natural gas

Sat, 2012-07-28 06:00Steve Horn
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The Real Train Wreck: ALEC and "Other ALECs" Attack EPA Regulations

When business-friendly bills and resolutions spread like wildfire in statehouses nationwide calling for something as far-fetched as a halt to EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, ALEC is always a safe bet for a good place to look for their origin.

In the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative “corporate bill mill” by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze and then vote on what it calls “model bills.” Lobbyists, as CMD explains, have a “voice and a vote in shaping policy.” In short, they have de facto veto power over whether the prospective bills they present at these conferences become “models” that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

For a concise version of how ALEC operates, see the brand new video below by Mark Fiore.

Fri, 2012-07-27 03:30Steve Horn
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Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Commonwealth Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court** ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional.*** The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 “…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise.”

Act 13 – pejoratively referred to as “the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway“ by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld – would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

“It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government,” Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. “It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it.”

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That's half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

Tue, 2012-07-17 01:08Steve Horn
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Does Red Leaf's "EcoShale" Technology Greenwash Oil Shale Extraction?

At the Clinton Global Initiative in 2008, former Vice President Al Gore called the possibility of fossil fuel corporations extracting oil shaleutter insanity.” 

Insanity, though, doesn't serve as a hinderance for deeply entrenched and powerful fossil fuel interests.

Oil shale, also known as kerogen, should not be confused with shale gas or shale oil, two fossil fuels best known from Josh Fox's “Gasland.” As explained in a report by the Checks and Balances Project,

Oil shale itself is a misnomer. It is actually rock containing an organic substance called kerogen. The rocks haven’t been in the ground for enough time or under enough pressure to become oil. Oil companies need to recreate geological forces to produce any energy from it. Ideas for developing oil shale have included baking acres of land at 700 degrees for three to four years and even detonating an atomic bomb underground.

The really “insane” part of the equation: oil shale production, which has yet to begin, would be ecologically destructive to the extreme.

“Because oil shale is a rock, commercial production would release 25% to 75% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil,” wrote the Western Resource Advocates. Furthermore, like tar sands production and shale oil/gas production, oil shale production is a water-intensive process.

Adding insult to injury, in the 100 years of attempted commercial production of oil shale, the fossil fuel industry has yet to seal the deal, motivating an April 2012 report by Checks and Balances titled “A Century of Failure.”

Fri, 2012-07-06 03:00Steve Horn
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EOG Resources: The Gas Corporation That Does It All From Cradle to Grave

DeSmogBlog, on multiple occasions, has reported that the damage caused by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” in the unconventional oil and gas industry goes far beyond water contamination, put in the spotlight by the documentary film “Gasland.” The multi-pronged harms were tackled in a comprehensive manner in our report, “Fracking the Future.”

One corporation in particular, EOG Resources, epitomizes the shale gas lifecycle from cradle to grave and the damage it is causing in communities worldwide. 

Who is EOG? The Artist Formerly Known as Enron

EOG Resources – owned by CEO Mark Papa – is the born again sibling of the now disgraced corporation, Enron Oil and Gas, hence “EOG.” It is headquarted in Houston, TX.

Former President and Chief Opearing Officer of Enron, Richard Kinder, recently referred to by The Wall Street Journal as “The Luckiest Ex-Enron Employee,” now co-owns oil and gas industry pipeline giant, Kinder Morgan

After the fall of Enron, Kinder Morgan purchased Enron's pipeline assets and built up the Kinder Morgan behemoth into what it is today, the corporation with the most extensive array of pipelines in North America.

Tue, 2012-07-03 15:51Ben Jervey
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Bloomberg Stunner: How Chesapeake Energy Paid Less Than a 1% Tax Rate On $5.5 Billion in Profits

Chesapeake Energy, a company that is no stranger to financial scandals, has found itself on the front page of the financial papers again. This time, the subject is taxes. Or how Chesapeake barely pays them.  

