Lawmakers get $83,000 from pipeline company, then rush a bill favoring pipeline construction

David Sirota writes: The fossil fuel industry had already managed to shape a bill moving rapidly through Congress last summer, gaining provisions to ease its ability to export natural gas. But one key objective remained elusive: a measure limiting the authority of local communities to slow the construction of pipelines because of environmental concerns.

Then, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who chaired the House Energy Committee, gave the industry an opportunity to amplify its influence. Joining forces with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who chaired the Senate Energy Committee, he launched a so-called joint fundraising committee, a campaign war chest that would accept donations from a range of contributors, with the proceeds divided between the two lawmakers.

Executives at one of the nation’s largest natural gas pipeline companies soon deposited more than $83,000 into the joint fund’s coffers. The very next day, Upton delivered on the industry’s aspirations: He rushed a bill through his legislative panel that would not only streamline the approval process for new pipelines but also empower federal officials to impose tight deadlines on state and local governments seeking to review their potential environmental impacts. [Continue reading…]

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UK backs bid by fossil fuel firms to kill new EU fracking controls, letters reveal

The Guardian reports: The UK government has added its weight to a behind-the-scenes lobbying drive by oil and gas firms including BP, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil to persuade EU leaders to scrap a series of environmental safety measures for fracking, according to leaked letters seen by the Guardian.

The deregulatory push against safety measures, which could include the monitoring of on-site methane leaks and capture of gases and volatile compounds that might otherwise be vented, appears to go against assurances from David Cameron that fracking would only be safe “if properly regulated”.

In a comment piece in 2013 the prime minister wrote: “We must make the case that fracking is safe … the regulatory system in this country is one of the most stringent in the world.”

But UK government sources say that any new form of industry controls would be “an unnecessary restriction on the UK oil and gas industry”. [Continue reading…]

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Report indicates natural gas is no cleaner than coal

The Guardian reports: Natural gas has been touted as an environmentally friendly substitute to coal and oil production, but a new report estimates enough gas is leaking to negate most of the climate benefits of process.

The report, commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and carried out by environmental consulting group ICF International, estimated the amount of leaks from natural gas and oil production on federal and tribal land in the US. It also looked at venting and flaring, processes in which drilling sites purposefully let gas go into the atmosphere for a variety of reasons – usually for safety.

The claim that natural gas is environmentally friendly hinges on how much methane leaks into the atmosphere during the production process. But the EDF report adds weight to those who say methane leaks at natural gas sites can make the process nearly or as carbon-intensive as coal.

The EDF found that 65bn cubic feet of natural gas was released into the air on federal and tribal lands in 2013 – amounting to about $360m of lost gas. That, the EDF says, is not only an economic loss, but an environmental problem. Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over short periods of time and 30 times more potent over the long term. [Continue reading…]

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The war over Syria’s gas fields

Yezid Sayigh writes: While much of the world’s attention has recently focused on the threat of pillage and destruction posed by Islamic State forces to the ancient Syrian desert city of Palmyra, damage to the energy supply and potential earnings is probably a bigger concern for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Islamic State immediately followed its May 2015 capture of Palmyra with the seizure of nearby gas fields, depriving the regime of 45 percent of its gas and electricity resources, according to Syrian opposition estimates.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State has had its eye on the regime’s gas resources since at least July 2014, when it overran some of Jabal Shaer, part of an area containing massive gas fields said to produce 3 million cubic meters (106 million cubic feet) of raw natural gas (also known as crude gas) per day. This is compared to an estimated total national daily output of some 14.8 million cubic meters in 2014 according to Syria’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.

Lying roughly 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Palmyra, Shaer supplies the Ebla processing plant at Furqlus to the west, which provides liquid petroleum gas (LPG, or clean or fuel gas) to electricity-generating stations that feed into the national grid. Regime forces retained control of the actual gas fields in Shaer in July 2014, but the Islamic State seized four wells in a new attack in late October. Assad’s Syrian Arab Army once again retook the area, though the Shaer gathering station was severely damaged and most wells were shut down. A reduced supply resumed from nearby Chinese-owned wells nearby to the Hayan treatment plant and processing facility, which commenced activity in 2009 and which serves as a major LPG, oil, and condensate reserve distribution center to power plants in several parts of the country. [Continue reading…]

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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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Naomi Oreskes: A ‘green’ bridge to hell

Call it the energy or global warming news of recent weeks.  No, I’m not referring to the fact this was globally the hottest June on record ever (as May had been before it), or that NASA launched the first space vehicle “dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide.” Nor do I mean the new report released by a “bipartisan group,” including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and three former secretaries of the treasury, suggesting that, by 2100, $238 billion to $507 billion worth of American property will be “below sea level”; nor that Virginia’s coastline is already being eaten away by rising seas and storm-surge destruction in such a striking manner that state Democrats and Republicans are leaving global warming denialists in the lurch and forming a climate change task force to figure out what in the world to do.

