Big Oil Knew—Big Oil Lied—And Planet Earth Got Fried

— by Jon Queally, staff writer at Common Dreams
New report exposes why fossil fuel companies didn’t need the warning from the public scientific community to start a decades-long campaign of denial. They already knew their business model was a threat.

not_science

A new report, The Climate Deception Dossiers, chronicles how Exxon and other major fossil fuel companies did not take action to disclose or reduce climate risks in the ensuing years, but instead actively misled the public and policymakers about them.

They knew. They lied. And the planet and its people are now paying the ultimate price.

It’s no secret that the fossil fuel industry—the set of companies and corporate interests which profit most from the burning of coal, oil, and gas—have been the largest purveyors and funders of climate change denialism in the world.

Now, a new set of documents and a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) answers the age-old question always asked when it comes to crimes of corruption, cover-up, and moral defiance: What did they know and when did they know it?

As it turns out, “The Climate Deception Dossiers” shows that leading oil giants such as ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell—just like tobacco companies who buried and denied the threat of cancer for smokers—knew about the dangers of global warming and the role of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions long before the public received warning from the broader scientific community. And what’s worse, of course, is not only that they knew—but how they have spent the last nearly thirty years actively denying the damage they were causing to the planet and its inhabitants.

The new report, explains UCS president Ken Kimmell, “is a sobering exposé of how major fossil fuel companies have … neither been honest about, nor taken responsibility for, the harms they have caused by extracting and putting into commerce the fossil fuels that now place our climate in grave danger. Instead, either directly or indirectly, through trade and industry groups, they have sown doubt about the science of climate change and repeatedly fought efforts to cut the emissions of dangerous heat-trapping gases.”

And as this video shows:

The new report reviews internal documents from some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies—including BP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Phillips, and Shell—spanning the course of 27 years. UCS obtained and reviewed memos that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The documents show that:

  • Companies have directly or indirectly spread climate disinformation for decades;
  • Corporate leaders knew the realities of climate science—that their products were harmful to people and the planet—but still actively deceived the public and denied this harm;
  • The campaign of deception continues, with some of the documents having surfaced as recently as in 2014 and 2015.

UCS has made the complete collection of 85 internal memos—totaling more than 330 pages—available online.

As part of its research, UCS discovered that as early as 1981—nearly seven years before NASA scientist James Hansen made his famous testimony before Congress about the dangers of human-caused global warming—internal discussions about the reality of the threat were already occurring inside the corporate offices of ExxonMobil and others.

In the case of Exxon, an email by one of the companies key scientists explains that, “Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia.” The email explains that the company knew the field was rich in carbon dioxide and that it could become the “largest point source of CO2 in the world,” accounting for 1 percent of projected global CO2 emissions.

The email in question was written in response to an inquiry on business ethics from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University.

Speaking with the Guardian newspaper, director of the Institute Alyssa Bernstein said the email makes it clear “that Exxon knew years earlier than James Hansen’s testimony to Congress that climate change was a reality; that it accepted the reality, instead of denying the reality as they have done publicly, and to such an extent that it took it into account in their decision making, in making their economic calculation.”

Though stating she did not want to appear “melodramatic,” Bernstein told the Guardian that Exxon’s behavior amounts to a supremely larger moral offense than even the tobacco industry’s obfuscations on smoking “because what is at stake is the fate of the planet, humanity, and the future of civilization.”

Given the scale of their crime, UCS says the “time is ripe to hold these companies accountable for their actions and responsible for the harm they have caused.”

Offering recommendations for what the industry should be doing, the group said companies must:

  • Stop disseminating misinformation about climate change. It is unacceptable for fossil fuel companies to deny established climate science. It is also unacceptable for companies to publicly accept the science while funding climate contrarian scientists or front groups that distort or deny the science.
  • Support fair and cost-effective policies to reduce global warming emissions. It is time for the industry to identify and publicly support policies that will lead to the reduction of emissions at a scale needed to reduce the worst effects of global warming.
  • Reduce emissions from current operations and update their business models to prepare for future global limits on emissions. Companies should take immediate action to cut emissions from their current operations, update their business models to reflect the risks of unabated burning of fossil fuels, and map out the pathway they plan to take in the next 20 years to ensure we achieve a low-carbon energy future.
  • Pay for their share of the costs of climate damages and preparedness. Communities around the world are already facing and paying for damages from rising seas, extreme heat, more frequent droughts, and other climate-related impacts. Today and in the future, fossil fuel companies should pay a fair share of the costs.
  • Fully disclose the financial and physical risks of climate change to their business operations. As is required by law, fossil fuel companies are required to discuss risks—including climate change—that might materially affect their business in their annual SEC filings. Today, compliance with this requirement is not consistent.

