By Nick Cunningham
The decade-long fracking boom in Appalachia has not led to significant job growth, and despite the region's extraordinary levels of natural gas production, the industry's promise of prosperity has "turned into almost nothing," according to a new report.
The fracking boom has received broad support from politicians across the aisle in Appalachia due to dreams of enormous job creation, but a report released on February 10 from Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank, the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), sheds new light on the reality of this hype.
The report looked at how 22 counties across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — accounting for 90 percent of the region's natural gas production — fared during the fracking boom. It found that counties that saw the most drilling ended up with weaker job growth and declining populations compared to other parts of Appalachia and the nation as a whole.
Shale gas production from Appalachia exploded from minimal levels a little over a decade ago, to more than 32 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, or roughly 40 percent of the nation's total output. During this time, between 2008 and 2019, GDP across these 22 counties grew three times faster than that of the nation as a whole. However, based on a variety of metrics for actual economic prosperity — such as job growth, population growth, and the region's share of national income — the region fell further behind than the rest of the country.
Between 2008 and 2019, the number of jobs across the U.S. expanded by 10 percent, according to the ORVI report, but in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, job growth only grew by 4 percent. More glaringly, the 22 gas-producing counties in those three states — ground-zero for the drilling boom — only experienced 1.7 percent job growth.
"What's really disturbing is that these disappointing results came about at a time when the region's natural gas industry was operating at full capacity. So it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the results would be better," said Sean O'Leary, the report's author.
The report cited Belmont County, Ohio, as a particularly shocking case. Belmont County has received more than a third of all natural gas investment in the state, and accounts for more than a third of the state's gas production. The industry also accounts for about 60 percent of the county's economy. Because of the boom, the county's GDP grew five times faster than the national rate. And yet, the county saw a 7 percent decline in jobs and a 2 percent decline in population over the past decade.
"This report documents that many Marcellus and Utica region fracking gas counties typically have lost both population and jobs from 2008 to 2019," said John Hanger, former Pennsylvania secretary of Environmental Protection, commenting on the report. "This report explodes in a fireball of numbers the claims that the gas industry would bring prosperity to Pennsylvania, Ohio, or West Virginia. These are stubborn facts that indicate gas drilling has done the opposite in most of the top drilling counties."
A Boom Without Job Growth
This lack of job growth was not what the industry promised. A 2010 study from the American Petroleum Institute predicted that Pennsylvania would see more than 211,000 jobs created by 2020 due to the fracking boom, while West Virginia would see an additional 43,000 jobs. Studies like these were widely cited by politicians as proof that the fracking boom was an economic imperative and must be supported.
But the Ohio River Valley Institute report reveals the disconnect between a drilling boom and rising GDP on the one hand, and worse local employment outcomes on the other. There are likely many reasons for this disconnect related to the long list of negative externalities associated with fracking: The boom-and-bust nature of extractive industries creates risks for other business sectors, such as extreme economic volatility, deterring new businesses or expansions of existing ones; meanwhile air, water, and noise pollution negatively impact the health and environment of residents living nearby.
"There can be no mistake that the closer people live to shale gas development, the higher their risk for poor health outcomes," Alison Steele, executive director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, told DeSmog. "More than two dozen peer-reviewed epidemiological studies show a correlation between living near shale gas development and a host of health issues, such as worsening asthmas, heart failure hospitalizations, premature births, and babies born with low birth weights and birth defects."
Moreover, oil and gas drilling is capital-intensive, not job-intensive. As the example of Belmont County shows, only about 12 percent of income generated by the gas industry can be attributable to wages and employment, while in other sectors, on average, more than half of income goes to workers.
In other words, it costs a lot of money to drill, but it doesn't employ a lot of people, and much of the income is siphoned off to shareholders. To top it off, equipment and people are imported from outside the region — many of the jobs created went to workers brought in from places such as Texas and Oklahoma.
Despite the huge increase in shale gas production over the past decade, the vast majority of the 22 counties experiencing the drilling boom also experienced "economic stagnation or outright decline and depopulation," the report said.
The American Petroleum Institute did not respond to a request for comment.
"[W]e could see long ago that the job numbers published and pushed out by the industry years ago were based in bluster, not our economic realities," Veronica Coptis, executive director of Coalfield Justice, a non-profit based in southwest Pennsylvania, told DeSmog, commenting on the report. "At industry's behest and encouragement, Pennsylvania promoted shale gas development aggressively in rural areas for more than a decade. And yet, the southwestern counties at the epicenter of fracking do not show any obvious improvement in well-being."
Petrochemicals Also a False Hope
After natural gas prices fell sharply amid a glut of supply beginning in 2012, the number of wells drilled began to slow. Industry proponents then pinned their hopes on a new future: plastics. Petrochemical facilities would process low-cost natural gas into the building blocks of plastic and spur a virtuous cycle of new manufacturing while prolonging the drilling boom.
A 2017 study from the American Chemistry Council said that Appalachia could support as many as nine ethane crackers, massive petrochemical facilities that use natural gas liquids to manufacture little plastic pellets. This study said that the Appalachian petrochemical "renaissance" was in its early stages, but the build-out would bring along a slew of processing facilities, and crucially, a large-scale petrochemical storage hub. Once built, the industry boasted that all of this petrochemical infrastructure would attract more than $35 billion in investment to the region, add more than 25,000 direct jobs, and another 43,000 indirect jobs.
But this petrochemical promise, too, has mostly been a mirage. Most of the proposed ethane crackers have been cancelled or delayed. Only one has moved forward: Shell's ethane cracker in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, which was lured to the state with a $1.6 billion tax credit, the largest tax break in Pennsylvania history.
Even in Beaver County, job growth has been anemic: the county saw employment actually contract by 0.5 percent between 2008 and 2019, despite breaking ground on Appalachia's flagship petrochemical facility, according to ORVI. In reality, the Shell cracker will employ several thousand people temporarily during construction, but only employ 600 people permanently when it comes online.
The market for petrochemicals has soured dramatically since Shell gave the greenlight on the project several years ago, raising doubts about future growth. And yet, in 2020, the Pennsylvania legislature passed another $667 million tax credit intended to lure in more petrochemical facilities to the state. Democratic Governor Tom Wolf supported it.
As the ORVI report concluded: "[P]olicymakers should look very critically at proposals to expand or otherwise assist the natural gas industry, which has yet to demonstrate that it is capable of contributing positively locally or on a large scale to the states and counties where it is most prevalent."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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'Disappointing' Decision From Norway's Supreme Court in Climate Lawsuit Challenging Arctic Offshore Oil Licenses
By Dana Drugmand
Norway's Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled not to overturn the Norwegian government's approval of new licenses for offshore oil drilling in the fragile Arctic region.
The ruling – a culmination of four years of high-profile litigation in a case challenging continued fossil fuel production on climate change grounds — came as a big disappointment, and even outrage, for environmental and climate activists in Norway and internationally.
"We are outraged with this judgment, which leaves youth and future generations without Constitutional protection. The Supreme Court chooses loyalty to Norwegian oil over our rights to a liveable future," Therese Hugstmyr Woie, head of a youth-led environmental organization called Young Friends of the Earth Norway, said in a press release.
"I am disappointed and outraged by the fact that the Norwegian constitution doesn't provide me and my peers with judicial protection from politicians stealing our future," Andreas Randøy, deputy head of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, told DeSmog in an emailed statement. "I wasn't old enough to vote out the politicians who opened up for new oil drilling in the arctic, further north than ever before. Yet I am a part of the generation who has to deal with its consequences. I really thought the Supreme Court would value that to a greater extent."
Today we are disappointed and worried: The Supreme Court of Norway has chosen to back oil over our rights to a live… https://t.co/ZLWPL6Lvsu— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace)1608643674.0
Young Friends of the Earth Norway and Greenpeace Norway sued the Norwegian government in 2016 over the government's granting of new offshore oil licenses in the Barents Sea. The environmental organizations argued permitting new oil drilling is incompatible with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and constitutes a violation of section 112 of Norway's constitution that outlines a right to a healthy environment.
The lawsuit sought a court order to invalidate the oil licenses based on this constitutional provision, and considering that climate science dictates that the vast majority of fossil fuels be left in the ground to avoid the most catastrophic levels of warming. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment David Boyd supported the lawsuit and warned that Norway's continued oil production during a time of climate emergency amounts to a violation of human rights
The Norwegian courts ultimately disagreed that rights had been violated. The Oslo District Court initially determined in January 2018 that there was no constitutional violation stemming from the government's grant of new oil licenses. On appeal, a Norwegian appeals court upheld this ruling in January this year, though the appeals court did decide that the Norwegian government should be responsible for the carbon emissions tied to its petroleum exports.
The Supreme Court of Norway took up the case this year on another appeal, with hearings held in November. The court issued its decision on December 22, ruling 11-4 in favor of the government and against the environmental organizations. The four dissenting judges found the government had made procedural errors in its oil licensing decision, according to Greenpeace Norway.