No, I was referring to the news that the Obama administration has just reopened the eastern seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration. To the extent that this has been covered, the articles have generally focused on the economic positives — for jobs and national wealth — of finding new deposits of oil and gas in those waters, and the unhappiness of the environmental community over the effect of the sonic booms used in underwater seismic exploration on whales and other sea creatures. Not emphasized has been the way, from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico, not to speak of the shale-gas fracking fields of this country, the Obama administration has had an all-of-the-above policy on fossil fuels.  Our “global warming” president has consistently championed reforms (of a modest sort) to combat climate change.  These, however, fit uncomfortably with his administration’s anything-goes menu of oil and gas exploration and exploitation that is distinctly in the drill-baby-drill mode. Unlike that drill-baby-drill proponent Sarah Palin, however, the president knows what he’s doing and what the long-term effects of such policies are likely to be.

Part of the way he and his officials seem to have squared the circle is by championing their moves to throttle coal use and bring natural gas, touted as the “clean” fossil fuel, to market in a big way.  As it happens, historian of science Naomi Oreskes, an expert on the subject, has news for the president and his advisors: when looked at in a clear-eyed way, natural gas isn’t going to turn out to be the fossil-fuel equivalent of a wonder drug that will cure the latest climate disease.  Quite the opposite: its exploitation will actually increase the global use of fossil fuels and pump more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, while possibly suppressing the development of actual renewable alternatives.  In a magisterial piece today, she explores every aspect of the crucial question of why natural gas is anything but a panacea for our climate change problems.

This couldn’t be more important.  Science historians Oreskes and Erik Conway have already written a classic book, Merchants of Doubt, on how Big Energy and a tiny group of scientists associated with it sold us a false bill of goods on the nature and impact of its products (as the tobacco industry and essentially the same set of scientists had before it).  Together, they have now produced a little gem of a book on climate change: The Collapse of Western Civilization: a View From the Future.  Written, so the claim goes, in 2393 by a “senior scholar of the Second People’s Republic of China,” it traces the events that led to the Great Collapse of 2090.  You haven’t heard of that grim event yet?  Well, you will as soon as you pick up Oreskes’s and Conway’s “thought-provoking” and gripping work of “science-based fiction” on what our future may have in store for us — if we don’t act to change our world. Tom Engelhardt

Wishful thinking about natural gas
Why fossil fuels can’t solve the problems created by fossil fuels
By Naomi Oreskes

Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that led to it. Yet this is precisely what we are now trying to do with climate change policy.  The Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, many environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry all tell us that the way to solve the problem created by fossil fuels is with more fossils fuels.  We can do this, they claim, by using more natural gas, which is touted as a “clean” fuel — even a “greenfuel.

Like most misleading arguments, this one starts from a kernel of truth.

[Read more…]

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Michael Klare: Fighting for oil

Call it a double whammy for the planet or simply irony with a capital “I.”  As the invaluable Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of The Race for What’s Left, points out today, if you scan the planet for conflict, what you’ll find from Syria and Iraq to the South China Sea are a series of energy wars — fossil-fuel conflicts to be exact.  At present, despite some hopeful signs, this crazed planet of ours is still a ravenous beast that only fossil fuels can sate.  No question that conflicts and wars are terrible things.  Just consider the million new refugees being generated by the disintegration of Iraq in a blaze of warfare and sectarian killings.  But oil wars add a grim twist to the mix, because when they’re settled, however miserably or bloodily, the winners take to the oil rigs and the refineries and pump out yet more of the stuff that puts carbon dioxide and methane, both greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere and, as in the Middle East today, creates the basis for yet more conflict.

