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“Dawn Of Justice”: What Exxon Mobil Knew About Possible Consequences Of Climate Change And When Did They Know It

I hope Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were paying close attention to the press conference New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held with former Vice President Al Gore on Tuesday:

More government officials are asking what Exxon Mobil knew about climate change.

Attorneys general from Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands announced Tuesday that they would join Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, in his investigation into whether Exxon Mobil lied in decades past to investors and the public about the threat of climate change.

The additional participation was announced during a news conference at Mr. Schneiderman’s offices in Lower Manhattan announcing support from 15 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Attorneys general from Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Connecticut and the Virgin Islands, as well as former Vice President Al Gore, attended the event.

While none of the other officials present, aside from Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Claude Walker of the Virgin Islands, announced inquiries of their own, Mr. Schneiderman said, “not every investigation gets announced at the outset.”

Mr. Schneiderman began his investigation in November. His staff is looking at whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks — some as recently as last year — conflicted with the company’s own scientific research.

Part of that inquiry includes the company’s funding, for at least a decade, of outside groups that worked to dispute climate science, even as its in-house scientists were describing the possible consequences of climate change, along with the areas of uncertainty.

If either Clinton or Sanders becomes the 45th President of the United States, they will face intense pressure from climate activists to nominate an attorney general willing to hold ExxonMobil and other major fossil fuel companies legally accountable for their efforts to deceive the American public and distort the American political process in an effort to thwart federal efforts to combat carbon pollution–and they must respond to this call for justice. As Gore noted at the press conference, what ExxonMobil did in the late-1980s and beyond is indistinguishable from what the tobacco industry did for decades in an effort to protect their profits at the expense of the public.

Holding ExxonMobil legally accountable for its amoral actions in the late-1980s and beyond would seem to be a no-brainer. That’s why it’s so odd to see the acclaimed science blogger David Appell lashing out against the calls to bring ExxonMobil to justice, using a variation of the “Leonardo DiCaprio flies private jets, so he’s a hypocrite!” argument you often hear from the anti-science right. Appell seems to think that climate activists just want revenge on ExxonMobil. Future generations will want revenge, of course, but today’s activists just want accountability.

Appell is wrong. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey noted that “…her office had a moral obligation to act” on ExxonMobil’s extremism. The next US Attorney General will have a moral obligation to act as well. Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, take note–and take heed.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 3, 2016

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Big Oil, Climate Change, Exxon Mobil, U. S. Attorney General | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Unwrap This A Bit”: Money From Big Oil Isn’t Always What It Appears To Be

In Democratic politics, no candidate ever wants to appear beholden to corporate donors, and that’s especially true when it comes from the oil and gas industry. Few industries are as unpopular among progressive voters as Big Oil.

And with this in mind, Hillary Clinton generated headlines yesterday when she was confronted by a Greenpeace supporter who pressed her on money she’s received from the industry. The visibly annoyed Democratic presidential hopeful said she’s tired of Bernie Sanders’ campaign “lying” about her.

For its part, the Sanders campaign highlighted the encounter and insisted that Clinton “has relied heavily on funds from lobbyists working for the oil, gas and coal industry.” This morning, the senator himself repeated the charge, arguing, “The fact of the matter is Secretary Clinton has taken significant money from the fossil fuel industry.”

The point of the criticisms is hardly subtle: Sanders and his supporters want Democrats to see Clinton as someone who may not follow through on her energy and environmental commitments because of the money she’s received from Big Oil.

So, is that fair? Let’s unwrap this a bit.

The Washington Post published a report today, relying on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which drew an important distinction that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle: technically, both Clinton and Sanders have received money from “the oil and gas industry.”

The total for Clinton’s campaign is about $308,000; for Sanders’s, it’s about $54,000. As Clinton noted in the moment, the Center for Responsive Politics mostly aggregates contributions by employer.

If a guy who runs the commissary at Chevron in California gives $27 to Bernie Sanders, that’s counted as “oil and gas industry” money.

It would be ridiculous, of course, to suggest the Sanders has been corrupted because that guy, “feeling the Bern,” chipped in $27. But because of the way contributions are categorized, money from an oil company CEO and a donation from a gas-station janitor are both counted the exact same way: it’s technically money from the “oil and gas industry.”