The leader of Greenpeace Norway, one of the organizational plaintiffs in this case, said the Supreme Court ruling is disappointing and that the plaintiffs are looking at other avenues to continue making their case.
"It is absurd that our right to a liveable environment cannot be used to stop Norway's most harmful activities for our climate and environment," said Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway. "We will now consider all possibilities to stop this harmful industry, including an application to the European Court of Human Rights."
'This Should Be a Warning to the Oil Industry'
Although the Norwegian Supreme Court declined to overturn the grant of oil licenses in this instance, the ruling did acknowledge that Norwegian authorities may have a duty to deny oil companies' permits to actually produce the oil given the constitutional right to a healthy environment.
In other words, as Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law explained to DeSmog, the court concluded there is a distinction between oil exploration and oil production.
"Here's the part that is the worst possible news for oil companies. The court actually emphasized that simply finding oil under authority of an exploration license doesn't give any company any guarantee that they'll be permitted to produce the oil," Muffett said.
"There's a real missed opportunity on the part of the court in moving the law of human rights and the rights of future generations forward in this decision," he added. "And at the same time when you look at the practical impacts of this decision, what the decision says for industry is you're welcome to go and invest massive amounts of money in exploring for new oil if you want, but the critical question government is going to have to ask is can you produce it if it is contributing to climate change?"
Norway's Sup Ct failed to invalidate licenses to explore for Arctic oil, but made clear that finding oil is no guar… https://t.co/9rtGn6SJS6— Carroll Muffett (@Carroll Muffett)1608647745.0
Muffett said the ruling will also increase pressure for Norway's political leadership to listen to their citizens and consider following Denmark's lead in halting new oil and gas exploration and production. A recent opinion poll in Norway found that a majority of Norwegian citizens agree that oil exploration in the Arctic should be stopped for climate and environmental reasons.
"The Court has let the government off the hook at this time, but leaves the door open for an assessment on climate impacts, including emissions after export, at the later production stage," said Greenpeace Norway's Frode Pleym. "This should be a warning to the oil industry. At this moment in history, no oil producing country holds a credible position on climate without ending exploration for new oil and setting a plan for retiring the industry."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Dana Drugmand
An unprecedented climate lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youths is to be fast-tracked at Europe's highest court, it was announced today.
The European Court of Human Rights said the case, which accuses 33 European nations of violating the applicants' right to life by disregarding the climate emergency, would be granted priority status due to the "importance and urgency of the issues raised."
This is the first climate lawsuit to be filed with the international court in Strasbourg, France, and campaigners say the decision represents a major step towards a potential landmark judgment.
‘Protect Our Future’
Cláudia Agostinho (21), Catarina Mota (20), Martim Agostinho (17), Sofia Oliveira (15), André Oliveira (12) and Mariana Agostinho (8) are bringing the case with nonprofit law firm Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), arguing that none of the countries have sufficiently ambitious targets to cut their emissions.
Portugal recently sweltered through its hottest July in 90 years and has seen a rise in devastating heatwaves and wildfires over recent years due to rising temperatures. Four of the applicants live in Leiria, one of the regions worst-hit by the forest fires that killed more than 120 people in 2017.
Responding to the development, André Oliveira, 12, said: "It gives me lots of hope to know that the judges in the European Court of Human Rights recognise the urgency of our case."
"But what I'd like the most would be for European governments to immediately do what the scientists say is necessary to protect our future. Until they do this, we will keep on fighting with more determination than ever."
"This is an appropriate response from the Court given the scale and imminence of the threat these young people face from the climate emergency," he added.
By suing the 33 countries all together, the youths aim to compel these national governments to act more aggressively on climate through a single court order, which would potentially be more effective than pursuing separate lawsuits or lobbying policymakers in each country.
If successful, the defendant countries would be legally bound not only to ramp up emissions cuts, but also to tackle overseas contributions to climate change including those of their multinational enterprises.
The countries targeted include all of the European Union member states as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, none of which are currently aligned with Paris agreement target to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).
Climate Action Tracker rates most of Europe as "insufficient" in terms of its emissions reduction policies based on the Paris target, while Ukraine, Turkey and Russia are assessed as "critically insufficient" – meaning they are on track for a warming of 4 degrees C or higher.
The European Union has pledged to slash its emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. But the Portuguese youth plaintiffs are calling for cuts of at least 65 percent by 2030, a level that European climate campaigners say is necessary to meet the 1.5 degrees warming limit.
The 33 countries must each respond to the youths' complaint by the end of February, before lawyers representing the plaintiffs will respond to the points of defense.
"Nothing less than a 65 percent reduction by 2030 will be enough for the EU member states to comply with their obligations to the youth-applicants and indeed countless others," Gerry Liston, legal officer with GLAN, said in a press release.
"These brave young people have cleared a major hurdle in their pursuit of a judgment which compels European governments to accelerate their climate mitigation efforts."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
By Nick Cunningham
A growing number of refineries around the world are either curtailing operations or shutting down entirely as the oil market collapses.
Oil prices have fallen precipitously to their lowest levels in nearly two decades. Typically, falling oil prices are a good thing for refiners because they buy crude oil on the cheap and process it into gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel, selling those products at higher prices. The end consumer also tends to consume more when fuel is less expensive. As a result, the profit margin for refiners tends to widen when crude oil becomes oversupplied.
But the world is in the midst of dual supply and demand shock — too much drilling has produced a substantial surplus, and the global coronavirus pandemic has led to a historic drop in consumption. Oil demand could fall by as much as 20 percent, according to the International Energy Agency, by far the largest decline in consumption ever recorded.
Consumption of jet fuel around the world has plunged by 75 percent. Average retail gasoline prices in the U.S. are dropping below $2 per gallon nationwide and have already fallen below $1 per gallon in some places. They will fall further still.
"If oil continues to sell at such a low price, some of those companies are going to have severe financial issues tr… https://t.co/hHNTRFJ7uc— KENS 5 (@KENS 5)1585594804.0
In fact, margins even fell into negative territory, meaning that the average refiner was losing money on every gallon of gasoline produced. Refiners now find themselves facing a painful financial squeeze.
"We're seeing gasoline cracks at negative margins. We're seeing jet cracks even worse," Brian Mandell, an executive with Phillips 66, said on a March 24 phone call with investors. "Cracks" refer to the difference between the cost of buying crude oil and selling the refined product, and it stands in as a reference point for a refiner's profit margin.
One of the main strategies that refiners use when a particular product is oversupplied is to alter their processing mix. Facing a glut of gasoline, refiners could switch their operations away from gasoline to a focus on diesel, where margins have not declined by nearly as much. "With strong price signals pushing refiners towards diesel production, they would have made immediate adjustments to tweak their refined product yields," RBN Energy, a consultancy, wrote in a report.
However, some refiners already switched over to diesel following tighter international sulfur regulations on maritime fuels that took effect at the start of this year, which placed a premium on low-sulfur diesel. Having already tapped that strategy, the ability to adjust away from gasoline production is "likely limited," RBN concluded.
Collapsing Demand Leads to Refinery Closures
There are around 3 billion people on some form of a lockdown around the world. In those circumstances, refiners have seen buyers vanish overnight.
"We're seeing even our Latin American customers asking us if they can back out of cargoes now, so we see that the demand destruction is starting to move toward Latin America," Brian Mandell, the Phillips 66 executive, told investors.
With no buyers, gasoline is set to pile up in storage. Refiners are looking at no other choice but to curtail or shut down operations.
Valero Energy, for instance, recently announced that it would limit output at six of its 12 U.S. refineries. ExxonMobil announced significant cuts to its refineries in Texas and Louisiana, citing the lack of sufficient storage capacity. Notably, Exxon said it would shut down its gasoline unit at its Baytown, Texas, complex, the company's largest such unit in the United States.
"The refiners are struggling mightily, due to the steep drop in demand," John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, told Bloomberg. "The poor refining margins will push companies to reduce operating rates further."
The danger for some refineries is that they cannot simply throttle back and operate at really low levels. "In our experience, crude throughput in the 60 percent to 70 percent range is approaching the minimum rates that a refinery can operate without completely shutting down units," RBN said.
According to Phillips 66, even that threshold might be optimistic. "I don't think a good rule of thumb would be down in the 60 percent range for refiners. Most refineries can't turn down that far," Robert Herman, an executive with Phillips 66, said on an investor call. With refiners already lowering processing, "we're nearing kind of minimum crude rates in many of our refineries today," he added.
In other words, facing a mounting glut and no ability to lower output further, some refineries may simply need to shut down entirely.
We are now witnessing oil refiners not just cutting runs, but in some markets they are completely shutting down.… https://t.co/0ndZjNMUHE— Javier Blas (@Javier Blas)1585569542.0
In one particularly unusual move, India's Reliance Industries said it would simply sell the crude oil that it had in transit at sea, rather than allowing the cargo to arrive at its refineries. Reliance, which operates the world's largest refining complex, said it would instead cut processing rates. "As of now, the plan is to cut refining throughput in April because demand is not there," a source told Reuters.
