Louisiana

Five Years After the BP Oil Disaster: A Barrier Island for Nesting Birds Devoid of Life

by Julie Dermansky

Cat Island, off the Gulf Coast in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, was home to a vibrant bird rookery inhabited by brown pelicans, seagulls, spoonbills, and egrets before BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Five years after the largest oil spill in American history, the barrier island has just about disappeared.

Despite ongoing efforts by former Plaquemines Parish coastal zone manager PJ Hahn to restore the island, only the needed building permits and an engineering plan have been completed.

“Cat Island was ground zero of the oil spill,” Hahn told DeSmogBlog.


Dead bird on Cat Island five years after the BP oil spill. 
March 31, 2015. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

"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.

Ghost Town Left in the Wake of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole in Louisiana

Bayou Corne, 77 miles west of New Orleans, can be added to the growing list of communities destroyed by industrial accidents.

“I wanted to stay in Bayou Corne for the rest of my life. I wanted to die here,” Mike Schaff, who recently moved out, told DeSmogBlog. “Texas Brine took that away from me. It’s like a ghost town now.”

The area was known as a picturesque sportsman's paradise for its waterways teeming with fish and alligators, but is now famous for a giant sinkhole that opened up on August 3, 2012 after a salt dome cavern owned by Occidental Chemical Corp. and operated by Texas Brine Co. LLC, collapsed.


Swamp maple blossoms near the sinkhole in Bayou Corne. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

United Steelworkers Oil Refinery Strike Spreads

Workers at Shell and Motiva refineries in Norco, Louisiana, about 30 miles west of New Orleans, have joined the growing national United Steelworkers Union (USW) strike. In total, 15 facilities are now striking, making this the largest refinery strike since 1980.

On the second night of the strike in Norco, a giant flare at the Shell refinery illuminated the workers on the picket line, serving as a reminder of the dangers that come with working at refineries.

“There are a lot of hazards out here,” Bryan Shelton, a media liaison for the union, said. “If you have that much hydrocarbon in one area, you have a chance for a lot of things to go wrong, so if you have someone working too many hours that is a dangerous thing.”

Fossil Fuel Connected Judge Says Oil Industry Not Liable For Destroying Gulf Coast

While much of the attention paid to the Gulf Coast in recent years has focused on BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and the coastline, it is important to remember that the fossil fuel industry has been polluting the South for decades.

In fact, the problem is so bad that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against 97 fossil fuel companies two years ago to force them to pay for the destruction that they have caused to the Louisiana coast.

The lawsuit seemed almost doomed from the start: Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation in 2014 that forbade the lawsuit from moving forward, but this legislation was later ruled unconstitutional and thrown out.

As Climate Progress points out, the growing concern among Louisiana citizens is that their coastline is disappearing: More than 1,900 square miles of coast line has vanished in the last 85 years, and the fossil fuel industry has been responsible for polluting what’s left. The industry has even admitted it is responsible for at least 36% of the total wetland loss in the state of Louisiana. The State Department estimates that the wells drilled by the dirty energy industry are destroying as much as 59% of the coast.

An admission of liability, hard facts, and the protection of the public’s well being should have been enough to make this case a slam-dunk for any seasoned attorney. Unfortunately, the dirty energy industry has powerful connections all over the South – from politicians to judges – and those connections have resulted in the dismissal of the lawsuit.

In mid-February, U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown tossed the suit, after the industry successful lobbied to have the case moved from a state judge to a federal judge. This action, known as venue-shopping, allows a defendant to search for a more friendly judge before the case is heard, and Judge Brown is about as friendly with the industry as a judge ever could be.

Before her appointment to a federal judgeship by President Obama (confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate), Judge Brown spent decades as a corporate attorney, working for firms that regularly represented the dirty energy industry in matters of environmental litigation.

During her time in practice, she worked at the law firms of Adams & Reese, the Onebane Law Firm, Milling, Benson, & Woodward, and the Chaffe McCall law firm. The McCall firm’s website says the following about its oil and gas representation:

Facing Felony Charges, Rick Perry Joins Board of Energy Transfer Partners, Owner of Proposed Oil Pipeline Across Iowa

Additional Reporting by David Goodner

Former Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry has joined the board of directors at Energy Transfer Partners, a natural gas and propane company headquartered in Dallas, Texas that has proposed to build a controversial Bakken crude oil pipeline across Iowa.

The announcement, which appeared in Energy Transfer Partners' February 3 Form 8-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), comes as Perry faces two Texas state-level felony charges for abuse of power. Perry pleaded not guilty to both charges and District Judge Bert Richardson recently ruled against dismissing Perry's case.  

“It isn't immediately clear how much Perry will be paid for his board position,” explained the Texas Tribune. “According to regulatory filings published on the company's website, non-employee board directors were paid $50,000 a year in 2013.”

Despite the felony charges, Perry is still strongly considering a 2016 presidential run, according to a recent article published by the Associated Press, which reported he may make a final decision on whether or not to run by May. 

