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Wed, 2014-08-13 11:15Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn
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Rail CEOs to Investors: "Bomb Trains" Safe At Almost Any Speed

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) recently said it would proceed with plans to increase speeds for oil-by-rail unit trains in Devil’s Lake, N.D. to 60 MPH from 30 MPH, despite opposition from local officials

BNSF’s announcement came merely a week after the Obama Administration announced its proposed regulations for trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin.  

The rail industry’s position on speed limits for “bomb trains” is simple: they continuously claim velocity has nothing to do with oil-by-rail accidents or safety.

For example, Big Rail — as revealed by DeSmogBlog — lobbied against all proposed oil train speed reductions in its dozen or so private meetings at the Obama White House before the unveiling of the proposed oil-by-rail regulations. 

Recent statements by rail industry CEOs during investor calls put the heads of many companies on record opposing oil-by-rail speed limits for the first time.

Sat, 2014-08-02 07:31Sharon Kelly
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As Energy Department Announces Methane Measures, Critics Call for Stronger Action

On Tuesday, the White House released a report estimating that delaying action on climate change could cause $150 billion a year in damage to the U.S. economy.

“These costs are not one-time, but are rather incurred year after year because of the permanent damage caused by increased climate change resulting from the delay,” the assessment warned.

That same day, President Obama announced moves to help reduce greenhouse gasses. But some critics charge that the President's actions have so far failed to be proportionate to the crisis the White House predicts.

As DeSmog reported, on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency's program on natural gas pipeline leaks came under fire from the EPA's own internal watchdog. The EPA inspector general lambasted the agency for setting up rules that rely heavily on voluntary leak repairs by pipeline companies while turning a blind eye to state policies that allow those companies to simply pass the price of leaking gas to consumers instead of making costly repairs.

The resulting leaks, the EPA audit concluded, cost consumers over $192 million and the resulting greenhouse gasses each year were equal to putting an addition 2.7 million cars on the road.

On the heels of that report, the Obama administration announced that it would adjust its methane pollution controls — but the measures they announced fell far short of what some experts argue is necessary to curtail methane's climate hazards. The Department of Energy's new measures include adjustments to its voluntary leak control program and add funding for research into ways to better curb leaks.

While we applaud the commitments made by DOE, labor unions, utility groups, and other stakeholders,” Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel told the Oil and Gas Journal, “voluntary measures and new research initiatives don’t adequately protect communities and the climate.”

Thu, 2014-07-31 13:42Steve Horn
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Documents: Cheniere Fuels ALEC’s New Push for Fracked Gas Exports

Today, legislative and lobbyist members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) voted on model legislation promoting both exports of gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG)

Dubbed a “corporate bill mill” by its critics, ALEC is heavily engaged in a state-level effort to attack renewable energy and grease the skids for exports of U.S. oil and gas. Today's bills up for a vote — as conveyed in an ALEC mailer sent out on June 25 by ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force — are titled “Resolution In Support of Expanded Liquefied Natural Gas Exports“ and “Weights and Measures and Standards for Dispensing CNG and LNG Motor Fuels.” 

An exclusive investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog reveals that Cheniere — the first U.S. company to receive a final liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permit by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — has acted as the lead corporate backer of the LNG exports model resolution. 

Further, Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, owned by energy baron T. Boone Pickens, of Pickens Plan fame, and trade associations it is a member of, served as the main pusher of the CNG model resolution.

ALEC has served as a key vehicle through which the fracking industry has curried favor and pushed for policies favorable to their bottom lines in statehouses nationwide. Now ALEC and its corporate backers have upped the ante, pushing policies that will lock in downstream demand for fracked gas for years to come. 

With Cheniere becoming an ALEC dues-paying member in May 2013 and with America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) — the fracking industry's tour de force — crowned an ALEC member in August 2013, it looks like many more fracking-friendly model bills could arise out of ALEC in the months and years ahead.

Mon, 2014-07-28 16:00Farron Cousins
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Has The Gulf Of Mexico Hit Peak Oil?

There are enough articles on the “myth of peak oil” floating around the Internet to fill a book; and there are enough books on the subject to fill a small library.  One of the common threads throughout these publications is their lack of credible sources, because not only is peak oil real, but we’re rapidly approaching that threshold. 

An example that is smacking the United States and the oil industry in the face right now is floating in the Gulf of Mexico. 

According to a new government report, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf has been steadily declining for the last decade. The report looked at oil production in the Gulf of Mexico on federal lands only, not any privately-held lands where production is taking place. Since 2010, according to the report, the annual yield of oil from the Gulf has fallen by almost 140 million barrels. 