In the U.S., refineries unable to switch away from gasoline are most at risk, as are those in the Midwest and the Rockies, where access to pipelines and storage capacity is a fraction of that on the Gulf Coast, according to RBN.
"It is not difficult to see run cuts of 10 mmb/d (million barrels per day) soon, perhaps peaking at 15-20 mmb/d at the height of the pandemic. This is likely to force some refineries to close down, while others will reduce rates severely," research firm FGE said in a report on March 30.
Running out of Storage, Oil Prices to Crash Further
The situation could unravel rather quickly. Consumers aren't consuming and refiners are lowering their operations. Ultimately, that means that oil drillers will have no place to sell their oil.
A number of pipeline companies have already asked oil drillers to cut back on their production because the pipeline system was becoming overwhelmed.
The estimated 20-million-barrel-per-day surplus will lead to storage filling up in the next two to three months. To avoid such an outcome, analysts widely see crude prices crashing even further.
"Demand for gasoline (no driving) and jet fuel (no flying) has now crashed and inventories for these products are already brimming. Refineries in many places are now losing money for every barrel they process, or they have no place to store their output of oil products," Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB, a Swedish corporate bank, said in a statement. "For land-based or land-locked oil producers, this means only one thing: the local oil price or well-head price they receive very quickly goes to zero or even negative."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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Two years after internal documents surfaced showing that Royal Dutch Shell, like ExxonMobil, knew about climate dangers decades ago, the oil giant released its latest annual report outlining its business strategy and approach to addressing climate change. Despite clear warnings from scientists, global health experts and even central banks of impending climate-driven crises, Shell's report largely sends a message that everything is fine and the company's "business strategy is sound."
That is not to say that Shell is ignoring the challenges facing it and other oil majors. But overall Shell appears to be toeing the line between saying it is responding to the climate challenge and inevitable energy transition on the one hand, and maintaining its core oil and gas business model on the other.
Shell's 2019 Annual Report is filled with statements that reveal the company's perspective on the Paris agreement, the energy transition, and climate litigation and regulatory risk to its business. A few of these statements seem contradictory, and it is important to keep in mind the context of #ShellKnew when the company says now, in 2020, that it is committed to being part of the solution.
According to the report, there are three parts to Shell's overall strategy going forward: to thrive in the energy transition, to provide a world-class investment case, and to sustain a strong societal license to operate. That may sound good on paper, but in reality significant challenges are mounting for each of these pillars.
In terms of the energy transition, Shell appears to be paying lip service to it more than actually revamping its portfolio or overhauling its business model. Its core business remains oil and gas. Period.
The company may be ahead of some other oil giants like Exxon and Chevron in terms of adding alternative energies to its energy mix, but overall its commitment to clean energy is minimal.
Shell notes in its report that it spends "$1-2 billion a year until 2020 in different services and products from a range of cleaner sources," and "investments in power could grow to $2-3 billion a year on average" from 2021 to 2025. The vast majority of the company's capital expenditure ($24bn to $29bn in 2020) goes into oil and gas, and failure to replace proved reserves could have a "material adverse effect." Instead of aligning with the energy transition, Shell's business model is based on continual hydrocarbon exploitation.
In terms of a "world-class investment," the oil and gas sector is particularly vulnerable at the moment to financial pressure and investors are increasingly turning away from fossil fuels. Jim Cramer infamously dubbed fossil fuels "in the death knell phase." Shell acknowledges this risk. It notes in its report that fossil fuel divestment "could have a material adverse effect on the price of our securities and our ability to access capital markets."
Shell also recognizes its vulnerability to an eroding social license as the public and particularly younger generations start to scorn Big Oil.
"In 2019, many protested about climate change, sometimes directly targeting Shell," Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden wrote in the report. The company includes challenges to its reputation as a risk factor, noting, "There is increasing focus on the role of oil and gas in the context of climate change and energy transition. This could negatively affect our brand, reputation and licence to operate."
Shell did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the risk to its social license.
Shell Claims to Support Paris Agreement, Plans for Gradual Energy Transition
In its report, Shell says it fully supports the Paris agreement goal to limit warming well below 2 degrees C, and supports "the vision of a transition towards a net-zero emissions energy system." But, in contrast to fellow European oil major BP, Shell is not committing its own business to net zero emissions.
Shell says it has "no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years." Instead, Shell's Net Carbon Footprint "ambition" is to reduce emissions (including its customers' and suppliers' emissions) of its energy production and products by 20 percent by 2035 and by 50 percent by 2050. This is not aligned with climate science guidelines that say complete decarbonization or "net zero" is necessary by 2050 at the latest.
Shell's own business is therefore not aligned with the goal of the Paris agreement, and the company is facing a lawsuit over this in its home country of the Netherlands. Current emissions reduction plans or "Nationally Determined Contributions" (NDCs) submitted by countries under the Paris agreement are also inadequate. As Shell notes in its report, current NDCs amount to about 3 degrees C of warming. "In coming decades, we expect countries to tighten these NDCs to meet the goals of the Paris agreement," the report states. Shell's view appears to be that the world has decades to get its act together.
In that view, Shell says it is fully on board with the energy transition and plans to transform its own business "over time." The report includes statements like "Shell aims to become an integrated power player and grow, over time, a material new business", and, "for us, protecting the environment also means working to transform our product mix over time, for example, by expanding the choice of lower-carbon products we offer customers."
Yet, in a seeming contradiction to these statements, Shell says it "agrees with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C special report," which clearly warned that limiting warming to 1.5°C would require, as Shell notes, "an even more rapid escalation in the scale and pace of change."
While Shell claims to fully support the Paris agreement, in another seeming contradiction, the company states in its report that the government action necessary to meet Paris targets could harm its business: "Policies and regulations designed to limit the increase in global temperatures to well below 2°C could have a material adverse effect on Shell – through higher operating costs and reduced demand for some of our products."
Shell also says it is wary of governments actually taking climate action: "we believe measures taken by governments to control national energy transitions may also have unintended consequences."
Yet, at the same time, Shell says it expects to be subject to increasing regulation. "We also expect that GHG regulation, as well as emission reduction actions by customers, will continue to result in suppression of demand for fossil fuels, either through taxes, fees and/or incentives to promote the sale of lower-carbon electric vehicles or even through the future prohibition of sales of new diesel or gasoline vehicles, such as the prohibition in the United Kingdom (UK) beginning in 2035. This could result in lower revenue and, in the long term, potential impairment of certain assets," the report states.
Climate Litigation Risk
Shell, like other fossil fuel companies, has long been concerned about governments imposing climate policies or regulations that would affect its business. Shell and its industry peers are already facing climate lawsuits, and Shell is explicitly identifying climate litigation as part of a broader risk factor associated with "rising climate change concern."
In its report, Shell acknowledged the lawsuits could negatively impact its financial condition: "In some countries, governments, regulators, organisations and individuals have filed lawsuits seeking to hold fossil fuel companies liable for costs associated with climate change. While we believe these lawsuits to be without merit, losing any of these lawsuits could have a material adverse effect on our earnings, cash flows and financial condition."
Shell actually foresaw climate-related lawsuits as a possibility more than 20 years ago. One of the internal documents that a Dutch news organization first uncovered (and published on the site Climate Files) is a 1998 document of Shell planning scenarios where the company hypothetically envisions a series of violent storms battering the eastern U.S., which then spur environmental NGOs to bring "a class-action suit against the US government and fossil-fuel companies on the grounds of neglecting what scientists (including their own) have been saying for years: that something must be done."
One statement from Shell's annual report rings particularly true: "Shell has long recognised that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the use of fossil fuels are contributing to the warming of the climate system."
Indeed, Shell has long known that fossil fuels are warming the planet and that the consequences would be of a huge magnitude.
One internal Shell document from 1988 called "The Greenhouse Effect" warned that GHG emissions would lead to warming over the next century, likely ranging from 1.5 C to 3.5 C. According to that document, "The changes may be the greatest in recorded history." Some parts of the planet may become uninhabitable, and there may be "significant changes in sea level, ocean currents, precipitation patterns, regional temperature and weather," it says. Impacts could be severe and "could have major social, economic, and political consequences."
What did Shell do with that knowledge? It started introducing doubt and giving weight to a 'significant minority' of 'alternative viewpoints' as the full implications for the company's business model became clear.
Shell was a member of the Global Climate Coalition, a fossil fuel industry-funded group that worked to undermine climate science and block climate policy internationally. The group formed in 1988 and Shell was a member throughout much of the 1990s.
During that time Shell was not exactly upfront with its own shareholders about potential risks climate change posed to its business. The first time Shell even mentioned climate change was in a 1991 annual report. But it wasn't until 2004 that Shell made a clear warning in its annual report about financial risk associated with fossil fuel investment.
