Pipeline nation: America’s broken industry

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Groups want David Koch unseated from Smithsonian, AMNH boards

InsideClimate News reports: A new campaign urging science museums to cut ties with David Koch has thrown a spotlight on the billionaire Koch brothers’ enormous philanthropic footprint and their oil interests, as they continue to undercut climate science, environmental regulations and clean energy.

Fifteen non-profits, including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Daily Kos, launched a petition calling on the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York to remove David Koch from their boards of directors, because “he bankrolls groups that deny climate science.” The non-profits cite a letter to museums, also sent Tuesday, by more than 30 scientists asking for a severing of ties to all fossil fuel interests.

David Koch’s considerable donations to the country’s two premier natural history museums are part of the Koch family’s wide-ranging philanthropy. The family has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to leading cultural, medical and academic institutions over the last 40 years, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

David and his brother Charles have also emerged as the nation’s top donors to a vast array of libertarian-conservative politicians and causes, creating and sustaining a large, influential network of advocacy groups and right-wing think tanks. Among the top causes championed by Koch-backed groups and individuals are climate denial and opposition to climate-friendly policies. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s newly harsh tone on Keystone seen signaling rejection

Bloomberg reports: Facing re-election and $4 a gallon gasoline, President Barack Obama sounded like an enthusiastic supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline at a March 2012 campaign rally.

“I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority,” he said in a speech in Cushing, Oklahoma, referring to a southern leg of the long-delayed project.

Those days are gone. Now when Obama describes the next proposed Keystone segment he says it will only create about 300 jobs. He calls the Calgary-based pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. a “foreign company” and says the oil won’t benefit American motorists.

And last week, he even said the process of extracting crude from the Alberta oil sands is “extraordinarily dirty.”

After years of review, Obama may be finally nearing a decision on the $8 billion project. The State Department has restarted a review it had paused while a challenge to the pipeline’s route worked its way through Nebraska’s high court. And by vetoing Republican-backed legislation last month to force approval, Obama preserved for himself the final say. [Continue reading…]

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How to save jobs and destroy the planet

If I was invested with the powers of a dictator, I’d be especially ruthless in one particular way: I’d show no mercy to those guilty of crimes against language.

No, I wouldn’t be another Bryan Henderson — the Wikipedia editor who has a vendetta against the phrase “comprised of.”

The guilty, in my book, are not those who fail to bow in obeisance to the mythical gods of grammar. What I view as an inexcusable abuse of language is to regard it as nothing more than a tool of deception.

The people who specialize in this corrupt art, work in advertising, public relations, and politics, and they create things like this:

The American Progressive Bag Alliance.

Plastic bags — fluttering down windswept streets, getting caught in branches, blocking drains, choking animals, poisoning groundwater, and colonizing oceans — might seem to have a life of their own. Apparently they are now also demanding political rights and claim they are progressive.

It turns out, however, that APBA is not an alliance of bags, but instead (predictably) it represents the transnational corporate power and interests of the plastics industry:

  • Advance Polybag, Inc. – bag manufacturer
  • The Dow Chemical Company – resin maker
  • ExxonMobil Corporation – HDPE resin maker
  • Hilex Poly Co., LLC. – bag manufacturer, co-founder
  • Inteplast – bag manufacturer
  • NOVA Chemicals, Inc. – polyethylene manufacturer
  • Superbag Corporation – bag manufacturer
  • Total Petrochemicals USA – polyethylene manufacture
  • Unistar Plastics, LLC – bag manufacturer

I imagine that those came up with the name American Progressive Bag Alliance, have to drug themselves to sleep — and probably drug themselves at work, too. Either that, or through a self-administered lobotomization which cuts out principles for the sake of career, the conscience they were born with, withered away a long time ago.

If, like me, you’ve never heard of this alliance before, Bill Raden explains what they have done:

Just when Californians were getting used to the idea of living without getting free, single-use grocery bags at the supermarket checkout, Secretary of State Alex Padilla recently announced that a referendum effort aimed at rescinding the plastic bag ban signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September had qualified for the 2016 ballot. Pending the results of next year’s vote, the announcement effectively suspends the July 1 implementation of the measure, Senate Bill 270, which would have been the first statewide bag ban in the nation. (Citywide bans, such as those passed in Los Angeles and San Francisco, will remain in place.)