While the Gulf region still accounts for 69% of U.S. oil produced on federal lands, the dramatic decline in production tells a story that the oil industry doesn’t want us to hear.  Peak oil is clearly beginning to play a role in U.S. exploration.

Contrary to what some of the peak oil deniers want the public to believe, peak oil does not mean that we’re about to run out of oil. What it means is that the United States is running out of easily accessible, financially viable oil. As that easy to retrieve oil disappears, companies have to drill deeper and deeper or in otherwise inaccessible places in order to get their oil. 

This makes the process much more expensive and drives costs up to the point that profits are hard to come by. And this is what we’re beginning to see in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mon, 2014-07-28 14:57Steve Horn
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Greenpeace Report: Obama Administration Exporting Climate Change by Exporting Coal

Greenpeace USA has released a major new report on an under-discussed part of President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan and his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule: it serves as a major endorsement of continued coal production and export to overseas markets.

Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change: How the federal coal leasing program undermines President Obama’s Climate Plan” tackles the dark underbelly of a rule that only polices coal downstream at the power plant level and largely ignores the upstream and global impacts of coal production at-large. 

The Greenpeace report was released on the same day as a major story published by the Associated Press covering the same topic and comes a week after the release of another major report on coal exports by the Sightline Institute that sings a similar tune.

The hits keep coming: Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson framed what is taking place similarly in a recent piece, as did Luiza Ch. Savage of Maclean's Magazine and Bloomberg BNA

But back to Greenpeace. As their report points out, the main culprit for rampant coal production is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which leases out huge swaths of land to the coal industry. Greenpeace says this is occurring in defiance of Obama's Climate Action Plan and have called for a moratorium on leasing public land for coal extraction.

“[S]o far, the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department have continued to ignore the carbon pollution from leasing publicly owned coal, and have failed to pursue meaningful reform of the program,” says the report.

“Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others in the Obama administration should take the President’s call to climate action seriously, beginning with a moratorium and comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program, including its role in fueling the climate crisis.”

Wed, 2014-07-23 14:16Steve Horn
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Not Just the Atlantic: Obama Leasing Millions of Gulf Acres for Offshore Drilling

Deploying the age-old “Friday news dump,” President Barack Obama's Interior Department gave the green light on Friday, July 18 to companies to deploy seismic air guns to examine the scope of Atlantic Coast offshore oil-and-gas reserves.

It is the first time in over 30 years that the oil and gas industry is permitted to do geophysical data collection along the Atlantic coast. Though decried by environmentalists, another offshore oil and gas announcement made the same week has flown under the radar: over 21 million acres of Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas reserves will be up for lease on August 20 in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Superdome. 

On July 17, the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)  announced the lease in the name of President Obama's “all of the above” energy policy

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, BOEM…today announced that the bureau will offer more than 21 million acres offshore Texas for oil and gas exploration and development in a lease sale that will include all available unleased areas in the Western Gulf of Mexico Planning Area,” proclaimed a July 17 BOEM press release.

The release says this equates to upwards of 116-200 million barrels of oil and 538-938 billion cubic feet of natural gas and falls under the banner of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement

That Agreement was signed into law on December 26, 2013. It served as a precursor to the recently-passed Mexican oil and gas industry privatization reforms, which have opened the floodgates to international oil and gas companies to come into Mexico for onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration and production.  

Fri, 2014-06-27 07:00Steve Horn
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Exclusive: North Dakota Oil-By-Rail Routes Published for First Time

For the first time, DeSmogBlog has published dozens of documents obtained from the North Dakota government revealing routes and chemical composition data for oil-by-rail trains in the state carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale.

The information was initially submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) under the legal dictates of a May 7 Emergency Order, which both the federal government and the rail industry initially argued should only be released to those with a “need-to-know” and not the public at-large.

North Dakota's Department of Emergency Services, working in consultation with the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General, made the documents public a couple weeks after DeSmogBlog filed a June 13 North Dakota Public Records Statute request.

“There is no legal basis to protect what they have provided us at this point,” North Dakota assistant attorney general Mary Kae Kelsch said during the June 25 Department of Emergency Service's quarterly meeting, which DeSmogBlog attended via phone. “It doesn't meet any criteria for our state law to protect this.” 

Initially, oil-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and other rail companies sent boilerplate letters — one copy of which has been obtained by DeSmogBlog from the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security through the state's Public Records Act — to several State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), arguing train routes should be kept confidential.

BNSF also sent several SERCs a boilerplate contract proposal, requesting that they exempt the information rail companies were compelled to submit to the SERCs under the DOT Emergency Order from release under Freedom of Information Act. A snippet of the proposed contract can be seen below: 

Dan Wilz, homeland security division director and state security advisor of the Department of Emergency Services, said the claims did not hold legal water. 

