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Chemicals used in Deepwater Horizon spill are harmful to people, study proves; finally

By Charles Digges - Bellona, September 25, 2017

Last week, the National Institutes of Health in the United States released a report that confirmed people living along the Gulf of Mexico who were very ill, but who for seven years have been told to keep quiet up about it, weren’t crazy after all.

Thousands of them had broken out in rashes. They had been coughing up blood, wheezing, experiencing migraines, and were tormented by burning eyes and memory loss. Others were surprised by heart aliments, kidney problems, liver damage, blood in their urine and discharge from their ears. Still others muddled through cognitive decline and anxiety attacks. Many went on to die.

Yet barely anyone in a position of authority was willing to believe they were sick at all. Often, even their own doctors told them that it was all in their heads.

What these people had in common was that they had been cleanup workers on the BP’s Macondo well disaster, which for 87 days in 2010 poured 4.9 million barrels oil into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded that April 20 off the coast of Louisiana. It was the worst oil spill in US history.

Some 47,000 people responded to the blow out. Fishermen rushed their boats into the fray to coral the oil at sea. Others worked to siphon it off beaches in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. In other cases they burned it off the surface of the ocean in flames visible from space.

All of these workers toiled under a haze of chemicals dumped from the skies to bombard the ballooning slick and sink it to the bottom of the Gulf. In most cases, they didn’t have protective gear – BP and its contractors told them they didn’t need it.

The US Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency backed that up – they, too, had been assured by BP and Corexit’s manufacturer, Nalco Environmental Solutions, that it was safe.

Last week, the National Institutes of Health finally told them, after a seven-year wait, that it wasn’t.

Who's Behind Fossil Fuel Extraction? It's Not Just Republicans

By Alison Rose Levy - Truthout, September 4, 2017

Like the sections of pipe they are assembled from, pipelines with names like Algonquin, Dominion and Kinder Morgan/TCG CT Expansion are interconnected, and affect a long string of communities crisscrossing the country. The 2.5 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines frequently leak and rupture, a 2012 ProPublica investigation found.

The pipeline aggregation enacted by the past and current administrations represents a clear shift in societal priorities: US communities and regions are no long the secure recipients of outside energy but instead are subjected to extractive exploitation on their own home ground -- with few avenues for citizen protection.

The interests of the oil, gas and pipeline industries are connected -- and so are the related problems that all of us face. No matter where fossil fuels are extracted, carried, refined, exported or used, the need to avoid contamination and deter climate change connects all people. It's no longer about just one community's backyard. And to stall climate change and contamination, people need to connect the dots.

How did fossil fuel development become so pervasive? Let's take a look at a few milestones that, in recent years, have deepened the pattern of relentless extraction.

For Many in Puerto Rico, "Energy Dominance" Is Just a New Name for US Colonialism

By Catalina M. de Onís - The Conversation, September 1, 2017

The Trump administration has made "achieving American energy dominance" a central policy goal. President Trump asserts that "energy dominance" requires expanding nuclear development, increasing coal and natural gas exports, building transnational pipelines and accessing offshore oil and gas deposits. These efforts, Trump contends, will maximize the nation's "boundless capacity" for energy production, including spreading US fossil fuels around the globe, to showcase its independence from foreign oil.

My research studies how expansionist efforts play out in the US unincorporated territory of Puerto Rico. For centuries, Spanish and US colonial governments and corporations have practiced what could be called "energy dominance" by harnessing human labor and fossil fuels to exploit local resources through mining, coffee and sugarcane development, and other industries. Puerto Rico's history makes clear that Trump's policy, which benefits corporations and their political allies to the detriment of local communities, promises more of the same.

Fueling Energy Colonialism

The United States seized control of Puerto Rico in 1898. Like other imperial powers, the United States justified exploiting other people and places by portraying them as backward and promising to modernize them.