Critics have for many years accused Shell's of greenwashing — acknowledging the climate threat and touting its "commitment" to being part of the solution, despite continuing to spend heavily on oil and gas with only minimal investment in alternative energy. Shell's latest annual report suggests the company isn't deviating far from that strategy.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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And while the oil giant has been responsible for massive methane releases, Exxon has now proposed a new regulatory framework for cutting emissions of this powerful greenhouse gas that it hopes regulators and industry will adopt. As Exxon put it, the goal is to achieve "cost-effective and reasonable methane-emission regulations."
So, why is Exxon asking to be regulated?
The answer may be simply that Exxon is very good at public relations. As industry publication Natural Gas Intelligence reported, this announcement "comes as energy operators face increasing pressure from lenders and shareholders to engage in decarbonization by following environmental, social, and governance standards."
ExxonMobil is proposing new rules to cut methane emissions. We think it makes sense for industries to work together… https://t.co/NnLNZ2yO5O— ExxonMobil (@ExxonMobil)1583281279.0
Exxon's proposed regulations have three main objectives: finding and detecting leaks, minimizing the direct venting of methane as part of oil and gas operations, and record keeping and reporting.
Casey Norton, Exxon's Corporate Media Relations Manager, explained to DeSmog that Exxon's proposal was not expected to be adopted as-is by regulatory agencies. "This is a starting point for conversations with policy makers and other regulators," he said. "For example, New Mexico, Argentina, the EU, who are all considering new regulations for methane emissions."
Under President Trump, the federal government last year rolled back Obama-era rules for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions and for restricting these emissions during drilling on public lands.
This isn't Exxon's first foray into voluntary regulations of methane. The corporation's natural gas subsidiary XTO started a voluntary methane emissions program in 2017. In June 2018, XTO noted that the voluntary program, which was mostly about replacing leaking valves, had reduced methane emissions by 7,200 metric tons since 2016.
However, leaking valves are not the biggest source of methane emissions. In February 2018, four months before XTO was touting the success of its methane reduction program, the company experienced the second largest methane leak in U.S. history. A gas well it operated in Ohio suffered a blowout, releasing huge amounts of the heat-trapping gas.
Did XTO's voluntary program accurately report this? As The New York Times reported, "XTO Energy said it could not immediately determine how much gas had leaked."
But a group of scientists using satellite data eventually did pin down the amount released — 120 metric tons an hour for 20 days. That adds up to roughly 50,000 metric tons more released than the 7,200 metric tons in reductions XTO was claiming months later. That one leak was estimated to be more than the methane emissions of the total oil and gas industry of countries like Norway.
As DeSmog reported, XTO is also flaring the most natural gas of any company in the Permian oil field (natural gas is almost 90 percent methane). While flaring isn't as bad for the climate as directly venting the methane into the atmosphere, it is increasing the levels of carbon dioxide and toxic air pollutants and is another problem the industry is saying it will address even as the practice continues on a large scale.
And now the same company is recommending that the rest of the industry and regulators adopt their approach to regulating methane emissions.
"It is not target-based, it is not volume-based," Exxon's Norton said. "Again, it's starting a conversation, saying these are things that you can look at."
Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at Cornell University whose work focuses on methane emmissions in the oil and gas industry, drew attention to areas of Exxon's framework he thought were lacking. For starters, he pointed out that the proposed framework does not mention emissions from "imperfect well casings and from abandoned wells," which Howarth says "can be significant." He also noted that the proposal does not describe "a methodology for characterizing any of these emissions; there are techniques for doing so, but there is not much demonstrated use of these techniques by industry."
Finally — and this is the real danger with any sort of industry self-regulation — Howarth said there must be some type of independent oversight to assess actual emissions instead of relying on the industry to self-report. XTO's well blowout in Ohio is an excellent example of why this third-party verification is critical. Without oversight, the "system is ripe for abuse," according to Howarth.
Sharon Wilson of environmental advocacy group Earthworks documents the oil and gas industry's current widespread practices of flaring and venting methane. Sharing her concerns about Exxon's methane emissions proposal, she told DeSmog,"Exxon's recent announcement is too little too late when it comes to the climate crisis they've help cause and are still making worse. Reducing methane emissions by any percentage is not enough when Exxon continues to expand sources of the same climate pollution."
Wilson called for the company to support federal and state rules to cut methane.
Trump Administration Reversed Existing Methane Regulations
Methane emissions have become a much bigger issue in the last decade since the U.S. boom in shale oil and gas produced by fracking. Despite overseeing a huge rise in oil and gas production, the Obama administration acknowledged the methane problem and proposed and adopted new methane emissions regulations, which the Trump administration has since repealed.
The Trump administration has staffed regulatory agencies with former industry executives and lobbyists who have been quite successful at rolling back environmental, health, and safety rules.
"EPA's proposal delivers on President Trump's executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry," Wheeler said. "The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use."
The problem with this free-market assumption is that Wheeler is wrong about the industry's financial incentive to limit methane emissions.
The unreal natural gas prices in the #Permian get even more unreal: Nat gas at the Waha hub (near El Paso) have ho… https://t.co/Zfj0XfXIJh— Javier Blas (@Javier Blas)1554326358.0
There is too much natural gas, aka methane, flooding world energy markets right now. Current prices to buy it are lower than the costs to produce it. The methane currently produced in Texas' Permian Basin spent a good portion of last year at negative prices. There is no financial incentive for producers in the Permian to voluntarily cut methane emissions in the current market environment.
That is why Permian producers are flaring (openly burning) it at record levels as well as directly releasing (venting) methane into the rapidly warming atmosphere. So much for letting the free market address the issue.
Even the Remaining Regulations Are Controlled by Industry
While the Trump administration has rolled back many regulations for the oil and gas industry, the regulatory system in the U.S. was already designed to protect industry profits — not the public or environment. When the federal government creates regulations, the process can be heavily influenced by industry lobbyists, and if they don't agree with the regulations, there are many ways they can get them revised to favor their companies.
While Exxon did publicly say in 2018 that it didn't support repealing the existing methane regulations, the company also wrote to the EPA voicing support for certain aspects of the American Petroleum Institute's (API) comments on the issue, and the API approved removing the regulations. In that letter Exxon used the same language it is now using with its propsed regulations, saying any rules need to be "cost-effective" and "reasonable." But if the regulations are cost-effective, will they actually be effective in reducing methane emissions in a meaningful way?
Excerpt from Exxon letter to EPA about methane regulations. ExxonMobil
The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted the influence that the oil and gas industry and its major U.S. trade group the American Petroleum Institute can have over regulations. After the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government put into place new safeguards known as the "well control rule" in order to prevent another disaster during deepwater offshore drilling.
In 2019, the Trump administration revised the rule, weakening it, even though, as the Journal reported, federal regulatory staff did not agree "that an industry-crafted protocol for managing well pressure was sufficient in all situations, the records show." The staff was ignored. (And the move is undergoing a legal challenge.)
Industry crafted protocol. Just the thing Exxon is now proposing.
This type of industry control over the regulatory process was also brought to light after two Boeing 737 MAX planes crashed and killed 346 people. Boeing had fought to make sure that pilots weren't required to undergo expensive and lengthy training to navigate the new plane.
Reuters reported on internal communications at Boeing which revealed the airplane maker simply would not let simulator training be required by regulators:
"I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition from NG to MAX," Boeing's 737 chief technical pilot said in a March 2017 email.
"Boeing will not allow that to happen. We'll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement."
Boeing got its way. And 346 people died.
Nearly a year after a second crash of a Boeing 737 MAX that led to its grounding, the full extent of the company’s… https://t.co/uUHyItbBrD— The Daily Beast (@The Daily Beast)1583592004.0
For the past six years, I have reported on the failed regulatory process governing the moving of dangerous crude oil by rail (and even wrote a book about it). The only meaningful safety regulation that resulted from a multi-year process was requiring oil trains to have modern electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.
As I reported, shortly after this regulation was enacted, Matthew Rose, CEO of the largest oil-by-rail company BNSF, told an industry conference that "the only thing we don't like about [the new regulation] is the electronic braking" and "this rule will have to be changed in the future." As per the wishes of Matthew Rose, that rule was repealed despite the substantial evidence clearly showing this modern braking system greatly increases train safety.
A recent op-ed from an editor at the trade publication Railway Age referred to these oil trains as a "clear and present danger." Nevertheless, these trains hauling volatile oil through North American communities are still operating with braking systems engineered in the late 1800s.
Exxon Touts 'Sound Science' Despite Its History
Exxon's methane proposal states that any regulations should be based on "sound science." This statement is coming from a company whose scientists accurately predicted the impacts of burning fossil fuels on the climate decades ago and yet has spent the time since then misleading the public about that science.
The current regulatory system in America does not protect the public interest. Letting Exxon take the lead in the place of regulators doesn't seem like it's going to help.
