california

Thu, 2013-11-07 09:00Sharon Kelly
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Could California's Shale Oil Boom Be Just a Mirage?

Since the shale rush took off starting in 2005 in Texas, drillers have sprinted from one state to the next, chasing the promise of cheaper, easier, more productive wells. This land rush was fueled by a wild spike in natural gas prices that helped make shale gas drilling attractive even though the costs of fracking were high.

As the selling price of natural gas sank from its historic highs in 2008, much of the luster wore off entire regions that had initially captivated investors, like Louisiana’s Haynesville shale or Arkansas’s Fayetteville, now in decline.

But unlike natural gas prices, oil prices remain high to this day, and investors and policymakers alike remain dazzled by the heady promise of oil from shale rock. Oil and gas companies have wrung significant amounts of black gold from shale oil plays like Texas’s Eagle Ford and North Dakota’s Bakken.

Shale oil, they say, is the next big thing.

“After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future,” President Obama said in his most recent State of the Union address. “We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”

But once again, the reality may be nothing like the hype. Consider California.

Wed, 2013-11-06 17:44Mike G
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Oil Industry Spending Big To Win Unfettered Fracking Rights In The Golden State

There’s a lot of money at stake for oil companies that want to frack California’s Monterey Shale, so it’s no wonder Big Oil is spending big to forestall any new environmental regulations from biting into profits.

Here’s a particularly striking case in point: Just a week before the California State Senate voted on a bill that would impose new regulations on fracking activities, the Western States Petroleum Association (which represents the likes of Exxon, Chevron, BP, Occidental, Valero, Phillips 66, etc.) treated a dozen lawmakers to a lavish $13,000, 5-course meal at The Kitchen, one of Sacramento’s fanciest restaurants.

Two weeks later, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, but by then lobbyists had managed to weaken the bill to the point that many environmentalists had withdrawn their support.

Before they passed [the bill], lawmakers accepted new amendments from the oil and gas industry – amendments that undermine the original intent… changing it into a bill we simply can’t support,” said the California League of Conservation Voters.

That $13,000 dinner is a drop in the bucket, of course.

So far in 2013, the oil and gas industry has already spent over $11.5 million on lobbying efforts in California, and it’s not just fracking regulations that are in Big Oil’s crosshairs.

Fri, 2013-06-21 04:00Sharon Kelly
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A Gamble on Shale Job Growth Fails to Pay Off for Governor Corbett, as Fracking Worries Grow Nationwide

Last Friday in Philadelphia, a small crowd gathered outside the Franklin Institute, protest signs in hand. Only a few days before, word went out that Governor Tom Corbett, one of the nation’s least popular governors, would be in Philadelphia, a city that has borne the brunt of many of Mr. Corbett’s crippling budget cuts, and protest organizers said they had mobilized fast.

Inside the museum, Mr. Corbett was speaking at a shale gas summit sponsored by the Keystone Energy Forum, and he was once again touting the benefits of the Marcellus fracking boom.

 “The shale gas industry is helping to sustain more than 240,000 jobs in every corner of our state,” Corbett said. (Many analysts say these numbers are overblown and the impact on the state’s employment has been negligible.)

The speech was textbook Corbett — unapologetic championing of the oil and gas industry, puzzlement at the mounting tide of opposition to fracking, a deep-seated faith in the good intentions of drillers and the benefits they want to bring to Pennsylvania and America.

During this speech, Mr. Corbett made no mention of one drilling services company — Minuteman Environmental Services — that he had extolled as “an American success story” a year ago in a similar speech only to see the company raided by the FBI months later.

And for all the talk about jobs and drilling, no one in the crowd asked him about the recent ranking of Pennsylvania as 49th of 50 states in terms of new job creation.

Mon, 2013-06-17 12:03Mike G
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Who Is Fracking With California?

California has become the newest battleground state in the fracking fight that is already being waged in states like Pennsylvania and New York. Why?