Many US government officials, legal experts, researchers and artists assumed that colonized peoples were inferior. In their view, African and indigenous ancestries and prior colonization by Spain marked people who lived in the newly acquired "possessions" as primitive, childlike and weak.

In his 1899 book "Our Islands and Their People," writer and diplomat José de Olivares stated,

"Without our fostering benevolence, this island [Puerto Rico] would be as unhappy and prostrate as are some of the neighboring British, French, Dutch, and Danish islands."

During this same period, Supreme Court justices described US colonies as home to "uncivilized" and "savage" "alien races." Racist claims of US superiority and goodwill drove colonial policy and relationships of dependency.

Cap and Trade: Jerry Brown signs his bill (and calls opponents political terrorists)

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green, and Blue, July 28, 2017

“California is leading the world in dealing with a principal existential threat that humanity faces,” said Governor Brown at the signing ceremony. “We are a nation-state in a globalizing world and we’re having an impact and you’re here witnessing one of the key milestones in turning around this carbonized world into a decarbonized, sustainable future.”

Background: Cap and Trade: “Yes, this deal sucks, but we need to pass something. Anything.”

Brown signed the legislation on Treasure Island because it was the same location where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32 (the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) that authorized the state’s cap-and-trade program more than a decade ago.

Schwarzenegger also spoke at the signing ceremony, along with  Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De León, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and others.

Over 65 environmental justice, consumer and conservation groups strongly opposed the legislation that was based largely on a Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) wish list. Julia May, senior scientist at Communities for a Better Environment, summed up the many problems with AB 398:

“The Cap & Trade extension was written by the oil industry, is even worse than the current failed program, includes preemptions from local action, gives away so many free credits we will never meet climate goals, and allows oil refineries to expand indefinitely with no program for Just Transition to clean energy that is so desperately needed in environmental justice communities.”

Big Oil in the Rocky Mountain State: the Overwhelming Tawdriness of Government in Colorado

By Phillip Doe - CounterPunch, June 22, 2017

After five months of doing nothing of value, although spending millions in the furtherance thereof, the Colorado legislature closed up shop last month.  The people should demand a refund for nonperformance, but instead they will have to ante up more money to pay legislators and other top state and county officials.  The wages of nothingness are great.  In 2019 the legislature will award itself a 41 percent pay increase; the governor a 39 percent increase.

Pay increases for top-of-the-pyramid public servants had already been realized in Weld County, the epicenter for the fracking wars in Colorado.  There, the county commissioners received a 37 percent increase in pay to $120,000, plus retirement and health benefits.  Later, as antidote to the red-faced disease, the salary was scaled back to $105,000, only a blushing increase of 17 percent.

The average salary of teachers in Weld is $37,000.

The generosity of Weld County taxpayers lavished on their commissioners was somewhat muted by an IRS audit to determine if the cash allowance the commissioners receive for driving to work each day should be considered taxable income.  An estimated $500,000 has been paid out to commissioners in untaxed driving benefits over the years.  Recently, the big winner in the driving-the-old-jalopy-to-work sweepstakes was Barbara Kirkmeyer, having received $22,000 in driving dividends over the past two years.  She, once an aide to former Republican governor and Texas oilman Bill Owens, is the Dragon Lady of fracking in northern Colorado.  An early defender of fracking in neighborhoods, she has long claimed the state regs are adequate for public safety.  After all, she lectures knowingly, fracking is good for business and government budgets. 

As for the state legislature, it did manage to do one thing of note.  It mortgaged public buildings to raise almost two billion for road repairs.  The governor says it isn’t enough, but an increase in gasoline taxes or any other use fee is verboten among Republican legislators, and the Democrats continue to blame all government failures on the citizen enacted Taxpayers Bill of Rights, TABOR, which requires a vote of the people to enact a tax increase.  Oddly, the Dems claim that it is TABOR that has made them impotent, that it is a threat to representative government where elected officials should be the tax deciders, not the people legislating directly via the initiative process.  One of the leaders in the misguided and failed endeavor to overturn TABOR, Andy Kerr, is now running to replace U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter.  The flawlessly undistinguished Perlmutter, relentlessly climbing the greasy pole, now wants to replace the term limited Hickenlooper.  He has plenty of undistinguished company.

