conocophillips

Friday Trash Dump: Obama DOE Approves 2nd Fracked Gas LNG Export Terminal

Friday is the proverbial “take out the trash day” for the release of bad news among public relations practitioners and this Friday was no different. 

In that vein, yesterday the Obama Department of Energy (DOEannounced a conditional approval of the second-ever LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal. 

LNG is the super-chilled final product of gas obtained - predominantly in today's context - via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process taking place within shale deposits located throughout the U.S. Fracked gas is shipped from the multitude of domestic shale basins in pipelines to various coastal LNG terminals, and then sent on LNG tankers to the global market.

The name of the terminal: Freeport LNG.

Freeport LNG is 50-percent owned by ConocoPhillips and located in Freeport, Texas, an hour-long car ride south of Houston. The export facility is the second one approved by the Obama DOE, with the first one - the Sabine Pass terminal, owned by Cheniere and located in Sabine Pass, Louisiana - approved in May 2011

DOE gave its rubber stamp of approval to Freeport LNG to export up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of LNG per day from its terminal. 

Pot Meet Kettle: Oil Executive Says “Misinformation And Fear” Hurting Fracking Efforts

Ryan Lance, CEO of oil giant ConocoPhillips, issued a dire warning to colleagues at an energy conference earlier this month.  According to Lance, “misinformation and fear” could easily derail the current financial boom that is taking place within the shale gas industry.

According to The Hill, Lance told those gathered at the conference that they need to actively engage with government officials to fix the problem.  From The Hill’s report:

Industry groups contend that concerns about fracking have been badly overstated and say the method is safe.

Lance accused critics of “creating fear” and touted steps he said the industry is taking on water conservation, disclosure of chemicals and other areas.

To address Lance’s first claim (fear and misinformation), the only misinformation being pushed out related to the safety of fracking is coming from the industry.  The best available research tells us that natural gas fracking activities have been linked to increased seismic activity, groundwater pollution, and abnormally higher concentrations of air pollution near fracking well sites.  The full list of dangers from fracking can be found in DeSmogBlog’s “Fracking The Future” report. 

But focusing on Lance’s claim that “misinformation and fear” are thwarting fracking operations misses another important statement from the CEO.  He also said that he and his colleagues in the industry are taking the initiative in being more transparent in disclosing the chemical cocktails being injected into the ground, as well as improvements in “other areas.”

Lance’s claim is at odds with the truth.  In fact, his company, ConocoPhillips, has helped lead the charge to prevent any form of disclosure.   While they have complied with state regulations that are beginning to require disclosure from shale gas companies, they have done only the bare minimum of reporting, and the majority of wells operated by both Conoco and the rest of the industry continue to skirt disclosure requirements

Keystone XL Scandal: Obama State Dept. Hid Contractor's TransCanada Ties

Mother Jones has a breaking investigation out on another scandal pertaining to the Obama State Department's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. 

The skinny: the firm that DeSmogBlog revealed has historical ties to Big Tobacco and currently has a client list that includes Koch Industries, ConocoPhillips and BP, Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group, also has a direct connection to TransCanada itself. ERM Group - DeSmog revealed - also rubber-stamped the controversial and environmentally hazardous Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline in 2003, which carries oil and gas produced in the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan to Tbilisi, Georgia and eventually makes its way to Ceyhan, Turkey. 

Andy Kroll summed up Mother Jones' new discovery about ERM, writing,

ERM's second-in-command on the Keystone report, Andrew Bielakowski, had worked on three previous pipeline projects for TransCanada over seven years as an outside consultant. He also consulted on projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, three of the Big Five oil companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of heavy crude oil taken from the Canadian tar sands. 

Embarassed by this act of blatant corruption, the State Department redacted the “biographies” portion of its EIS, an overt attempted cover-up. Mother Jones tracked down a non-redacted version, revealing the ties that bind the study to the corporation the EIS is technically supposed to stand independent of. 

Bielakowski's ties, coming full circle, are a logical next step in the story.

Brad Johnson, writing for Grist, revealed that the State Department actually allowed TransCanada to hire a contractor on its behalf. TransCanda, of course, went to a go-to-guy who can “deliver the goods.”

“Delivering the goods,” of course, has little to do with delivering good science and is yet another act of deploying the Tobacco Playbook: make a one-sided scientific debate a farcical two-sided one. 

NY Fracking Scandal: Seven Groups Demand Conflict of Interest Investigation of Cuomo Administration

New York could soon become the newest state in the union to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the controversial technique used to enable shale oil and gas extraction. The green light from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could transpire in as little as “a couple of weeks,” according to journalist and author Tom Wilber.  

That timeline, of course, assumes things don't take any crazy twists or turns. 

Enter a press conference today in Albany, where seven groups, including Public Citizen, Food and Water WatchFrack Action, United for ActionCatskill Citizens for Safe Energy, and Capital District Against Fracking, called for an Albany County District Attorney General investigation of the Cuomo Administration.

They are asking “whether Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has a conflict of interest between his stock investments and his involvement in the state’s decision on whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.”

Three States Pushing ALEC Bill To Require Teaching Climate Change Denial In Schools

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - known by its critics as a “corporate bill mill” - has hit the ground running in 2013, pushing “models bills” mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems. 

January hasn't even ended, yet ALEC has already planted its Environmental Literacy Improvement Act - which mandates a “balanced” teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms - in the state legislatures of Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona so far this year. 

