california

Thu, 2014-08-21 12:26Steve Horn
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After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“ 

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary. 

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City's leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

Thu, 2014-08-07 10:56Mike G
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Four Years Later, Systemic Failures That Led To Gas Pipeline Explosion Revealed

Last Monday, the mayor of San Bruno stood on the steps of the California Public Utilities Commission offices in San Francisco and called for a complete overhaul of the state agency, including the firing of key CPUC officials.

The next day, a federal grand jury indicted PG&E on charges related to its handling of the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that destroyed 38 homes and killed eight people.

Mayor Jim Ruane says that emails exchanged between staff at the CPUC and employees of PG&E in the wake of the disaster show that a far-too-cozy relationship exists between the state agency and the public utility it is supposed to regulate.

PG&E has made illegal efforts to influence the CPUC decisions makers to protect the utility's financial interests,” Ruane said. “Sadly and shockingly, the CPUC has participated in the illegal conduct.”

Some 7,000 pages of emails were released to San Bruno by the CPUC only after the city filed a lawsuit to gain access to the documents.

City manager Connie Jackson says that the emails provide further evidence to support the official conclusions of the investigation carried out by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“The NTSB produced a report within one year of the explosion that exhaustively demonstrated a number of conclusions and recommendations for correction in the wake of the explosion,” Jackson says. “And among the things they identified as a key causal factor related to the explosion was what they described as a too-cozy relationship between the regulator and the utility. These emails demonstrate that that is in fact true.”

Specifically, Jackson says that CPUC President Mike Peevey engaged in illegal ex parte communications with PG&E. “We are continuing to call for the removal, or minimally the recusal, of President Peevey,” Jackson says.

Peevey is not alone in being implicated for having engaged in illegal communications with PG&E employees who were responsible for the company's response to the disaster. As KTVU reported, one email, “from no less than PG&E's head of regulatory relations to a CPUC administrative law judge, ends with 'love you.'”

Fri, 2014-08-01 06:00Mike G
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Fracking Is Making California’s Drought Worse, Say Activists

California is in the middle of an epic water shortage, with nearly 80% of the state experiencing “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions. Check out this animated map to get a sense of how extensively the drought has impacted the Golden State.

Things have gotten so bad that California enlisted Lady Gaga to record a public service announcement (PSA)

Given the situation, anti-fracking activists say it’s time for Governor Jerry Brown to put a stop to water-intensive fracking, claiming that the controversial oil and gas production method is exacerbating the problem.

“We’re talking about a triple threat to our water from fracking,” says Adam Scow, the California Director for Food & Water Watch.

The first threat: The fracking process requires a lot of water, which then becomes unsuitable for any other use.

While it’s true that fracking in California doesn’t require as much water as it does in Texas and Pennsylvania, Scow contends that any amount lost to fracking is unacceptable: “In the middle of the worst drought in 50 years, they’re taking 140,000 to 150,000 gallons of water out of the water cycle per frack job. They’re destroying that amount of water on a daily basis.”

It’s also possible that fracking fluid could leach into underground aquifers, and of course the toxic wastewater left over from fracking has to be disposed of somehow — and therein lies the second threat to California’s water supply.

The California Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources (known as DOGGR) recently ordered 11 fracked wells shut down over fears that they were contaminating potential sources of potable water. As many as 100 other fracking sites are under review, as well.


An unlined pit of unknown neon green fluid leading to a fracking injection well. This pit is in the middle of almond fields and chicken coops. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

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, 2014-07-21 14:07Mike G
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California Orders Emergency Shutdown Of Fracking Wastewater Injection Sites Over Fears of Contaminated Aquifers

California officials ordered an emergency shutdown of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites in Kern County earlier this month, fearing they may be contaminating sources of drinking water that are sorely needed in the drought-stricken state.

No contamination has actually been found in any drinking or irrigation water, but, according to The Bakersfield Californian, “Pollution has not been ruled out… as regulators conduct site inspections and await test results and other information from the companies” that were operating the injection sites.

State officials are reviewing not just the 11 wells that were ordered to be shut down but as many as 100 more in northeast and east Bakersfield, CA over fears that fracking fluids and “produced waters” (the toxic and potentially radioactive fluids that come up with oil) may be leeching into potential sources of potable water.