Padilla’s office says that a random sampling found that the measure’s supporters collected at least 555,236 valid signatures — more than the 504,706 needed. Ironically, Padilla had been a key force behind the passage of SB 270, when he was in the State Senate.

Californians currently use about 11 billion disposable plastic shopping bags annually with a market value that the plastic bag industry estimates at between $100 million to $150 million. Those sales will now be secure for an additional 15 months.

The effort to put the so-called “people’s veto” onto the ballot was mounted by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, the same industry consortium that bitterly fought passage of the ban.

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Michael Klare: Is Big Oil finally entering a climate change world?

Welcome to the asylum! I’m talking, of course, about this country, or rather the world Big Oil spent big bucks creating.You know, the one in which the obvious — climate change — is doubted and denied, and in which the new Republican Congress is actively opposed to doing anything about it. Just the other day, for instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote a column in his home state paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, adopting the old Nancy Reagan slogan “just say no” to climate change. The senator from Coalville, smarting over the Obama administration’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, is urging state governors to simply ignore the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “landmark limits” on those plants — to hell with the law and to hell, above all, with climate change. But it’s probably no news to you that the inmates are now running the asylum.

Just weeks ago, an example of Big Energy’s largess when it comes to sowing doubt about climate change surfaced.  A rare scientific researcher, Wei-Hock Soon, who has published work denying the reality of climate change — the warming of the planet, he claims, is a result of “variations in the sun’s energy” — turned out to have received $1.2 million from various fossil fuel outfits, according to recently released documents; nor did he bother to disclose such support to any of the publications using his work.  “The documents,” reported the New York Times, “show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as ‘deliverables’ that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.”

There’s nothing new in this.  Big Energy (like Big Tobacco before it) has for years been using a tiny cadre of scientists to sow uncertainty about the reality of climate change.  Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote a now-classic investigative book, Merchants of Doubt, about just how the fossil fuel companies pulled this off, creating a public sense of doubt where a scientific one didn’t exist.  Now, the book has been made into a striking documentary film, which has just opened nationally.  Someday, perhaps, all of this will enter a court of law where those who knowingly perpetrated fraud on the American and global publics and in the process threatened humanity with a disaster of potentially apocalyptic proportions will get their just desserts.  On that distant day when those who ran the planet into the ground for corporate profits have to pay for their criminal acts, Merchants of Doubt will undoubtedly be exhibit one for the prosecution.

In the meantime, TomDispatch regular Michael Klare continues his invaluable chronicling at this site of the depredations of Big Oil on this fragile planet of ours. Tom Engelhardt

Big Oil’s broken business model
The real story behind the oil price collapse
By Michael T. Klare

Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.

[Read more…]

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Global oil glut resulting in shortage of storage capacity

The Wall Street Journal reports: In a world awash in crude, oil producers and traders are facing a billion-barrel conundrum: where to put it all.

U.S. crude-oil supplies are at their highest level in more than 80 years, according to data from the Energy Information Administration, equal to nearly 70% of the nation’s storage capacity. A U.S. storage hub in Cushing, Okla., is expected to hit maximum capacity this spring. While estimates are rough, Citigroup Inc. believes European commercial crude storage could be more than 90% full, and inventories in South Korea, South Africa and Japan could be at more than 80% of capacity.

The danger of running out of places to stash crude: Some analysts predict prices, already down 50% since June, could spiral even lower as producers sell oil at a discount to the few remaining buyers with room to store it. Consumers, though, would continue to be big winners as refineries convert an ocean of crude into gasoline and other fuels. [Continue reading…]

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Subhankar Banerjee: Arctic nightmares

If Sarah Palin were president, we’d know just what it was: a drill-baby-drill administration.  Of course, there’s no mama grizzly in the White House, yet these last years have been a grizzly tale of the expansion of American oil and natural gas exploration and drilling from the fracking fields of Texas and North Dakota to the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico.  Most recently, the southern Atlantic seaboard, where there are an estimated untapped four billion barrels of oil and 37 trillion cubic feet of gas, was provisionally opened for future exploration and drilling.  So keep in mind that it wasn’t under Palin’s tutelage but Barack Obama’s that the United States experienced its staggering resurgence in the oil and gas sweepstakes, turning itself into “Saudi America.”