“Joe can stand on a street corner and figure that out within a week's period,” Wilz said at the quarterly meeting. “They watch the trains go through their community each and every day.”

BNSF, Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) and Northern Plains Railroad all submitted information to the Department of Emergency Services.

Fri, 2014-06-27 01:00Steve Horn
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Revealed: Heather Zichal Met with Cheniere Executives as Obama Energy Aide Before Board Nomination

Heather Zichal, former deputy assistant for energy and climate change to President Barack Obama and nominee to sit on the board of directors of LNG export company Cheniere Energy Inc., held two meetings with Cheniere executives while working for the White House. 

White House meeting logs show Zichal attended the meetings with three executives from Cheniere, owner of the Sabine Pass LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facility, the first terminal to receive a final approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) during the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom.

The meetings appear to have taken place just over two weeks apart from one another, according to the meeting logs. The first meeting was on January 14, 2013, and the second on January 29, 2013. Just over eight months later, Zichal resigned from her White House job, with Reuters citing “plans to move to a non-government job.”

Cheniere CEO Charif Souki — who is facing a major ongoing class-action lawsuit — sat in on both of those meetings. He was joined by Cheniere executives Patricia Outtrim, vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs, and Ankit Desai, vice president of government relations.

Desai, a Cheniere lobbyist, formerly worked with Zichal on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, serving as his budget director. Desai also formerly served as political director for then-U.S. Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden.


President Barack Obama (L), Heather Zichal (Center), Sec. of State John Kerry (R); Photo Credit: Facebook

Zichal served as Kerry's energy and environment policy adviser for the 2004 campaign and in 2006, became his legislative director, a job she held until becoming policy director for energy, environment and agriculture for President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign

Thu, 2014-06-26 14:22Farron Cousins
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Obama Administration Secretly Weakening EPA Rules

One of highest hopes that environmentally-minded Americans had for President Obama when he first entered office was that he would finally put an end to the secrecy that marred the former Bush administration when it came to environmental policy. 

The image of then-Vice President Dick Cheney meeting in secret with dirty energy industry leaders was still fresh in our heads as we went to the polls in 2008, and we were all but certain that the country chose a leader that would leave those dark days in the past.

Sadly, those hopes for a policy change were dashed before the end of Obama’s first year.  He talked a big game on the campaign trail, but when it came to acting on those promises, that rhetoric proved to be just as hollow as his predecessor’s. 

Obama doubled down on coal, oil, and fracking, while allowing renewable energy investments to fall.  But the most disturbing part of the story is that Obama and his officials have been working in secret to weaken environmental standards that his administration has been patting themselves on the back for in public.

Recently, a federal judge expanded a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was filed against the Small Business Administration (SBA), which claims that officials within the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been working to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) power plant pollution standards.  The administration has been dragging its feet in providing the information requested, even after the court ruling, which has led environmental groups to file a complaint against the White House.

At issue is the EPA’s failure to update standards for existing power plants as required by the Clean Air Act — a move that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously said was required of the agency.  The current rules have not been updated since 1982, and environmental groups say that the lack of updating is due to influence from the White House itself.

Fri, 2014-06-20 10:25Steve Horn
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Heather Zichal, Former Obama Energy Aide, Named to Board of Fracked Gas Exports Giant Cheniere

Heather Zichal, former Obama White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, may soon walk out of the government-industry revolving door to become a member of the board of directors for fracked gas exports giant Cheniere, who nominated her to serve on the board. 

The announcement, made through Cheniere's U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K and its Schedule 14A, comes just as a major class-action lawsuit was filed against the board of the company by stockholders.

In reaction to the lawsuit, Cheniere has delayed its annual meeting. At that meeting, the company's stockholders will vote on the Zichal nomination.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by plaintiff and stockholder James B. Jones, who alleges the board gave stock awards to CEO Charif Souki in defiance of both a stockholders' vote and the company's by-laws. 

Souki — a central character in Gregory Zuckerman's book “The Frackers“ — became the highest paid CEO in the U.S. as a result of the maneuver, raking in $142 million in 2013, $133 million of which came from stock awards.

Cheniere CEO Charif Souki; Photo Credit: Getty Images

Zichal was nominated to join Cheniere's audit committee of the board, and will be paid $180,000 per year for the gig if elected.

Among the audit committee duties: “Prepare and review the audit committee report for inclusion in the proxy statement for the company's annual meeting of stockholders,” which is now set for September 11 after the push-back following the filing of the stockholder class-action lawsuit.

“The audit committee’s responsibility is oversight, and it recognizes that the company’s management is responsible for preparing the company’s financial statements and complying with applicable laws and regulations,” Cheniere's audit committee charter further explains.

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