site. View south to upgrading facility with rising plumes of steam and smoke. Alberta, Canada.
Suncor Oil Sands Project. Piles of uncovered petrolum coke, a byproduct of upgrading tar sands oil to synthetic crude. "Petcoke" is between 30-80 per cent more carbon intense than coal per unit of weight.
DsC: What led to your interest in the Alberta oilsands?
AM: I have been photographing around the issues of climate change since early on, and actually put out a book looking at land use patterns as they relate to energy and consumption in 2008 called “OVER: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point.” I was drawn to photographing the pipeline because I feel as though there is little public awareness that, if built, the Keystone XL will make avoiding catastrophic climate change much harder. The pipeline is an important link in a fossil-fuel production machine, stocked with bitumen deposits at one end and refineries at the other. The public is unaware that this oil production machine is poorly regulated, though it will cause serious environmental and health effects on local, regional and planetary scales.
Mining operations at the North Steepbank Extension. Suncor mine, Alberta, Canada.
Checkerboard clearing of the overburden at Syncrude Aurora North mine site. Alberta, Canada.
Seismic lines and well pad for exploratory drilling through the boreal forest at the Suncor Firebag Oil Sands Project. Alberta, Canada.
Smoke, steam, and gas flares rise from the Suncor upgrading facility. Reclamation efforts seen to the right, on what was once a tailing pond. Suncor has reclaimed only 7 per cent of their total land disturbance.
DsC: What is it like taking a bird's eye view of humanity? Do you sometimes have great insights looking at civilization from such a removed, abstracted position?
AM: One of the interesting things about aerial photography is how so much of what you see about humanity is devoid of people. What I see is tracks and markings that are telling about our culture and values. When you see the destruction of landscapes, in this case of the boreal forest, with the obvious contamination of the environment via water and air pollution, you can’t help but feel that there is very short-sighted exploitation of natural resources that will have long-lasting environmental impacts.
Hot waste filling tailing pond. Suncor mining site, Alberta, Canada.
Earthen wall to tailing pond. Suncor mining site, Alberta, Canada.
Growing pyramids of sulfur, a byproduct of upgrading bitumen. Mildred Lake, Alberta, Canada.
DsC: You've been photographing 'human' spaces for a long time. Have you noticed a change over the last few decades in your perspective as society has grown more aware of the ecological crisis and the scale of our impact?
AM: You can’t help but notice the growth that has taken place in the last thirty years, and the build-out of what was once natural spaces. I would say in the last 15 years, at an escalating rate, you begin to see more sustainable sources of energy through wind and solar farms, and reconfiguring of urban spaces to make them more walkable.
Overview of tailing pond at Suncor mining site.
Surface oil on tailing pond. Suncor mine near Fort McMurray.
Open box cars carrying sulfur byproduct. Edmonton, Canada.
* All captions provided by Alex MacLean.
Image Credit: All photos copyright Alex MacLean. Used with permission.
Political satirists Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis recently began a new video project to document the tar sands of Canada. But a law firm who represents Exxon and other tar sands interests has begun filing complaints, and had their video pulled off youtube.
Comedians and activists, the duo has become known for biting commentary on the oil industry, like their response to Exxon’s tar sands pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, which was featured on the Rachel Maddow Show.
Their new project sends the team up to Alberta, Canada, on a “vacation” to document tar sands mining operations and its effects on the ecosystems and public health. The project also wants to expose the hypocrisy of the claims of environmental stewardship made by oil corporations involved in tar sands mining, as well as the Albertan government, which touts Alberta’s ecotourism options while promoting tar sands mines.
"The original inspiration for our project is that industry PR around the tar sands seems like a cross between a travel ad and oil company ad, inviting us to 'come to Alberta' and see for ourselves," Mike Damanskis told DeSmogBlog.
The complaints against Andy and Mike were filed by the law firm Denton, on behalf of “Travel Alberta,” the tourism bureau of Alberta, Canada. An investigation by DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn found that Denton has serious and substantial ties to the tar sands oil industry, and represents ExxonMobil’s tar sands project, as well as several other oil corporations tied to tar sands development.
To support Andy and Mike’s project, check out their pitch video and fundraising page.
Originally posted on Republic Report and featured on Grist, by David Halperin. Information from Greenpeace's ongoing research on Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine is cited in the infographic.