Looking at the dispute in an even broader context, the Washington Post’s piece added, “About 0.15 percent of Clinton’s campaign and outside PAC money is from the ‘oil and gas industry.’ Only about 0.04 percent of Sanders’s is.” In other words, neither of these candidates is dependent on financial support from those who work in some capacity for an oil company.

So let’s unpack the question from that Greenpeace activist. The suggestion appears to be that this 0.15 percent of all Clinton fundraising – a percentage that, again, consists of contributions from employees of oil and gas companies regardless of job title – somehow influences Clinton’s behavior. The activist didn’t connect the dots, but the implication is that this 0.15 percent makes Clinton more susceptible to the lures of the oil industry than does Sanders’s 0.04 percent.

MSNBC’s report noted that Clinton has not “taken any money from PACs tied to the oil and gas industry, or companies themselves.” Lobbyists with at least some connection to the industry have made contributions, but the bulk of that money has gone to super PACs that Clinton cannot legally control.

I can think of compelling lines of attack against each of the candidates, but this probably isn’t one of them. There’s ample room for a debate about Clinton’s and Sanders’ energy and environmental platforms – both, by my estimation, are offering excellent policy blueprints – but neither appears to be in Big Oil’s pocket.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Big Oil, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One Screwup After Another”: Shell’s Arctic Drilling Adventure Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen

This month may mark the end of a decade-long saga that’s highlighted the lengths to which oil companies will go to drill in the Arctic—and the huge risks such endeavors entail.

If everything goes according to plan, Royal Dutch Shell will soon bury its first drill bit into the Arctic seabed since 2012. The exploration project, which began in 2005, has faced numerous setbacks—logistical issues, expensive equipment repairs, regulatory hurdles, environmental challenges. To date, Shell has sunk more than $7 billion into this hunt for oil and natural gas, and even if successful, it won’t see anything resembling financial success for more than a decade. But if it hits the substantial deposit of oil it believes to be under the Chukchi Sea, the payoff could be enormous.

That’s because, in the next few decades, companies expect it will become harder to extract oil and gas from existing wells, and even the fracking boom may begin to deplete. The race is on to find untapped resources, with companies pushing further and further into harder-to-reach areas.

As the warming ocean and atmosphere has melted Arctic ice, companies have particularly eyed the Chukchi sea for its fossil fuels. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the wider region contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 percent of its oil. Shell purchased its first leases here nearly a decade ago, and it is determined to see a return on its investment.

Shell reached this stage once before, drilling two wells in 2012. But the trip was plagued with problems. At the time, Shell underestimated Arctic dangers and overestimated how much time it had before heavy ice and storms made travel dangerous. The New York Times chronicled the mishaps in a lengthy and dramatic article: One rig, the Noble Discoverer, appeared to ground before reaching the Chukchi that July. Shell’s voluntary spill containment was crushed. A rig caught fire. From there, it got worse: The lines attaching the old rig Shell used, the Kulluk, to towing boats broke, the rig ran aground, and the Coast Guard had to rescue the 18 men trapped aboard it. These setbacks have helped bolster environmentalists’ case that the Arctic is too dangerous to drill.

This time around, Shell has planned to drill two more wells. Two oil rigs, 29 ships and seven aircraft are currently making their way north—an even bigger fleet than the one the company assembled for its previous trip to the Chukchi. Shell says it has never been better prepared, insisting to the Wall Street Journal that the risks today are “negligible.”

Environmentalists certainly don’t feel that way. Before one of the two rigs even left its Seattle port in mid-June, about two-dozen activists took to the water in kayaks, in an attempt to block the rig from leaving port.

There have been other hurdles. Shell’s original plan was to use the two rigs to drill for oil simultaneously, nine miles apart. A backup rig is already required in the aftermath of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and Shell figured it would put it to good multitasking. The rigs would double the efficiency of the drilling operations and meet federal requirements in case of a blowout. In a win for environmentalists, however, federal regulators decided in June against Shell’s plans to speed things along, citing the harm simultaneous drilling could cause walruses.

And then, just last week, Shell found a 39-inch gash in its vessel, called the Fennica, which contains a crucial piece to cap a well in the case of a blowout. Shell has taken it to Portland for repairs, and says there’s no reason it will delay the start date for drilling in late July. “We do not anticipate any impact on our season, as we don’t expect to require the vessel until August,” a spokesperson for Shell told Joel Connelly. Greenpeace USA spokesperson Travis Nichols disagreed, saying the company can’t possibly begin work on schedule without the essential equipment.