“These companies aren’t just trying to block new polices, they’re trying to roll back clean energy and climate laws that are working and are widely supported by the public,” said Nancy Cole, a report author and UCS’s campaign director for climate and energy. “Climate change is already underway – and many communities are struggling to protect their residents and prepare for future changes. The deception simply must stop. It’s time for major carbon companies to become part of the solution.”


CC-BY-SAThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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Fueling Corporate Welfare

Giving oil and gas companies royalty-free fuel is a huge waste of taxpayer and finite public resources. But, worst of all, we get nothing but the creation of perennial corporate parasites.
—by

Ryan AlexanderGetting something for nothing is a pretty sweet deal — at least if you’re the one getting something. Not so much if you’re the one receiving nothing in exchange.

Oil and gas companies are extracting gas from federal lands and paying nothing for much of it, according to a new Taxpayers for Common Sense report.

One of our most troubling findings was that gas companies drilling on federal lands have avoided paying over $380 million in royalties on the fuel they’ve extracted over the past eight years.

That’s a lot of money — and it could be a lot more, because it’s based on self-reported data provided by the oil and gas industries.

And it’s a lot of gas.

Oil Rig
swisscan/Flickr

 

By the American Natural Gas Alliance standards, the amount of royalty-free gas either consumed as fuel or lost by operators since 2006 would be enough to meet the needs of every household in New York State for a year.

Like most subsidies for the oil and gas industry, the provision that allows companies to avoid paying royalties on gas they use as fuel for their drilling rigs is decades old.

During World War II, the federal government, in search of more revenue, wanted to start charging oil and gas companies a royalty on the gas they were using as fuel on well sites.

When the industry protested, Congress rolled over. The Mineral Leasing Act was subsequently amended in 1946 — with language directly provided by industry lobbyists — to permanently exempt this fuel from royalty payments.

At the time, Congress presented the change as a way to promote public resource development. The result? Royalty-free fuel for oil and gas companies joined the growing list of financial incentives enjoyed by the most profitable industry in the world.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Department of Interior agency that administers drilling on federal lands, is considering updating the rules for what kinds of gas should incur a royalty payment. BLM should establish a reasonable limit for leaked gas, above which any emissions are considered wasted and not exempt from royalty payments.

The largest component of the lost gas is methane, which leaks from drilling rigs, storage tanks, pipelines, and outdated equipment. This leaked methane not only costs taxpayers in lost royalty revenue, but since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, it also creates climate liabilities down the road.

It costs money to replace leaky pneumatic devices and “high-bleed” compressors, and if the gas these companies are using isn’t costing them anything, there’s less incentive to pay for better equipment.

It’s been almost 70 years since Congress wrote into law the exemption for royalty payments on the gas that companies use as fuel. Maybe it was an important part of the calculation in 1946, but it’s hard to believe it plays a significant role in the decision of where and when to drill in today’s market.

Individual companies must weigh trends in the global price of gas, the location of a drilling site, its distance to the market, the type of formation where the gas is held, how much processing it will need, etc., when considering the profitability of drilling a particular well.

In other words, giving oil and gas companies royalty-free fuel is a waste of taxpayer money. And when you add up the amount of lost revenue, year after year, for all drilling on all federal lands, it comes to a significant loss for taxpayers — and a lot of extra methane for the atmosphere.

With annual budget deficits still in the half-trillion-dollar range, Uncle Sam can’t afford to keep giving freebies to perennial parasites that are some of the most profitable companies in the world.


Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Taxpayer.net.  Distributed via OtherWords.org

Here’s Why The Carbon Regulations EPA Announced Monday Are So Important

by Jeff Spross

power-plant-sunset
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

 

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency will release a first-ever set of regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the country’s existing fleet of power plants. The agency recently issued similar rules for new power plants, which will be finalized next year after a public comment period. The rules for existing plants will undergo a similar process.

But before the political storm around the rules begins in earnest, here are the basic points everyone needs to know about why EPA’s carbon rules are so important.

It’s The First Step Towards A Global Solution

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One of the points the Chamber of Commerce made Wednesday in their premature analysis of the EPA regulations was that, by 2030, the cuts would only amount to 1.8 percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. The point is technically accurate — climate change and the greenhouse gas emissions driving it are a global problem — but it assumes U.S. policy occurs in a weird sort of civilizational vacuum.