The math, which this president undoubtedly knows well, isn’t that complicated.  According to climate change scientists, of all the fossil fuel reserves believed to be left on the planet — and the ability of oil companies to successfully tap ever more extreme deposits has been a regular surprise in these years — scientists estimate that 80% must remain underground to prevent a planetary disaster.  And yet, it seems that ever fewer waters off ever fewer American coasts are now sacrosanct.  Back in the presidential campaign of 2008, Obama criticized his opponent, John McCain, for pushing the expansion of offshore drilling.  “It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines… When I’m president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium.”  And he was right that to expand significantly into coastal waters is indeed dangerous.  Sooner or later, it ensures more BP-style Gulf of Mexico environmental catastrophes, as well as the everyday cumulative disasters that, as marine biologist Carl Safina has written, simply come with oil company exploration and extraction efforts.

It’s true that a 2011 moratorium on new drilling and lease sales off the West Coast remains in place until 2018, but in addition to the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic, the most forbidding and dangerous waters off any American coast — those in the Arctic — are again in play.  You would think that this would be an open-and-shut no-go case for reasons that Subhankar Banerjee, leading Arctic photographer, environmentalist, and author of Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, lays out vividly today. (Back in 2003, a show of his photos on Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History was scandalously all but cancelled at a moment when the Bush administration was eager to open that pristine wilderness area to exploitation.)

If you’re talking about extracting extreme fossil fuels from an incredibly rich environment that is utterly treacherous and would be the single most obvious reserve on the planet to simply keep in the ground, this has to be the place.  And yet the president has long shown a special interest in those Arctic waters and Royal Dutch Shell’s urge to drill in them.  Now, at a time that would seem inauspicious as well as unappealing, given the glut of new American oil on the market (and falling oil prices), the Obama administration, despite a recent bow to Arctic preservation, stands at the edge of once again green-lighting a Shell foray into Arctic waters. You explain it. Tom Engelhardt

To drill or not to drill, that is the question
The Obama administration, Shell, and the fate of the Arctic Ocean
by Subhankar Banerjee

Here’s a Jeopardy!-style question for you: “Eight different species of whales can be seen in these two American seas.” Unless you’re an Iñupiaq, a marine biologist, or an Arctic enthusiast like me, it’s a pretty good guess that you can’t tell me what those seas are or what those whales are either. The answer: the Chukchi Sea and the adjacent Beaufort Sea, off Arctic Alaska, and you can commonly spot bowhead, beluga, and grey whales there, while fin whales, minkes, humpbacks, killer whales, and narwhals are all venturing into these seas ever more often as the Arctic and its waters continue to warm rapidly.

The problem, however, is that the major oil company Royal Dutch Shell wants to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer and that could, in the long term, spell doom for one of the last great, relatively untouched oceanic environments on the planet. Let me explain why Shell’s drilling ambitions are so dangerous. Just think of the way the blowout of one drilling platform, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, devastated the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, imagine the same thing happening without any clean-up help in sight.

[Read more…]

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Science’s embarrassing fossil fuel problem

Alice Bell writes: An investigation by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Centre reported in the Guardian and New York Times this weekend showed that the work of Willie Soon — an apparently ‘scientific’ voice for climate scepticism — had accepted more than $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry over the 14 years.

As Suzanne Goldenberg’s report stresses, although those seeking to delay action to curb carbon emissions were keen to cite and fund Soon’s Harvard-Smithsonian credentials, he did not enjoy the same sort of recognition from the scientific community. He did not receive grants from Nasa or the the National Science Foundation, for example — the sorts of institutions who funded his colleagues at the Center for Astrophysics. Moreover, it appears that Soon violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work by not disclosing such funding. It seems to be a story of someone working outside the usual codes of modern science.