Click to embiggen:
You may repost this infographic PROVIDED that you do not alter it in any way. Download
David Halperin, an attorney, was the founding director of Campus Progress at the Center for American Progress and a White House speechwriter for President Clinton.
Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.
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 Department. In 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.
On March 29, ExxonMobil spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil in the small town of Mayflower, Arkansas. Exxon, the most profitable corporation in history, has yet to account for more than 126,000 gallons of the spilled oil.
Now, months after the spill, dangerous contaminants are being detected in the air, water and soil, and residents are getting sick - while Exxon claims the air and water are safe. Listen to these stories of Mayflower residents affected by the oil industry:
Exxon’s response has been typical of the oil industry. Like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Enbridge disaster in the Kalamazoo River, Exxon has stifled reporting and downplayed the damage and public health issues caused by their pipeline rupture. Immediately after the spill Exxon sought to shut down reporting and information gathering by cordoning off the area, convincing the FAA to declare a no fly zone over the spill site, even threatening journalists with arrest.
Documents obtained by Greenpeace revealed Exxon also misrepresented the extent of the contamination in nearby Lake Conway. Exxon claimed the area was “oil-free”, though their own water tests showed dangerously elevated levels of cancer causing chemicals associated with tar sands crude oil.
Exxon’s Mayflower spill is a reminder of who bears the risks of fossil fuel development like the Keystone XL pipeline. While Exxon may have to shell out a few million dollars of their more than 44 billion dollars in profit, the residents of Mayflower must now live in a contaminated environment and many families will never be able to go back to their homes.
Like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Exxon’s pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which is both particularly corrosive to pipelines and environmentally devastating to mine and refine.
Check out the latest cartoon by Mark Fiore, a spoof on the real-life habit of oil and gas companies to employ military specialists trained in psycological operations to convince U.S. landowners to sell their land for hydraulic fracturing.
More details on the revelation of oil and gas companies like Range Resources using psy-ops on "insurgents," a.k.a. U.S. landowners, can be seen on DeSmogBlog.
New Documents show Exxon knew of contamination from the Maryflower oil spill, still claimed lake was "oil-free"
On March 29 ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world, spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude. Exxon’s tar sands crude also ran into Lake Conway, which sits about an eighth of a mile from where Exxon’s pipeline ruptured.
A new batch of documents received by Greenpeace in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas’ DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims "Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free." However, internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.
When the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste division called Exxon out on this falsehood, Exxon amended the press release. However, they did not amend it to say that oil was in Lake Conway and contaminant levels in the lake were rising to dangerous levels, as they knew to be the case. Instead, they continue to claim that Lake Conway is "oil-free." For the record, Exxon maintains that the "cove," a section of Lake Conway that experienced heavy oiling from the spill, is not part of the actual lake. Exxon maintains this distinction in spite of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying unequivocally "The cove is part of Lake Conway…The water is all part of one body of water." Furthermore, Exxon water tests confirmed that levels of Benzene and other contaminants rose throughout the lake, not just in the cove area.
Though Exxon was eventually forced to redact their claim that the cove specifically was "oil-free," the oil and gas giant has yet to publicly address the dangerous levels of Benzene and other contaminants their own tests have found in the body of Lake Conway. The Environmental Protection Agency and the American Petroleum Institute don’t agree on everything, but they do agree that the only safe level of Benzene, a cancer causing chemical found in oil, is zero. Benzene is added to tar sands oil to make it less viscous and flow more easily through pipelines. Local people have reported fish kills, chemical smells, nausea and headaches. Independent water tests have found a host of contaminants present in the lake.
According to Exxon’s data, 126,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from the pipeline spill is still unaccounted for.
Exxon's spill emanated from the Pegasus Pipeline, which like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, connects the Canadian Tar Sands with refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
As many people who watch the oil industry know, oil spills are not avoidable, preventable, or unlikely. From extraction to combustion, oil is a destructive and dirty business, based on sacrificing the health of environments and peoples for corporate profits.
This fact was especially evident last week, when Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled over 150,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude oil into Lake Conway and adjoining neighborhoods in Mayflower, Arkansas.
However, Exxon’s Mayflower spill is not an isolated incident. In fact, there were three other significant oil spills that occurred last week.
