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Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.
— By Brett Fleishman
Royal Dutch Shell buried a bombshell in its recently released 2013 annual report.
Amid 200 pages of predictably and mind-numbingly dry text, the world’s seventh-largest oil company foreshadowed something big. Here are the exact words, which Shell buried in the report’s “risk factors” section:
“If we are unable to find economically viable, as well as publicly acceptable, solutions that reduce our CO2 emissions for new and existing projects or products, we may experience additional costs, delayed projects, reduced production and reduced demand for hydrocarbons.”
Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.
Shell gets that unless things change quickly, another big financial market bubble has the potential to bring people to their knees.
It’s called the “Carbon Bubble,” and it’s a very simple equation.
Fossil-fuel companies already hold more coal, oil, and gas reserves than people and industry can possibly use before climate change reaches the point where life as we know it can’t continue.
Simply put, these companies have more product than they can sell. And their value is based on their total reserves. That means fossil-fuel assets are significantly overvalued.
Why hasn’t Wall Street imploded over this yet? Well, remember how “nobody” could see the housing bubble coming?
The truth is, Wall Street is still profiting from fossil fuels. And when economists and analysts tried to warn people about the housing bubble, just like some of them are now attempting to do about the carbon bubble, their foresight fell on deaf ears.
And if memories of the last economic crisis or even the phrase “market bubble” give you goose bumps, ask yourself how exposed you are to investments in oil, gas, and coal — the three kinds of fossil fuels. Does your pension plan, retirement plan, or family nest egg invest in the likes of Shell Oil?
As a senior analyst for 350.org, an activist organization that fights climate change, my job is to help persuade college endowments, city pension funds, and foundations to divest from fossil fuels.
In my conversations (really they’re debates) with boards of trustees and treasurers of multibillion-dollar pension funds and endowments, the biggest concern is always risk and return.
People charged with these investment decisions want to maximize returns.
Well, as our ability to burn carbon safely diminishes and the reserves of fossil-fuel companies increase, those investments will continue to become riskier and less profitable.
The logic is so clear, even Shell doesn’t think they are a good investment. The oil giant is looking for “viable solutions to reduce” its own CO2 emissions.
Shell’s not the only oil giant reckoning with this reality. Bowing to shareholder pressure, ExxonMobil just announced plans to produce a first-of-its-kind report showing how the growing trend in climate change activism is destabilizing their financial security.
“The deal is a big victory for the relatively new movement by some investors to get energy companies to consider how climate change policies will affect the bottom line,” according to Politico Morning Energy.
If you do one thing for your future, consider divesting from fossil fuels. It’s a great way to minimize your vulnerability to a serious financial crisis while investing in a more hospitable future for your children.
Brett Fleishman is a senior analyst for 350.org. Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org
Dear Governor Brian Sandoval,
Can you please explain why the Nevada Division of Water Resources has denied new water wells to farmers and ranchers due to drought in northern Nevada, yet that same Division has approved permits for oil companies like Noble Energy, a corporation that plans to use millions of gallons of our ground water to hydraulically fracture in a known seismic zone?
Farmers and ranchers actually return something of value to humanity. Frackers, on the other hand, infuse our limited water resources with hundreds of nasty chemicals, including known carcinogens like benzene and glycol-ethers (precursors to plastics). In that process, the water consumed by frackers is rendered unusable, except for more fracking.
Governor, you are allowing state agencies, that are supposed to protect our citizenry and natural resources, to disregard measures that ensure the public’s safety. SB390, as passed, makes it such that companies like Noble Energy can literally frack Nevadans, without any fear of recourse for any misdeeds or damage the create environmentally or ecologically.
The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is being paid by Noble Energy to do studies on the areas that are going to be fracked. And, according to the Nevada Division of Minerals, the results of DRI’s study can be kept confidential at the request of Noble Energy for potentially, an undisclosed amount of time. Studies are NOT being done independently of Noble Energy, and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection won’t be required until 2015 to come out with its own study of fracking’s impact. How is this not a conflict of interest? Something that puts people’s livelihoods on the line? The people of rural Nevada don’t have the luxury of LakeTahoe or LakeMead. Northern Nevadans have water wells that could easily be poisoned through fracking processes.
