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News :: Organizing
Boston Common Rally Opposes Gas Companies Pipeline - Wed 30 July
30 Jul 2014
MassPLAN is a coalition of local and statewide groups and organizations opposed to the proposed Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct Project (June 2014 Kinder Morgan presentation). This website provides information about the Massachusetts portion of the proposed project — previously called the Northeast Expansion Project.
Click on image for a larger version

11 AM - 1 PM Opposite the State House on Beacon Street.

Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline through the western part of the state are gathering in Boston on the Common. The protesters have been making their way across Massachusetts in recent weeks.

Wednesday's rally is scheduled to begin on Boston Common and will include landowners, state legislators, and leaders of environmental and conservation groups expected to speak. The opponents say they'll then march to the State House. Kathryn Eiseman heads the Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network, one of the groups coordinating the "rolling rally" across the state. She said a group of about five representatives hopes to meet with Gov. Deval Patrick later in the afternoon. Energy company Kinder Morgan has proposed the $3.75 billion extension of its northeast pipeline and says will provide clean-burning natural gas to the northeast.

BEAT’s Action Plan

One of our coalition members, Berkshire Environmental Action Team, has come up with key steps that we all can and should be taking now:

Action Plan from Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT)

— Ask Governor Deval Patrick to withdraw his request for a tariff which would have electric ratepayers pay for this pipeline.

When news of this pipeline first broke, the Governor was all for it. But as opposition has grown, he has changed his tune to say that it is out of his hands. NO!

His administration signed on to a letter calling for a tariff for all electric ratepayers to be charged a fee on their electric bill for this pipeline. He can withdraw that support.

— Ask your state legislators to:

1. Hold a hearing on New England States Committee On Electricity’s (NESCOE) mode of operations and the lack of public accountability.

Call for an investigation of NESCOE – A Conservation Law Foundation briefing paper ( shows that NESCOE operates pretty much behind closed doors with undue influence by the gas and utility companies. The organization acts like a quasi-governmental organization, speaking for the governments of the 6 New England states. The Governor should call for an investigation of NESCOE, while demanding NESCOE:
- respond in full to the current Freedom of Information Act Request,
- create a public process for determining the future of our electric

2. Require a study of the ‘Low Demand Scenario” (how we can meet our energy needs with efficiency, demand response, renewables). This analysis should be inserted into H.4187 (the “Clean Energy Resources Bill”).

Even with industry insiders guiding NESCOE, their own biased study stated that under the Low Demand Scenario there is no need for new, long-term infrastructure, but they have not done the study to determine how to meet the Low Demand Scenario. We believe that we already on track to meet the Low Demand Scenario – by continuing our nationleading energy efficiency programs (saving customers lots of money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions) – and adding clean, renewable electric generation that will have ZERO fuel cost. We believe staying on this path will not only save money, but will be helping to protect the planet at the same time.

3. Pledge to oppose the release of Article 97 land from its protection.

To release protected land from that state protection requires a 2/3 majority of both houses of state government. Usually the request comes from the Senator and Representative from where the land is located. Please ask your Senator and Representative to pledge to oppose the release of any Article 97 land for building this pipeline.

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Obama Administration Exporting Climate Change by Exporting Coal
30 Jul 2014

Greenpeace USA has released a major new report on an under-discussed part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule: it serves as a major endorsement of continued coal production and export to overseas markets.

“Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change: How the federal coal leasing program undermines President Obama’s Climate Plan” tackles the dark underbelly of a rule that only polices coal downstream at the power plant level and largely ignores the upstream and global impacts of coal production at-large.

The Greenpeace report was released on the same day as a major story published by the Associated Press covering the same topic and comes a week after the release of another major report on coal exports by the Sightline Institute that sings a similar tune.

The hits keep coming: Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson framed what is taking place similarly in a recent piece, as did Luiza Ch. Savage of Maclean’s Magazine and Bloomberg BNA.

But back to Greenpeace. As their report points out, the main culprit for rampant coal production is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which leases out huge swaths of land to the coal industry. Greenpeace says this is occurring in defiance of Obama’s Climate Action Plan and have called for a moratorium on leasing public land for coal extraction.

“[S]o far, the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department have continued to ignore the carbon pollution from leasing publicly owned coal, and have failed to pursue meaningful reform of the program,” says the report.

“Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others in the Obama administration should take the President’s call to climate action seriously, beginning with a moratorium and comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program, including its role in fueling the climate crisis.”

Dirty Details

Some of the numbers crunched by Greenpeace USA make the jaw drop.

