Tag Archives: oil company

Big oil asks US government to protect it from climate change

Even better, this is all coming from public funds.

 

Image credits: US Army.

Irony on steroids

We’re currently past the point where we can consider climate change a problem for future generations — it’s happening now, and it’s affecting us all.

Basically, we’re currently at the point where we have to take measures to limit its impact, and things are getting pretty rough. Like many other countries, the US is also taking some steps to protects its coasts; among these projects, one in particular stands out — one project which was greatly lobbied and supported by the fossil fuel industry.

Texas has an ambitious proposal to raise a line of defense against powerful storms and high tides — a 60-mile “spine” of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast. At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about it: the defense line will protect some important infrastructure, a few residential areas and fragile ecosystems. But the real reason behind this project has nothing the do with any of these things — the real reason is to protect Texas’ oil refineries, the state’s “crown jewels” of the petroleum industry. That’s right, the oil industry wants to be shielded from the damage that it itself is causing.

The project would cost around $12 billion and comes right off the back of three smaller projects fast-tracked by the state government. These smaller projects cost $3.9 billion and were aimed specifically at protecting oil facilities. The far-reaching hand of the oil industry is also visible in the reactions of Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — normally outspoken critics of federal spending, the two senators (big-time supporters of oil companies) have both backed using taxpayer money to build the new infrastructure.

Cruz even called it “a tremendous step forward.”

“The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride,” said Brandt Mannchen, a member of the Sierra Club’s executive committee in Houston. “You don’t hear the industry making a peep about paying for any of this and why should they? There’s all this push like, ‘Please Senator Cornyn, Please Senator Cruz, we need money for this and that.’”

But for all this support for protection against climate change, there’s not much mention of climate change. This is representative of Texas’ general attitude — which is to support the fossil fuel industry at all costs, deny climate change, and even when you take measures to counter it, don’t admit it. A Texas special commission even submitted a report asking $61 billion from Congress to “future proof” the state against future natural disasters, many of which are amplified by climate change, without even mentioning climate change.

Economists have also been critical of this approach. Texas “should be funding things like this itself,” said Chris Edwards, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Texans are proud of their conservatism, but, unfortunately, when decisions get made in Washington, that frugality goes out the door.”

AP has questioned several major oil companies, asking them for comment, but none have replied.

Oil companies knew about climate change since the 70s

The cherry on top of this oily cake is that big oil companies have known that they’re causing climate change for decades — yet they relentlessly funded climate change denial campaigns. But when push comes to shove, they want to be protected from climate change — and not pay any of the costs.

No one is saying Texas doesn’t need environmental defenses. As Esquire points out, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, you could see small towns in shambles, with people living in tents because their roofs and houses were blown away. Texas needs to prepare and protect its people — there’s no denying that. But for the very oil companies responsible for climate change to come asking for help, out of taxpayers’ money, that deserves nothing more than a mordant laugh.

Which means it will probably happen.

Leading Climate Denier and Harvard Scientist Took $1.2 Million Bribe From Oil Companies

Wei-Hock Soon, an aerospace engineer and a part-time employee at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is one of the few respected scientists who spoke against the general consensus that human activity is a significant contributor to climate change. He has published 11 papers on climate change since 2008. However, it was recently shown that he received $1.2 million from oil companies in exchange for his “science”. According to leaked documents, the  papers were simply “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe a testimony he prepared for Congress.

Science against money

Image via Climate Change Psychology.

Climate change denial has very little credibility. Just 0.17% percent of all published peer reviewed papers on climate change claim that the climate change is not happening or is not man-made. There is no scientific debate as one sided as this, and yet, despite a basic consensus, the media still disproportionately includes the views of climate skeptics. When you also consider that 9 out of 10 top climate change deniers are linked with the biggest private oil company (Exxon Mobil), it becomes even clearer why we have this lack of credibility.

Wei-Hock Soon, or “Willie” as he likes to be called is one of the very few scientists who actually claimed that climate change is not related to human activities. He claims that solar variation is causing rising temperatures across the world. Interestingly enough, he has no formal training in climatology – and despite being quoted as an “astrophysicist”, he is actually an aerospace engineer, which is vastly different. He’s also not a Harvard Scientist per se – he is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution which is associated with Harvard. However, Willie doesn’t receive federal funding – he is responsible for obtaining his own money.

He also uses (according to other researchers) out-of-date data, publishes spurious correlations between solar output and climate indicators, and does not take account of the evidence implicating emissions from human behavior in climate change.

Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, a NASA division that studies climate change, said that the sun had probably accounted for no more than 10 percent of recent global warming and that greenhouse gases produced by human activity explained most of it.

“The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless,” Dr. Schmidt said.