Shell is still waiting for a final permit from the Department of Interior before it can begin drilling. Department spokesperson Jessica Kershaw said they are watching the situation closely. “We continue to review Shell’s proposal for drilling activity in the Chukchi Sea this summer,” Kershaw said. “As we’ve said from day one, Shell will be held to highest safety and environmental standards. This includes having on hand the required emergency response systems necessary for each phase of its drilling program.”

Even as a long-term prospect, Shell is years behind schedule as the problems add up. And it can’t afford another slow season this year. The company faces pressure to prove to investors it can deliver on its $7 billion bet. By 2017, the Times reported, Shell’s first leases will expire if it doesn’t begin producing oil a decade after it first acquired them.

“Everybody’s watching to see if we’re going to fail or succeed out there,” Ann Pickard, Shell’s Executive Vice President running its Arctic division, told the Wall Street Journal. “If we fail for whatever reason … I think the U.S. is another 25 years” away from developing Arctic resources.

So even minor delays this year—like an incident akin to 2012’s—could be devastating to Shell. Above all else, it faces natural challenges. The weather is fickle, sea ice doesn’t always melt on schedule, and there’s a limited window of a few months a year when the Arctic is calm enough to drill. Interior has given Shell a hard stop to drilling in late September.

Environmentalists say that this pressure is exactly what makes Shell prone to risky decisions. “The Fennica could have easily travelled along a much safer route instead of going over a shallow, rocky shoal in an area that to begin with is not well charted,” said Chris Krenz, Arctic campaign manager and senior scientist for Oceana, an ocean advocacy organization campaigning against Shell’s oil development, in a statement.

If Shell continues, environmentalists warn it’s only a matter of time before the next big disaster strikes. “I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have a ‘perfect season’ in the Arctic,” Nichols said. “The margin of error is so slim. Things that fly in the Gulf [of Mexico], even though they shouldn’t,” won’t in the Arctic “because conditions are so hard.”

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, July 15, 2015

July 16, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Environment, Royal Dutch Shell | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Glorious To See, Yet Also Deceiving”: Today, Gulf Looks Fine, But Wait Until The Next One Hits

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up, the Chandeleur Islands look alive off the coast of Louisiana.

The beaches are sugary white and unstained by oil. The water is green and full of fish. Birds are everywhere — laughing gulls, willets, terns, skimmers, egrets, oyster catchers, and herons.

A rookery that some feared would be annihilated by the spill is thriving, the mangroves bobbing with hundreds of pelicans, old and young.

It’s glorious to see, yet also deceiving. For 87 straight days in 2010, crude oil gushed nearby from a broken well in the Gulf of Mexico — 172 million gallons, according to the U.S. government, though nobody really knows how much.

And nobody can say how much of it remains in the water. Most of the oil has likely dissolved or evaporated, but panels of scientists assert that millions of gloppy gallons still spatter the sea floor.

The Chandeleurs, a crescent barrier chain that’s part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, were among the first to get oiled after the BP blowout. It was also the first place where dying sea birds were found.

A six-foot sand berm was hastily constructed to contain the oil at the northernmost Chandeleurs. Whether it was because of that, the tides or favorable winds, the islands were not hit as brutally as some coastal areas.

Seeing all this life on the water at sunrise, one can’t be blamed for thinking everything’s fine, pretty much back to normal. That’s what you hear from BP, too, but it’s not entirely true.

Since the spill, bottle-nosed dolphins have been dying at about three times the normal rate in the northern Gulf. Deep-water corals have shown lasting damage. Oil traced to the BP blowout has been found in the livers of red snapper and tilefish. Unexplained lesions and tumors have been observed in bottom-dwelling fish.

BP says the seafood taken from the Gulf is safe to eat, and tests much lower for oil residues than is required by the Food and Drug Administration.

The oil giant has spent a fortune cleaning up its image and the mess in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, including $13.7 billion in claims and settlements. The company says its drilling operations are much safer now.

Because the whole world got to watch the Deepwater Horizon disaster live — literally streaming — politicians who favored more offshore exploration retreated temporarily. They were counting on Americans to have a short memory.

Then, in January, the Obama administration proposed a plan that would open offshore oil leases in the Atlantic Ocean, from Virginia to Georgia. Ten new leases would also be granted in the Gulf of Mexico; one is in the eastern zone near Florida, where opposition to coastal drilling traditionally has been fierce.