Over its 23-year history, Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., and the company described by its founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon as “the biggest frackers in the world,” has earned roughly $5.5 billion in pre-tax profits. To date, the company has paid $53 million in taxes. That’s an effective tax rate of under 1 percent - a massive taxpayer subsidy.

The corporate income tax rate in the U.S. is 35 percent. 

The Bloomberg article that exposed these stunning figures is quick to note that this is far less than the 12 percent rate that GE paid in 2010 that caused such public outrage, and even a tiny percentage of the 18 percent effective rate that Google had to answer for.

So how does Chesapeake pull this off? Mostly, it’s due to a rule written in 1916 that allows oil and gas producers to, according to Bloomberg, “postpone income taxes in recognition of the inherent risk of drilling wells that may turn out to be dry.

The break may be outdated for companies such as Chesapeake, which, thanks to advances in technology, struck oil or gas in 99.6 percent of its wells last year.“ When the policy was written, drillers struck “dry wells” roughly 80 percent of the time.

Fri, 2012-06-29 10:47Steve Horn
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Sand Land: Frac Sand Mining in Western Wisconsin - Video Report by DeSmogBlog

The rush to drill for unconventional gas, enabled by a process popularly known as “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, has brought with it much collateral damage. Close observers know about contaminated water, earthquakes, and climate change impacts of the shale gas boom, but few look at the entire life cycle of fracking from cradle to grave.

Until recently, one of the most underlooked facets of the industry was the “cradle” portion of the shale gas lifecycle: frac sand mining in the hills of northwestern Wisconsin and bordering eastern Minnesota, areas now serving as the epicenter of the frac sand mining world.

The silence on the issue ended after several good investigative stories were produced by outlets in the past year or so, such as Wisconsin WatchPR WatchThe Wisconsin State Journal, the Associated PressThe Wall Street JournalOrionEcoWatch, and most recently, Tom Dispatch. These various articles, all well worth reading, explain the land grab currently unfolding in the Midwest and the ecological damage that has accompanied it

To put it bluntly, there could be no shale gas extraction without the sand. As Tom Dispatch's Ellen Cantarow recently explained,

That sand, which props open fractures in the shale, has to come from somewhere. Without it, the fracking industry would grind to a halt. So big multinational corporations are descending on this bucolic region to cart off its prehistoric sand, which will later be forcefully injected into the earth elsewhere across the country to produce more natural gas. Geology that has taken millions of years to form is now being transformed into part of a system, a machine, helping to drive global climate change.

Frac sand, which consists of fine-grained sillica, can cause the respiratory illness, silicosis. Washing the frac sand in preparation for the fracking process is also a water intensive process, particularly threatening in the age of increasing water scarcity in the United States and around the world.

Fri, 2012-06-29 10:45Steve Horn
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New Documentary "Rational Middle": Oil and Gas Advertising in Disguise

The “Rational Middle Energy Series,” directed and produced by Gregory Kallenberg, is hot off the film rolls and has already been screened at an influential venue: the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival.

Kallenberg also directed and produced the documentary film “Haynesville: A Nation’s Hunt for An Energy Future,” a film about the ongoing shale gas boom in the United States and a counterpart, of sorts, to Josh Fox’s Academy Award-nominated documentary “Gasland.”

Kallenberg, in a press release announcing the film series’ launch, stated,

Through our travels with 'Haynesville,' no matter where we were in the world, we saw a striking commonality from community to community: the need and desire for a balanced discussion about today's energy issues. We realized that more often than not, people wanted to leave behind the noise and extremes to build an energy future that is environmentally sound, economically viable and ensures energy security. The 'Rational Middle' is the starting point for a movement welcoming open discussion where everyone is invited to the table to find solutions to the most important energy challenges.

Taken at face value, the movie’s description sounds fairly innocent.

Yet, the questions to be asked as the film makes the rounds: Who is Gregory Kallenberg? Who is his family? And in general, who are the real characters behind the curtain here?