The spills, which were the result of both train derailments and pipeline ruptures, spilled many hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic crude oil in and around neighborhoods, marshes, and rivers.
March 26 - Train Derailment in Minnesota - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled
Last week's cacophony of oil industry irresponsibility began with a train derailment in Minnesota, which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil. The oil was from Canada which has become a top exporter of crude to the United States because of their exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta.
In a fit of ill-timed opportunism, supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands oil from Canada to the gulf coast, used this this spill as a justification for building the tar sands pipeline. A spokesman for North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, who has been one of the chief political proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, had this to say:
"It should be clear that we need to move more oil by pipeline rather than by rail or truck...This is why we need the Keystone XL. Pipelines are both safe and efficient."
March, 29 - Lake Conoway, Arkansas - 156,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil spilled
In an incident that should make anyone question the "safety and efficiency" of oil pipelines, Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline spilled 157,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Lake Conway and surrounding neighborhoods in Arkansas. Since the spill, Exxon has limited press access to the spill site, oiled animals, and even the skies above the spill area. Exxon has even claimed that Lake Conway has been unaffected by the oil spill, though Arkansas Attorney General Dustin Mcdaniel has set that particular record straight.
"Of course there's oil in Lake Conway"
April, 3 - Houston, Texas - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled
Four days after Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and seven days after Keystone XL pipeline proponents claimed "pipelines are both safe and efficient," a Shell pipeline running through a bayou outside of Houston spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the Texas marsh. The actual amount of oil spilled by Shell's West Columbia Pipeline is still unknown, as the cause of the leak has not been released by Shell.
April, 3 - White River, Ontario - 16,642 gallons of crude oil spilled
At the same time that Shell was spewing oil into the wetlands of Texas, a train derailment in White River, Ontario was leaking oil in Canada. Most people know White River as the original home of Winnie the Pooh, but it is also a major train depot for shipping crude oil. The company responsible claimed that 4 barrels of oil were spilled, though the actual number turned out to be 10 times larger, at 400 barrels. That's 16,642 gallons of toxic crude oil. Sorry Winnie.
As the oil industry proved this week, they are incapable of protecting people and the environment from their product. As Micheal Brune of Sierra Club said:
"In Ontario, the company said it spilled four barrels when it had actually spilled 400. In Arkansas, Exxon learned about the spill from a homeowner but kept pumping tar sands crude into the neighborhood for 45 minutes, and is bullying reporters who want to tell the public what's going on. In Texas, a major oil spill came to light that Shell had been denying for days. Transporting toxic crude oil -- and tar sands in particular -- is inherently dangerous, more so because oil companies care about profit, not public safety. This is why Keystone XL, at nine times the size of the Arkansas Pegasus pipeline, must never be built.”
If built, the Keystone XL pipeline will spill. Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
Sure seems like it. According to reports from the ground, Exxon is in full control of the response to the thousands of barrels of tar sands oil that began spilling from Exxon's ruptured pipeline in Arkansas last weekend. The skies above the spill has been deemed a no-fly zone, and all requests for aerial photos must be approved by Exxon’s own “aviation advisor” Tom Suhrhoff.
In addition, the entire area has been cordoned off and news media have been prevented from inspecting the spill zone.
Now, Exxon is trying to limit access to the animals impacted by the tar sands crude. A wildlife management company hired by Exxon has taken over all oiled wild animal care. The company, called Wildlife Response Services, is now refusing to release pictures and documentation of the animals in their care, unless they are authorized by Exxon’s public relations department.
The spill, which leaked heavy, viscous tar sands oil, emanates from the Pegasus Pipeline, which was built in the 1940’s. The pipeline pumps diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, just like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. However, the Pegasus is much smaller, carrying 90,000 barrels per day (BPD), while the Keystone would carry 800,000 BPD. Tar Sands oil is shipped through pipelines in the form of Diluted Bitumen (Dilbit), which must be heated and forced through the pipeline at high pressure. Due to the corrosive nature of the tar sands oil, which contains sand, plus the high temperature and high pressure needed to pump it through the pipes, tar sands oil pipelines are particularly dangerous.
Exxon’s control of the oil spill response is reminiscent of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when the polluter, BP, effectively controlled the response and cleanup.