But Soon is not a singular aberration in the story of science’s relationship with the fossil fuel industry. It goes deeper than that.

Science and engineering is suffused with oil, gas and, yes, even coal. We must look this squarely in the eye if we’re going to tackle climate change.

The fossil fuel industry is sometimes labelled anti-science, but that’s far from the truth. It loves science — or at least particular bits of science — indeed it needs science. The fossil fuel industry needs the science and engineering community to train staff, to gather information and help develop new techniques. Science and engineering also provides the industry with cultural credibility and can open up powerful political spaces within which to lobby. [Continue reading…]

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Leading climate-change denier was paid $1.2 million by fossil fuel industry

The New York Times reports: For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.

One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.

But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Klare: A Republican neo-imperial vision for 2016

Don’t think for a minute that this president isn’t proud of his climate-changing energy program.  To be clear, however, I don’t mean his efforts to check the advances of climate change.  Consider the introduction to the new U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) his administration unveiled last week.  It’s a 29-page document filled with the usual braggadocio about America’s “indispensable” role in global leadership in a “complex world.”  And it’s true that part of that indispensability, the document claims, involves offering leadership when it comes “to turn[ing] the corner on global carbon emissions.”  Hence, assumedly, the recent deal with China on capping those emissions.

But when the president and his national security officials really walk the walk and talk the talk, that’s not what they’re focused on.  Read the NSS and the first fossil fuel reference you come upon, smack-dab in the middle of the second paragraph of that intro, goes like this: “America’s growing economic strength is the foundation of our national security and a critical source of our influence abroad… We are now the world leader in oil and gas production.”  You can practically hear the cheering in the background.  And just in case you think that’s a bit of passing bravado, here’s a key paragraph from a section later in the document entitled “Advance Our Energy Security”:

“The United States is now the world leader in oil and gas production. America’s energy revival is not only good for growth, it offers new buffers against the coercive use of energy by some and new opportunities for helping others transition to low-carbon economies. American oil production has increased dramatically, impacting global markets. Imports have decreased substantially, reducing the funds we send overseas. Consumption has declined, reducing our vulnerability to global supply disruption and price shocks. However, we still have a significant stake in the energy security of our allies in Europe and elsewhere. Seismic shifts in supply and demand are underway across the globe. Increasing global access to reliable and affordable energy is one of the most powerful ways to support social and economic development and to help build new markets for U.S. technology and investment.”

Keep in mind that President Obama understands well the dangers of global warming. His sideline moves — increasing vehicle fuel efficiency, reducing coal-powered plants in the U.S., setting aside parts of Alaska’s Arctic seas as no-drill areas — reflect an often repeated “commitment” to bringing climate change under control.  At the same time, however, he has overseen a startlingly drill-baby-drill energy program from the Gulf of Mexico and the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to the waters of the coastal southern Atlantic, which his administration has just opened to a future bonanza of oil and natural gas drilling.  He has, in short, presided for six years over the turning of this country into “Saudi America.”

And mind you, that’s actually the good news: now, for the bad news, which comes to us thanks to the invaluable Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of The Race for What’s Left.  No matter what Obama does to open the way for the further exploitation of American fossil fuel reserves, his Republican opponents blast him as a wimp, a hopeless weakener of American global power. They mean it, too. They imagine the U.S. they would run as a “Saudi North America” which would, if they had their way, turn Russia into rubble and the Arctic into Club Med. Tom Engelhardt

Keystone XL, Cold War 2.0, and the GOP vision for 2016
How energy coordination on one continent could bring the planet to its knees
By Michael T. Klare

It’s a ritual long familiar to observers of American politics: presidential hopefuls with limited international experience travel to foreign lands and deliver speeches designed to showcase their grasp of foreign affairs. Typically, such escapades involve trips to major European capitals or active war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, however, has broken this mold. Before his recent jaunt to London and into the thickets of American vaccination politics, he chose two surprising destinations for his first trips abroad as a potential Republican candidate.  No, not Kabul or Baghdad or even Paris, but Mexico City and Alberta, Canada.  And rather than launch into discussions of immigration, terrorism, or the other usual Republican foreign policy topics, he focused on his own top priority: integrating Canada and Mexico into a U.S.-led “North American energy renaissance.”