In a way, this is similar to the tobacco wars of the 1960s – it was clear that tobacco was having a negative health impact, but because the industry was so lucrative, huge amounts of money were poured into making people believe that this is not actually the case; spoiler alert – it was. Today, the oil industry is by far the most profitable in the world, with companies like Exxon or Shell making over $2 billion profits a month. These companies also tend to be the biggest polluters; a 2013 study found that 90 private companies are responsible for 60% of all the global emissions. Apparently, a small part of their profits went to financing scientists (and I use the term liberally) like Willie.

“The whole doubt-mongering strategy relies on creating the impression of scientific debate,” said Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard University and the co-author of “Merchants of Doubt,” a book about such campaigns, and “The Fall of Western Civilization“. “Willie Soon is playing a role in a certain kind of political theater.”

Indeed, Willie had no problem in finding himself a warm home with Washington legislators like Senator James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who claims that “only God can change the climate“. Because hey, if you can put scientists (and their “deliverables”) on your payroll, why not get a few politicians too, right?

“What it shows is the continuation of a long-term campaign by specific fossil-fuel companies and interests to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change,” said Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, a group funded by foundations seeking to limit the risks of climate change.

Black science

The thing is, while it’s highly questionable from an ethical point of view, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with receiving money from an oil company – as long as you disclose it, and as long as the money goes into actual research, not straight into your pockets. This is not what Dr. Soon did, according to leaked documents. The documents were obtained by Greenpeace, the environmental group, under the Freedom of Information Act. The biggest single donation of $230,000 came from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation; in case you don’t know, the Koch brothers made most of their fortune from oil refining, and they have a long history of tampering with science. Over the years, at least $409,000 of Dr. Soon’s funding in the past decade came from Southern Company Services, a subsidiary of the Southern Company, one of the biggest utility holding companies in the country, with huge investments in coal-burning power plants. They also invest heavily in anti-climate change lobbying. Companies such as Exxon Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute seemed to have eliminated donations in recent years, but curiously, just as they eliminated their funding, donations from DonorsTrust, an organization that accepts money from donors who wish to remain anonymous increased.

Chart via American Progress.

Charles R. Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, acknowledged on Friday that Dr. Soon had violated the disclosure standards of some journals and said that he will have to deal with this solution.

“I think that’s inappropriate behavior,” Dr. Alcock said. “This frankly becomes a personnel matter, which we have to handle with Dr. Soon internally.”

Dr. Soon was not  available for comments. In fact, he rarely responds to questions, except the times when the questions are asked by conservative media outlets. According to the NY Times, he has reacted angrily to questions about his funding sources, but ultimately admitted some corporate ties and said that they had not altered his scientific findings.

“I write proposals; I let them decide whether to fund me or not,” he said at an event in Madison, Wis., in 2013. “If they choose to fund me, I’m happy to receive it.” A moment later, he added, “I would never be motivated by money for anything.”

What will happen now

It’s not clear what will happen next. Dr. Soon is discredited and he has lost pretty much all his credibility. But then again, he had little credibility to begin with, and was still quoted by the Senate. His papers will likely be removed, since he violated the ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work by not disclosing his source of funding – I find it highly unlikely that the journals will continue to back him up. Scientific journals can’t really check out every publishing scientist to see where his money comes from, so they just have to trust him. If that trust is breached, there can only be one response.

“We assume that when people put stuff in a paper, or anywhere else, they’re basically being honest,” said Dr. Strangeway, editor of the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics.

As for Harvard and the Smithsonian, they may or may not remove him. It’s not clear at this point whether the institutions actually knew where his funding was coming from; if they did, then they will likely be more flexible and allow him to continue his “work”. Still, this is a significant case which may set a precedent – preventing such future cases from happening, or on the contrary, giving corporate money a green light for buying more scientists.

Dr. Oreskes, the Harvard science historian, said that academic institutions and scientific journals had been too lax in recent decades in ferreting out dubious research created to serve a corporate agenda.

“I think universities desperately need to look more closely at this issue,” Dr. Oreskes said. She added that Dr. Soon’s papers omitting disclosure of his corporate funding should be retracted by the journals that published them.

 

Rich countries giving the oil, gas and coal industres $88 bn a year in subsidies and tax cuts only for new reserves

Rich countries are effectively giving oil, gas and coal companies $88 bn a year to explore new reserves, despite clear evidence that those industries are causing global warming.

Rich companies are investing heavily in fossil fuels, much more than in renewables. Image via The Malay Online.

From a climate change perspective, it would be best to leave those reserves in the ground and focus on renewable energy, but despite a huge growth, renewable energy is not yet able to compensate for oil and gas; one of the main arguments is that renewable energy is often times more expensive than conventional energy… but then again, these subsidies are working against renewables, making oil, gas and coal cheaper.