The answers to these questions say much more about the film than does the description offered in promotional pitches. As it turns out, the public relations firm tasked to do promotional pitches also speaks volumes about the filmmaker's agenda.

Thu, 2012-06-14 12:22Steve Horn
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Was Andrew Cuomo's NY Fracking "Sacrifice Zone" Plan Hatched by NRDC?

Has New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just made the southern tier of the state a “sacrifice zone,” as alleged by award-winning author and “fracktivist,” Sandra Steingraber? Was it a plot hatched by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)?

The signs pointing to both possibilities are troublesome, to say the least.

The New York Times reported yesterday, via an unidentified insider at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), that Cuomo intends to “limit [shale gas] drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, at least for the next several years, in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.”

The Times article describes Cuomo's apparent plan:  

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology.

These counties, it turns out, are not only “struggling,” as The Times describes them, but in destitute levels of poverty. Two of the counties up for grabs for fracking include Steuben and Chemung, which, according to New York Department of Labor statistics, have unemployment rates hovering around 10 percent, among the highest in the state.

Support for dangerous industrial development is certainly much easier to garner during times of economic desperation. That much has been made clear throughout history in the United States, particularly in the arena of mountaintop removal for coal extraction in Appalachia. In other words, it's far easier to sell a rotten bill of goods (or in this case, contaminated water and air) to those mired in poverty. Is New York setting up to repeat this tragic cycle?

Fri, 2012-06-01 15:46Steve Horn
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Massey WV Coal Battle Take Two: Erie, CO Citizens Fight Fracking

Erie, CO meet Naoma, WV. Though seemingly different battles over different ecologically hazardous extractive processes – hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for unconventional gas versus mountaintop removal for coal – the two battles are one in the same and direct parallels of one another. 

On June 2, a coalition of activist organizations led by Erie Rising and joined by the likes of the Sierra Club, the Mark Ruffalo-lead Water Defense, the Angela Monti Fox-lead Mothers Project (mother of “Gasland” Producer and Director, Josh Fox), Food and Water Watch (FWW), among others, will take to Erie, CO to say “leave and leave now” to EnCana Corporation.

EnCana has big plans to drill baby drill in Erie.

It “plans to frack for natural gas near three local schools and a childcare center,” according to a press release disseminated by FWW. “On June 2, the event in Erie will give voice to those immediately affected by fracking there, and to all Americans marred by the process, becoming ground zero for the national movement to expose the dangers associated with fracking.”

The action is a simple one: a “rally and vigil to protest gas industry giant Encana’s plans to frack for natural gas near Red Hawk Elementary, Erie Elementary, Erie Middle School and Exploring Minds Childcare Center and transport toxic fracking by-products on roads that come within feet of these and other community schools,” reads the FWW press release.

Fri, 2012-06-01 04:43Laurel Whitney
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Chesapeake Energy And Other Fracking Companies Squatting On New York Citizens' Land

New York landowners are having a hard time evicting an unwanted tenant, it seems. That's why over 200 people residing in the Marcellus Shale are suing energy companies such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Inflection Energy, arguing that the land leases they originally signed with the companies over 5 years ago are now expired.

Originally, land owners signed on with companies like Chesapeake thinking it was a way to earn much needed revenue from their lands. However, citing New York's moratorium and descending gas prices alongside emerging environmental and health complications, many want out. With many of the contracts past their end dates, you would think that wouldn't be such a huge problem.

Except with thousands of acres of land at stake, the oil and gas companies aren't releasing or renegotiating any new leases any time soon, invoking the act of God and natural disaster clauses of the leases.

In legal speak, it's called “force majeure.” It allows the terms of a lease to continue based on unforeseen circumstances. Usually this counts for natural disasters or “acts of God”, but in this case, the companies are arguing that the moratorium on fracking in New York state should fall under this clause and allow them to retain the land.

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