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"Carbon Copy": How Big Oil and King Coal Ghost Write Letters for Public Officials, Business Groups

The Billings Gazette has revealed that coal mining company Cloudpeak Energy ghost wrote protest letters to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) on behalf of allied policymakers and business groups. 

Reporter Tom Lutey examined numerous letters written to DOI from Montana-based stakeholders and noticed something unusual: the language in every single letter was exactly the same. That is, the same except for a parenthetical note in one of them instructing the supposed writer of it to “insert name/group/entity.”

The “carbon copied” (pun credit goes to Lutey) letters requested for the DOI to give states a time extension to begin implementing new rules dictating the coal industry give states a “fair return” on mining leases granted to industry by the states. DOI ended up giving King Coal the 60-day extension.

“Last month, coal proponents scored a major victory by convincing the Department of Interior to hold off on its rule making for 60 days so that more people could respond,” Lutey wrote. “Members of the Montana Legislature, along with county commissioners and mayors from Montana and Wyoming communities put the weight of their political offices behind letters asking the DOI for more time. What they didn’t offer were their own words.”

Among those who submitted a “carbon copied” letter originally written by Cloudpeak Energy include the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Billings Chamber of Commerce, Montana Coal Council, Montana Sen. Debby Barrett and the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners.  

Unlike others, the Montana Chamber of Commerce embarassingly forgot to take out the boilerplate “insert name/group/entity” language. 

Montana Chamber of Commerce Ghostwriting Coal Letter
Image Credit: Quit Coal

Cloud Peak responded by saying this was a “sample letter…included as part of…briefings,” but did not clarify if those allied stakeholders were supposed to send them to DOI in verbatim fashion, as did the Montana Chamber.

Chevron Whistleblower Videos Show Deliberate Falsification Of Evidence In Ecuador Oil Pollution Trial

Chevron has already lost the lawsuit filed against the company by a group of Indigenous villagers and rural Ecuadorians who say Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, left behind hundreds of open, unlined pits full of toxic oil waste it had dug into the floor of the Amazon rainforest.

That hasn’t stopped the oil titan from attempting to retry the case, though, in both the court of public opinion and a New York court, where it counter-sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs under the RICO Act, claiming their original lawsuit was nothing more than extortion.

But new videos released by an anonymous Chevron whistleblower undermine the company’s entire defense in the original suit as well as its RICO counterattack.

Chevron’s defense in the Ecuador pollution case hinges on the company’s assertion that, before leaving the country when its partnership with state-owned Petroecuador ended in the early 1990s, Texaco remediated a portion of the 350 drill sites and more than 900 associated waste pits, as per its agreement with the Ecuadorean government.

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs argue that, as the sole operator of those drilling operations, Chevron/Texaco is liable for the carcinogenic oil contamination of watercourses, soil and groundwater that leached out of the waste pits and overflowed into local streams and rivers. After inheriting Texaco’s liability, Chevron countered that it had fulfilled its obligations per the terms of its partnership and that the plaintiffs’ real target should be Petroecuador, which Chevron blames for the pollution.

In 2011, Chevron lost the court battle in Ecuador — the venue Chevron itself chose — and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its oil pollution in the Amazon. But Chevron had already infamously vowed “We will fight until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice,” and the company has been true to its word. Only now has evidence emerged to show just how dirty Chevron was fighting.

“These videos prove Chevron knew full well their ‘remediated’ sites were still contaminated before the trial in Ecuador had even finished,” Amazon Watch’s Paul Paz said in a statement to DeSmogBlog. “Rather than admit that and help people who would be affected, they hid what they knew and denied it to the courts and to the world. Worse than that, they went on to blame the very same people affected by their waste as making it all up to extort money from Chevron.”

California Urban Water Use Restricted While Regulators Give Oil Industry Two More Years To Operate Injection Wells In Protected Groundwater Aquifers

With snowpack levels at just 6% of their long-term average, the lowest they’ve ever been in recorded history, California Governor Jerry Brown has announced new regulations to cut urban water use 25%, the first ever mandatory water restrictions in the state.

California is in the fifth year of its historic, climate-exacerbated drought and, per a recent analysis by a senior water scientist at NASA, has only one year of water left in its reservoirs, while groundwater levels are at an all-time low.