The projections of future emissions the Chamber used are based on the assumption that business-as-usual continues and that various countries’ climate policies don’t change much. That, in turn, is an assumption about how countries will behave in the future. But as Obama has made clear, half the point of the new regulations is to change the way other countries behave.

America may be the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter, but it remains by far the largest on a per-person basis. It’s also emitted more than any other country historically. And while China and India’s economies are huge, they’re spread over far larger populations than the U.S., and they’re still trying to lift hundreds of millions of their citizens out of very deep poverty. So Americans effectively emitted their way to our current prosperity. Furthermore, because we have so much more wealth per person, we have far more economic room to cut carbon emissions and take risks on developing clean energy than China or India.

capacity-US-China-India
CREDIT: THE GREENHOUSE DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS FRAMEWORK

What this all means is that trust and goodwill between countries is enormously important to building a cooperative international response to climate change. Because of its position and prosperity, the United States can’t build that goodwill without taking the initiative to cut its own emissions: “It’s not [that] I’m ignorant of the fact that these emerging countries are going to be a bigger problem than us,” Obama told the New Yorker a few months ago. “It’s because it’s very hard for me to get in that conversation if we’re making no effort.”

So when the next round of global climate talks occurs in 2015, we’ll have a far better chance of actually locking down an international treaty to cut global emissions if the United States has already stepped up. Then we can bring other countries on board with their cuts, and then circle back around in a few years for an agreement to cut more. And suddenly that 1.8 percent isn’t a mere 1.8 percent anymore.

“American influence is always stronger when we lead by example,” Obama said yesterday at West Point. “We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”

Climate Change Is A Threat To America And The World

Because carbon dioxide molecules absorb heat well, the more we dump into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the more heat the atmosphere can absorb. This raises the overall temperature of the Earth as a system, in what’s called the “greenhouse effect” — carbon dioxide and other gases trap heat within the atmosphere, like the glass walls of a greenhouse trap heat within its interior. We can actually measure it: satellites have tracked the heat imbalance as the Earth absorbs more energy from the sun, while ice cores and other measurements show a a long period of climate stability going back thousands of years, followed by a sudden spike in carbon dioxide and global temperatures around the arrival of the fossil fuel-powered Industrial Revolution.

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What does all this mean for the Earth’s climate? Hotter average global temperatures mean more heat waves, more wildfires, and faster evaporation leading to more drought. But it also means more moisture in the atmosphere, so precipitation becomes heavier when it does come, and wetter areas become wetter while dry areas become drier. Sea levels rise from ice melt at the poles and cyclones become stronger from the oceans’ rising heat content, leading to more flooding and storm damage on the coasts. The poles heat up faster than the equator, destabilizing global weather patterns. Species and ecosystems collapse on both land and sea as climate change and ocean acidification alter their habitats. Crop production and food supplies are upended, fresh water becomes harder to come by, and vectors for pests and disease increase. Basically, rising global temperatures shift the range of possible weather so that destructive and extreme events become more likely.

The scientific consensus is that global temperatures can warm 2°C before those changes become truly catastrophic, though some research suggests even that threshold is too much. At humanity’s current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, we’re set to blow past that limit and get somewhere near 5°C of warming by 2100. Simply put, that would bring a degree of climate change far beyond anything that’s occurred the entire time human civilization has been on the planet. It might not even be possible, much less likely, for us to adapt to those circumstances.

U.S. Carbon Emissions Are A Sizable Part Of The Problem

At about 14.5 percent of 2012′s global emissions, the United States is the world’s second-biggest producer of carbon dioxide, with China now in first and India in third. That same year, electricity generation made up almost a third of the greenhouse gas emissions from America’s economy, with cars and other vehicles also making up close to a third, and industry emitting a fifth. The rest was filled in by commercial and residential buildings and agriculture, each for a tenth a pop.

EPA’s rules for new and existing power plants will address the electricity sector only, but the rest of President Obama’s climate action plan aims to use the executive branch’s regulatory authority to cut emissions from those other sectors as well — by ratcheting up emission standards for cars, improving energy efficiency in homes and buildings, changing forestry and land-use practices, and plugging the various holes in our economy that release other greenhouse gases such as methane.