On March 13th 2013, KNPR’s State of Nevada had Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute, as a guest. She misled KNPR’s listeners as to the safety of fracking. Ms. Dougher failed to mention that the process is exempt from seven major federal regulations:
- the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, due to the “Halliburton loophole” pushed through by former Vice-President/former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, exempting corporations from revealing the chemicals used in fracking fluid;
- the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which exempts fracking from federal regulations pertaining to hazardous waste;
- the Superfund law, which requires that polluters remediate for carcinogens like benzene released into the environment, except if they come from oil or gas;
- the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act;
- the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act;
- the National Environmental Policy Act; and
- the Toxic Release Inventory under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
Really? Please explain how SB390 which you signed into law will protect our municipal water supplies. I’d love to hear or read that explanation.
Another fact, which was taken offline by Nevada Public Radio (@KNPR), is that a man by the name of David Focardi commented about the interview. Mr. Focardi commented that he had worked on oil rigs in Nevada and that there was fresh water up to 14,000 feet deep. I reached out to Mr. Focardi, but he has yet to answer any of my correspondence.
According to Mr. Lowell Price of the Nevada Division of Minerals, fracking would take place in the 7000 to 9000 foot depth range. And while our ground water aquifers may be at depths of say 14,000 feet, our “ground” is riddled with fault lines. Those fault lines mean that there may not be an impervious layer of rock between where hydraulic fracturing is proposed to take place and the actual aquifer feeding our communities with drinking water. Those fault lines may also provide connections between subterraneous channels and the different aquifers of water supporting our communities. Once that water is contaminated, what happens to our communities. The only good that may come from fracking, if you really can call that “good” — is that I guess that would mean you won’t be grabbing any of that water from contaminated northern Nevada aquifers for use in Las Vegas and its suburbs. But then, that’s a whole different letter for another day.
Fracking processes require thousands of gallons of water-laden frack fluid PER MINUTE pumped under high pressures into deep horizontally drilled oil/gas wells. Frack fluid could be released through a fault line or a fracture created by fracking into municipal ground water. When I spoke to someone at the Desert Research Institute they said that a geological study is being done and any “study” would remain the proprietary information of Noble Energy. So, even if Noble Energy or the Desert Research Institute found fault lines they won’t be required to tell anyone about it. Reliance on secret and proprietary studies conducted by organizations that would have significant incentive to conceal any information that might have an adverse effect on approval, is tantamount to malfeasance in governance on your part.
I realize that if Noble Energy had to release information as to where the oil is, that could allow other oil companies to come in and undercut Noble Energy. But there needs to be a work-around to ensure our water resources are not placed at risk. The risk to human health and life should matter more than any sum of profit for a single corporation.
So I ask you Governor why frack with us or allow others to do so? There is already oil drilling in Nevada done without Fracking. Why must we frack? I say bring oil jobs to Nevada if you must, but don’t frack! Now the reason I post this is because of what you promote, Governor Sandoval. You keep saying it’s about jobs and that Hydraulic Fracturing would bring jobs to Nevada. The truth is, these jobs won’t be widespread nor will they sustainable lest there are thousands of oil/frack wells, like there are in Texas or North Dakota. But, Mr. Governor, we do NOT have the water resources to make that happen. And what water we do have, won’t be usable for human consumption once Frackers are done with it. So. Mr. Governor, when all is said and done, what jobs you create would be for naught, as without drinkable water, Nevadans will no longer be able to live anywhere near the wastelands created by the Frackers.
When you’ve got giant energy companies this scared, you must be doing something right.
The only way to counter the monies golliath corporations can flood communities with outright propaganda and lies is with people running a truly grassroots campaign advocating to put their values into action. Only an army of “people” can defeat the war chests of corporation after corporation.
Fracking might be profitable, but whether it’s good for anything else is doubtful.
— by Jill Richardson
Jacki Schilke was suffering from symptoms ranging from rashes, pain, and lightheadedness to dental problems and urinating blood. The formerly healthy, 53-year-old cattle rancher’s body was under assault from a list of toxic chemicals as long as your arm.
But Schilke’s lucky — so far — compared to five of her cows. They died.