In the past five years since 2008, among the hottest years in U.S. history, ALEC has introduced its “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act in 11 states, or over one-fifth of the statehouses nationwide. The bill has passed in four statesan undeniable form of “big government” this “free market” organization decries in its own literature.

ALEC's “model bills” are written by and for corporate lobbyists alongside conservative legislators at its annual meetings. ALEC raises much of its corporate funding from the fossil fuel industry, which in turn utilizes ALEC as a key - though far from the only - vehicle to ram through its legislative agenda through in the states. 

Congressmen Supporting LNG Exports Received $11.5 Million From Big Oil, Electric Utilities

On Jan. 25, 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives - 94 Republicans and 16 Democrats - signed a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve expanded exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

It was an overt sign of solidarity with the Obama Administration Department of Energy's (DOE) LNG exports study, produced by a corporate consulting firm with long ties to Big Tobacco named NERA Economic Consulting (NERA is short for National Economic Research Associates), co-founded in 1961 by the “Father of Deregulation,” Alfred E. Kahn. That study concluded exporting gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process - sent via pipelines to coastal LNG terminals and then onto tankers - is in the best economic interests of the United States.  

A DeSmogBlog investigation shows that these 110 signatories accepted $11.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and electric utilities in the run-up to the November 2012 election, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Big Oil pumped $7.9 million into the signatories' coffers, while the remaining $3.6 million came from the electric utilities industry, two industries whose pocketbooks would widen with the mass exportation of the U.S. shale gas bounty. Further, 108 of the 110 signers represent states in which fracking is occuring.  

Millions In Gas Industry Cash Poured Into Public Research In Australia

SO a major United States university has decided to pull the plug on a research institute focussing on energy from gas after questions were raised over its ties to the industry.

Bloomberg reports that the “potential conflicts of interest”  had created  a “cloud of uncertainty” over the work of the Shale Resources and Society Institute at New York's State University at Buffalo.

Investigations led by the non-profit Public Accountability Initiative alleged there were flaws in the institute's research, which had engaged in “industry-spin” while the authors of the institute's sole report had failed to disclose previous industry ties.

In closing down the institute, the university's president Satish Tripathi said in an open letter:  “Conflicts – both actual and perceived – can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results. This, in turn, impacted the appearance of independence and integrity of the institute’s research.”

DeSmogBlog has been rather less forgiving, placing the institute's research into a new category it has dubbed “frackademia” in reference to the controversial hydraulic fracturing technology used by the shale gas industry.

Tripathi said that given the university's “geographic situation” in the line of sight of the booming shale gas industry, it was important the university played a role in research into energy and the environment.

But it seems that even the perception that the university might be funded by the industry (it has claimed the institute hadn't received industry cash) was enough for the “cloud of uncertainty” to overshadow work it was doing.

In a similar geographical situation is the University of Queensland in Australia, one of the leading research institutions in a state where a $60 billion boom in the coal seam gas industry is currently underway. 

UQ also has a centre launched to research the coal seam gas industry. Yet the difference here is that the university has openly welcomed millions of dollars of coal seam gas funding.

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

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.”

Delaware Tax Haven: The Other Shale Gas Industry Loophole

Most people think of downtown Houston, Texas as ground zero for the oil and gas industry. Houston, after all, serves as home base for corporate headquarters of oil and gas giants, including the likes of BP America, ConocoPhillips, and Shell Oil Company, to name a few.

Comparably speaking, few would think of Wilmington, Delaware in a similar vein. But perhaps they should, according to a recent New York Times investigative report by Leslie Wayne.

Wayne's story revealed that Delaware serves as what journalist Nicholas Shaxson calls a “Treasure Island” in his recent book by that namesake. It's an “onshore tax haven” and an even more robust one than the Caymen Islands, to boot.

The Delaware “Island” is heavily utilized by oil and gas majors, all of which are part of the “two-thirds of the Fortune 500” corporations parking their money in The First State.

Delaware is an outlier in the way it does business,” David Brunori, a professor at George Washington Law School told The Times. “What it offers is an opportunity to game the system and do it legally.”

The numbers are astounding. “Over the last decade, the Delaware loophole has enabled corporations to reduce the taxes paid to other states by an estimated $9.5 billion,” Wayne wrote

“More than 900,000 business entities choose Delaware as a location to incorporate,” explained another report. “The number…exceeds Delaware's human population of 850,000.”

The Big Waffle? New Report Exposes Corporations That Try to Split the Difference on Global Warming

We hear a lot about the Koch brothers. And before them, we heard a lot about ExxonMobil.

In other words, we all know the names of the corporations, and the corporate leaders, who have sought to undermine public understanding about global warming—for instance, by supporting think tanks that misrepresent the science and, in some cases, literally launch attacks against top scientists.

But you don’t hear as much about the companies that kinda waffle on the issue. That maybe give a little money to conservative think tanks, but also support lots of environmental groups. That donate to politicians on both sides of the climate battle, and sometimes take apparently contradictory stances on the issue: either on the science, or on what we ought to do about it.

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, though, appears to catch some of them in the act.

The UCS sought to analyze the influence of corporate America on the debate over climate science and climate policy. So it sampled a large group of S&P 500 companies that involved themselves in two major climate policy events of the past few years: Either they commented on the EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding on greenhouse gas emissions (pro or con), or they donated to the 2010 battle over Proposition 23 in California (either for or against the ballot proposition).

This yielded a sample of 28 S&P companies, including many expected names—ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Valero—but also some surprises (Nike). Then, UCS drilled down further by examining a host of other actions bearing on climate change that these companies have taken.

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