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Thu, 2014-04-17 12:02Steve Horn
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Interview: Big Men Director Rachel Boynton on Oil, Ghana and "Responsible Capitalism"

The subtitle of the newly released documentary film Big Men is “everyone wants to be big” and to say the film covers a “big” topic is to put it mildly.

Executive produced by Brad Pitt and directed by Rachel Boynton, the film cuts to the heart of how the oil and gas industry works and pushes film-watchers to think about why that's the case. Ghana's burgeoning offshore fields — in particular, the Jubilee Field discovered in 2007 by Kosmos Energy — serve as the film's case study.

Image Credit: Ghana Oil Watch

Boynton worked on the film for more than half a decade, beginning the project in 2006 and completing it in 2013. During that time, the Canadian tar sands exploded, as did the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom — meanwhile, halfway around the world, Ghana was having an offshore oil boom of its own.

Mon, 2013-12-02 10:25Steve Horn
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Tar Sands' Next Frontier: Shipments on the Great Lakes

Great Lakes Tar Sands

The Great Lakes, drinking water source for over 40 million North Americans, could be the next target on tar sands marketers' bullseye according to a major new report out by the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes.

The 24-page report, “Oil and Water: Tar Sands Crude Shipping Meets the Great Lakes?unpacks a new looming threat to the Great Lakes in the form of barges transporting tar sands along the Great Lakes to targeted midwestern refinery markets. As the report suggests, it's a threat made worse by an accompanying “Wild West”-like regulatory framework.

“The prospect of tar sands shipping on the Great Lakes gives rise to fundamental social and economic questions about whether moving crude oil by vessel across the world’s single largest surface freshwater system is a venture this region wants to embrace, despite the known risks,” the report says early on.

Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP is one of the major corporations hedging its bets on moving tar sands along the Great Lakes — and oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin — and may begin doing so as early as 2015.   

“[I]ndustry observers and consultants speculate this crude could travel from Wisconsin across Lake Superior to Lake Michigan, and on to refineries in Whiting, Ind., Lemont, Ill., and possibly Detroit, Mich. near Lake Erie,” the report details. “Other potential destinations include Sarnia, Ontario on Lake Huron, or even an East Coast refinery.”

As a recent GasBuddy.com article explained, BP's Whiting, Indiana refinery - capable of refining far more tar sands crude with its Modernization Project - will soon open for business.

“Sources say that BP's modernization of the company's 405,000-b/d Whiting, Ind., refinery is on schedule with all units now operating,” the article explained. “That includes a brand new 105,000-b/d coker that will eventually allow the plant to use about four times as much heavy sour Canadian crude compared with it had used previously.”

Thu, 2012-11-29 05:00Carol Linnitt
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Mining Corporation Looks to BC for Frac Sand Open Pit Mine

Stikine Gold Mining Corp. will provide unconventional gas producers with British Columbian silica sand for fracking operations if the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations approves the company's open pit frac sand mine project application. According to the Ministry's website the project, located 90 kilometers north of Prince George, is in pre-application status with the Environmental Assessment Office.

If granted approval, Stikine could gouge a 5 kilometer wide and 200 meter deep hole in the region's sandstone shelves, dismantling what works as a massive natural water filtration system in order to benefit an industrial enterprise that removes millions of gallons of freshwater from the earth's hydrogeological system each year. This is done as an intermediary step towards fracking for unconventional gas, an energy-intensive, heavy industrial process that will ultimately release high levels of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. 
 
“Stikine's new focus on the potential production of Frac Sand from silica sources in north eastern BC (NEBC) represents a strategic opportunity in the market and a first for what is shaping up to be a massive gas play in region,” the company announced on its website.
 
Frac sand mining is an often overlooked component of hydraulic fracturing operations. Producers use a mixture of sand, water, and chemicals to blast open shale gas deposits, such as those located in northeastern BC. Fracking opponents often point to the toxicity of fracking chemicals, the possibility of groundwater contamination and high levels of fugitive methane emissions associated with the process to demonstrate the high environmental footprint of the industry-lauded 'clean' energy source.
 