The rancher’s problems might become worse in time, since the chemicals causing her acute problems are also linked to chronic, deadly diseases like cancer.
What’s afflicting Schilke and her cows? The oil and gas drilling craze known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As The Nation magazine and the Great Plains Examiner reported last year, Oasis Petroleum started fracking on land three miles from her ranch in 2010. Oasis got money, the world got more energy from the gas they drilled, and Schilke got sick. Now, she won’t even eat her own beef.
If the results of fracking were virtually unknown a decade ago, before it became a common practice in states like Pennsylvania and Schilke’s home of North Dakota, there’s no mystery remaining now.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, when you pump a cocktail of toxic chemicals into the ground to dislodge fossil fuels, there’s a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the ground. And some of those toxins don’t stay put. Those toxic chemicals make their way into the water, the soil, and the air, and they’re EXEMPT from regulation under the Clean Water Act. You can thank Dick Cheney for that reckless action.
And the toxins flow from there — into the living things that rely on the water: the soil, the air, plants, animals, and us. We’re fracking our food.
Yet President Barack Obama is a big fracking supporter. He called natural gas a form of “clean energy” in the big address on global warming he delivered in June, touting the nation’s production of more natural gas “than any other country on Earth.” Then he said, “We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”
Right. Compared to other forms of dirty energy, natural gas might reduce our carbon emissions. But at what cost?
If our only energy options were oil, coal, and natural gas, we’d be in a rotten Catch-22. Luckily, we have more choices than that. There are growing solar, wind, and geothermal options. Perhaps the most overlooked alternative is increasing efficiency.
I visited the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, two years ago. The school had made a big effort to reduce its energy use. In one building, I saw a hallway that used to have its lights turned on all the time. The builders had never even installed switches to turn them off.
Decades ago, energy was “too cheap to meter.” It seemed cheaper to just leave the lights on all the time than to wire them to be turned off. That’s changed. After some retrofitting, the lights can be turned off.
How many other buildings and homes have no light switches, insufficient insulation, or old, power-guzzling appliances? How many are still being built without taking advantage of the most up-to-date methods that curb energy use?
Obama proudly spoke of doubling America’s use of solar and wind power in the last four years, with plans to double them yet again. He’s right. We increased wind and solar energy from less than 1 percent of our energy in 2007 to less than 2 percent in 2011. (Meanwhile, our reliance on natural gas crept up from 28 percent to 30 percent of total energy consumption, and our total use of energy overall rose in those four years by 9.4 percent — with most of the increase coming from dirty sources.)
Fracking might be profitable, but whether it’s good for anything else is doubtful. Emissions during the fracking process outweigh any benefits of reduced emissions when the fuel obtained is burned. Besides, how does fracking American land make sense if it’s poisoning our food and water supply with chemicals that give us cancer?
Let’s solve our energy problems by increasing efficiency and by turning to truly clean sources of energy: renewable options like solar, wind, and geothermal power.
columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org. Photo Credit: Oly-Pentax/Flickr
|Sequester: The Finger on the TriggerRichard (RJ) Eskow, Op-Ed: Today is the day the package of budget cuts they call the “Sequester” takes effect. There will be endless postmortems and real-time analyses. But as its draconian effects, there’s one thing to remember above all: Congress did this. Let’s hold the guilty parties accountable, especially as the chaos they’ve created rains down around us. Let’s not forget that the Sequester is really a weapon—a weapon whose purpose is to harm government and those it serves. In the end, that includes all but the most powerful among us. Let’s respond in a measured, appropriate and high-minded way to this act, but let’s not forget who’s committing the act.|
Terrance Heath, Op-Ed: What if someone told you that a disastrous event is just days away from happening; one that will play havoc with the economy and bring pain and hardship to millions? What if the same someone told you that our government set this disaster in motion, and could easily stop it, but appears unable or unwilling to do so? You’d call them crazy, right? Well, welcome to the insanity called “sequestration.” Here’s why and how it could trickle down into your life. Here’s the truth and consequences of sequestration.
Carl Gibson, Op-Ed: Back in the days when I used to be a legislative reporter for Mississippi’s NPR affiliate, I was covering a story where Gov. Haley Barbour refused to stop cuts to mental health programs and schools in Mississippi with money from the rainy day fund. My favorite Southern legislator, Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, had this to say: “There’s hay in the barn, but we’re not feeding the horses.”