That region has been going through a period of heightened dryness and drought that researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believe to be caused, at least in part, by global warming.  This winter, the driest in decades, Syria and Iraq in particular have experienced a severe lack of rainfall in what should be the wettest part of the year and record heat as well.  These are factors the Pentagon lists in its recent Quadrennial Defense Review as “threat multipliers.”  According to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, “As in neighboring Syria, it’s increasingly clear that Iraq is drying out, an effect that’s long been predicted as a result of the human-caused build up of heat-trapping gases like CO2. Since 1973… parts of Iraq and Syria have seen ‘some of the most dramatic precipitation declines in the world.’ Citing projected stark declines in rainfall and continued population pressure and upstream dam building, a study released earlier this year made the case that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may no longer reach the sea by 2040.”

The weather destabilization of Syria and the rise of ISIS seem to be connected.  In the Mobius Strip of life, the more desperate you are — thank you, global warming — the more you’re likely to fight over what resources, from water to oil, you can command, and then when you’re done, you’ll use those resources to heat the planet further.  It’s a closed system, a simple formula for the production of violent emotions, dead bodies, and a particularly nasty world. Tom Engelhardt

Twenty-first-century energy wars
Global conflicts are increasingly fueled by the desire for oil and natural gas — and the funds they generate
By Michael T. Klare

Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine, the East and South China Seas: wherever you look, the world is aflame with new or intensifying conflicts.  At first glance, these upheavals appear to be independent events, driven by their own unique and idiosyncratic circumstances.  But look more closely and they share several key characteristics — notably, a witch’s brew of ethnic, religious, and national antagonisms that have been stirred to the boiling point by a fixation on energy.

In each of these conflicts, the fighting is driven in large part by the eruption of long-standing historic antagonisms among neighboring (often intermingled) tribes, sects, and peoples.  In Iraq and Syria, it is a clash among Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, and others; in Nigeria, among Muslims, Christians, and assorted tribal groupings; in South Sudan, between the Dinka and Nuer; in Ukraine, between Ukrainian loyalists and Russian-speakers aligned with Moscow; in the East and South China Sea, among the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and others.  It would be easy to attribute all this to age-old hatreds, as suggested by many analysts; but while such hostilities do help drive these conflicts, they are fueled by a most modern impulse as well: the desire to control valuable oil and natural gas assets.  Make no mistake about it, these are twenty-first-century energy wars.

[Read more…]

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Israel has Egypt over a barrel

David Hearst writes: It took the CIA 60 years to admit its involvement in the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq, Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister. The circumstances around the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, may not take as long to come to light, regardless of whom is behind it.

Mossadeq sealed his fate when he renationalized Iran’s oil production, which had been under the control of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later to become BP. Morsi’s enemy was gas, and he proved to be a major obstacle to a lucrative deal with Israel – which nobody will be surprised to learn – is about to take place now he has been removed.

Clayton Swisher of Al Jazeera’s investigative unit has spent five months delving into the corrupt sale of Egyptian gas to Israel. His report Egypt’s Lost Power to be broadcast on Monday night reveals that Egypt has lost a staggering amount of money -$11bn , with debts and legal liabilities of another $20bn – selling gas at rock bottom prices to Israel, Spain and Jordan. [Continue reading…]

(Interactive: Egypt’s Lost Power)

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China, Russia on verge of gas deal

The Associated Press reports: China plans to sign a multibillion-dollar deal to buy Russian gas during a visit by President Vladimir Putin next week despite U.S. pressure to avoid undermining sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

Washington has appealed to Beijing to avoid making business deals with Russia, though American officials acknowledge the pressing energy needs of China, the world’s second-largest economy.

Negotiations that began more than a decade ago had stalled over price. But analysts say Moscow, isolated over its role in Ukraine, faces pressure to make concessions in exchange for an economic and political boost.

“We are still exchanging views with Moscow and we will try our best to ensure that this contract can be signed and witnessed by the two presidents during President Putin’s visit to China,” a deputy Chinese foreign minister, Cheng Guoping, told reporters on Thursday. [Continue reading…]

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The bear and the dragon: Russia pivots to China in the face of western sanctions

The Globe and Mail reports: On March 20, the U.S. authorized sanctions against billionaire Gennady Timchenko amid the escalating crisis between Russia and Ukraine. Three weeks later, the Russian tycoon, who amassed a fortune trading oil and selling natural gas, appeared on Russian television. He was not in Russia at the time. He was in China. The West, he said, was “pushing us away.” China was not. In fact, Chinese companies were talking with Mr. Timchenko about buying more of Russia’s abundant energy.

“There is a market with a lot of potential developing in the Asia-Pacific region,” said the billionaire, who boasts close ties to Vladimir Putin and has been called one of Russia’s most powerful men.