Megan Milliken Biven is a former federal analyst for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency that regulates the oil industry's offshore activity. Milliken Biven explained to DeSmog what she saw as the root cause of the regulatory process's failure.
"Regulatory capture isn't really the problem," Milliken Biven said. "The system was designed to work for industry so regulatory capture isn't even required."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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By Steve Horn
The huge bipartisan energy bill currently stalled in the Senate would fast-track exports of fracked gas, offer over a billion dollars in subsidies to "clean coal" efforts and make available hundreds of millions in tax dollars for a geoengineering pilot project.
Called the the American Energy Innovation Act, the 600-page bill is a compilation of 50 bills previously introduced by members of Congress. It appeared destined for quick passage until hitting a roadblock on amendment language calling for regulations on the globe-warming hydrofluorocarbons used in refrigerators and air conditioners. The legislation failed to gather the majority support needed to close debate on the bill in a March 9 vote.
The debate continues, then, on the legislation. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill's co-sponsor, expressed irritation over the bill's status.
"It is beyond frustrating to have our bill, which contains priorities from more than 70 Senators, held up by an unrelated dispute that was never part of our discussions in the lead-up to this floor process," she said in a press release. "We will regroup and look for a path forward, but finding one will require members to be more reasonable and accommodating than they have been in the last week, and certainly more so than they were today."
Bipartisan Uptake, Industry Praise
The legislation has thus far received bipartisan support because it contains subsidies for renewable energy sources including wind, solar, and geothermal. It also creates federal financial incentives for creating energy-efficient buildings and boosts funding for energy storage. For that, it has garnered lobbying support from the likes of the American Council on Renewable Energy, the Nature Conservancy, and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for support of the bill during March 2 remarks on the Senate floor.
"This bill provides a real test for Senate Republicans," said Schumer. "Will they join Senate Democrats in fighting for and passing bipartisan legislation that will address climate change in a significant way, or will our Republican friends continue to do what they have done for the last several years — do the bidding of corporate polluters and Big Oil?"
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) praised the legislation, too, while deriding the Green New Deal.
"The Green New Deal sought to have Washington, D.C. micromanage everyday life in this country to a degree that the 20th-century socialists would have drooled over," he said in a March 3 speech made on the Senate floor. "Instead, this bipartisan legislation will create better policy and regulatory conditions for American workers, American innovators, and American job creators to thrive."
The act has garnered widespread fossil fuel industry approval from organizations such as the American Gas Association, American Petroleum Institute, industry front group the Consumer Energy Alliance, the petrochemical trade association the American Chemistry Council, the National Mining Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a slew of others.
Outside of the renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage clauses, the energy bill contains provisions aiming to ease the way for exports of so-called "small scale" LNG export terminals, which rely on slightly smaller tankers and keep the LNG in liquid form instead of re-gasifying it.
The Senate bill also offers over $367.8 million in federal funding through 2024 to test out a geoengineering pilot project for a technique called direct air capture, which involves vacuuming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Geoengineering is a proposal to use various technologies with goals of either removing greenhouse gases already emitted or reversing global warming.
The LNG exports provision in the bill, originally introduced as the Small Scale LNG Access Act in March 2019, has received lobbying support from the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Siemens, and the gas production company EOG Resources, according to disclosure forms. Siemens is a producer of small-scale LNG equipment through its subsidiary, Dresser Rand, with much of the small scale LNG exports currently destined for Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico contracted out its post-Hurricane Maria electricity sector assessment completed in early 2019 to none other than Siemens.
The legislation contains another provision calling for $1.472 billion in subsidies for a "large scale" carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project for a coal-fired power plant. Originally dubbed the Fossil Energy Utilization, Enhancement, and Leadership Act, the bill received lobbying support from the Coal Utilization Research Council. The group's members include coal giant Peabody Energy; utility giants Edison Electric Institute, Southern Company, and Duke Energy; the American Coal Council, and others.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is an expensive endeavor linking power plants to the capture and burial of carbon emissions underground, known in industry lingo as sequestration. Despite numerous attempts at development and billions of dollars poured into research, most CCS projects have failed. One of them, owned by Coal Utilization Research Council member Southern Company, went out of business in 2017 after receiving more than $700 million in federal subsidies. Existing CCS projects, which are energy-intensive, primarily use captured carbon dioxide to pump more oil out of old wells. A 2018 Reuters poll of the top 10 U.S. utilities found little interest in investing in CCS projects, even with federal incentives.
Beyond CCS, the bill also has a provision calling for the U.S. Department of Energy to study the potential creation of a petrochemical storage hub near the Marcellus Shale basin in Appalachia. The Appalachian Energy for National Security Act provision calls on the "Secretary of Energy to conduct a study on the national security implications of building ethane and other natural-gas-liquids-related petrochemical infrastructure" in the Appalachian region. The bill, which received lobbying support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was first introduced by West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a long-time promoter of such a project and co-sponsor of the larger Senate energy bill.
Bakken Petrochemical Hub
Senators have also introduced 220 different amendments to the bill, which include the one calling for a phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons from cooling and refrigeration devices. Three of the amendments, if passed, would greatly expand drilling in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin.
Two of them received an introduction by U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who served as an energy policy aide for President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. One of these amendments, successfully inserted into the bill, calls for the U.S. Department of Energy to do a "Bakken and Three Forks Natural Gas Liquids Report" to study the potential for a petrochemical storage hub in the Bakken. The other, titled "Bakken Energy for National Security," calls for the Energy Department to do a similar study with the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Treasury Department to "assess … the potential national and economic security impacts of building ethane and other natural-gas-liquids-related petrochemical infrastructure in the geographical vicinity of the Bakken."
The third amendment, introduced by U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), calls for expedited permitting for drilling on U.S. public lands located within the Bakken. The provision is known as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Spacing Act.
The North Dakota Pipeline Authority is currently teaming up with the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center to study the potential for a petrochemical hub in the region, as well. That study is set for release on May 1, the publication Prairie Public Broadcasting reported.
"The petrochemical industry is the number one consumer of those natural gas liquids," Justin Kringstad, Executive Director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, told Prairie Public Broadcasting in October. "As investors and companies look at North Dakota for opportunities, we need to have good, solid scientific data we can point to, and have a good understanding of this resource potential."
The oil and gas industry sees the growth of plastics manufacturing, as well as exporting LNG and building gas power plants in the U.S., as a profitable lifeline to continue fracking in places like the Bakken Shale and the Marcellus. For climate advocates, pointing to the threat of potent methane emissions from the supply chain, this presents a major problem.
"From petrochemical facilities to gas-fired power plants and liquefied natural gas export terminals, these new projects would commit America to another generation of dependence on fossil fuels," the advocacy group Food and Water Watch wrote in a March 2019 report. "These projects aren't just associated with health and safety risks: if even a fraction of them come to fruition, they will condemn the planet to a future of climate chaos."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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By Dana Drugmand
Hawaii has officially joined the fight to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the climate crisis. On Monday the City of Honolulu filed a lawsuit against 10 oil and gas companies, seeking monetary damages to help pay for costs associated with climate impacts like sea level rise and flooding.
The lawsuit, filed in Hawaii state court, is based on claims of nuisance, failure to warn, and trespass and alleges that the climate impacts facing the city stem from the oil companies' decades-long campaign to mislead policymakers and the public on the dangers of fossil fuels.
"For decades and decades the fossil fuel companies knew that the products they were selling would have tremendous damaging economic impacts for local governments, cities, and counties that our taxpayers are going to be forced to bear," Honolulu's chief resilience officer Josh Stanbro said at a press briefing outside the courthouse on Monday. "Instead of disclosing that information, they covered up the information, they promoted science that wasn't sound, and in the process have sowed confusion with the public, with regulators, and with local governments."
"This case is very similar to Big Tobacco lying about their products, as well as the pharmaceutical companies pushing an opioid epidemic," added Council Budget Chair Joey Manahan.
Over a dozen cities, counties, and states across the country have filed climate liability lawsuits against fossil fuel producers. Two federal judges have dismissed cases brought by Oakland/San Francisco and by New York City; the cities are appealing those decisions. Four other federal judges have sent climate cases brought by Rhode Island, Baltimore, and communities in Colorado and California back to state court where they were originally filed. The fossil fuel companies want the cases in federal court where they believe they have an easier path to dismissal.
Honolulu now joins these communities that are turning to the courts to hold Big Oil accountable.
"This case that was filed this morning is really about accountability," said Stanbro. "Someone has to hold accountable corporations that color outside the lines and don't play by the rules. The place to hold them accountable is in court."
Honolulu is already experiencing climate impacts including extreme heat and precipitation, severe storms and flooding, and coastal erosion. Last year was the hottest year on record for the city, and the warming trend is expected to continue. As cited in the complaint, Honolulu has already lost 25 percent of its beaches due to erosion and rising sea levels. And, as Department of Facility Maintenance Director Ross Sasamura mentioned during the press briefing, the city experiences nuisance flooding caused by rising seas' extreme tidal influence.
