The Fracking Files: Stratfor Provided Energy Industry with Intel on ProPublica, Environmental Groups
Industry’s 2009 fears of a muscular fracking opposition have come to pass
Long before the first anti-fracking bans were passed in North America, the oil and gas industry was taking stock of its adversaries through profiles and briefings produced by Stratfor, the Austin-based global intelligence company. The company is known for its investigations into activist groups on behalf of some of the world’s largest corporations and government agencies. The documents – part of a massive cache of emails, reports, and communiques published by Wikileaks beginning in early 2012 – reveal an industry concerned about an impending grassroots backlash to the fracking boom. In hindsight, it appears the industry was right to be worried: Today, opposition to oil and gas fracking is one of the most vigorous strands of the larger environmental movement.
The Wikileaks revelations show that the oil and gas industry was especially worried about the first hints of negative publicity. In December 2009 Stratfor drafted a profile of ProPublica, detailing its organizational structure, partnerships with other well-established media outlets like The Washington Post and New York Times, and sources of funding. Stratfor argues that ProPublica’s work has helped to galvanize public opposition to drilling in the Marcellus Shale. “The growth of the Marcellus shale was not a controversial issue until ProPublica stories given to the Albany Times-Union carried the message that, according to ProPublica’s editor in chief, New York was about to ‘put legislative and regulatory protocols into place to give the industry carte blanche to drill wherever it chose.’ Out of this series of articles came the backlash and delays that continue to beset operations in the region.”
ProPublica – which was launched in 2008, just as fracking was becoming a public health issue – led the way on the first reporting about the environmental impacts of gas drilling. In 2009 its leading energy reporter, Abrahm Lustgarten, won a Polk Award for his work “documenting the deadly side effects of hydraulic fracturing.” To date the website has published more than 150 fracking-related articles.
The Stratfor document, which was sent to at least one corporate client, The American Petroleum Institute (API), describes ProPublica as a “realist organization,” but one that is “reflexively anti-corporate.” The authors write: “ProPublica appears to view major corporations and much of government as decidedly opposed to the ‘public interest.’” They also describe the website’s model of partnering with larger media outlets and …more
Can Ranchers Come to Peace with the Wolves in Their Midst?
The spirit of the Wild West is alive and well in the hamlet of Reserve, New Mexico.
The seat of Catron County is home to a scant 600 people, and Main Street is little more than a collection of old adobe homes, log cabins, and double-wide trailers. Jake’s General Mercantile anchors the crossroads at the middle of town; on one side is Ella’s Café, across the street is La Familia Carmen’s Mexican food, which serves a mean red chili sauce. “Always Kiss Your Cowboy Goodnight” reads a hand-painted sign near the door to Village Thrift, a tan adobe where locals gather around the stove to trade news. Perhaps this referred to the old-timer with the chest-length, black-and-silver beard I found hanging out at the shop a few days before Thanksgiving. He was wearing a leather vest, a well-loved cowboy hat, and a nickel-plated six-shooter strapped to his right hip. The pistol butt faced outward, ready for a crossdraw. One arm in a sling, he did not appear in the mood for a kiss.
Reserve is a remote and rugged place. The village sits in a high-desert valley (elevation 5,765 feet) split by the shallow San Francisco River. There are mountains on all sides: the Tularosa Mountains making an arc from the southwest to the northeast, the San Francisco Mountains on the other side, each of the ranges covered in thick stands of ponderosa pine. The narrow, gray cliffs of Starkweather Canyon guard one of the two approaches to town. Albuquerque is 200 miles away, a three and a half hour drive down narrow country roads.
Reserve may be an out-of-way-place, close to the middle of nowhere, but it’s at the very center of the debate over the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf. The ranchers and hunting outfitters of Catron County and adjacent Grant County form the vanguard of the opposition to the wolf’s return to the Southwest. The predator, they say, is a threat to their cattle herds, as well as to the elk and deer that roam the juniper- and piñon-studded grasslands. The wolves, Catron County locals say, are even a threat …more
Bill 113 blocks biotech companies from setting up shop on Hawai‘i’s largest island
In a move that took many anti-GMO activists by surprise yesterday, Hawai‘i County Mayor Billy Kenoi signed a bill banning biotech companies and farmers from growing any new genetically altered crop on Big Island.