By accelerating the exploitation of fossil fuels across the continent, reducing governmental oversight of drilling operations in all three countries, and building more cross-border pipelines like the Keystone XL, Christie explained, all three countries would be guaranteed dramatic economic growth.  “In North America, we have resources waiting to be tapped,” he assured business leaders in Mexico City.  “What is required is the vision to maximize our growth, the political will to unlock our potential, and the understanding that working together on strategic priorities… is the path to a better life.”

At first glance, Christie’s blueprint for his North American energy renaissance seems to be a familiar enough amalgam of common Republican tropes: support for that Keystone XL pipeline slated to bring Canadian tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, along with unbridled energy production everywhere; opposition to excessive governmental regulation; free trade… well, you know the mantra.  But don’t be fooled.  Something far grander — and more sinister — is being proposed.  It’s nothing less than a plan to convert Canada and Mexico into energy colonies of the United States, while creating a North American power bloc capable of aggressively taking on Russia, China, and other foreign challengers.

[Read more…]

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The crude reality of declining crude oil prices

Hisham Melhem writes: The crashing price of oil, which dominated the world of energy in the last six months, and promises to stay with us for much of 2015, has brought cheers to American consumers and tears to the oil tsars of Russia, Iran and Venezuela in particular. If the price of oil remains in the neighborhood of $60 per barrel (bbl) for much of this year, the economic impact on Russia, Iran, Venezuela and maybe Iraq, Algeria, Nigeria and Libya could be ruinous. The sharp decline in oil revenues could force both Russia and Iran to review and maybe reduce their financial and material support for the Assad regime in Syria. Some optimists speculated that the crude reality brought about by the changing energy landscape may force Iran to show more flexibility in its nuclear negotiations with the P 5 + 1 in return for a quicker process of sanction relief. The precipitous fall in the price of oil has forced governments all over the world as well as the international financial institutions to review their investments and risk assessments for 2015 and beyond.

The foreign currency reserves that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have accumulated will help them navigate the turbulent markets in the immediate future, but even these economies will be forced to adjust their balance payments and maybe cut back on subsidies and social programs, in the absence of a market “correction” that would restore the price range that prevailed in the last 5 years. A sustained low price of oil could lead a country like Venezuela to default on its debts, a severe contraction in the Russian economy, and dramatic and unprecedented consequences on the Iranian economy, which is – like Russia’s economy- already teetering because of painful international sanctions. In Iraq, Libya and Yemen, very low oil prices could plunge these countries deeper into violence. So far, the three largest economies in the world; the United States, China and Japan (two major importers of oil) have benefitted from the decline of oil prices. However, if the current low price prevails for some time, this could impact those American companies that have invested large resources in the production of shale oil in States like Texas and North Dakota, who incur higher production costs.

The story of energy, specifically the production of oil and gas in the last 20 years has been one of wild transient fluctuations in global oil prices. Prices swung from a record high of $145 bbl in July 2008 to a precipitous low of $30 bbl in December of the same year in the wake of the financial crisis. The price of oil completely collapsed in 1998 to an incredible low of $10 in the middle of the Asian economic crisis. Last June, the price of Brent crude hovered around $115, by January 2, benchmark Brent has plummeted to $57.11 bbl. But for all the turmoil in the energy markets in the last few decades, most analysts kept saying that the “fundamentals” of the market i.e. energy prices will continue to rise, that the market will remain susceptible to the production levels of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major producers notably Russia, and that we are not likely to see a radical change in this supply model any time soon. But a “made in America” revolution may be changing some of the old energy assumptions. [Continue reading…]

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On North Dakota’s tribal lands, oil, corruption, and murder

Deborah Sontag and Brent McDonald report: Tex G. Hall, the three-term tribal chairman on this remote, once impoverished reservation, was the very picture of confidence as he strode to the lectern at his third Annual Bakken Oil and Gas Expo and gazed out over a stuffed, backlit mountain lion.