The most detailed breakdown yet of global fossil fuel subsidies has shown that the US provides companies with $5.2bn for fossil fuel exploration in 2013, Australia spent $3.5bn, Russia $2.4bn and the UK $1.2bn. These are public money going to new fossil fuels explorations in the form of tax cuts and subsidies. Also, the report highlights that the money went to major multinationals, and not smaller companies.

“The evidence points to a publicly financed bail-out for carbon-intensive companies, and support for uneconomic investments that could drive the planet far beyond the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to no more than 2C,” say the report’s authors.

Oil and gas exploration expenditure in G20 countries (public and private). Photograph: ODI/Rystad Energy

Britain was especially generous. In 2010-2014, it gave $4.5bn to French, US, Middle Eastern and north American companies to explore the North Sea for fast-declining oil and gas reserves. The majority of the money went to two French companies, GDF Suez and Total.

There’s nothing wrong per se with subsidizing industry – but the thing is that now, unlike in previous decades, we understand the impact we are having on the planet’s climate. Well, we don’t understand it fully, but we know that we are causing global warming, and that fossil fuels are the main driver for this change. So if we look at the big picture, we’re financing our own future problems.

“The IPCC [UN climate science panel] is quite clear about the need to leave the vast majority of already proven reserves in the ground, if we are to meet the 2C goal. The fact that despite this science, governments are spending billions of tax dollars each year to find more fossil fuels that we cannot ever afford to burn, reveals the extent of climate denial still ongoing within the G20,” said Oil Change International director Steve Kretzman.

But even thinking locally, there are objections to these policies. There are arguments that it doesn’t make economic sense to invest in what should already be a declining industry – all the more so one which is causing environmental damage. If anything, we should be implementing taxes on these industries, not tax cuts. Also, it makes much more sense to invest these subsidies in renewable energy.

“This is real money which could be put into schools or hospitals. It is simply not economic to invest like this. This is the insanity of the situation. They are diverting investment from economic low-carbon alternatives such as solar, wind and hydro-power and they are undermining the prospects for an ambitious UN climate deal in 2015,” said Kevin Watkins, director of the ODI.

To put things into perspective, rich countries gave $88 bn to explore new oil, gas and coal reserves, and four times less in developing new renewable energy technologies. The authors of the report expressed their surprise to this fact.

“In parallel with the rising costs of fossil-fuel exploration and production, the costs of renewable-energy technologies continue to fall rapidly, and the speed of growth in installed capacity of renewables has outperformed predictions since 2000,” said the report.

Here is an interactive map showing how the G20 countries are giving fossil fuel companies subsidies and tax cuts.

Study confirms underground injections of carbon dioxide triggered a series of earthquakes in Texas

A study published earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy correlated 93 small earthquakes in Texas (near a city called Snyder) with underground injection of large volumes of gas, primarily carbon dioxide, in a technique called CO2 flooding.

Not fracking, but flooding

co2

Picture Source.

CO2 flooding is a technique that doesn’t refer to extraction, but it falls in a suite of techniques called EOR (Enhanced Oil Recovery). Basically, you choose strategic objectives in an oil field and you inject CO2, to displace the oil and get more. CO2 displaces the oil through its movement as well as decreases the viscosity of the oil in the ‘Miscible Zone’ (a zone in which the liquids can mix).

This process isn’t related to the highly debated hydraulic fracturing! Although the injecting or producing well may have been fractured, the process of CO2 flooding does not actually fracture the well. All pressures will be kept below the formation fracture to prevent premature breakthrough, which would actually have a negative impact.

The study focused on an area of northwest Texas with three large oil and gas fields – the Cogdell field, the Salt Creek field and the Scurry Area Canyon Reef Operators Committee unit – all of which have been active producing units since the 1950s. Operators began injecting carbon dioxide in the Scurry Area Canyon Reef Operators Committee field in 1971 to boost petroleum production.

However, in the Cogdell field, operators began the process in 2001, with a significant increase starting in 2004 – which is why the US Department of Energy actually funded this research – to see if there are any negative effects.

Seismics and ‘artificial’ earthquakes

carbon dioxide

Using data from an extremely valuable project, Earthscope, about which I was telling you in another article, study co-authors identified 93 earthquakes in the Cogdell area from March 2009 to December 2010. The earthquakes are rather small, usually revolving around a magnitude of 3, but one of them was actually 4.4 – which is more than significant.

Using this seismic data, as well as information about the injections and extractions of fluids and gases, they were able to correlate the earthquakes to the CO2 flooding.

“What’s interesting is we have an example in Cogdell field, but there are other fields nearby that have experienced similar carbon dioxide flooding without triggering earthquakes,” said co-author Dr Cliff Frohlich from University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics.

So why hasn’t it happened in other areas? The go-to answer is that it has unstable geology – it could be that the injections exerted additional pressure on rather unstable areas, or created additional stress on a fault. Another possibility that works in conjunction with this is that pressures from large volumes of gas reduce friction on these faults.