For example, one chart shows the amount of coal leased by the BLM during Obama’s time in the White House. During that time, the BLM has leased off billions of tons of coal from Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming alone.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 2.04.21 PM_0

As Greenpeace points out, “This is equivalent to the annual emissions of over 825 million passenger vehicles, and more than the 3.7 billion tons that was emitted in the entire European Union in 2012.”

Further, in crunching the numbers on the social cost of carbon metrics, Greenpeace estimates producing all of this BLM-leased coal will cause between $52-$530 billion in damages.

A recent major, precedent-setting federal court decision chided BLM for not taking the social cost of carbon into account in leasing out a plot of land for coal production. It remains unclear whether or not this will impact BLM’s future coal leasing activities, however.

Germany’s “Clean Break” or Greenwashing?

Interestingly and perhaps shockingly to many, much of this coal is being exported to Germany, home of what some have hailed the epicenter of the global green energy revolution. Though German coal mining is going by the wayside, imports are rising.

“German coal mining has been a dying tradition. The government will end subsidies in 2018, effectively killing it,” explained the Associated Press story.

“However, Germany is experiencing a resurgence in coal-fired power. Five German coal plants have been built since 2008, and more are coming…The result: In 2013, Germany’s emissions of carbon dioxide grew by 1.2 percent.”

Dirk Jansen, spokesman for Friends of the Earth-Germany, called the situation at-large tantamount to “greenwashing” in an interview with the Associated Press.

“Obama pretties up his own climate balance, but it doesn’t help the global climate at all if Obama’s carbon dioxide is coming out of chimneys in Germany.”

Beyond Obama, though, it raises equally troubling questions about just how “clean” Germany’s clean break will be when all is said and done.

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.
Obama is wrong about natural gas
03 Aug 2014
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A new scientific study argues that both shale gas and conventional natural gas have larger greenhouse gas footprints than do coal or oil.

Natural gas is falsely promoted by the Obama Administration and energy corporations as a “bridge fuel” that will allow American society to continue to use fossil energy over the coming decades while emitting fewer greenhouse gases than from using other fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

On this basis, President Obama is providing total support to a massive expansion of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas within the U.S. He seeks sufficient quantities to last for many decades, allowing the U.S. to export liquefied natural gas and oil throughout the world.

Counting on lower greenhouse pollution from the use of natural gas, Obama has also instituted a major campaign to greatly increase the amount of crude oil extracted from within the U.S., in good part from fracking. In mid-July the AP reported:

The Obama administration is reopening the Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration, approving seismic surveys using sonic cannons that can pinpoint energy deposits deep beneath the ocean floor.

Here’s the catch: A new scientific study — “A Bridge to Nowhere: Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas” — argues that both shale gas and conventional natural gas have larger greenhouse gas footprints than do coal or oil, especially for the primary uses of residential and commercial heating.

The author, Dr. Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, came to this conclusion after assessing the best available data and analyzing greenhouse gas footprints for both methane (including shale gas and conventional gas) and carbon dioxide over a timescale of 20-years following emissions.

‘We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States.’

“We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States,” said Howarth, who explains that Earth may reach the point of no return if average global temperatures rise by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius in future decades.

If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe….

While emissions of carbon dioxide are less from natural gas than from coal and oil, methane emissions are far greater. Methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that these emissions make natural gas a dangerous fuel from the standpoint of global warming over the next several decades. Society should wean ourselves from all fossil fuels and not rely on the myth that natural gas is an acceptable bridge fuel to a sustainable future.

Obama’s permission for oil companies to explore the Eastern Seaboard from the outer continental shelf from Delaware to Florida will produce trillions in profits as well as heavily contribute to global warming. AP reports that

Oil lobbyists say drilling for the estimated 4.72 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 37.51 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that lies beneath federal waters from Florida to Maine could generate $195 billion in investment and spending between 2017 and 2035, contributing $23.5 billion per year to the economy.

(At this stage the northern limit is Delaware, but it well may be extended in time.)

The use of sonic cannons to detect energy deposits creates noise pollution in waters shared by whales, dolphins and turtles.

Incidentally, the use of sonic cannons to detect energy deposits creates noise pollution in waters shared by whales, dolphins and turtles, sending sound waves many times louder than a jet engine reverberating through the deep every 10 seconds for weeks at a time. Seeking to head off presidential approval for East Coast exploration, some environmental groups pointed out that endangered species could be seriously harmed by the noise. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said this was true, but moved ahead.

The U.S. government’s heavy concentration on producing and using such “bridge” fuels as natural gas, “clean” coal, oil and nuclear power, with only token attention to renewable resources such as wind and solar energy, will significantly increase global warming. But as with sonic cannons and sea creatures, trillions in quick profits for the capitalist economic system trump the needs of unimaginable numbers of human beings who will suffer the consequences.