Tall and imposing beneath his black cowboy hat, he faced an audience of political and industry leaders lured from far and wide to the “Texpo,” as some here called it. It was late April at the 4 Bears Casino, and the outsiders endorsed his strong advocacy for oil development and the way he framed it as mutually beneficial for the industry and the reservation: “sovereignty by the barrel.”

“M.H.A. Nation is No. 1 for tribal oil produced on American soil in the United States right now currently today,” Mr. Hall proudly declared, referring to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

But, in a hall decorated with rigs and tepees, a dice throw from the slot machines, Mr. Hall’s self-assurance belied the fact that his grip on power was slipping. After six years of dizzyingly rapid oil development, anxiety about the environmental and social costs of the boom, as well as about tribal mismanagement and oil-related corruption, had burst to the surface.

By that point, there were two murder cases — one person dead in Spokane, Wash., the other missing but presumed dead in North Dakota — tied to oil business on the reservation. And Mr. Hall, a once-seemingly untouchable leader, was under investigation by his tribal council because of his connections to an Oregon man who would later be charged with murder for hire in the two deaths.

In 2012, the man, James Henrikson, 35, who had five felony convictions in his past, operated a trucking company called Blackstone out of the tribal chairman’s garage. Blackstone worked primarily for the chairman’s own private oil field company, enjoying privileged access to business on the reservation as his subcontractor.

Blackstone also worked directly for the tribal government, earning $570,000 for a job watering road dust that was never put out to bid. Mr. Hall voted to approve the payment, but because he did not think he had any conflict of interest, he said, he never disclosed his business relationship to the company.

The relationship was personal, too: Mr. Henrikson and his wife vacationed in Hawaii with the tribal chairman and his family. Mr. Henrikson had an extramarital affair with, and impregnated, the now 21-year-old daughter of the chairman’s longtime girlfriend; Mr. Hall considers the baby his grandson.

In an interview last week, Mr. Hall said Mr. Henrikson was a “professional con” who had cemented their business deal when Mr. Hall was ill and distracted, bringing flowers and a contract to his hospital room to be signed. “I got ripped off and taken advantage of,” he said. “The people didn’t really know that when the news first broke.’’

In January, Mr. Hall’s link to Mr. Henrikson, Mr. Henrikson’s link to the murder case in Spokane, and the murder’s link to the reservation were revealed after the alleged hit man was arrested. The revelations jolted Fort Berthold into a tumultuous year of questioning and change.

“That murder was the last straw,” said Marilyn Hudson, 78, a tribal elder and historian. “Now you have a murder, a hit man, and a five-time convicted felon operating as an oil contractor working directly with the chairman. It’s like our reservation got hijacked by the plot of a bad movie.” [Continue reading…]

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Sliding oil prices force Saudi to dig into reserves for 2015 budget

The Associated Press reports: Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on Thursday endorsed a 2015 budget that projects a slight increase in spending and a significant drop in revenues due to sliding oil prices, resulting in a nearly $39 billion deficit.

In a sign of mounting financial pressure, the Finance Ministry said the government would try to cut back on salaries, wages and allowances, which “contribute to about 50 percent of total budgeted expenditures.” That could stir resentment among the kingdom’s youth, who make up a majority of the population and are increasingly struggling to find affordable housing and salaries that cover their cost of living.

The price of oil— the backbone of Saudi Arabia’s economy — has fallen by about a half since the summer. Saudi Arabia is extremely wealthy, but there are deep wealth disparities and youth unemployment is expected to mushroom absent a dramatic rise in private sector job creation. The International Monetary Fund says almost two-thirds of employed Saudis work for the government. [Continue reading…]

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Rebecca Solnit: Everything’s coming together while everything falls apart

No one would call TomDispatch a traditional website.  Still, we do have our traditions.  Among them, none is more “traditional” — a full decade old at a website that just turned 13 this November — than having Rebecca Solnit end our year.  Sometimes as the year winds down, she’s dreaming of the future, sometimes thinking about the past, sometimes focused on the last few seconds, but always, as was true from her very first moment at this website, she offers some version of hope in the face of a reality that others find almost too grim and obdurate to consider.