Photo courtesy Hawai'i County
Bill 113 effectively halts the expansion of GMO crops on Hawai‘i’s largest island (after which the state is named) by prohibiting open-air cultivation of new varieties of transgenic plants. This means biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, Du-Pont-Pioneer, BASF, Syngenta — who have established themselves on other Hawaiian islands like Kauai, Maui, Molakai, and O‘ahu — won’t be able to grow GMO crops on the Big Island.
The new law, however, exempts papaya growers who cultivate transgenic varieties of the tree that are resistant to the ringspot virus, and Big Island Dairy, which grows GMO corn to feed its livestock. (Big Island, incidentally, was one of the first Hawai‘ian islands to pass any kind of GMO regulatory bill — back in 2008 it had banned GMO coffee and taro.)
In a letter sent yesterday to councilmembers explaining his decision, Kenoi said: “Our community has a deep connection and respect for our land, and we all understand we must protect our island and preserve our precious natural resources. We are determined to do what is right for the land because this place is unlike any other in the world. With this new ordinance we are conveying that instead of global agribusiness corporations, we want to encourage and support community-based farming and ranching.”
Kenoi also outlined a general plan to provide county assistance, investment, and support for community-based agriculture, including a “first-in-the-state Food Self-Sufficiency Baseline Study of Hawai‘i Island to measure the island’s progress toward food self-sufficiency.” (The state imports nearly 92 percent of its food, according to the Pacific Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program.)
The bill had been approved by the Hawai‘i County Council by a 6 to 3 vote last month, but most activists were doubtful that Kenoi would sign it into law given the immense pressure he was facing from biotech companies and the pro-biotech Hawaiian state …more
"The driving boom is over"
Even if you saw agitating, bumper-to-bumper traffic during your morning commute, know that the numbers say things are changing.
The average American drives 7.6 percent fewer miles today than when per-capita driving peaked in 2004, according to a report issued today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (PIRG). The study is a review of data from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration and Census Bureau on the nation's 100 most populated, urbanized areas, which are home to more than half of the U.S. population.
From 2006 to 2011, the average number of miles driven per resident fell in almost three-quarters of the country's largest city's, according to the report.
"There is a shift away from driving," said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. "The cities in this report are home to most of America's population and are engines of the economy.
Here are some standout facts from the report:
- The proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle—either alone or in a carpool—declined in 99 out of 100 of the most populated areas between 2000 and the 2007-2011 period averaged in U.S. Census data.
- The proportion of households without cars increased in 84 out of the 100 largest urbanized areas from 2006 to 2011. The proportion of households with two cars or more cars decreased in 86 out of the 100 of these areas during that period.
- The proportion of residents bicycling to work increased in 85 out of 100 of America's largest urbanized areas between 2000 and 2007-2011.
- The number of passenger-miles traveled per capita on transit increased in 60 out of 98 of America's large urbanized areas whose trends could be analyzed between 2005 and 2010.
The study also found that cities with the largest decreases in driving weren't …more
Harvard study blows apart obama and brown’s arguments for in favor of gas
Democrats like to label the GOP the “anti-science party” – but, well, you know what they say about people who live in glass houses. In his last two State of the Union addresses, President Obama gave natural gas his full throated endorsement, and his party has followed suit. Now, a new study from researchers at Harvard has found that methane concentrations in the atmosphere are higher than thought. Obama’s embrace of natural gas, it now appears, is actually an anti-science position that the president must reverse if he is serious about tackling the climate crisis. The president’s “all of the above” energy strategy has been revealed for what it is: A naked attempt to please everyone (except the physics and chemistry of the planet) and a failed attempt to create a shield against the GOP’s claims that Obama is against the exploitation of fossil fuels.
The Harvard study, "Anthropogenic Emissions of Methane in the United States," found that greenhouse gas emissions from “fossil fuel extraction and processing (i.e., oil and/or natural gas) are likely a factor of two or greater than cited in existing studies.” In regards to methane, and this is key, the researchers found that "fossil fuel extraction and processing could be 4.9 ± 2.6 times larger than in EDGAR, the most comprehensive global methane inventory.”
The great promise of gas was that it could replace coal and reduce GHG emissions, but only if methane didn’t leak into the atmosphere during drilling or transport, and only if natural gas didn’t crowd out renewable energy development. We’ve long known that gas is only better than coal if it leaks at a rate of less than 2.7 times during production. The study makes it clear that gas wells are leaking at least that much.