The Golden State’s towns and cities only account for about 20% of all water used for human purposes, however (including residential, institutional, industrial and commercial uses). Agriculture uses the other 80%.

Half of the produce grown in America comes from California, yet 2015 is likely to be the second year in a row that California’s farmers get no water allocation from state reservoirs. In some parts of the state, agricultural operations have pumped so much groundwater that the land is starting to sink.

Governor Brown’s executive order has been criticized for not including restrictions on groundwater pumping by agricultural operations, but Brown defended the decision, saying that hundreds of thousands of acres of land were already lying fallow because of the state’s water crisis.

There’s another industry conspicuously exempt from California’s new water restrictions, though. “Fracking and toxic injection wells may not be the largest uses of water in California, but they are undoubtedly some of the stupidest,” Zack Malitz of the environmental group Credo says, according to Reuters.

The Only Legal Challenge To Local Fracking Bans In California Was Just Quietly Dropped

The only lawsuit seeking to overturn any of the local fracking bans in the state of California has been dropped.

Southern California-based Citadel Exploration filed a suit on February 27 against San Benito County’s Measure J, which voters approved by a wide margin last November despite the oil and gas industry outspending its opponents 13-to-1 in an attempt to defeat the measure.

Citadel had called Measure J an “illegal local statutory scheme” and argued that only the state has the right to regulate oil and gas development, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The company has not released any further statements or responded to requests for comment on why it chose to drop the suit.

But anti-fracking activists and others who have worked on the fracking bans have their own theories.

“It's pretty clear to me now that the oil industry was bluffing,” Andy Hsia-Coron, a retired schoolteacher who helped run the Measure J campaign, told the San Jose Mercury News. “As they examined their hand, they realized it was pretty weak.”

Calls For Immediate Shutdown Of Illegal California Injection Wells As Regulators Host 'Aquifer Exemption Workshop'

While California legislators are calling for immediate closure of the thousands of injection wells illegally dumping oil industry wastewater and enhanced oil recovery fluids into protected groundwater aquifers, regulators with the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) were holding an “Aquifer Exemption Workshop” in Long Beach on Tuesday.

Just 23 out of the 2,500 wells DOGGR officials have acknowledged the agency improperly permitted to operate in aquifers that contain potentially drinkable water have so far been closed down — 11 were closed down last July and 12 more were shut down earlier this month.

Given the urgency of the situation, it certainly does not look good that DOGGR made time to hold a workshop to outline “the data requirements and process for requesting an aquifer exemption under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” when it has given itself a two-year deadline to investigate the thousands more wells illegally operating in groundwater aquifers that should have been protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act all along.

Last Friday, state legislators sent Governor Jerry Brown a letter calling for the immediate closure of the wells, writing that “the decision to allow thousands of injection wells to continue pumping potentially hazardous fluids into protected aquifers is reckless.”

And protestors with Californians Against Fracking were outside the Holiday Inn Long Beach Airport on Tuesday to greet DOGGR officials as they showed up for their workshop.

“Pipeline Nation” Short Documentary Investigates Lack Of Oversight Of “America’s Broken Industry”

In a new short documentary called “Pipeline Nation: America’s Broken Industry,” Vice News travels to Glendive, Montana, where a pipeline ruptured on January 17 of this year, spilling 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and contaminating the town’s drinking supply.

This was the second oil spill in the area in the past four years. An Exxon pipeline spilled over 60,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River near Billings, Montana in 2011.

The spill near Glendive involved Bakken crude, which is lighter and more volatile than heavy crude and evaporates more quickly, making it difficult to clean up.

“Our recovery of oil out of the water, it’s just… we’re not really getting much,” Paul Peronard, On-Site Coordinator for the EPA, tells Vice’s Nilo Tabrizy in the film. “Three-hundred-something barrels out of the pipeline in this immediate area, less than a couple barrels actually out of the water. So pretty much what is in the water is there and gone. And we aren’t going to recover it.”

“We never — and I’ll be clear about that — we never recover all the oil. Somebody who tells you that is telling you stories. In good conditions, you get half of the oil that hits the water.”

Shell, ENI Responsible for 550 Oil Spills In Nigeria Last Year

Late last year, it came to light that Shell had been warned repeatedly by its own staff that the Trans Niger Pipeline was at significant risk of failure well before a 2008 spill of 500,000 barrels of oil. It was also revealed that Shell had drastically understated the extent of the spill.