Of course, the mortgages on public buildings for road repairs will have to be paid back with interest, further inhibiting state budgets.  Still, the mortgage razzle dazzle was regarded by the Denver Post, the state’s flagship daily, as a grand compromise, worthy of nodding recognition.

Fight Back for Energy Independence Over Corporate Profits

By Lois Marie Gibbs - Common Dreams, May 27, 2017

‘Homeland Security – No more wars over oil!’ That’s what families in communities across Pennsylvania were promised a decade ago.

‘We’ll extract natural gas from the ground, using an unconventional process called hydrofracturing, to acquire enough natural gas that the U.S. will no longer be dependent on foreign oil!’

At least that’s what we were told. No longer would we need to send our young men and women overseas to fight oil wars.

Today America is there, with over 100 years of natural gas reserves. Moreover, if our country was to also invest in energy conservation and renewables, our nation could have 200 years of reserves today.

So what happened to that promise of ‘Homeland Security’ and ‘Energy Independence’? And why aren’t we celebrating?

The Case for Phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands

By Gordon Laxer - Resillience, May 23, 2017

Proponents call them oil sands while opponents call them tar sands. Whatever they’re called, Alberta’s bitumen reserves are so massive, James Hansen warns that it could be game over for the world’s climate if all are extracted and burned.[i] We can’t do that and possibly keep the world below the Paris target of a two degrees Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels.

What to do about Alberta Sands oil is an issue for Americans as well as Canadians. The US imports over 3 million barrels of oil a day from Canada, accounting for 38% of US oil imports, outpacing the combined imports from the four next largest sources – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico and Columbia. Sands oil comprise the majority of US oil imports from Canada.

The future of Sands oil imports became an American issue after more than 1,200 people were arrested in 2011 in front of the White House protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Shortly after, President Obama blocked and then banned the XL line to take mainly Sands oil to the Gulf coast. President Trump overturned that decision in March, allowing the Keystone XL line to be built, a move applauded by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

Big Oil faces huge obstacles getting Sands oil to major markets. In the context of today’s low international oil price, the Sands are among the costliest to produce on the planet. They emit massive amounts of extra greenhouse gases because they are heated by huge amounts of natural gas to separate oil from sand. To get from remote, landlocked northern Alberta to tidewater, Sands oil must cross political barriers – through one or more Canadian provinces or cross the border to the US. That means they need a social license – public and government support – to get to market. The future viability of the Sands then greatly depends on politics.

How green is California? Agencies are deep in the pockets of Big Ag and Big Oil

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green & Blue, May 22, 2017

When I was at the March for Science in Sacramento a month ago, a friend asked to get me on video and talk about what is the crux of water issues in California, what is the overriding, central issue behind the different water battles. That’s one that includes the Delta Tunnels, the failure of the state and federal agencies to address environmentalists’ concerns with the safety of the Oroville Dam and spillways, the salmon and other fish collapses and the pollution of our drinking water by agribusiness, municipal and oil waste.

This is a presentation that I recently developed from my conversation with her.

The dire situation: Salmon and other species are collapsing

The Delta smelt, maligned as a “small minnow” by corporate agribusiness interests, is an indicator species that shows the health of the San Francisco-Bay Delta Estuary. Once the most abundant fish in Delta estuary, the Delta smelt population is so small that you can almost name them now. The most recent California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)  fall midwater survey shows that the Delta smelt is the second lowest in CA history, while the related longfin smelt population is the also second lowest.