So while the carbon dioxide pumped out by America’s power plants is ultimately only a slice of the problem, the regulations to cut them down are the central pillar of the Obama Administration’s interlocking effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of the economy. And the political, social, and economic effort to sustain that central push will flow into all the other efforts as well.

Congress Isn’t Going To Do It Anytime Soon

It’s been well-documented by political scientists that partisan polarization has increased significantly in the legislative branch over the last few decades, meaning both parties — but the Republicans especially — move more in ideological lockstep.

Senate_means_2013
CREDIT: HTTP://VOTEVIEW.COM/

In 2009, when the Democrats still dominated Congress, that unity actually helped them pass bills like the stimulus, financial regulatory reform, and Obamacare. But policies to cut carbon emissions are different. The benefits are spread across the entire population, and are still mostly to come in the future, while the costs will be here and now and fall the hardest on some specific and very influential groups — namely the fossil fuel industry. So when President Obama and the Democrats tried to push a cap-and-trade bill through Congress that year, moderate Democrats — especially in the coal-dependent states like West Virginia and Kentucky — felt enormous pressure to jump ship. And moderate Republicans were pressured by their own ideological cohort to not jump on board.

As a result, cap-and-trade passed the House but went down to defeat in the Senate. Now that the Republicans have taken back the House, the situation is even worse for climate policy, and it will likely take several election cycles before another chance emerges for Congress to pass something. And we simply don’t have that much time. Global carbon emissions quite literally need to peak within the next few years and then start falling fast if we want a good shot at staying below the 2°C threshold.

Fortunately, Congress has actually already handed the executive branch the tools to address this problem. Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 require EPA to regulate emissions that threaten public welfare, and in 2007 the Supreme Court ruled the agency could regulate carbon dioxide emissions if it found they posed such a threat. EPA came to that exact conclusion in 2009, citing the rising seas, stronger storms, heavier floods, more intense heat waves, disrupted food supplies, shrinking fresh water supplies, and increased vectors for disease climate change would bring. By carrying through with the new regulations, the Obama Administration and EPA are in fact carrying out the will of Congress — just not the will of this particular batch of congress members.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Speaker Boehner & his GOP Brethren Approve KXL, Spread Propaganda

I certainly hope that Representative Mark Amodei and Representative Joe Heck made a call to their insurance agents and purchased personal liability insurance for Tar Sands oil spills, because today the voted FOR passage of HR3, the Northern Route Approval Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves construction of the Keystone pipeline. That means they are complicit in enabling the eventual pollution of our land, our aquifers and our nation’s breadbasket that puts food on our tables.  You think the Arkansas spill was bad?  Just wait, the eventual KXL pipeline spill will be absolutely catastrophic and we need to be prepared to hold each and every representative in Congress who voted for this catastrophe accountable.

Following the House vote on HR 3, Speaker immediately put out a press release that is tantamount to pure propaganda claiming the construction of the KXL pipeline will create 10s of thousands of jobs and will swamp our gas stations with abundant supplies of cheap gas.  The reality, however, is that if the KXL pipeline IS constructed, it will suck every gallon of gas they can pump out the the US down that pipeline for shipment to foreign countries, leaving us high and dry, with astronomical gas prices for the remainder of many of our lifetimes.  Here’s Speaker Boehner’s press release:

House Votes to Approve Keystone Pipeline, Create Tens of Thousands of Jobs & Increase Energy Security

Posted by Speaker Boehner Press Office
May 22, 2013
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today applauded House passage of the Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3), legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves the Keystone pipeline and eliminates legal and regulatory barriers to its construction and the tens of thousands of jobs it will create:

“When American families hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, they’ll once again be paying the price for the Obama administration’s failed energy policy.  Gas prices have nearly doubled on the president’s watch, draining family budgets and making it harder for small businesses to hire.  The Northern Route Approval Act, part of Republicans’ plan for economic growth and jobs, will help families and small businesses by approving the Keystone pipeline and removing barriers that could keep it tied up in legal limbo for years. 

“The Keystone pipeline will create tens of thousands of American jobs and pump nearly a million barrels of oil to U.S. refineries each day, helping to lower gas prices, boost economic growth, enhance our energy security, and revitalize manufacturing.  The project is backed by a majority of the American people, including members of the president’s own party.  Labor unions have rallied for its approval, saying it’s ‘not just a pipeline, it’s a lifeline.’  Unfortunately, after nearly five years of blocking the project, it’s a lifeline President Obama is refusing to toss American workers.