The role sand plays in fracking is often overshadowed by these more widespread problems that follow the process to each well-pad, affecting communities at the local level. However, giving more thought to the industry's need for sand - a single well can use between 2 and 5 million pounds of sand - sheds light on just how destructive fracking is, right from inception.
Wed, 2012-11-21 05:00Steve Horn
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Second US Tar Sands Mine, Owned by Former ExxonMobil and Chevron Exec., Approved in Utah

MCW Enterprises Ltd., a Canada-based corporation, announced on Nov. 19 that it has received all necessary permits to streamline tar sands extraction at its Asphalt Ridge plant located in Vernal, Utah starting in December.

The announcement comes just weeks after U.S. Oil Sands Company received the first ever green light to extract tar sands south in the United States.

Recently changing its name from MCW Energy, MCW Enterprises Ltd. owns MCW Oil Sands Recovery LLC as a wholly owned subsidiary. The company's CEO, R. Gerald Bailey - often also referred to as Raymond Bailey or Jerry Bailey - is the former President of Exxon Arabian Gulf and also served as an Executive for Texaco (since purchased by Chevron) for 15 years.

MCW's website explains that its stake in the Asphalt Ridge is a “proven/probable resource of over 50+ million barrels of oil” and that it “is seeking other oil sands leases in Utah, which contains over 32 billion barrels of oil within 8 major deposits.” 

Bailey told Flahrety Financial News that he sees this first project as a crucible, or testing grounds, with the potential for more extraction to come down the road. 

“This is really going to be a technology play,” he stated. “I don't plan to build another Exxon out there in the desert.”

Tue, 2012-11-20 15:27Steve Horn
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LA Times Covers "Sand Land," Ecological Hazards of Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin

On Nov. 19, The Los Angeles Times' Neela Banerjee, writing from Chippewa County, WI, explained what we covered here in June in our “Sand Land” investigation.

The skinny: mining for frac sand creates a whole slew of problems and must be taken into consideration in the “cradle to grave” equation when quantifying the ecological hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for unconventional oil and gas. 

“In time, 800 acres of farmland will be mined to feed an energy boom sweeping the United States,” explained Banerjee.

The crystalline silica sand currently being mined from this farm land is blasted into hard rock shale basins during the horizontal drilling process popularly referred to as fracking. This particular fine-grained, circular sand is the perfect shape to break open up pours for shale oil and gas to flow out from under the ground.

“Ground zero for industrial sand mining is western Wisconsin, in counties like Trempealeau, Buffalo and Chippewa,” wrote Banerjee, echoing our findings here on DeSmog. “At least 60 industrial sand mines are functioning or in the permit process in the area, up from five in 2010…[A] fracked well could use anywhere from 2 million to 5 million pounds of sand.”

The airborne dust eminating from mining for frac sand, a study published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently demonstrated, can lead to silicosis for miners working on site. Comparatively speaking, “little is known about its effect on people who live near mine sites,” Banerjee explained.

Mon, 2012-08-13 10:04Farron Cousins
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What To Expect When You’re Electing: Representative Paul Ryan

With the selection of Wisconsin Republican Representative Paul Ryan has his running mate, Mitt Romney has effectively pushed his campaign into the climate change denying fringe. While Romney hasn’t been considered a friend of the environment since he began running for national office, his tendency towards flip-flopping made some of his more extreme, anti-environment positions rather toothless. But Paul Ryan is someone that isn’t just all talk, and what he’s saying will be a disaster for our environment.

While Ryan isn’t necessarily a complete climate science denier, he is certainly classified as a “skeptic,” and oftentimes has used anecdotal evidence to say that we’re making too much of a fuss over something that may or may not be happening.

Let’s start by following the money on Rep. Paul Ryan. Since 1989, he has received $65,500 from Koch Industries, making them his sixth largest campaign donor. In total, he has pulled in a little over $244,000 from the oil and gas industries.