The Delta smelt collapse is part of an overall ecosystem decline, including dramatic reductions in winter, spring and fall-run Chinook salmon and steelhead populations, driven by water diversions by the federal and state water projects. From 1967 through 2015, populations of striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad declined by 93.7 percent to 99.7 percent (99.7, 98.3, 99.9, 97.7, 98.5 and 93.7 percent) respectively, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

Then on Tuesday, May 16, some alarming news was unveiled by California Trout and the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences in a press teleconference discussing a new report that indicates if present trends continue, the majority of California’s imperiled native salmon, steelhead and trout are likely to be extinct within 100 years.

The report forecasts that 74 percent of the state’s native salmon, steelhead and trout are likely be extinct in the next 100 years  — and 45 percent of these fish in 50 years — if the current trends continue. (See: California’s salmon and trout facing EXTINCTION.)

It details the status of 32 salmonid populations in California and identifies opportunities for stabilizing and even recovering these species.

The causes outlined for the dire forecast include  drought, climate change human-induced threats, including residential development, major dams, agriculture, fire, alien species, transport, logging, fish harvest, estuary alteration, hatcheries, mining, in stream mining, grazing, urbanization and recreation.

I would add record water exports in recent years –  and poor state and federal management of dams. Inexplicably, the report failed to list the biggest threat to Sacramento-San Joaquin River and Trinity-Klamath River salmon, steelhead and other species — Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels.

Ecologist Special Report: Divesting from investment in fossil fuels gains momentum in the UK

By Remo Bebié, Finance Dialogue - Ecologist, May 15, 2017

Bill McKibben, Author and co-founder of 350.org is categoric that one of the key ways to tackle climate change is through financial channels: "There is no question we are currently in a state of emergency on climate change. Day in day out people are dying from the effects of climate change. There are many ways to confront this emergency and divestment allows us to get in the way of the money financing the fossil fuel projects behind this crisis.

"The fact that the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown exponentially in the last few years is the best news ever. From the Pacific Islands to South Africa, from the United States to Germany, people are standing up and challenging the power of the fossil fuel industry."

And in the UK too, the divestment movement is now gathering momentum.

Only last week, 50 MPs announced their backing of a campaign calling on parliament's £612m pension fund to divest from fossil fuels.

Faith groups too are also increasingly moving out of fossil fuel investments. Earlier this month, more than a quarter of Britain's Quaker meetings pledged to divest and the Catholic Church is also taking stand ("the Catholic fossil fuel divestment movement has gained further momentum as nine more institutions pull out of fossil fuels, citing a "political impasse" around US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement." )

In late January, the Irish Parliament voted in favour of a law requiring the country's £6.8 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to divest from all fossil fuels over the next five years. The story went viral on social media.

Three weeks ago, Norway's largest private pension fund, Storebrand, launched two new fossil free funds, bringing their fossil free fund portfolio to $1.2 billion. Storebrand also warned that the Norwegian government is overly exposed to fossil fuels through its $900 billion sovereign wealth fund, even though it has already taken significant steps to reduce exposure in the past.

Momentum is gathering at such a speed in the UK it appears to be approaching a tipping point: Waltham Forest and Southwark, two local government pension schemes for boroughs in London, have pledged to fully divest from fossil fuels within the last year, while Hackney's pension fund committed to cut its exposure by 50 percent, as the FT reported recently. Among the UK's Local Government Pension Schemes, these three are on the smaller range, each managing assets between £0.74 and £1.26 billion.  

But examples also include the £2.73 billion Environment Agency's Pension Fund, which is currently ranked second in the Asset Owner Disclosure Project's 2017 ranking (first in 2016) among the world's 500 largest asset owners. The fund is widely considered a global leader in terms of aligning investment strategies with the goals called for in the Paris agreement and reducing financial risks associated with the energy transition.

UK workplace pension scheme NEST, already progressive in terms of integration of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, has recently added a specific climate tilted fund to it's portfolio. NEST cited "addressing risks and capturing opportunities associated with the move to fight climate change" as reasons for launching the fund. 