The short answer is the Monterey Shale. It’s a massive oil deposit that is trapped in the shale formations underneath Los Angeles and most of California’s Central Coast and Central Valley regions (as well as all of the sources of drinking water for the people living in those regions). It was considered too difficult to reach to be worth it until fracking technology came along.

The rush to exploit the Monterey Shale’s reserves has spurred three bills moving through the California state legislature that would halt all fracking in the Golden State until its impacts can be studied more fully, not unlike what has happened in New York and New Jersey. Unlike New Jersey’s ban, which expired in January, the California legislation would require further legislative action to lift. It also stipulates that fracking cannot be done close to valuable water sources, and that all chemicals used in the process must be disclosed.

Environmentalists oppose fracking because of the many dangers, known and unknown, that it poses to the environment and human health. Contamination of water supplies is the major concern, as is the amount of fresh water required by fracking operations, and the fact that injecting water and chemicals to fracture the ground is maybe not a great idea in earthquake-prone California.

Sun, 2012-10-14 09:06Steve Horn
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Whitewash: SUNY Buffalo Defends Controversial Shale Gas Institute

On Friday, SUNY Buffalo's President's Office released a lengthy and long-awaited 162-page report upon request of the SUNY System Board of Trustees that delved into the substantive facts surrounding the creation of its increasingly controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI).

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.

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.

Wed, 2012-05-02 10:04Steve Horn
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ALEC Wasn't First Industry Trojan Horse Behind Fracking Disclosure Bill - Enter Council of State Governments

19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.

State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.

On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.

A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.

The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.

Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, ColoradoPennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill. 

Wed, 2012-02-08 12:28Farron Cousins
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The Business of Risk – Insuring Against Climate Change

When it comes to assessing risk, the insurance industry is one of the leaders in the field. Whether it is health insurance, car insurance, or homeowner’s insurance, the industry is forced to analyze every possible scenario for a given person or structure, and impose a fee based on the likelihood of events for the situation. So when an entire industry that bases their profitability on reducing risk starts factoring climate change into their equations, it's probably a good idea to pay attention.

Earlier this month, insurance commissioners in three separate U.S. states began mandating that insurance providers include the risk of climate change disasters in their risk equations, and develop and disclose their plans to deal with climate-related catastrophes. These plans will be laid out in surveys that insurance companies will provide to insurance commissioners in their respective states.

The three states that have made these new rules are California, New York, and Washington State. Previously, many states had only required the largest insurance companies to have climate plans, but the new rules, which could spread across the United States to climate change-vulnerable places like Florida and Texas, require all insurers to adjust for climate change disasters.

The New York Times lays out why the industry is taking on climate change issues:

Fri, 2011-12-09 16:07Steve Horn
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Congressmembers Implicated in Insider Stock Trading on TransCanada, Keystone XL Pipeline

When it comes to TransCanada Corporation's Keystone XL pipeline approval process, corruption has been rampant, as well covered by DeSmogBlog as it unfolded. The Keystone XL pipeline, currently in limbo, would carry tar sands crude – a thick and dirty fossil fuel called bitumen – from the Alberta tar sands through the heartland region and eventually down to Port Arthur, Texas, to be refined and placed on the global export market.

This week, a new layer of corruption was revealed by Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, this one involving insider trading of TransCanada's stocks by four members of Congress, as well as by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.

The politicians implicated and amount of money they invested in stock are as follows, according to Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group:

  • Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, reported in his 2010 financial disclosure form–the most recent available, filed on May 15, 2011–that he owned Transcanada stock worth between $115,002 and $300,000 (financial disclosure forms ask members to report their assets within broad ranges).”
  • Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., reported owning between $15,001 and $51,000 in TransCanada stock in his 2010 financial disclosure; according to his office, the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee sold his stock on January 5, 2011.”
  • Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., has held Trans Canada stock since 2004; her most recent disclsosure shows she owns a stake in the company worth between $1,001 and $15,000.”
  • Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.…reported a $798 interest in Trans Canada.”
  • U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan E. Rice filed that she owned between $250,001 and $500,000 of TransCanada stock.”

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