This week, the country’s Prime Minister was even more explicit: “We are interested in diversifying today more so than ever before. Therefore we are implementing solutions for the export of gas and oil to Asian and Pacific countries, first and foremost China,” Dmitry Medvedev said on Russian television.

As the global fissures radiating from Russia’s moves against Ukraine call into question the future of its ties with Western powers, Russia is increasingly casting its gaze east, to a distant border long neglected. In May, Mr. Putin is expected to come to Beijing to sign a major contract that will see Russia pipe vast quantities of natural gas to China. It will mark the sixth meeting between Mr. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping since the beginning of 2013, as Russia pushes for a “pivot east” that has taken on sudden new urgency in the wake of the country’s moves in Ukraine, which have earned it global criticism, and an increasing likelihood of punitive sanctions.

The change stands to have wide-reaching ramifications, redrawing geopolitical alignments and altering global energy flows, a matter of concern to Canada, among others.

For Russia’s economy, Ukraine stands to create “a major crisis,” said Vassily Kasin, a China expert with the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defence studies organization. “And China will become the major economic partner.” The two countries “will in fact move very close to an alliance, I think,” he said. “This is a major change.” [Continue reading…]

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The ties that bind the U.S. and Russian oil and gas industries together

a13-iconSteve Horn reports: In a long-awaited moment in a hotly contested zone currently occupied by the Russian military, Ukraine’s citizens living in the peninsula of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia.

Responding to the referendum, President Barack Obama and numerous U.S. officials rejected the results out of hand and the Obama Administration has confirmed he will authorize economic sanctions against high-ranking Russian officials.

“As I told President Putin yesterday, the referendum in Crimea was a clear violation of Ukrainian constitutions and international law and it will not be recognized by the international community,” Obama said in a press briefing. “Today I am announcing a series of measures that will continue to increase the cost on Russia and those responsible for what is happening in Ukraine.”

But even before the vote and issuing of sanctions, numerous key U.S. officials hyped the need to expedite U.S. oil and gas exports to fend off Europe’s reliance on importing Russia’s gas bounty. In short, gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is increasingly seen as a “geopolitical tool” for U.S. power-brokers, as The New York Times explained.

Perhaps responding to the repeated calls to use gas as a “diplomatic tool,” the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced it will sell 5 million barrels of oil from the seldom-tapped Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Both the White House and DOE deny the decision had anything to do with the situation in Ukraine.

Yet even as some say we are witnessing the beginning of a “new cold war,” few have discussed the ties binding major U.S. oil and gas companies with Russian state oil and gas companies.

The ties that bind, as well as other real logistical and economic issues complicate the narrative of exports as an “energy weapon.”

The situation in Ukraine is a simple one at face value, at least from an energy perspective.

“Control of resources and dependence on other countries is a central theme connecting the longstanding tension between Russia and Ukraine and potential actions taken by the rest of the world as the crisis escalates,” ThinkProgress explained in a recent article. “Ukraine is overwhelmingly dependent on Russia for natural gas, relying on its neighbor for 60 to 70 percent of its natural gas needs.”

At the same time, Europe also largely depends on Ukraine as a key thoroughfare for imports of Russian gas via pipelines.

“The country is crossed by a network of Soviet-era pipelines that carry Russian natural gas to many European Union member states and beyond; more than a quarter of the EU’s total gas needs were met by Russian gas, and some 80% of it came via Ukrainian pipelines,” explained The Guardian.

Given the circumstances, weaning EU countries off Russian gas seems a no-brainer at face value. Which is why it’s important to use the brain and look beneath the surface.

The U.S. and Russian oil and gas industries can best be described as “frenemies.” Case in point: the tight-knit relationship between U.S. multinational petrochemical giant ExxonMobil and Russian state-owned multinational petrochemical giant Rosneft. [Continue reading…]

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Ukraine crisis: Why it matters to the world economy

a13-iconCNN reports: While the world watches the escalating crisis in Ukraine, investors and world leaders are considering how the instability could roil the global economy.

The political turmoil is rooted in the country’s strategic economic position. It is an important conduit between Russia and major European markets, as well as a significant exporter of grain.

But in the post-Soviet era, it’s a weakened economy. Now, the government is in need of an economic rescue — and torn between whether Russia or the Western economies (including the European Union) is the savior it needs.

Here are five reasons the world’s largest economies are watching what happens in Ukraine. [Continue reading…]

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