Robert Reich, Op-Ed: Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population. Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government. Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.
Isaiah J. Poole, Op-Ed: “So I want to be very clear here. It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the kind of crisis we talked about with America defaulting and some of the problems around the debt ceiling. I don’t anticipate a huge financial crisis, but people are going to be hurt. The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have – and there are lives behind that. And that’s real. And it’s not necessary – that’s the problem.”
Salvatore Babones, Truthout: What killed the dinosaurs the first time around? Meteor? Global warming? Smoking? The culprit for the loss and destruction of what little is left of the dinosaurs today is economic inequality. Collectors argue that as long as they break no laws they should be free to collect what they want, be it art, coins, fossils. But let’s be serious: Who really wants a 40-foot long tyrannosaurus for the living room? Even if you’re allowed to buy one, who would?
James Trimarco, Op-Ed: The sequester, a set of massive budget cuts required by the ongoing debt ceiling deal, will slash billions from Medicare, education, and other programs that benefit our society’s neediest if it goes through. That’s bad news if you care about those people. But there’s also something to like about it: the largest share of the cuts would come from the military. Many of us have been calling for such cuts for decades, and we should celebrate the possibility of finally getting what we’ve been asking for—even if it comes as the result of Republican demands for austerity. But we should also stand with those who will lose their jobs as a result of defense-budget cuts.
Amy Goodman, Video Report: With the Capitol Hill showdown over the $85 billion across-the-board budget cuts taking effect this Friday, The White House and analysts fear the so-called “sequester” could jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs. While Republicans and Democrats largely agree the cuts are ill-advised, they are far from reaching any sort of agreement. President Obama wants Republicans to end tax breaks, mostly for the wealthy; Republicans are insisting government spending be cut first.
Joe Conason, Op-Ed: Indebted America is in danger of turning into destitute Greece, or so congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have been warning us for years now. For many reasons, this is an absurd comparison — but it may not always be quite so ridiculous if Washington’s advocates of austerity get their way.
|4 Common Dangers Lurking in Your ‘Health’ SupplementsAnthony Gucciardi, News Report: In a world where health consciousness is increasingly more popular each day, major corporations have entered the health supplements marketplace under new ‘health’ brands in an attempt to soak up some of the profits. In doing this, these corporations that truly do not have any concern for the actual quality of their products tend to cut costs by using dangerous fillers and additives that pose a serious risk to your health. A risk that is particularly concerning when considering that these supplements are supposed to enhance your health.|
Imagine being denied emergency contraception after a sexual assault; to not even be informed about the steps you can take to prevent an unwanted pregnancy; and to later find yourself pregnant as a result of the rape.
For thousands of Native American women this is reality. Read the full article here
Froma Harrop, Op-Ed: When folks pan the Affordable Care Act for being nearly 3,000 pages long, here’s a sensible response: It could have been done in a page and a half if it simply declared that Medicare would cover everyone. The concept of Medicare for All was pushed by a few lonely liberals. And it would have been, ironically, the most conservative approach to bringing down health care costs while maintaining quality. Medicare bringing down health care costs? “Ha, ha, ha,” says the program’s foes, citing the spending projections for the government health plan serving older Americans.
|CULTURE WAR / HUMAN RIGHTS / VOTING RIGHTS|
Written by Benjamin Jealous; Joan Walsh | Portside
“It no longer surprises me when extremist state legislators try to restrict our voting rights. I don’t like it and we fight against it, but I’m no longer surprised by it.” “What surprises and outrages me is that yesterday a Supreme Court Justice said that the protection of the right to vote is a ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement.’” Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP
Dave Levinthal, News Report: The U.S. political system is increasingly gamed against Americans of modest means—a situation exacerbated in recent years by major changes in the nation’s campaign laws. That’s the overriding takeaway from a new report slated for release today by Demos, a left-leaning nonprofit public policy group “working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.” The 39-page report, entitled “Stacked Deck,” paints a picture of corporate powerhouses and wealthy businesspeople dominating political discourse and exacting disproportionate influence over policy incomes.