"It's going to cost us billions to make our island more resilient," Manahan said during the briefing. "Sea level rise and climate change pose a great threat to our way of life, and our longstanding relationship with our island and our oceans."
The state has estimated that elevating roads alone could cost $15 billion. The island of Oahu has $12.9 billion in private property that is vulnerable to sea level rise.
"The costs are in the billions, and those billions should come from the profits, the billions and billions of dollars in profits that have been gained from the oil corporations," Stanbro said.
Calling climate liability lawsuits a "fringe litigation movement," Phil Goldberg, counsel for the Manufacturers' Accountability Project, a project of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), had critical words for Honolulu in a statement: "Honolulu's decision to move forward with litigation ignores the reality that these lawsuits have nothing to do with fighting climate change and will lead only to increased costs for local residents." NAM has received more than a million dollars from the oil industry trade group the American Petroleum Institute.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell initially announced the city's intent to sue oil companies in November 2019, on the heels of an announcement by Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino to do the same. The Maui County Council recently voted to approve Victorino's resolution to file a lawsuit, and Maui is expected to file its lawsuit soon.
The companies named as defendants in Honolulu's lawsuit include BP, BHP Group, Aloha Petroleum, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, and Sunoco.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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Longtime Climate Science Foe David Schnare Uses 'Scare Tactics' to Bash Transportation Climate Initiative for Koch-Tied Think Tank
Opponents of a regional proposal to curb transportation sector emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are using a number of deceptive tactics to attack and criticize the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Groups tied to the oil industry have pointed to misleading studies, deployed questionable public opinion polling and circulated an open letter in opposition.
In Virginia, a conservative think tank is now touting a biased analysis, dismissed by critics as misleading "scare tactics," authored by anti-environmental attorney David Schnare, that questions Virginia's legal authority to participate in the regional program.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative aims to reduce carbon emissions from on-road vehicles by up to 25 percent over 10 years through a cap-and-invest model, whereby fuel suppliers and distributors would purchase allowances allocated under the cap, and proceeds would be invested into clean transportation initiatives. The program is modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for the power sector, which is expected to result in CO2 emission reductions of 45 percent below 2005 levels by this year. But critics of the TCI proposal, many of whom also opposed RGGI, claim that it will do little to cut emissions and is just a scheme to raise gas prices, equivalent to a gas tax.
According to a legal analysis on Virginia's participation in the program, published by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, "TCI proposes rationing gasoline and diesel fuel sales and initiating a per gallon gas tax hike." David Schnare, who wrote the analysis, claims that the program would impose not a fee but a tax and therefore requires authorization by the state legislature. Virginia's governor, Schnare says, does not have unilateral authority to join TCI. Schnare also threatens to sue should Virginia attempt to join TCI without authorization by the legislature.
"We hope the Governor simply chooses to withdraw," Schnare said. "But any effort to impose TCI unilaterally without the General Assembly will certainly be met with appropriate legal action."
"Nothing in the TCI program would ration gasoline and motor fuels. TCI would simply put a limit on climate pollution," said Mark Kresowik, eastern region deputy director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, emphasizing that TCI is not a tax by any legal standard.
David Schnare's Long History Attacking Climate Science and Defending Fossil Fuel Interests
Schnare is currently the Director of the Center for Environmental Stewardship at the Thomas Jefferson Institute, and both he and TJI are part of a larger network linked with fossil fuel interests that work against climate and environmental protection policies.
The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy is a member of the State Policy Network, a Koch-backed web of right-wing think tanks promoting climate science denial and other policy positions that benefit corporate donors. The Jefferson Institute has received funding from Donors Capital Fund ($214,450) and Donors Trust ($5,000), anonymous funding vehicles supporting a number of organizations that promote conservative and free enterprise interests. As DeSmog has noted, "the groups and projects given grants from DCF and DT are among the most active in questioning the link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change and blocking attempts to legislate against greenhouse gas emissions." The Jefferson Institute is one such group, and was called out by name by Senate Democrats in 2016 in a series of speeches denouncing climate change denial from 32 organizations with links to fossil-fuel interests.
Schnare is a former EPA scientist and attorney and initially was a member of President Trump's EPA transition team. He is affiliated with climate denial groups like the Heartland Institute, and was a speaker at the 2017 Heartland Institute "America First Energy Conference," where he discussed how to challenge the EPA's 2009 endangerment finding that serves as the basis for regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
Schnare has a history of harassing climate scientists by suing universities to get access to the scientists' emails. In 2011, he unsuccessfully sued the University of Virginia to try to obtain Michael Mann's emails. As DeSmog previously reported, Schnare was forced to pay out $630,000 from a dark money group he co-founded with Christopher Horner, the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic. The payout resulted from a heated legal dispute in which Schnare is alleged to have used FMELC as his personal piggy bank.
Schnare's Reports Use Disinformation as “Scare Tactics”
Given this background, it is not surprising that Schnare and the Thomas Jefferson Institute are railing against the proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative. TJI and Schnare have published several misleading analyses of the program claiming it is a "carbon car tax" and would be "all pain and no gain," claims that are simply untrue. The latest legal analysis is a continuation of Schnare making these unfounded arguments. For example, Schnare's claim that TCI "proposes rationing gasoline and diesel fuel sales" is blatantly false, as sources familiar with the program told DeSmog.
"This is a pollution reduction program," said Bruce Ho, senior advocate in the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The type of policy [Schnare and TJI] are describing in their paper is not the policy that states are actually proposing."
"The oil industry and its allies are going heavy on the scare tactics right now," added Morgan Butler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. "TCI is not being designed to ration gas, but rather to help move us beyond it by investing revenues from the program in making cleaner and healthier transportation options more available to everyone."
Schnare's claim that Virginia's governor cannot unilaterally join TCI is also not accurate. As Kresowik explained, the governor does have authority to sign on to an agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU), and then the legislature would have to act to implement the program in the state.
"The governor can absolutely sign the memorandum of understanding and move forward with the other states," Kresowik said.
"The hand waving in this paper that Virginia is doing something that's not allowed is just wrong," added Ho. "Neither Virginia nor any other TCI jurisdiction has proposed skirting those legal requirements. They've been very upfront that they are going to go through all of the legally required processes within states."
Ho said that Schnare's entire analysis is disingenuous, as it mischaracterizes what the TCI program is actually proposing. "It's a clear case of fear-mongering, setting up a straw man argument that is just not reflective of reality," he said.
Schnare's case against TCI runs counter to even oil giant BP's recent endorsement of the program. BP America Chairman and President Susain Dio, in a piece published last week in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, urged Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the General Assembly to move forward with both TCI and RGGI. "While a national carbon pricing program would be the gold standard, state and regional plans can play a critical role now," Dio writes. "And we can't wait." BP's support of TCI falls inline with the company's recent announcement that it will no longer lobby against policies that regulate or limit carbon pollution. Though the sincerity of BP's statements are not yet clear, the company's surprise public support of TCI indirectly rebuts and counters both pieces of Schnare's flawed analysis.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
Early in the morning of Feb. 6, an oil train derailed and caught fire near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, resulting in the Canadian village's evacuation. This is the second oil train to derail and burn near Guernsey, following one in December that resulted in a fire and oil spill of 400,000 gallons.
Drone footage of today's CP crude oil train derailment east of Guernsey, courtesy of Philippe Gaudet. #sask… https://t.co/MhqnJscBej— Guy Quenneville (@Guy Quenneville)1581015139.0
According to the CBC, eyewitness Kyle Brown reported that "he saw a huge fire after the train derailed."
"It looks like an inferno," said Brown. "Like a war zone, really. It is pretty bad."
The Canadian Pacific (CP) train was carrying crude oil and reportedly derailed approximately 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from town. News reports indicate that the train crew escaped without harm.
CP train that derailed in Saskatchewan had 104 cars; 31 went off the tracks. As of about 1 pm ET, 12 were still on… https://t.co/viHqzQjyzw— CBC News Alerts (@CBC News Alerts)1581017507.0
Local resident Blaine Weber spoke to the Global News after this second derailment and expressed frustration that Canadian Pacific Railway, the rail company operating the trains, has not been forthcoming with answers about the derailments.
"CP doesn't seem to be answering any questions from either the public or the authorities," Weber said.
Canadian Pacific also is under scrutiny over a potential cover up of the details surrounding a runaway freight train accident in 2019 that resulted in the death of all three crew members.
Huge Increase in Canadian Oil-by-Rail Brings More Accidents
A month ago I wrote that the forecast for oil by rail for 2020 would include more trains, fires, and spills. The Canadian oil industry is moving record volumes of oil by rail to the U.S. and with that increase, expect to see more accidents.
"We see with the current differentials and arbitrage, it makes good economic sense for us to ship barrels on the rail," said Brad Corson, CEO of Imperial.