This article is based on two recent reports on methane from Science Daily and from Dr. Howarth’s scientific paper published in Energy Science & Engineering. His technical article is here.
Opposes Gas Companies Pipeline
18 Aug 2014
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oil rigs.jpg
Here’s a Dutch phrase for you, Gouden Eeuw. No, nothing to do with the currently controversial topic of cheese, it rather means Golden Age.

Nowadays, the Netherlands is best known for “whacky-backy” and a liberal take on life – it is a significant trading economy but hardly a global leader. However, in the 17th century it was the USA of its day, the foremost economic and maritime power in the world in a time when size did not matter.

Holland did this by being the first European power to gain a foothold in Asia, including a monopoly on trade with Japan through the Dutch East India Company and dominating inter-European trade, fuelled by cheap energy from Windmills. Then everybody went nuts, completely insane actually or “krankzinnig” as they would say themselves.

The cause was flowers, tulips to be precise. Wealthy Dutch captains of industry invested their profits in acres and acres of tulip gardens to show off to “bezoekers” and by 1637, solitary bulbs were selling for ten times the annual income of skilled workers. Then one day, everyone realized they had seen all the colors and had tulip fatigue and just like that the bubble popped. Today you can purchase a bag of five bulbs for about €2 in Amsterdam.

Commodity bubbles have been frequent since, and while most modern insanities are real estate based, I could use the British railways mania of the 19th century, the Australian Poseidon (mining) in 1969 plus the dot-com frenzy of the late 1990’s as examples outside the main culprit. There’s a new hysteria at large now – fracking, something touched upon here a while ago.

Despite the turbulent geopolitical situation in the main production regions, the global oil price has fallen from around $115 a barrel only last month to just over $103 now. Meanwhile, because tight energy drilling is extremely capital intensive, US companies are borrowing cheaply in the junk bond markets to fund their drilling activities. A policy that makes loads of sense to speculators but sets off alarm bells for economists.

AFP Photo / David Mcnew
AFP Photo / David Mcnew

The problem with accessing credit is that both oil and shale gas wells deplete at a much faster rate than conventional wells (usually around 69% in year one and over 90% within 5 years). This forces companies to keep drilling to maintain the same rate of production, which is usually funded by the cheap tick I mentioned. Of course, the most productive fields have been drilled first and depleted swiftly so speculators now have no option but to drill in fields with less potential and which incur higher extraction costs.

Just to throw something more inflammable on the fire, there is a lot of iffy land leasing going on, with firms flipping holdings to take advance of soaring prices. Naturally, they are aware of rapid depletion rates for the wells and want to cash in before it happens.

When crude prices were only going up, this wasn’t a concern. But as they first plateaued and now begin to dive, the humongous amounts of debt are becoming a noose around the neck of fracking concerns.

Bad news for fracking operators

In 2008, the American analyst Jessie Colombo was hailed by the London Times for predicting that year’s US property market collapse which is considered to have kick-started the global economic crisis. At a mere 18-years-old, Colombo founded the website, Stock Market Crash!, in 2004 and correctly made a case for how the bubble would conclude. Colombo believes shale is headed in the same tragic direction.

“Surging North American oil production, courtesy of the recent US shale and Canadian oil sand booms is dramatically reducing US oil imports and has even led to a glut of light, sweet crude in the US. Our production is expected to grow to 9.6 million barrels a day by 2016, which would make the US the world’s largest oil producer, ahead of even Saudi Arabia and Russia,” he explains.

According to Colombo, this reversal of America’s long production decline has ensured that recent instability in the Middle East and Ukraine hasn’t affected oil prices. It sounds great in principle but it is bad news for fracking operators especially with countries like Iran, Libya and Venezuela poised to increase their production after years of sanctions in the first and political turmoil in the second pair.

“The high price of oil in the past decade enabled the shale boom because it made new drilling technologies viable. However, since 2011, because of the economic slowdown in China and other emerging economies, oil demand growth has tapered significantly. As US fracking enterprises need prices to rise for their bubble models to grow - this is extremely bad news for them.” Jesse cautions.

Looking at Colombo’s extensive figures, available on his excellent website, it becomes clear that the shale frenzy is only slightly delaying the end of the cheap oil era. Excellent news for countries with easily extractable reserves but also surely great for price sensitive fracking projects? Jesse says that’s not the case because confidence in their racket will diminish before they see any benefits.

“In a zero-percent interest rate environment like we are currently experiencing, any boom can quickly devolve into a bubble. Shale extraction is very capital intensive and relies heavily on cheap credit to survive. Additionally, its entire existence is predicated on today’s fairly relatively high oil prices. If the price drops below $70-$80 a barrel, many shale companies will go bust in a very short space of time. Because of this, investors and lenders will go sour on fracking after taking serious losses,” he counters.