Kristen Lombardi, News Report: The House of Representatives passed federal legislation aimed at combating campus sexual violence on Thursday, including it in a bipartisan renewal of the Violence Against Women Act following months of congressional gridlock. The Senate has already approved the measure, which means passage is virtually assured; President Barack Obama could sign it into law as early as next week. In a vote of 286 to 138, House members approved a reauthorization of VAWA that incorporates, as Section 304, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, known as Campus SaVE.
Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins, News Analysis: Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a seed patent infringement case that pits a small farmer from Indiana, 75-year old Vernon Hugh Bowman, against biotech goliath Monsanto. Reporters from the New York Times to the Sacramento Bee dissected the legal arguments. They speculated on the odds. They opined on the impact a Monsanto loss might have, not only on genetically modified crops, but on medical research and software.
Frits Kreiss, News Report: For many months legislators and community leaders in the State of Maine have been quietly building broad and unprecedented support for passing a historic first-in-the-nation Right-To-Know GMO Labeling law. This week the bill, LD 718, jointly sponsored by the bi-partisan team of Representative Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) and Senator Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln), was introduced to Maine citizens and legislators.
|ENVIRONMENT / CLIMATE|
Will ALEC Block EPA Coal Pollution Safeguards at Illinois’ Controversial Prairie State Energy Campus?
Connor Gibson, News Analysis: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the Illinois-based Prairie State Energy Campus, a combined coal mine and power plant spearheaded by Peabody Energy, co-owned by eight public power companies based in the Midwest. Numerous cost overruns from construction delays and equipment problems at the Campus resulted in customers in several states having to pay for power well above market price. While Peabody defends Prairie State Energy Campus (PSEC) from SEC scrutiny, a corporate front group has developed copycat legislation that could exempt dirty projects like PSEC from national clean air and water laws.
Joe Hitchon, News Report: More than three dozen national security officials, members of Congress and military leaders are warning of the threat climate change poses to U.S. national security, the latest in an indicator that U.S. intelligence and national security circles are increasingly worried about a warming planet. In a new bipartisan open letter, they stress the need for urgent action and call on both public and private support to address issues that included forced migration and the displacement of vulnerable communities, as well as the dangers related to food production during extreme weather events.
8 Ways Corporations are Poisoning Our Food, Water, the Earth
Ashley Curtin, News Report: Harnessing the power of wind off the coast of Cape Cod was the vision business owner Jim Gordon had in mind to provide renewable clean energy to the New England area. And in 2001, Gordon and his independent power company, Energy Management Inc., pursued the idea of converting solar energy into mechanical power and Cape Wind was born. The energy conservation project, which began development in 2001, will be America’s first offshore wind farm, but legal battles and potential federal budget cuts might stall the construction of the wind farm.
William Boardman, News Analysis: The same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was promising a “fair and transparent” review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, the CEO of the company building that pipeline, TransCanada’s Russ Girling, was reported as saying that his company’s “Plan A” was finishing a different pipeline that would take the same tar sands oil to Canada’s east coast. TransCanada’s plan to establish a pipeline to the Atlantic coast has received little attention since CEO Girling’s February 6 interview on Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg’s later report.
Millions of Acres of Land — Larger Than California and Florida Combined — Already Leased to Oil and Gas Industry
Amy Mall, News Report: According to a new NRDC analysis, at the end of 2011, seventy of the largest oil and gas companies operating in the U.S. held leases covering at least 141 million net acres of American land—an area greater than California and Florida combined. Given the sordid environmental history of oil and gas development that has already occurred across the U.S., NRDC is extremely concerned about the additional harmful environmental, health and safety impacts that oil and gas development of this magnitude will bring in the future.
|NATIONAL SECURITY / DOD / WAR|
Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer, Op-Ed: Imagine a labyrinthine government department so bloated that few have any clear idea of just what its countless pieces do. Imagine that tens of billions of tax dollars are disappearing into it annually, black hole-style, since it can’t pass a congressionally mandated audit. Now, imagine that there are two such departments, both gigantic and you’re beginning to grasp the new, twenty-first century American security paradigm. For decades, the Department of Defense has met this definition to a T. Since 2003, however, it hasn’t been alone.