As this year ends, Solnit, the author of the 2014 hit book Men Explain Things to Me and an even more recent collection of essays, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, considers humanity’s latest breakthrough into the apocalyptic.  She takes on climate change in a clear-eyed way without losing her sense of hope and purpose.  As ever, it’s an impressive performance and a reminder to all of us that the future remains ours, if only we care to focus on what truly endangers us.  Someday, those who sent the most recent rounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere utterly wittingly, with profits on the brain — and I’m talking, of course, about the CEOs of Big Energy (and the various figures who run the energy operations we’ve given names like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and “Saudi America”) — will be remembered as the greatest criminals in history, the true terrorists (or as I’ve called them, “terrarists”) of our age.  It’s one of the jokes of our time that we Americans have literally plowed trillions of dollars into what’s called “national security” in the post-9/11 years without seriously facing climate change, a phenomenon that, if not brought under control, guarantees us a kind of insecurity we’ve never known.  Call it irony or call it idiocy, but call it something.

And let me end 2014, the year that revealed to all of us so much more about the hidden world of surveillance that is ours, with my own New Year’s wish: if I could be granted one relatively modest thing to end 2014, it would be the release from prison of former Army private Chelsea Manning and former CIA Agent John Kiriakou, and the release from exile of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.  For their genuine service, for letting us know what no one else would about the nature of the American world we inhabit, they deserve so unbearably much better from this country than they’ve gotten.  Someday, when those who jailed or exiled them are forgotten or scorned, they will, I’m convinced, be remembered as heroes of our moment.  In the meantime, a guy can hope, can’t he?  I take my hat off to all three of them as 2014 ends. Tom Engelhardt

Everything’s coming together while everything falls apart
The climate for 2015
By Rebecca Solnit

It was the most thrilling bureaucratic document I’ve ever seen for just one reason: it was dated the 21st day of the month of Thermidor in the Year Six. Written in sepia ink on heavy paper, it recorded an ordinary land auction in France in what we would call the late summer of 1798. But the extraordinary date signaled that it was created when the French Revolution was still the overarching reality of everyday life and such fundamentals as the distribution of power and the nature of government had been reborn in astonishing ways. The new calendar that renamed 1792 as Year One had, after all, been created to start society all over again.

In that little junk shop on a quiet street in San Francisco, I held a relic from one of the great upheavals of the last millennium. It made me think of a remarkable statement the great feminist fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin had made only a few weeks earlier. In the course of a speech she gave while accepting a book award she noted, “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

[Read more…]

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Saudi oil weapon bites on Russia’s strategic projects

Neil Barnett writes: This week the International Energy Agency cut its demand growth forecast. In combination with still-growing US production and Saudi determination to keep prices low, it means that prices next year are likely to fall yet further. Today Brent crude was trading at $63.12/barrel – a fall of 40% since July.

This seems extraordinary and there are some who doubt how much further oil can fall. But it is worth remembering that in the early 2000s oil was under $10/barrel. It might not fall so far this time, but it would be a brave trader who bet on a floor having been reached.

The reasons for this drop in prices are numerous, including weak demand and unexpectedly strong production in places like Libya and Iraq. But there is no doubt that low prices are a Saudi policy, as seen in the Kingdom’s continued practice of discounting below the market price and its equanimity at the OPEC conference in late November. The question, then, is why the Saudis are taking this position.