“House Republicans will continue fighting for the Keystone pipeline as part of our jobs plan that cuts red tape and unlocks more of America’s resources.  It is time for the president to put his political calculations aside, work with Republicans to approve the Keystone pipeline, and advance a growth and jobs agenda that will help our economy grow and put more Americans back to work.”

But just weeks ago, we learned from Ryan Koronowski, who posted an article on ThinkProgress, that the pipeline will not create 10s of thousands of jobs, but instead, will create a measly 35 permanent jobs, a far cry from even just 1000 permanent jobs.  And, to make matters worse, it will exacerbate the problems we’re experiencing with climate change.  The refining process for tar sands crude (if you can really define crude as tar sands mixed in toxic proprietary solvents) will emit more carbon into the atmosphere than 51 seriously dirty coal plants.  Not only that, but a series of amendments, some dealing with pipeline safety and the cost of cleaning up potential pipeline spills, were all defeated along party lines.  So once again, the GOP has shown us their true colors, showing preference to corporate profits and choosing to socialize cleanup costs for the corporations.

Keystone Pipeline Will Create Only 35 Permanent Jobs, Emit 51 Coal Plants’ Worth Of Carbon

By Ryan Koronowski on Apr 17, 2013 at 7:15 pm

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he wasn’t touching the Keystone pipeline decision with a ten-foot pole:

“I am staying as far away from that as I can now so that when the appropriate time comes to me, I am not getting information from any place I shouldn’t be, and I am not getting engaged in the debate at a time that I shouldn’t be,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Right now, Kerry has the State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, but if that is all he information he relies on, he won’t get the full picture. While he will see that the project will only bring 35 permanent jobs, which is true, he would also see almost no discussion of the pipeline’s impact on the climate. (Oddly, he will be able to read an extended discussion of climate change’s projected impacts on the construction and maintenance of the proposed pipeline.)

So where is a Secretary of State sincerely concerned about climate change to go to find the climate consequences of approving the Keystone XL pipeline? He could peruse a new report out yesterday from Oil Change International called: “Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

The report’s recommendation:

In a world constrained by the realities of climate change, the proper measure of any project’s climate impact should not be based on the assumptions inherent in a business as usual scenario that guarantees climate disaster. Instead, the State Department should base these critical decisions on whether the project makes sense in a world that is actually seeking to minimize the real dangers of climate change. On this basis, we recommend that decision-makers consider the total amount of carbon that will be released by the project into the atmosphere.

How do they back that up?

  • Using industry analysis of carbon emissions from current tar sands production, the report says the pipeline will carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year. That’smore than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
  • Both the IEA and the World Bank have said that if we want to avoid the catastrophic implications of warming the planet by more than 2 degrees C, we cannot burn any more than one-third of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves by 2050.
  • U.S. oil demand has fallen by 2.25 million barrels per day, but if we want to cut emissions to hold global temperature below 2 degrees C, there are very few scenarios that include a Keystone pipeline pumping 3.3 million barrels or tar sands oil per day.
  • Petcoke, which is a byproduct of the tar sands refining process, is exported for use as a coal substitute. Since petcoke is cheaper than coal, this encourages more coal burning, and therefore more carbon emissions. The State Department’s EIS does not acknowledge this.
  • The pipeline’s pump stations will emit 4.4 million metric tons of CO2 each year, after 240,000 metric tons during the construction phase. This is like adding an extra U.S. coal plant. This pipeline, remember, will pump 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day.
  • Tar sands pollute more than conventional oil — 27 million more metric tons of CO2 according to the EPA. This would be the same as 7 coal plants. Tar sands are so carbon intensive because of the way it burns, and how much energy is required to extract it. The State Department acknowledged that this will cause 17 percent more carbon emissions than regular oil.

Won’t the tar sands be extracted whether the pipeline is approved or rejected? Not so:

There are many compelling arguments against the fatalistic assertion that the tar sands will be fully exploited regardless of the Keystone XL pipeline. Other proposed pipelines also face substantial opposition in Canada and other regions of the United States. Further, increased costs associated with alternatives such as rail make it clear that the Keystone XL pipeline is far and away the industry’s first choice, and industry experts have been the first to admit this.

The State Department EIS dismisses out of hand the implications of burning the oil we’re projected to burn, saying it is business as usual. But this business is leading us to a very unusual climate future. The idea of approving the Keystone pipeline becomes more impossible as the facts become clearer. We can only hope that Secretary Kerry will stay engaged in the real debate and make the right choice for a livable climate.

[The article above, originally posted on ThinkProgress,  was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.]

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