As DeSmog has reported in detail, these trains are currently unsafe to operate. The new tank cars that regulators and the rail industry promised were a safety improvement for reducing oil spills and explosions have now failed in five out of five major derailments.
U.S. regulations requiring oil trains to have modern braking systems, known as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes — which Canadian operators would have had to comply with as well — were repealed in 2017.
And the volatile mixture of Canadian bitumen with condensate that is being moved in these Canadian trains has proven to ignite in derailments just like the volatile Bakken oil from North Dakota that was involved in the deadly Lac-Megantic, Quebec, accident in 2013.
With oil companies like Imperial making plans to greatly increase the use of rail to move Canadian oil to U.S. ports and refineries, my early predictions for 2020 are already coming true.
Smoke visible from the train fire and derailment near Lanigan Saskatchewan. CP has confirmed it was their train. It… https://t.co/F1B0qFY8Pf— Alicia Bridges (@Alicia Bridges)1581001720.0
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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1982 American Petroleum Institute Report Warned Oil Workers Faced 'Significant' Risks From Radioactivity
By Sharon Kelly
Back in April last year, the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency decided it was "not necessary" to update the rules for toxic waste from oil and gas wells. Torrents of wastewater flow daily from the nation's 1.5 million active oil and gas wells and the agency's own research has warned it may pose risks to the country's drinking water supplies.
On Tuesday, a major new investigative report published by Rolling Stone and authored by reporter Justin Nobel delves deep into the risks that the oil and gas industry's waste — much of it radioactive — poses to the industry's own workers and to the public.
"There is little public awareness of this enormous waste stream," Nobel, who also reports for DeSmog, wrote, "the disposal of which could present dangers at every step — from being transported along America's highways in unmarked trucks; handled by workers who are often misinformed and underprotected; leaked into waterways; and stored in dumps that are not equipped to contain the toxicity."
Additional documents obtained by Nobel and shared with DeSmog show that a report prepared for the American Petroleum Institute (API), the nation's largest oil and gas trade group, described the risks posed by the industry's radioactive wastes to workers as "significant" in 1982 — long before the shale drilling rush unleashed new floods of wastewater from the industry — including waste from the Marcellus Shale, which can carry unusually high levels of radioactive contamination.
A Trillion Toxic Gallons
Oil and gas wells pump out nearly a trillion gallons of wastewater a year, Rolling Stone reported. That's literally a river of waste — enough to replace all the water flowing from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two and a half days.
Much of that wastewater, often referred to by the industry as "brine," carries high levels, not of familiar table salt, but of corrosive salts found deep below the Earth's surface, as well as toxic compounds and carcinogens.
That water can also carry serious amounts of radioactive materials. The Rolling Stone report, labeled "sobering" by the Poynter Institute, described levels of radium as high as 28,500 picocuries per liter in brine from the Marcellus Shale, underlying Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and West Virginia, levels hundreds of times as much as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow in industrial discharges from other industries.
The oil and gas industry's waste, however, isn't regulated like most other industry's wastes, slipping instead through loopholes carved out in the nation's cornerstone environmental laws, including exemptions for the industry in federal laws covering hazardous waste.
"If I had a beaker of that on my desk and accidentally dropped it on the floor, they would shut the place down," Yuri Gorby, a microbiologist who'd studied radioactive materials at the U.S. Geological Survey and Department of Energy, told the magazine. "And if I dumped it down the sink, I could go to jail."
Crude Oil, Gas, and Radiation
"It is well-known that some naturally occurring elements, uranium for example, have an affinity for crude oil," the 1982 API report says, noting that uranium can decay into elements like radium-226 ("a potent source of radiation exposure, both internal and external," API's report explained) and radon-222 (which can "cause the most severe impact to public health," it observed).
"Almost all materials of interest and use to the petroleum industry contain measurable quantities of radionuclides that reside finally in process equipment, product streams, or waste," the 1982 report notes.
"This contamination can produce significant occupational exposures," API's report continued (emphasis in original).
Excerpt from a 1982 report prepared for the American Petroleum Institute and titled "An Analysis of the Impact of the Regulation of 'Radionuclides' as a Hazardous Air Pollutant on the Petroleum Industry."
API's report focused on the possibility that the federal government might step in and regulate those radioactive materials under the Clean Air Act or under federal Superfund laws.
"Depending on the mode of definition," the report adds, "very small quantities of petroleum products could easily contain reportable quantities of [radioactive materials]." A chart lists amounts as small as a half a barrel of crude oil or 17 cubic feet of natural gas as containing "one reportable quantity of uranium or radon" under the most restrictive definition.
The report labels uranium "a somewhat different dilemma" than radon gas. "We estimated earlier in this paper that significant quantities of uranium potentially enter our refineries via crude oil," the report continues. "Little is known of its fate, however."
"Since the law of conservation of matter must apply, it can only end up in the product, the process waste, remain in the process equipment, or escape into the environment," the report notes, calling for more study, particularly of the industry's refining equipment and waste.
Some of the report's most stark language warned about the possibility of federal regulation of the industry's radioactive wastes.
"It is concluded that the regulation of radionuclides could impose a severe burden on API member companies," the report says, "and it would be prudent to monitor closely both regulatory actions."
API spokesperson Reid Porter provided to DeSmog the group's response to the Rolling Stone investigation.
"We take each report of safety or health issues related to energy development very seriously," Porter said. "Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our workers, the local environment, and the communities where we live, operate, and raise families. Natural gas and oil companies meet or exceed strict federal and state regulations and also undergo regular inspections to ensure that all materials are managed, stored, transported, and disposed of safely. Through regular monitoring, ongoing testing, and strict handling protocols, industry operations are guided by internationally recognized standards and best practices to provide for safe working environments and public safety."
API also pointed to a one-page document titled "NORM [naturally occurring radioactive materials] in the Oil and Natural Gas Industry." As of publication time, API had not responded to questions from DeSmog regarding the 1982 report.
10 Years Later, Hazards 'Widespread'; 20 Years Later, Workers Sue Over Cancers
Over a decade later, problems persisted, other documents indicate. "Contamination of oil and gas facilities with naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) is widespread," a 1993 paper published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers warned. "Some contamination may be sufficiently severe that maintenance and other personnel may be exposed to hazardous concentration."
Nonetheless, the paper focused on the potential for "over-regulation."
"Where possible, industry input should be directed to minimize an over-regulation of NORM contamination in the industry," author Peter Gray, an expert on radioactivity who formerly worked for Phillips Petroleum Co., wrote. He added that concentrations of radioactive contamination at the time were "relatively low and do not usually present a health hazard to the public or to most personnel in the industry," but added that some facilities "may be hazardous to maintenance personnel in particular."
The 1993 paper notes that some oil-producing states had passed or were considering passing laws to protect against the industry's radioactive wastes, noting in particular that Louisiana and Mississippi had regulations in effect, and that Louisiana had required "radiation surveys of every petroleum facility in the state."
But state and federal regulators largely failed to act, Rolling Stone found. "Of 21 significant oil-and-gas-producing states, only five have provisions addressing workers, and just three include protections for the public, according to research by [Elizabeth Ann Glass] Geltman, the public-health expert," the magazine reported. "Much of the legislation that does exist seems hardly sufficient."
In documents dated nearly two decades later, from a 2011 lawsuit brought by more than 30 Louisiana oilfield workers who'd developed cancer, plaintiff's experts described as resulting from their exposure to radioactive materials at work.
The 2013 plaintiff's expert report describes in detail how jobs like roustabout, roughneck, and derrickman can expose workers to radioactive materials, including a sludge where radioactive elements concentrate that collects inside pipes and so-called "pipe scale," or crusty deposits that also attract radioactive materials. The case ended in October 2016, following a long string of settlements on unspecified terms by individual plaintiffs in the case, public court records show.
Tracking the Trucks
Nobel's Rolling Stone exposé depicts radioactive drilling waste sloshing into a striking array of corners.
For example, to keep dust down, the "brine" can be spread on roads, like a stretch in Pennsylvania where Nobel describes a group of Amish girls strolling barefoot. Nobel adds that contractors pick up waste directly from the wellhead and that in 2016 alone, more than 10.5 million gallons were sprayed on roads in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania.
The waste has also been sold at Lowe's, bottled as "AquaSalina" and marketed as a pet-safe way to fight ice and salt, though an Ohio state lab found it contains radium at more than 40 times the levels the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows in discharge from industry. And the radium-laced waste is spilled from trucks transporting it, in potential what the article indicates may be a violation of federal law.
One brine truck driver, identified only as a man named Peter from Ohio, started taking his own samples after being told by another worker with a radiation detector that he'd been hauling "one of the 'hottest loads' he'd ever seen," Rolling Stone reports. "A lot of guys are coming up with cancer, or sores and skin lesions that take months to heal," Peter told the magazine. Tests by a university lab found radium levels as high as 8,500 picocuries per liter, the article adds.