The study comes as California Governor Jerry Brown and Obama consider new rules for fracking. Both say they are committed to doing their part on climate change while making full use of our gas reserves, buried deep underground in places like Monterey, California and western Pennsylvania. The Harvard study shows they can’t love gas while trying to claim the …more
Oil drillers using hazardous chemicals, pumping wastewater into coastal waters, shows new analysis
We now know that hydraulic fracturing has already been underway in state and federal waters off California’s coast for more than two decades. Recent media reports have revealed that federal regulators have permitted fracking in the Pacific Ocean at least 12 times since the late 1990s, and have granted four fracking permits off the marine-life rich Santa Barbara coast without environmental review.
|Seven Harmful Chemicals used in 12 California Offshore Wells|
|Chemical||Number of Wells Used||Known Health Effects20|
|Crystalline Silica (X-Cide)||All 12 wells||Harmful to skin, eyes and other sensory organs, respiratory system, immune system and kidneys; mutagen. Known human carcinogen.21|
|Methanol||All 12 wells||Harmful to skin, eyes and other sensory organs, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system and liver, brain and nervous system, immune system, kidneys, reproductive and cardiovascular system; mutagen, developmental inhibitor and endocrine disruptor. Ecological risks.|
|Glyoxal||11 wells||Harmful to skin, eyes and other sensory organs, respiratory and reproductive system, gastrointestinal system and liver, brain and nervous system, immune system, cardiovascular system and blood, endocrine disruptor; mutagen, promoter of cancer. Ecological risks.|
|Sodium Tetraborate||All 12 wells||Harmful to skin, eyes and other sensory organs, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system and liver, brain and nervous system, kidneys, cardiovascular system. Ecological risks.|
|2-Butoxyethanol||3 wells||Harmful to skin, eyes and other sensory organs, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system and liver, brain and nervous system, immune system, kidneys, reproductive system and cardiovascular system; mutagen, developmental inhibitor and endocrine disruptor; linked to liver cancer. Also linked to adrenal tumors. Ecological risks.22|
|Merhyl-4-isothiazolin||All 12 wells||Harmful to skin, eyes and other sensory organs, respiratory, reproductive system, brain and nervous system, immune system; mutagen; developmental inhibitor. Ecological risks.|
|Ethoxylated nonylphenol||9 wells||Harmful to skin, eyes and other sensory organs, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system and liver, immune system, reproductive and cardiovascular system; developmental inhibitor and endocrine disruptor.|
Now pressure is mounting on the California Coastal Commission to curb fracking in the high seas. Last month, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) wrote a 29-page letter to the commission, saying that hazardous fracking chemicals were being released into the costal waters and urging the state body …more
Colleges and universities offer little room for informed discourse on plant biotech
A few months ago, while reporting an article about genetically engineered trees for Earth Island Journal’s Autumn issue (read the story here), I had a mighty hard time locating plant biologists or genetic engineers at academic institutions who were willing to talk about the possible risks of growing GE trees in massive plantations. It seemed there was little debate over this controversial issue within the biotech community on college campuses — the very places where most of the research into GE trees is carried out.
Photo by Steve McFarland
So it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when I heard that a group of environmental activists who were scheduled to make a presentation on GE trees at the University of Florida in Gainesville last month were booted off the campus, charged with trespassing, and banned from the university grounds for three years. What did come as a bit of a surprise was news that the FBI, too, was keeping tabs on the activists.
Genetically modified strains of trees like eucalyptus, pines, poplars, and fruit trees are being tested in hundreds of trial plots across the world, including the United States. In the US, except for a GE papaya tree variety that is grown commercially in Hawai‘i, there are no commercial GE tree plantations — yet. (The US Department of Agriculture is considering a proposal to grow GE eucalyptus in commercial plantations.) Some environmentalists are concerned that transgenic trees will promote industrial monoculture plantations that could have a huge impact on forest biodiversity.
The Gainesville campus GE tree presentation was part of a multi-week speaking tour, "The Growing Threat: Genetically Engineered Trees and the Future of Forests," organized by the Global Justice Ecology Project, Campaign to STOP GE Trees, and Everglades Earth First! The speakers were traveling to campuses in several southern states to raise awareness about the proposed commercial release of genetically engineered, freeze-tolerant eucalyptus trees in the US South.
The talk had been scheduled for October 28, a Monday. A conference room had been booked at the university’s McKnight Brain Institute a month in advance. But four days before the event, …more