The policy can best be described as a rope with several strands. Since Saudi has modest military power (not to be confused with vast military spending), its influence on oil prices is its best means of shaping the world. At this point low prices serve Saudi strategic interests in the following, inter-related ways: [Continue reading…]

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Venezuela, Iran, and Russia hit hard by plunging oil prices

Following OPEC’s decision not to cut oil production, Daniel Yergin writes: No country clamored more loudly for OPEC production cuts than Venezuela. Once an oil powerhouse, Venezuela depends on oil revenues for up to 65% of government spending. But its production has fallen by a third since 2000. Owing to gross mismanagement, Venezuela’s economy is already in chaos, its political system in crisis and unrest is mounting. And Venezuela would be the No. 1 loser if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, as production from Canadian oil sands would displace Venezuelan heavy oil from its largest single market, the U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

Iran also clamored loudly for a production cut. High prices earlier this year give Tehran some budget cushion, but the government has little leeway for the next fiscal year. Iran depends on oil for half of its budget, and the country is already suffering from sanctions, which have cut its oil exports almost in half. Lower prices will prolong Iran’s recession.

A few days ago President Vladimir Putin said that Russia, the world’s largest oil producer and not a member of OPEC, is preparing for lower, even “catastrophic” oil prices. Oil provides over 40% of the Russian budget, but Mr. Putin has built up foreign exchange reserves worth a few hundred billion dollars, in part to cope with an oil-price collapse. Still, in an economy that is heavily dependent on imports of food and consumer goods, the falling value of the ruble means rising prices for imports, in effect slashing the incomes of consumers. Combined with the effect of sanctions from the Ukraine crisis, this means Russia is headed for recession. [Continue reading…]

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OPEC said to consider sparing Iraq, Iran and Libya from oil cuts

Bloomberg reports: OPEC is considering exemptions for three nations from any potential oil-production cuts, two people with knowledge of the proposal said. Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said he doesn’t anticipate a difficult meeting when the group meets on Nov. 27 to decide its response to slumping crude.

Iraq, Iran and Libya wouldn’t have to reduce supplies should the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agree to cut output at its gathering in Vienna, according to the people, who asked not to be identified in line with their national policies. Ali Al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, told reporters in the Austrian capital yesterday that it’s not the first time the oil market has been oversupplied.

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The well-oiled politics of North Dakota

Deborah Sontag writes: In late June, as black and gold balloons bobbed above black and gold tables with oil-rig centerpieces, the theme song from “Dallas” warmed up the crowd for the “One Million Barrels, One Million Thanks” celebration.

The mood was giddy. Halliburton served barbecued crawfish from Louisiana. A commemorative firearms dealer hawked a “one-million barrel” shotgun emblazoned with the slogan “Oil Can!” Mrs. North Dakota, in banner and crown, posed for pictures. The Texas Flying Legends performed an airshow backlit by a leaping flare of burning gas. And Gov. Jack Dalrymple was the featured guest.

Traveling through the “economically struggling” nation, Mr. Dalrymple told the crowd, he encountered many people who asked, “Jack, what the heck are you doing out there in North Dakota?” to create the fastest-growing economy, lowest unemployment rate and (according to one survey) happiest population.

“And I enjoy explaining to them, ‘Yes, the oil boom is a big, big help,’ ” he said.

Outsiders, he explained, simply need to be educated out of their fear of fracking: “There is a way to explain it that really relaxes people, that makes them understand this is not a dangerous thing that we’re doing out here, that it’s really very well managed and very safe and really the key to the future of not only North Dakota but really our entire nation.”

Tioga, population 3,000, welcomed North Dakota’s first well in 1951, more than a half-century before hydraulic fracturing liberated the “tight oil” trapped in the Bakken shale formation. So it was fitting that Tioga ring in the daily production milestone that had ushered the Bakken into the rarefied company of historic oil fields worldwide.

But Tioga also claims another record: what is considered the largest on-land oil spill in recent American history. And only Brenda Jorgenson, 61, who attended “to hear what does not get said,” mentioned that one, sotto voce.

The million-barrel bash was devoid of protesters save for Ms. Jorgenson, a tall, slender grandmother who has two wells at her driveway’s end and three jars in her refrigerator containing blackened water that she said came from her faucet during the fracking process. She did not, however, utter a contrary word.

“I’m not that brave (or stupid) to protest among that,” she said in an email afterward. “I’ve said it before: we’re outgunned, outnumbered and out-suited.” [Continue reading…]

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