These revelations were made during the proceedings of a lawsuit brought by a group of 15,000 Nigerians over a second spill from the same pipeline and helped lead to a much heftier payment by the company to the Bodo community in the Niger Delta in compensation for the impacts of both spills.

It would appear that the company has still not managed to correct whatever problems are leading to its poor safety and environmental performance in Nigeria, however, as Shell was responsible for more than 200 oil spills in the country last year alone, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

As horrible as Shell’s record is, Italian oil giant ENI managed to outdo the Hague-based multinational oil and gas titan. ENI's operations caused nearly 350 spills last year even though it operates in a much smaller area, the report states.

“These figures are seriously alarming. ENI has clearly lost control over its operations in the Niger Delta. And despite all its promises, Shell has made no progress on tackling oil spills,” Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Global Issues Director, said in a statement.

“In any other country, this would be a national emergency. In Nigeria it appears to be standard operating procedure for the oil industry. The human cost is horrific — people living with pollution every day of their lives.”

US Could Slash Global Warming Emissions By Curbing Fossil Fuels Extraction On Public Lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior this week announced new fracking regulations that will serve as the only federal rules enforcing any kind of safety measures on the controversial drilling technique when they go into effect in a few months.

The rules only apply to oil and gas wells on public lands, however, and most fracking is done on private or state-owned land. The Obama Administration says it is hoping to set an example for states to follow when setting their own fracking standards, but if that’s the case, the federal government actually has plenty of opportunity to lead by example when it comes to reining in carbon emissions from fossil fuel development.

According to a new report by the Center for American Progress and The Wilderness Society, there is “a blind spot in U.S. efforts to address climate change.” Fossil fuel extraction on public lands, the source of almost 30% of U.S. energy production, is responsible for more than a fifth of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon equivalent of having 280 million more cars on the road. But the DOI “has no comprehensive plan to measure, monitor, and reduce the total volume of GHG emissions that result from the leasing and development of federal energy resources.”

“The Department of the Interior has long been in the business of approving well after well, mine after mine, without assessing the impacts of its energy policies on U.S. carbon pollution levels,” Matt Lee-Ashley, senior fellow and director of the public lands project at the Center for American Progress, told FuelFix.

The Keystone XL Distraction: Industry Has Built 11,600 Miles of Oil Pipeline With Little Public Resistance

Every good magician knows that the key to success is misdirecting the audience. You have to draw everyone’s attention away from your ultimate goal in order to perform the trick. Politics is no different, and one of the greatest misdirections in recent memory has been pulled off by the fossil fuel industry.

While most of the environmental movement was (rightfully) focusing attention on stopping the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline from crossing over one of the most vital aquifers in the U.S., the dirty energy industry was quietly building a network of smaller pipelines all over North America.

In recent months, more than 11,600 miles of oil pipelines have been laid in states all over America. Some of these pipelines are located just a few miles away from proposed stretches of the Keystone XL.

The Huffington Post explains the industry’s misdirection technique:

Legislators Call Out California Regulators’ “Corrupt, Inept” Management Of Underground Wastewater Injection

The fallout from California officials’ failure to properly oversee the disposal of oil industry wastewater continued this week as lawmakers grilled officials with the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency for two hours while seeking assurances that they were getting the problem under control.

According to the LA Times, state senators “called the agency’s historic practices corrupt, inept, and woefully mismanaged.”

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who said that reading the background materials ahead of the hearing “caused her blood pressure to soar,” per the Times, pretty much nailed it when she said, “There has been a serious imbalance between the role [of] regulating the oil and gas industry and the role of protecting the public.”

DeSmog helped break the initial story in this ongoing saga last year when 11 underground injection wells were ordered to shut down over fears they were pumping toxic and carcinogenic chemical-laden wastewater from fracking and other oil production processes into groundwater aquifers protected under federal law. Last week, 12 more injection wells were shut down for the same reason.

In the intervening months, the true extent of the problem has slowly come to light. It was revealed in February that regulators at California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) wrongfully issued permits for close to 500 wells to inject oil industry wastewater into aquifers containing water that is useable or could be made useable—water that is badly needed in drought-stricken California and should have been protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

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