As ProPublica reported, California's Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources issued the shutdown orders on July 7 to seven different energy companies, saying that they may have injected wastewater into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, which “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.”

A review of wastewater injections sites is long overdue in California. The state had exempted as many as 100 aquifers from environmental protection after they were found to contain water unfit for consumption or to be too deep to make their use feasible. But a 2011 report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found significant shortcomings with how the state was managing its wastewater injection program:

Sun, 2014-06-22 08:36Mike G
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Oakland Opposes Fossil Fuel Transport By Rail As Sacramento Imposes New Fees To Help Fund Spill Response

The City Council of Oakland, California has passed a resolution opposing the transport of coal, oil, petcoke (a byproduct of the oil refining process) and other hazardous materials by railways and waterways within the city.

The resolution is a response to “a new push by the fossil fuel industry to transport, export, and/or refine coal, crude oil and petroleum coke (“petcoke”)… on the West Coast and in California,” as well as efforts by California refineries to build new rail terminals that would allow them to import more crude oil from the tar sands in Canada and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

Crude-by-rail shipments are expected to travel through some of California's most ecologically sensitive areas, as well as some of its most populated cities.

Oakland's resolution is the first of its kind for California, as it goes further than similar resolutions passed by Berkeley and Richmond opposing crude-by-rail.

“Oakland is leading the way for Californians who want to tell Big Coal and Big Oil that we cannot bear the risk they impose upon on our town,” said Lynette Gibson McElhaney, one of three council members who sponsored the resolution.

State legislators are also taking steps to minimize the threat to California's ecosystems and human health posed by shipping fossil fuels via rail. The state will soon begin charging a 6.5-cent fee on every barrel of oil shipped by rail into the state or piped within the state, which is expected to raise some $11 million in its first year. The funds will be used to better train and equip first responders in spill response, with a special focus on spills in waterways, and to hire more rail inspectors.

Thu, 2014-06-05 13:00Mike G
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California State Senators Who Voted Against Fracking Moratorium Took 370% More From Oil Industry

Even though a sizable majority of Californians favor a moratorium on fracking until its impacts on the environment and human health are better understood, California's fracking moratorium bill, SB 1132, died in the state Senate last week, voted down for the final time on Friday evening.

Four Democrats joined all 12 Republicans in voting nay on Friday, while five more Dems abstained, making the final vote 16 to 16. A simple majority of the 40-member body was needed to pass (three Senators are currently suspended and unable to vote).

Big Oil spent big to defeat this bill. The Western States Petroleum Agency, widely regarded as the most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, spent $1.5 million lobbying the state government in the first three months of 2014 alone (and according to Truth Out, the WSPA spent $4.7 million in 2013, more than any other group). A statewide coalition of environmental groups called Californians Against Fracking estimates that, all told, the oil industry has spent $15 million lobbying state legislators to stop SB 1132 from becoming law.

It would appear that Big Oil got what it paid for. According to a DeSmogBlog analysis of contributions from fossil fuel interests to California State Senators, those who voted no have taken some 370% as much money in campaign contributions from the oil industry as did those voting yes.

Over their lifetime, the 16 Senators who voted against SB 1132 have taken $590,185 from the oil industry, while the 16 who voted no have taken $159,250.

This data is via Oil Change International's Dirty Energy Money database, and only tallies contributions made through 2012, the last year campaign contribution numbers are available.

Thu, 2014-05-29 18:05Mike G
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Californians Aim to Halt Fracking Even If the State Senate Won't

A second vote on California's fracking moratorium bill—SB 1132—fell short in the State Senate today, just twenty-four hours after it was first defeated by a margin of 18-16, three votes shy of the majority it needed to pass. We're still awaiting the official word on how today's vote shook out exactly.

But many Californians are not waiting for the State Senate to take action, anyway.

Last week, Santa Cruz County's Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to pass the state's first-ever permanent ban on fracking. Earlier this month, the city council of Beverly Hills passed its own fracking ban with another unanimous vote. Several other counties and cities are scheduled to hold votes of their own on similar measures in the near future.

These local efforts to win fracking bans and moratoria are undoubtedly a response to the tremendous popular support for a halt to poorly understood but increasingly more common practices like fracking and acidization, which eats away at rock.

A poll commissioned by two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows that more than two-thirds of Californians want a moratorium on fracking until its impacts to the environment and human health have been studied more closely by the scientific community. A poll by USC and the LA Times had similar results, finding that more than 70% of Californians favored banning or heavily regulating fracking.