One expert, scientist Marvin Reisnikoff, who'd served as one of the plaintiff's experts in the lawsuit brought by the Louisiana oilfield workers and co-authored the 2013 report, told Rolling Stone that a standard brine truck rolling through Pennsylvania might be carrying radioactive wastewater at levels a thousand times higher than those allowed under federal Department of Transportation (DOT) limits. But, a DOT spokesperson told Rolling Stone, federal regulators rely heavily on industry self-reporting, and the rules seem generally unenforced.
Environmental groups immediately called for congressional hearings into the drilling industry's radioactive wastes.
"This alarming report brings into stark relief what we already knew to be true," Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones said in a statement calling for a congressional investigation, "that highly toxic and radioactive waste generated by fossil fuel drilling and fracking cannot be stored or disposed of safely, and in fact is often being intentionally dispersed in our communities."
"It is imperative that Congress hold hearings soon to examine and expose the full extent of the threat oil and gas waste poses to families and workers throughout America," he added, "and take urgent action to halt fracking and the legal and illegal dispersal of the waste currently taking place."
Reposted with permission from DeSmogBlog.
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Formosa Plant May Still Be Releasing Plastic Pollution in Texas After $50M Settlement, Activists Find
On the afternoon of Jan. 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas.
After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa in 2017, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region's waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.
Diane Wilson kayaking to the fence line of Formosa's Point Comfort plant to check for nurdles newly discharged from the plant on Jan. 15. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
Their suit against Formosa Plastics Corp. USA resulted in a $50-million-dollar settlement and a range of conditions in an agreement known as a consent decree. Key among the conditions was the company's promise to halt releasing the nurdles it manufactures into local waterways leading to the Texas Gulf Coast by Jan. 15.
Formosa's plastics plant is seen dominating the landscape in Point Comfort, Texas. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
Wilson described the occasion as "day one of the zero discharge settlement." As of that date, Formosa could be fined up to $15,000 a day if it were found still discharging nurdles. That would put the multi-billion-dollar plastics maker in violation of the court settlement made after U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt determined the company had violated the Clean Water Act by discharging plastic pellets and PVC powder into Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek in a June 27 ruling last year.
The deal, signed by Judge Hoyt in December, represents the U.S.'s largest settlement in a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by private individuals against an industrial polluter. The settlement mandates that both Formosa and the plaintiffs agree to a monitor, remediation consultant, engineer, and trustee for ongoing monitoring of the plant.
Diane Wilson is seen with volunteers before their meeting across the street from Formosa's Point Comfort manufacturing plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
After calling the group's meeting to order, Wilson gave an update on how requirements of the consent decree were progressing. The volunteer team of nurdle monitors, who have been collecting nurdles discharged by the plant for the last four years, listened eagerly. Wilson said that Formosa had missed the Jan. 15 deadline to deliver the waivers they needed to sign, which would grant them permission to monitor on the company's property along the fence line. Without the signed forms, the group put off their on-the-ground monitoring trip. Instead, they headed for the banks of Cox Creek, where Wilson set off in a kayak to check on one of the plant's outfalls.
Within 10 minutes she collected an estimated 300 of the little plastic pellets. Wilson says she will save them as evidence, along with any additional material the group collects, to present to the official — and yet-to-be-selected — monitor.
Wilson received the waiver forms from Formosa a day after the deadline. The group planned to set out by foot on Jan. 18, which would allow them to cover more ground on their next monitoring trip. They hope to check all of the facility's 14 outtakes where nurdles could be still be escaping. Any nurdles discharged on or after Jan. 15 in the area immediately surrounding the plant would be in violation of the court settlement.
Ronnie Hamrick picks up a mixture of new and legacy nurdles near Formosa's Point Comfort plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
Pointing along the creek's edge, Ronnie Hamrick, a member of the San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper and former Formosa employee, showed me how to distinguish new plastic pellets from the legacy nurdles from past discharges. The new ones are brighter and white compared to the older ones, which take on a dull gray color. Old nurdles were plentiful along the creek's banks despite cleanup crews deployed by Formosa in that area. Newer ones were easy to find in the water after Hamrick pushed a rake into the marsh, stirring them up from below the water's surface in Cox Creek.
Ronnie Hamrick holds a few of the countless nurdles that litter the banks of Cox Creek near Formosa's Point Comfort facility. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
When Wilson returned from her kayak, she showcased her find: The nurdles she had just collected from the Formosa outfall were bright white, making them easy to distinguish from the older ones littering the bank where she had launched her kayak. She plans to turn them over as evidence of newly discharged nurdles to the official monitor once one is selected in accordance to the consent decree.
Lawsuit Against Formosa’s Planned Louisiana Plant
On that same afternoon, Wilson learned that conservation and community groups in Louisiana had sued the Trump administration, challenging federal environmental permits for Formosa's planned $9.4 billion plastics complex in St. James Parish.
The news made Wilson smile. "I hope they win. The best way to stop the company from polluting is not to let them build another plant," she told me.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court against the Army Corps of Engineers, accusing the Corps of failing to disclose environmental damage and public health risks and failing to adequately consider environmental damage from the proposed plastics plant. Wilson had met some of the Louisiana-based activists last year when a group of them had traveled to Point Comfort and protested with her outside Formosa's plastics plant that had begun operations in 1983. Among them was Sharon Lavigne, founder of the community group Rise St. James, who lives just over a mile and a half from the proposed plastics complex in Louisiana.
Back then, Wilson offered them encouragement in their fight. A few months after winning her own case last June, she gave them boxes of nurdles she had used in her case against Formosa. The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups in the Louisiana lawsuit, transported the nurdles to St. James. The hope was that these plastic pellets would help environmental advocates there convince Louisiana regulators to deny Formosa's request for air permits required for building its proposed St. James plastics complex that would also produce nurdles. On Jan. 6, Formosa received those permits, but it still has a few more steps before receiving full approval for the plant.
Anne Rolfes, founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, holding up a bag of nurdles discharged from Formosa's Point Comfort, Texas plant, at a protest against the company's proposed St. James plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Dec. 10, 2019. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
In their Jan. 15 lawsuit, the groups, which also include Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Healthy Gulf, point out that a Texas judge called Formosa's Point Comfort plant a "serial offender" of the Clean Water Act. They also cite another Formosa facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which has been in violation of the Clean Air Act every quarter since 2009.
Construction underway to expand Formosa's Point Comfort plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
The new plant slated for St. James Parish "is expected to emit and discharge a variety of pollutants, including carcinogens and endocrine disrupters, into the air and water; [and] discharge plastic into the Mississippi River and other waterbodies," the lawsuit alleges.
Silhouette of Formosa's Point Comfort Plant looming over the rural landscape. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
DeSmog's Sharon Kelly reported that out of all the new or expanding U.S. refineries, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects, and petrochemical plants seeking air permits, Formosa's St. James plant would top the list of air polluters.
"Wilson's victory against Formosa was very encouraging," Sharon Lavigne told me over the phone. She plans to cite it as one of the many reasons why the St. James Parish Council should reverse its 2018 decision to grant Formosa a land use permit for the sprawling plastics facility. She and others will address the council over a multitude of issues at its upcoming Jan. 21 meeting.
From the Gulf Coast to Europe
Just a day after Wilson found apparently new nurdles in Point Comfort, the Plastic Soup Foundation, an advocacy group based in Amsterdam, took legal steps to stop plastic pellet pollution in Europe. On behalf of the group, environmental lawyers submitted an enforcement request to a Dutch environmental protection agency, which is responsible for regulating the cleanup of nurdles polluting waterways in the Netherlands.
The foundation is the first organization in Europe to take legal steps to stop plastic pellet pollution. It cites in its enforcement request to regulators Wilson's victory in obtaining a "zero discharge" promise from Formosa and is seeking a similar result against Ducor Petrochemicals, the Rotterdam plastic producer. Its goal is to prod regulators into forcing Ducor to remove tens of millions of plastic pellets from the banks immediately surrounding its petrochemical plant.
Detail of a warning sign near the Point Comfort Formosa plant. The waterways near the plant are polluted by numerous industrial facilities in the area. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
Besides polluting waterways, the ongoing build-out of the petrochemical and plastics industry doesn't align with efforts to keep global warming in check.
Wilson and her fellow volunteers plan to keep monitoring the Point Comfort plant until it stops discharging the tiny plastic pellets into Texas waters entirely.
Nurdles on Cox Creek's bank on Jan. 15. Wilson hopes her and her colleagues' work of the past four years will help prevent the building of more plastics plants, including the proposed Formosa plant in St. James Parish. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
I reached out to Formosa about whether it was aware its Point Comfort plant was apparently still discharging nurdles but didn't receive a reply before publication.
A sign noting the entrance to the Formosa Wetlands Walkway at Port Lavaca Beach. The San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper describes the messaging as an example of greenwashing. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog
Reposted with permission from DeSmogBlog.
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