Those finances are clearly represented in his voting history in Congress. Here are a few of Ryan’s most anti-environment, pro-industry votes since being elected:

2000 – Voted against implementing Kyoto Protocol
2001 – Voted against raising fuel economy standards
2001 – Voted against barring oil drilling in ANWR
2003 – Voted to speed up “forest thinning” projects
2005 – Voted to deauthorize “critical habitats” for endangered species
2005 – Voted to speed up oil refinery permitting
2008 – Voted against environmental education grants
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for renewable energy
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for energy conservation
2009 – Voted against enforcing CO2 limits for air pollution
2011 – Voted NO on allowing EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions
2011 – Voted YES to opening up the Outer Continental Shelf for oil drilling
2011 – Voted to eliminate climate advisors for the president
2011 – Voted in favor of allowing Keystone XL Pipeline

Thu, 2012-08-09 15:37Steve Horn
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Was Scott Walker Chosen to Headline Heartland Institute Gala Due to His Bradley Foundation Ties?

Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker will keynote the Heartland Institute's 28th Anniversary Benefit Dinner this evening at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL

Walker recently won the Kochtopus-funded Americans for Prosperity George Washington Award. Now, two months after his recall election steamrolling of Democrat Tom Barrett, the climate change denying group famous for its Unabomber billboard will embrace Walker with much fanfare

Heartland, whose internal documents were published this past spring by DeSmogBlog, sings praises for Walker's union-busting agenda and his recent recall victory in promoting the event

This year’s keynote speaker, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, is the nation’s most influential and successful governor. Elected in 2010 to balance a budget that was billions of dollars in deficit without raising taxes, he did exactly that, winning the passionate support of taxpayers, business owners, and consumers across the state. After years of economic stagnation caused by high taxes and excessive regulation, Wisconsin is growing again.

To balance the state’s budget, Gov. Walker took on powerful public sector unions, reining in their collective bargaining privileges and requiring that public-sector workers start to contribute toward their retirement and health care benefits. Unions fought back, and after they failed to block legislation implementing Walker’s plan, they tried to recall him in a special election. On June 5, 2012, they failed, as Walker won reelection and a solid mandate to stay his course.

The trove of leaked Heartland documents exposed the Institute's current climate change denying agenda and revealed whose money supports this reality-denying agenda. But DeSmogBlog neglected to talk about the details of “Operation Angry Badger” in the documents, as at the time, we thought it was outside the scope of our mission.

Turns out, we were wrong.

Wed, 2012-07-11 11:10Steve Horn
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Wisconsin v. Yoder Redux? MN Amish Citizens Revolt Against Frac Sand Mining

“History,” the old adage goes, “repeats itself.” And this is precisely the reason why we learn it.

Exhibit A: Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), a landmark First Amendment Court battle royale. The case's facts, as summarized by Oyez, are as follows:

Jonas Yoder and Wallace Miller, both members of the Old Order Amish religion, and Adin Yutzy, a member of the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church, were prosecuted under a Wisconsin law that required all children to attend public schools until age 16. The three parents refused to send their children to such schools after the eighth grade, arguing that high school attendance was contrary to their religious beliefs.

The Court was tasked to answer the following question: Did Wisconsin's requirement that all parents send their children to school at least until age 16 violate the First Amendment by criminalizing the conduct of parents who refused to send their children to school for religious reasons?

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.

Wed, 2012-03-21 16:20Steve Horn
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ALEC Climate Change Denial Model Bill Passes in Tennessee

The month of March has seen unprecedented heat and temperatures. A rational thinking, scientifically-grounded individual could only posit, “Well, hmm, I bet climate change has something to do with the fact that in Madison, WI, it is 80 degrees in mid-March. Sometimes it's 60 or 70 degrees colder than this!”

While that individual would be positing something that is the well-accepted scientific consensus, in some states, under law, that is only a “controversial theory among other theories.”

Welcome to Tennessee, which on March 19th became the fourth state with a legal mandate to incorporate climate change denial as part of the science education curriculum when discussing climate change.

First it was Louisiana, back in 2009, then Texas in 2009, South Dakota in 2010 and now Tennessee has joined the club, bringing the total to four U.S. states that have mandated climate change denial in K-12 “science” education. 

Many other states could follow in their footsteps as well, given that, as DeSmogBlog exposed in late-January, this is an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill, a near miror image of its Orwellian-titled “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act.”[PDF]

The machinations of ALEC are best explained by the Center for Media and Demoracy's “ALEC Exposed” project.

The ALEC bill passed as H.B. 368 and S.B. 893, with 70-23 and 24-8 roll call votes, respectively. Tennesse Republican Governor Bill Haslam is likely to sign the bill into law soon.

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