While environmental groups have been organizing support for SB 1132, some of the fiercest opposition has come from groups just as concerned with health, safety, and justice as with the environment. And they are certainly not backing down, even after SB 1132 was voted down for a second time.

“It's disappointing to see our leaders in Sacramento fail to pass a moratorium on fracking, siding with the powerful oil and gas industry at the expense of the health of our families and climate,” said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org, the largest Latino online organizing group in the nation. “Latinos will bear the brunt of the worst effects of fracking in California–from poisoned water to asthma, and are in the areas worst affected by climate change across the nation.”  

Polls have shown wide support for a moratorium among Latinos in California. In fact, the USC/LA Times poll found that Latinos favored an outright ban or at least a moratorium on fracking by substantially larger margins than whites, perhaps due to the fact that Latinos are far more likely to live in communities suffering the adverse impacts of fracking operations.

“We will remember who stood with us today, and who chose to poison our families for the sake of corporate profits,” Carmona says. “Shame on every member of the California Senate today who voted to throw Latino families under the bus.”

Wed, 2014-05-21 16:14Mike G
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Estimates of Recoverable Oil in California's Monterey Shale Slashed 96%

Last year, a post here on DeSmog asked: “Could California's Shale Oil Boom Be Just a Mirage?

For now, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

According to the LA Times, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) is set to announce next month that it is officially downgrading its estimate of the oil reserves in California's Monterey Shale from 13.7 billion barrels to 600 million barrels — a 96% decrease.

Modern technology, it seems, is just not up to the task. The EIA will issue its new estimate after reviewing output from oil operations using the latest technologies like fracking and acidization, which eats away rock.

“From the information we've been able to gather, we've not seen evidence that oil extraction in this area is very productive using techniques like fracking,” said John Staub, a petroleum exploration and production analyst with the EIA, according to the LA Times.

At one point, the Monterey Shale was expected to fuel a new “black gold rush” in the Golden State. Initial estimates in 2011 put the amount of recoverable oil from the Monterey Shale at 15.4 billion barrels. The EIA revised this number down to 13.7 billion in 2012, which was still some two-thirds of shale reserves in the entire US.

As the LA Times notes, “The estimate touched off a speculation boom among oil companies. The new findings seem certain to dampen that enthusiasm.”

Environmentalists reacted to news of the downgrade with some relief but little surprise. 

“The oil had always been a statistical fantasy,” says geoscientist J. David Hughes of the Post Carbon Institute, who published a report last December that was critical of the EIA estimates. Hughes' findings were based on an analysis of actual oil production data from the Monterey Shale, which drastically underperformed the industry's projections.

While several of the major oil companies have been wary all along, not everyone is giving up so easily. It's not that the oil isn't there, it's just that the Monterey Shale's unique geography presents challenges for which existing methods have no answer, and there may yet be a technological innovation that will allow the exploitation of the Monterey Shale's reserves.

“As the technologies change, the production rates could also change dramatically,” Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Assn., told the LA Times

Wed, 2014-04-16 16:51Mike G
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New Study Shows Link Between Climate Change And California Drought

A study published by Geophysical Research Letters sheds new light on the connection between California's epic drought and human-induced climate change.

The study carries the decidedly wonky title, “Probable causes of the abnormal ridge accompanying the 2013-14 California drought: ENSO precursor and anthropogenic warming footprint.”

A subscription is required to read the full thing, but you can read the abstract, which concludes that “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.”

As the accompanying news release makes clear, this new research not only helps explain how global warming has intensified the drought in the Golden State, but also its role in the record-breaking cold weather that has hit the East Coast. But it's the climate-drought connection that is under the most scrutiny.

Essentially, an “anomalous high-amplitude ridge system,” or a ridge of exceptionally high atmospheric pressure, has contributed to what's known as a “dipole” — in this case, the two poles of the dipole being the high pressure in the Western U.S. and the low pressure in the East.

The researchers, from Utah State University, have “uncovered evidence that can trace the amplification of the dipole to human influences.” They go on to state that “it is important to note that the dipole is projected to intensify, which means more extreme future droughts for California.”

Not everyone accepts the connection between manmade climate change and the Cali drought. To wit, this study is likely to provoke another round in the very public debate between University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. and Obama Administration Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren.

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