Cora Currier and Justin Elliott, News Analysis: Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period. The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual. In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.”
Cora Currier, News Report: Earlier this week, we wrote about a significant but often overlooked aspect of the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen: so-called signature strikes, in which the U.S. kills people whose identities aren’t confirmed. While President Obama and administration officials have framed the drone program as targeting particular members of Al Qaeda, attacks against unknown militants reportedlymay account for the majority of strikes.
Pawel Wita, News Analysis: Poland was widely praised as the European state least touched by the financial crisis in 2008. Its economy grew even when all of its neighbors, including Germany, were in recession. With the wave of funds provided by the European Union in recent years, the country managed to connect its major cities by freeway and improve its infrastructure with shiny new sports fields. But these types of development are only one side of the coin. In Poland’s version of modernization, like in many other places, the biggest advantages have gone to cities while the countryside has become ever more marginalized.
(And if you look around the U.S., most of the infrastructure builds have taken place in urban instead of rural areas. Is the GOP taking us the way Poland just chose to go?)
|CONGRESSIONAL ACTIVITY (AND INACTIVITY)|
Theodoric Meyer, News Analysis: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services haven’t had a Senate-confirmed administrator since 2006. The Federal Labor Relations Authority has had only a single member since January and can’t issue decisions. And the Election Assistance Commission hasn’t had any commissioners at all since 2011. All presidential administrations have vacancies. But an analysis of appointments data by ProPublica shows that President Obama hasn’t kept up with his predecessors in filling them. A greater share of presidentially appointed positions that require Senate confirmation were sitting vacant at the end of Obama’s first term than at the end of Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s first terms.
Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Not Taking a Stand Against Cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
Norman Solomon, Op-Ed: For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing. While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”
NRA to African Americans: You’ll Need Guns to Protect Yourselves From the Government
Fracking is a dangerous method of oil and gas extraction that contaminates water and puts nearby residents at risk of serious illnesses, including cancer and asthma. And it’s coming to Nevada.
As if fracking could get any worse for arid Nevada, each fracked oil well consumes millions of gallons of water and turns it into toxic wastewater. But that isn’t stopping Noble Energy from planning a massive 350,000 acre, $130 million fracking project in Elko County.
The project requires approval from Governor Sandoval to move forward. He’ll be under tremendous pressure to green-light the disastrous project, so it’s urgent that Nevada residents speak out against the project now.
The energy industry and Big Agribusiness are distorting academic research by wielding corporate influence.
— by Wenonah Hauter
In 1862, the federal government created the land-grant university system to produce critical agricultural research. Since then, America has relied on these schools to inform and guide independent scientific advances in areas like food production and energy development.
Yet public funding for that kind of research has eroded over recent decades, and these schools have turned to corporations to augment their budgets. The consequences of increasing dependence on profit-driven research in academia are becoming troublingly clear. The recent exposure of numerous sham scientific reports generated by biased individuals at supposedly objective institutions should draw intense public scrutiny to this new era of corporate-funded science.
While drug makers and other industries have spent heavily in academia for years, a relatively new player in corporate-influenced “research” is the natural gas business. Awareness has grown recently of the serious environmental and health dangers associated with fracking — the highly controversial drilling process that has opened up millions of acres of domestic land to shale gas production by blasting water and toxic chemicals underground at great pressures. In response, the industry has become extremely aggressive in its attempts to influence academic reporting on the subject.
The Dark Side of Corporate Research, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib
Consider the State University of New York at Buffalo and its now-defunct Shale Resources and Society Institute. In May, the institute released a report claiming that improving technologies and updated regulations were making fracking safe. But to SUNY Buffalo faculty, students, and community members, something smelled fishy. The nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative, based in Buffalo, scrutinized the report and did some additional digging. What it found was alarming.
Despite the report’s conclusion stating the contrary, an analysis of its data actually showed that gas fracking is causing more environmental contamination than ever. Even more telling, researchers determined that the report’s authors had all done previous work directly funded by the oil and gas industry, and that significant portions of the report had been copied directly from a previous industry-funded paper.
Under intense pressure from the university community, including the Board of Trustees, the institute that had released the skewed report was shut down by SUNY Buffalo’s president in November.