“An important next step in understanding seismic risks for proposed carbon capture and storage projects would be to create geological models of Cogdell and other nearby fields to better understand why they respond differently to gas injection.”

Researchers find contamination in Canadian oilsands operation, but aren’t allowed to talk about it

Researchers from Environment Canada (EC) and the University of Alberta have published a study in which they showed contaminants accumulated in the snow near oilsands operations, despite what oil companies are claiming. They also discovered contaminants in precipitation from testing in the region.

University of Alberta scientist David Schindler holds a whitefish with a tumour, collected from the Athabasca watershed.

 

Perhaps even more disturbing is that fact that researchers were discouraged to talk about their results, according to an internal federal document. This was first obvious at a November 2011 conference in Boston, where the results were first published.

“EC’s research conducted during winter 2010-11 confirms results already published by the University of Alberta that show contaminants in snow in the oilsands area,” said a background document about Environment Canada’s latest findings. “If scientists are approached for interviews at the conference, the EC communications policy will be followed by referring the journalist to the media relations … phone number. An appropriate spokesperson will then be identified depending on journalist questions.”

The original study, led by University of Alberta scientists Erin Kelly and David Schindler, analyzed winter snow, and found a direct correlation between contamination and oilsands operations proximity: the highest concentrations were found right next to the field, with levels dropping further away. However, according to the leaked document, which was also in the hands of Environment Minister Peter Kent, instead of the real results, a scripted list of answers was “suggested”, one which claimed that no link was established between levels of contaminants found and any effect on fish.

The document also said that Environment Canada scientist Derek Muir, who was slated to attend the conference in Boston, and another senior department official, Dan Wicklum, would be allowed to answer questions from reporters “if approved by media relations.” The situation is still pretty murky, but the fact that Wicklum took a leave of absence from his senior government position last January to accept a new job as chief executive of a new oil and gas company seems pretty suggestive.

This is quite a dreadful and shameful situation, and one which should never happen in any country – let alone in developed countries such as Canada. There really isn’t a lot of information related to this cover-up, and the one that can be found is often contradictory, so I won’t go any further. I was outraged by this situation, and as soon as I found something else on this matter I’ll be sure to write it down.

Main Source 

3000 dolphins die, wash up on the coast of Peru as a result of oil companies activitiy

In the past 3 months, over 3000 dead dolphins have been washed ashore on the coasts of Peru, and this worrying trend continues to grow. So far, the average is about 30 per day, but a significant growth has been reported in the past few days.

While dead dolphins washing up are not entirely uncommon, the magnitude of this event is definitely not natural. According to many biologists, including Peruvian biologist Carlos Yaipen of the Scientific Organization for Conservation of Aquatic Animals, oil companies are to blame in this instance. They believe that acoustic sensing (sonar) is to blame.

“The oil companies use different frequencies of acoustic waves and the effects produced by these bubbles are not plainly visible, but they generate effects later in the animals. That can cause death by acoustic impact, not only in dolphins, but also in marine seals and whales.”

Using this technique is not that uncommon; when on land, oil companies use dynamite or massive trucks to generate seismic waves, which offer valuable information about the underground and the location of a possible reservoir. However, when on sea, these techniques can’t be used, so they use other techniques, including sonars; certain frequencies and intensities can be extremely harmful to the local environment.

In 2003, scientists from the Zoological Society of London proved that underwater sonar can lead to the formation of microscopic bubbles of nitrogen in the bloodstream and vital organs of aquatic mammals, afflicting the animals with a lethal condition commonly known as the Bends. Furthermore, low-range acoustic sensors cause disorientation and even internal bleeding in aquatic mammals.

It is still unclear what company is prospecting in the area as this kind of data isn’t public (of course), but according to Offshore Magazine, a trade publication of petroleum news, at least one entity, Houston-based oil company BPZ Energy, has been actively surveying the seabed along the coast of Peru since the beginning of the year.

Via TreeHugger

Offshore oil platform housing 713 workers sinks in the Gulf of Mexico

Life on an oil platform is tough; it’s hard living on a piece of metal in the middle of the ocean, but you know that no matter what, safety comes first. So one can only imagine how many safety and probably structural precautions the people at Floatel Jupiter ignore, because that platform sunk like a rock.

The Mexican state owned oil giants that runs it, Pemex, reported no injuries, thankfully, but they did lose 2,075 barrels of diesel and 82 barrels of kerosene.

The trouble began when the water pumping system just failed and the platform support was flooded.

“Bilge pumps from the installation were insufficient to counteract the ingress of water so we proceeded to complete evacuation at 13:30,” said a platform operator.

But hey, the people over at Pemex are not worried that this happened and could happen again, they’re worried about getting back their equipment and as much oil as possible – which is kind of what you’d expect from a major oil company. An investigation was also launched to find out what was the cause of this devastating malfunction, which has been labeled as an accident.