Yet, except for criticism from environmental groups, there hasn’t been a loud public outcry over Obama’s plan in Florida, or in any of the states with tourist economies that depend on clean, untarred beaches.

Virginia’s two U.S. senators, both Democrats, praised the president’s drilling program, saying it “should result in the safe, responsible development of energy resources.”

Because big oil companies never screw up, right?

Apparently, five years is the political probation period after a man-made catastrophe. Obama has moved to allow seismic testing for possible offshore oil and gas reserves all the way from Delaware to Cape Canaveral.

The process involves the staccato firing of big compressed air guns deep in the ocean over periods of weeks. Prominent scientists from Duke, Cornell and other institutions say the method poses a “significant threat to marine life.”

In a rare display of attentiveness, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection last month wrote to the feds, seeking postponement of seismic permits until more is known about how the blasting air guns affect whales, fish and sea turtles. (Negatively would be a good guess).

On a boat in the Chandeleurs, under a sky filled with birds, it’s tempting to marvel at nature’s rebound and push aside the dreadful images from the spring of five years ago.

There are no obvious signs of the BP spill here. Even the protective berm is gone, obliterated by Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

Yet the truth is that terrible damage was done by that 87-day flood of oil into the Gulf, and many communities suffered immensely. Since then, numerous spills have occurred both on land and in water in this country, none of them on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon but still a signal for extreme caution.

Nobody knows when the next big ocean blowout will happen.

Everything out there looks just fine.

Until one day it isn’t.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 5, 2015

May 9, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill, Environment | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Keystone Isn’t A Futile Fight”: The Owners Of The Keystone Pipeline Just Canceled A Project In Canada

TransCanada on Thursday announced a two-year delay to its plans to move the Canadian tar sands. The company is cancelling its plans to build a controversial export terminal in Quebec, citing environmental concern over the endangered beluga whale. This means a delay to plans for finishing the Energy East pipeline, now set for 2020. In the meantime, TransCanada will search for a new location for its port.

For once, then, Canadian oil news isn’t about the TransCanada-owned Keystone XL, which has faced a six-year delay as the Obama administration sits on a decision to issue a permit. At least not directly, anyway. Energy East, once completed, would be even bigger than Keystone XL, delivering 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day, compared to Keystone’s 800,000 barrels. As its name implies, the pipeline would run from the Alberta tar sands eastward to the shipping lanes of the Atlantic coast.

Not only are Keystone and Energy East similar battles, but proponents (and opponents) often tie the two pipelines’ fates together. Keystone opponents say building that pipeline would ensure tar sands extraction continues at a rapid pace, setting the world on track for severe climate change. Proponents argue that Keystone doesn’t matter either way, because other pipelines like Energy East make tar sands development inevitable. If the United States doesn’t build its pipeline, they say, Americans will miss out on the economic benefits. “We don’t think there’s any way that the oil will stay in the ground,” Matt Letourneau, a spokesperson for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said last year. “Certainly the market will find a way.”

But so long as there are delays, tar sands development isn’t inevitable because Energy East’s future, like Keystone’s, is far from settled. Oil companies are still in the middle of working out how to get the landlocked tar sands to the coasts for refining and shipment, and during their delays on multiple fronts, Keystone isn’t a futile fight.

The delay could provide a boost to organizers trying to delay other tar sands projects. Each of these pipelines face a similar environmental playbook: Delay as long as possible in the hopes that it becomes unprofitable or impossible for companies to pursue their plans. Keystone has faced years of delay, and now Energy East faces its own uncertain future. Environmentalists weren’t the only reason for TransCanada’s change of plans. Because oil prices are low right now, companies have little incentive to pursue their plans to extract costly tar sands for little profit.

TransCanada still has a strong incentive to find a new port and finish construction. Oil prices surely will rebound eventually, making the tar sands profitable once again.

“I don’t think you can look at this as a major impediment to the future of oil sands development but it certainly speaks to the opposition to pipelines, the anxiety about shipments of oil and, of course, to the increasing importance of environmental protection to the public,” Andrew Leach, an economist with the University of Alberta, said. “The beluga is an iconic species, so I think the writing was on the wall for this once the risk to habitat was made clear, in particular in Quebec.”

In the short-term, however, this is a win for environmentalists. And it may even help them in their fight against Keystone.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, April 2, 2015

April 4, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Environment, Keystone XL | , , , , | Leave a comment

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