The Energy Transfer Partners filing to the SEC describes Perry's appointment: 

Item 5.02. Departure of Directors or Certain Officers; Election of Directors; Appointment of Certain Officers; Compensatory Arrangements of Certain Officers.
On February 3, 2015, James R. (Rick) Perry was appointed as a director of Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C., the general partner of Energy Transfer Partners GP, L.P., which is the general partner of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. (the “Partnership”). Mr. Perry served as the Governor of Texas from 2000 until 2015.
 
There are no arrangements or understandings with the Partnership, or any other persons, pursuant to which Mr. Perry was appointed as a director of Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C. Mr. Perry is not currently expected to be named to any committees of the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C. At this time, the Partnership is not aware of any transactions, since the beginning of the Partnership’s last fiscal year, or any currently proposed transactions, in which the Partnership was or is to be a participant involving amounts exceeding $120,000, and in which Mr. Perry had or will have a direct or indirect material interest. Consistent with other non-employee members of the Board of Directors, Mr. Perry will be eligible to receive cash compensation for his service on the Board of Directors and equity compensation under the Second Amended and Restated 2008 Long-Term Incentive Plan, as described in the Definitive Proxy Statement on Schedule 14A filed by the Partnership with the SEC on October 24, 2014.
 

Monster Wells: Hundreds Of Fracking Wells Using 10-25 Million Gallons of Water Each

While the oil and gas industry likes to claim that fracking is not an especially water intensive process, a new report has found that there are more than 250 wells across the country that each require anywhere from 10 to 25 million gallons of water.

The American Petroleum Institute suggests that the typical fracked well uses “the equivalent of the volume of three to six Olympic sized swimming pools,” which works out to 2-4 million gallons of water.

But using data reported by the industry itself and available on the FracFocus.org website, Environmental Working Group has determined that there are at least 261 wells in eight states that used an average of 12.7 million gallons of water, adding up to a total of 3.3 billion gallons, between 2010 and 2013. Fourteen wells used over 20 million gallons each in that time period (see chart below).

According to EWG, some two-thirds of these water-hogging wells are in drought-stricken areas. Many parts of Texas, for instance, are suffering through a severe and prolonged drought, yet the Lone Star State has by far the most of what EWG calls “monster wells” with 149. And 137 of those were found to be in abnormally dry to exceptional drought areas.

Texas also has the dubious distinction of having the most wells using fresh water in the fracking process. In 2011 alone, more than 21 billion gallons of fresh water were used for fracking Texas wells. Increased pumping by companies seeking to extract the oil and gas in the Eagle Ford shale formation, meanwhile, has been cited as a major cause of the state’s rapidly declining groundwater levels.

Introducing "Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat"

DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn and Republic Report's Lee Fang have co-written an in-depth report on the influence the government-industry revolving door has had on Big Oil's ability to obtain four liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits since 2012 from the Obama Administration.

Titled “Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat,” the report published here on DeSmogBlog and on Republic Report serves as the launching pad of an ongoing investigation. It will act as the prelude of an extensive series of articles by both websites uncovering the LNG exports influence peddling machine. 

The report not only exposes the lobbying apparatus that has successfully opened the door for LNG exports, but also the PR professionals paid to sell them to the U.S. public. It also exposes those who have gone through the “reverse revolving door,” moving from industry back to government and sometimes back again.

It reveals that many former Obama Administration officials now work as lobbyists or PR professionals on behalf of the LNG exports industry, as do many former Bush Administration officials. So too do those with ties to potential 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. 

They include:

Gulf-Bound Tar Sands for Export? Follow the Oiltanking Trail

The U.S. Senate failed to get the necessary 60 votes to approve the northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, but incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) already promised it will get another vote when the GOP-dominated Senate begins its new session in 2015.

Though the bill failed, one of the key narratives that arose during the congressional debate was the topic of whether or not the tar sands product that may flow through it will ultimately be exported to the global market. President Barack Obama, when queried by the press about the latest Keystone congressional action, suggested tar sands exports are the KXL line's raison d'etre.

Obama's comments struck a nerve. Bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and supporter U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) both stood on the Senate floor and said Keystone XL is not an export pipeline in the minutes leading up to the bill's failure.

“Contrary to the ranting of some people that this is for export…Keystone is not for export,” said Landrieu, with Hoeven making similar remarks.

But a DeSmog probe into a recent merger of two major oil and gas industry logistics and marketing companies, Oiltanking Partners and Enterprise Products Partners, has demonstrated key pieces of the puzzle are already being put together by Big Oil to make tar sands exports a reality. 

And both Keystone XL and Enbridge's “Keystone XL Clone” serve as key thoroughfares for making it happen.

Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish Comes One Step Closer to Fracking

St Tammany Parish Fracking

The Department of Louisiana Natural Resources (DNRhas approved a unit permit for Helis Oil & Gas Company for a site in St. Tammany Parish that the company plans to frack. 

The department’s decision came on Friday, August 29, the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the beginning of the Labor Day weekend.

Releasing the news on Friday is typical of Louisiana's government. It is another demonstration of how DNR is an advocate for the oil industry, not the people,” retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, founder of the Green Army, told DeSmogBlog. “They know the majority of the parish do not want fracking and that they are doing something the people don't want. Releasing the news like that is disrespectful.”

Pages

Subscribe to Louisiana