An isolated incident? No. The University of Texas at Austin announced on December 6 that the head of its Energy Institute had resigned over allegations of conflicts of interest, ethics violations, and industry influence regarding another pro-fracking study its institute had released in February. In the fallout, the university is currently updating its conflict-of-interest policies.
As for agriculture, corporate influence now appears to be routine. Beginning in 1982 with the Bayh-Dole Act, our land-grant schools have been encouraged to partner heavily with the private sector. By 2010, almost a quarter of all the grant money for agricultural research came from industry, with companies like Walmart, Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s receiving unencumbered access to and exerting great influence on many campuses nationwide.
The integrity of the “science” produced under this funding regime is troubling, but not surprising. The nutrition school at the University of California, Davis is researching the health benefits of chocolate with funding from the Mars candy corporation. A study supported by the National Soft Drink Association found that soda consumption by school children wasn’t linked to obesity. An Egg Nutrition Center-sponsored study determined that frequent egg consumption didn’t increase cholesterol levels.
More broadly, corporate funding steers agricultural research toward the goals of industry. It discourages independent analyses that might be critical of the many hormones used in industrial meat and poultry production, and genetically engineered crops that are now widely grown.
With the health and safety of our families and our communities hanging in the balance, it’s time to demand more transparency and less corporate influence from our research universities.
Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch. www.foodandwaterwatch.org Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)
— By Cora Currier, ProPublica | News Analysis
Disclosure requirements vary considerably from state to state, as ProPublica recently charted. In many cases, the rules have been limited by a “trade secrets” provision under which companies can claim that a proprietary chemical doesn’t have to be disclosed to regulators or the public.
One apparent proponent of the trade secrets caveat? The American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, a nonprofit group that brings together politicians and corporationsto draft and promote conservative, business-friendly legislation. ALEC has been in the spotlight recently because of its support of controversial laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” provision.
This weekend, as part of a story on ALEC’s political activity, The New York Times noted that the group recently adopted “model legislation” on fracking chemical disclosure, based on a bill passed in Texas last year. According to The Times, the model bill was “sponsored within ALEC” by ExxonMobil, which runs a major oil and gas operation through its subsidiary, XTO Energy. The advocacy group Common Cause, which provided the documents on ALEC’s lobbying efforts to The Times, describes model legislation, in many cases identifying by name the company that proposed it to ALEC’s task forces.
ALEC has recently removed its list of model bills from its main website, and did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for XTO Energy confirmed that the company is a member of ALEC, but he did not provide details on the company’s involvement with the disclosure bill.
The spokesman said ExxonMobil supports “full disclosure of the ingredients and additives in hydraulic fracturing fluids,” but added that when vendors request it, ExxonMobil has “respected the trade secret status of their products.” Last year, the company began voluntarily uploading chemical disclosures to FracFocus, a clearinghouse website run by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.
In a recent blog post, ALEC claimed that legislators in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Ohio have introduced versions of its model bill, but many of those states vary in the level of disclosure required and how they handle the trade secrets provision. Laws in 11 states require at least partial disclosure, and the Bureau of Land Management recently drafted disclosure guidelines for drilling on federal land.
These laws have been relatively well-received by environmental advocates, though the trade secrets issue remains a concern for some. In Ohio, for example, proprietary chemicals don’t have to be disclosed to regulators or the public. In Pennsylvania, they are disclosed to regulators, and the public can request information on them from the state Department of Environmental Protection on a case-by-case basis.
The Texas law, which ALEC cites in the post as its template, codifies the trade secrets exemption, and who can challenge it:
Otherwise, Texas’ law requires that companies post disclosure forms for each completed well on the FracFocus site. They must disclose all chemicals but only report the concentrations of those that are hazardous. The law also requires that the companies give the total volume of water used in fracking.
The Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate fracking in order to protect groundwater, because in 2005 Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which controls how industries inject substances underground.
According to ALEC’s blog, the model disclosure legislation is designed to promote “responsible resource production” and “aims to preempt the promulgation of duplicative, burdensome federal regulations” from the EPA, in particular. ALEC has consistently opposed any federal control over fracking. In 2009, the group adopted a “Resolution to Retain State Authority Over Hydraulic Fracturing.”
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