Private institutions are taking note too: Last fall, HSBC Bank UK Pension Scheme chose a new climate tilted fund as the equity default option for its £2.6 billion defined contribution (DC) scheme. The scheme's CIO, Mark Thompson, expects the move to deliver "better risk-adjusted return, protection against climate change risks, and a more powerful ESG engagement policy within a passive mandate".

Furthermore, by April 2018, most UK local government schemes are due to be integrated into eight pools, each managing between £12 and £36 billion of pooled assets (see here for a good pooling overview by IPE). Implementation of divestment pledges for individual schemes will depend on the pool structure. The schemes of the London boroughs are already being pooled through London CIV, which recently wrote that it is "focusing on investment strategies the pension fund authorities have shown most demand for, namely: global equity income; sustainable equities; emerging markets and value strategies." 

Many other pools are now in the process of hiring executives: Brunel, the pool which contains the Environment Agency's Pension Fund, and LGPS Central have named new chairs within the last month. The London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA) is currently "seeking to recruit additional Board Members with knowledge and experience of either: 1) Environmental Social and Corporate Governance issues in a pension fund, with a strong commitment to delivering divestment from fossil fuels; or 2) strategic and sustainable infrastructure investment by pension funds, with a breadth of experience across all forms of infrastructure investment." 

All this indicates that more activity may be expected from the UK's public and private institutional investors. And public pressure is rising as well as various UK local government pension schemes are engaged by campaigners as part of the Global Divestment Mobilisation (GDM) with calls for fossil fuel divestment (see here for complete list of LGPS engagements within the Mobilisation).

The West Coast Will Determine the Fate of the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Arun Gupta - Yes! Magazine, March 24, 2017

Despite a string of victories in the last few years limiting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure on the West Coast, Donald Trump’s presidency shows it was never going to be easy to defeat the oil and gas industry.

In two months, Trump has moved to revive the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline routes that had been blocked by the Obama administration, expedite environmental reviews for infrastructure projects, and reverse fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. He is expected to reverse environmental regulation policies established under President Obama, including the Clean Power Plan, and will not likely adhere to the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Republicans in Congress have followed suit, voting to kill two regulations passed in the waning days of the Obama administration: the Stream Buffer Rule, which prohibits coal companies from dumping toxic waste into an estimated 6,100 miles of streams; and a Bureau of Land Management rule that directs energy companies to capture natural gas from drilling operations on public lands rather than allowing them to burn or vent it into the atmosphere, where it’s heat-trapping potential is 84 times that of carbon dioxide.

For now, the situation is “scary,” says Mia Reback, a climate justice organizer with 350 PDX in Portland, Oregon. At the same time, she said, Trump has sparked “a groundswell of people coming into the climate justice movement who are looking to strategically and thoughtfully take action to create political change.” At her organization alone, orientation attendance has increased tenfold since the election.

All along the West Coast, environmentalists are gearing up for an epic fight. Advocates of a clean energy economy talk of building a “thin green line” from California to British Columbia to protect and improve on gains against the spread of fossil fuel infrastructure so that the production, use, and export of oil, coal, and natural gas steadily decline.

The fronts in this war are multiplying—along pipelines and rail lines, in the courts and media, through finance and all levels of government—even as an emboldened fossil fuel industry tries to roll back gains for climate justice and revive stalled infrastructure projects. Opponents are outmatched by the billions of dollars energy companies can throw around, but they are buoyed by an invigorated grassroots effort to stymie the industry and strengthen resistance by local elected officials. And they are aided by economic trends that increasingly favor renewable energy.

Portland and the entire Northwest are key to the fate of the fossil fuel industry simply because of geography, explained Dan Serres, conservation director of Columbia Riverkeeper. The Columbia River, which forms most of the border between Washington and Oregon, is the most accessible shipping point for large flows of oil, coal, and natural gas seeking a deep-water pass. The river’s path also provides the flattest route for trainloads of oil and coal. As such, the Northwest is the gateway between vast energy reserves in the U.S. interior and huge markets in Asia.

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