Demonstrators hold placards during an anti-fracking protest in central London (Reuters / Neil Hall)
Demonstrators hold placards during an anti-fracking protest in central London (Reuters / Neil Hall)

Markets are not known for either patience or joined-up thinking so this scenario would, ironically, lead to even higher oil prices in the long-term as shale capital is restricted when the hype dies down, leaving traditional producers in a stronger position than ever.

The profile of many of the investors state-side is also eerily redolent of Dot-Com madness of the 90’s. The Texas Governor Rick Perry’s son, Griffin, and his associates at Grey Rock Energy Partners are currently attempting to raise $200 million to take minority stakes in shale wells. Also, 27-year-old Mark Hiduke managed to raise $100 million for a three-week old company in May according to Bloomberg. Wonderful reading for expensive restaurants and hotels but hardly grounded in reality.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has previously leaked emails which included this ominous warning from a respected analyst: “The word in the world of independents is that the shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes and the economics just do not work.”

All this investment is creating copious wells, at twice the price of ordinary ones, and because they are, first production is taking place at about the same time, the initial figures look great. This fuels further blind equity but then, as mentioned earlier, the output drops extremely fast.

Just like the housing bubble of the early years of this century, the fashion for fracking is also heading towards a cliff. Once the attractive spots have been milked, production will slump and many wells will not even take off at all, following the example of Poland where drilling dozens of wells has led to nothing.

It’s obvious that a few years from now, fracking will be seen as this period’s equivalent of the tulip and dot-com convulsions. The environmental legacy will be felt in the US for a considerable period, but markets will, doubtlessly, swiftly move on to the next fad. My bet is 3D printing, what’s yours?
Gas Companies
19 Aug 2014
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Enbridge's Keystone XL Clone Opens in October, Rail Facility to Follow

All Aboard: Tar Sands-By-Rail


In a recent quarter two call for investors, Enbridge Inc executives said the company’s “Keystone XL” clone — the combination of the Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines — will open for business by October.

As previously reported by DeSmogBlog,Enbridge has committed a “silent coup” of sorts, ushering in its own Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas pipeline system “clone” of TransCanada‘s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Unlike Keystone XL‘s northern leg, however,Enbridge has done so with little debate.

With the combination of the Alberta Clipper (now called Line 67, currently up for expansion), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines, Enbridge will soon do what TransCanada has done via its Keystone Pipeline System.

That is, bring Alberta’s tar sands to Gulf of Mexico refineries and send it off to the global export market.

According to Guy Jarvis, president of liquids pipelines for Enbridge, even though the Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas Seaway Twin is technically operational, it will not become functional until Flanagan South opens in October.

“The base plan had been, and still is, to do the line fill of the Seaway Twin from Flanagan South. So we don’t expect to see too much off the Seaway Twin until Flanagan South does go into service,” Jarvis said on the investor call.

“It does have the capability to be line filled at Cushing if the barrels are available and the market signals would suggest that you would want to do that. But at this point in time, we think it will be the base plan that it is filled on from Flanagan South.”

Beyond piping diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to market, Enbridge also has plans to market dilbit via rail in a big way.

All Aboard Enbridge’s Tar Sands-By-Rail

Jarvis unpacked his company’s plans to help move tar sands by rail during the call, as well.

“In terms of the rail facility, one of the things we’re looking at is – and the rail facility is really in relation to the situation in western Canada where there is growing crude oil volumes and not enough pipeline capacity to get it out of Alberta for a two or three year period,” he said.

“So, one of the things we’re looking at doing is constructing a rail unloading facility that would allow western Canadian crudes to go by rail to Flanagan, be offloaded, and then flow down the Flanagan South pipeline further into Seaway and to the Gulf.”

The Wall Street Journal explained that Enbridge’s rail loading facility can handle 140,000 barrels of heavy oil per day and will be open for business in early 2016.

“Competitive Advantage”

According to lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by DeSmogBlog, Enbridge spent $230,000 on lobbying the federal government in the first half of 2014. For a company that earned over $410 million (US dollars) in 2013, the amount equals a mere drop in the bucket.

But, the company acknowledged in its earnings call that its quiet and cheap — yet effective — efforts have paid huge dividends.

“So, we think that, while we’re already very competitive into the markets that we serve directly with pipelines, that competitive advantage into those markets is likely only to get stronger,” said Jarvis.

Enbridge’s “competitive advantage,” however, comes with a cost for everyone else: lighting the “fuse” to a “carbon bomb” for one of the filthiest, climate destroying fossil fuels on the planet in Alberta.

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared