The organized resistance to LNG exports is increasing rapidly, from large demonstrations and civil disobedience to the halls of Congress. On Thursday, environmentalists, consumer advocates, and their allies in Congress pushed back against the shale gas industry’s campaign to exploit the crisis overseas by pushing for faster approval of environmentally destructive — and dangerous — LNG export facilities in the U.S.
LNG exports would not even reach Europe in time to help weaken Russia’s energy advantage, pragmatists argued cogently. That’s because prices are higher in Asia than in Europe, and because the first exports won’t begin until 2015 at the earliest, hardly in time to influence an intensely immediate crisis. The House Foreign Affairs Committee nonetheless added a pro-gas amendment to a bill calling for tougher sanctions for Russia.
Politico reports, “Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) scoffed during the committee markup at [the] call for gas exports. ‘My 13-year-old daughter would also like a pony,’ Grayson said before Republicans admonished him.”
Grist writer Ben Adler punches holes in the pro-LNG-export arguments here: “Republicans use Putin as an excuse to push fossil-fuel projects,”
In “Greens on Gas: Not So Fast,” Politico reports:
Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s senior director in Washington, called the use of the Ukraine card in the gas debate “a red herring.”
“Exporting LNG is no quick fix to this international crisis,” Manuel said. “All this aside, many of the proponents of LNG exports continue their willful ignorance about the dangers of gas fracking to American families’ health, land, water and air.”
More from Politico’s “Greens on Gas: Not So Fast”:
The shipments of liquefied natural gas might not even make it to Europe. | AP Photo
The drive to weaken Vladimir Putin though natural gas exports is meeting a green backlash.
Environmentalists and their congressional allies scoffed Thursday at a mounting campaign on the Hill to hasten U.S. gas exports, saying there’s no reason to think gas shipments would weaken Russia’s leverage over Europe’s energy supply. But exporting American shale gas could drive up prices for consumers and manufacturers at home, they warned, while encouraging the spread of fracking and lessening incentives for power companies to abandon coal-fired power.
The lines of this debate are being drawn sharply and clearly as the storm clouds gather:
“The main beneficiaries of allowing more exportation of fossil fuels would be the companies that produce those fossil fuels,” said an opinion piece published Thursday on the environmental website Grist.
Gas supporters showed no signs of giving up, however. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) led Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in filing a bill Thursday that would order the approval of a host of export applications awaiting Energy Department approval. That came on top of bills filed earlier in the week by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Gardner’s rival in this year’s Colorado Senate race.
Need we mention this would be an excellent time to call your Congressperson? Find your Congressperson’s information right here if you don’t already have them on speed-dial.
While we here in the United States face such grossly backwards energy policies as those that enable fracking companies to place shale gas operations 300 feet away from schools, daycare centers and playgrounds — inspiring the launch of the Protect Our Children campaign — they’re getting it right in Germany.
In Germany the transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency, called “energiewinde,” is surging forward with such force that German energy giant RWE has posted huge losses and admitted it should have focused more on renewable energy. Read all about it in today’s post by Giles Parkinson on RenewEconomy:
German energy giant RWE has taken a massive loss of €2.8 billion – it’s first loss in 60 years – after admitting it got its strategy wrong, and should have focused more on renewable and distributed energy rather than conventional fossil fuels.
RWE, like other major German utilities, has spent much of the past decade fighting against the country’s “energiewende”, the energy transition that is seeing it dump nuclear energy and transform the electricity system of Europe’s biggest manufacturing economy to one dominated by renewables.
Last night, Peter Terium, who has been CEO for less than two years, conceded that the company had got it wrong. He admitted that the change in electricity markets, which has seen earnings from conventional generation gutted by the impact of solar and wind energy, was “unstoppable”. It was now time to change strategy, and focus on what the electricity market will look like in the future.
“I grant that we have made mistakes,” Terium said in a prepared speech to a media conference accompanying his result. “We were late entering into the renewables market – possibly too late.”
Analysts have been pointing this out for years. Indeed, the big three German utilities have accounted for just 7 per cent of the renewable energy installations that now account for more than one quarter of the country’s generation, and which have transformed the market. Most renewable capacity has been installed by home and industrial consumers, and smaller and smarter energy companies.
Instead, RWE ploughed on with coal and gas. Now, Terium says, it is making less and less money from its conventional power stations, and it is closing nearly 7GW of capacity. “This trend will continue in the next few years and it is irreversible,” he says.
Conventional power stations are being driven out by solar PV, particularly during peak load, and the huge expansion of renewables has pushed the market price of electricity to less than €37 per megawatt-hour, where it is virtually impossible to operate conventional power stations economically.
The question is what to do now. Terium says it is not all bad news, because much of the new plant that has been installed is highly flexible; designed to fit in and around a renewables-dominated grid. For instance, he said, the entire 10,000MW capacity of power stations in the Rhenish region can be reduced and increased again by about 5,000 megawatts within 30 minutes. (Interestingly, RWE cut is Co2 emissions from generation by 9% in the last year).
However, to secure its future, RWE – as was revealed in this insightful piece by Energy Post’s Karel Beckman – is going to focus more on future technologies: renewable energy, distributed generation and smart, enabling systems.
Terium says centralised generation is losing its primacy and the decentralised energy world needs an ‘integrated energy manager’.
They are looking at “decentralised energy bundles” for small and medium-sized municipal utilities and sees electric vehicles as a core element of the energy system, because of their ability to serve as decentralised energy storage units.
The company is offering solar PV systems and wind turbines to allow local energy communities.
Read the full story here. Thanks to an alert protector on the Pipeline Protectors list for this news.
Western Marylanders Arrested at Cumberland Courthouse in Protest Aimed at Stopping Cove Point Fracked Gas Exports
CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND—A local Unitarian minister and three western Maryland residents were arrested just before noon today outside the Allegany County Courthouse in Cumberland for peacefully protesting Virginia-based Dominion Resources’ plan to build a liquefied natural gas export facility at Cove Point in southern Maryland. The protesters blocked the courthouse entrance to demand justice in the controversial federal handling of the massive $3.8 billion project, which would take nearly a billion cubic feet of gas per day from fracking wells across the Appalachian region, liquefy it on the Chesapeake Bay, and export it to Asia.
Today’s nonviolent civil disobedience action followed fast on the heels of the Stop Cove Point protest in Baltimore last week, on February 19th. With over 800 participants, the Stop Cove Point protest has been called “the largest ever environmental protest in Baltimore’s history.”
“I am here today as both a citizen of this beautiful state and as a minister deeply concerned that the proposed Cove Point gas export facility would take us in exactly the wrong direction,” said Reverend Terence Ellen, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Greater Cumberland. “It is inconceivable to me that a project so huge and so potentially harmful to our health and welfare would not even receive a full Environmental Impact Statement. We’re sitting in today because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is failing to serve the public.”
Joining Rev. Ellen were three young people, including two native residents of Cumberland who are students at Frostburg University and a local Frostburg resident who has seen the impacts of fracking elsewhere. With signs reading “Don’t Bring Fracking to Western Maryland” and “This Is Our Public Comment!” they specifically called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to conduct a full and fair Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Cove Point. They also appealed to Governor Martin O’Malley and members of Congress to break their silence and join them in demanding this most rigorous and participatory type of environmental review.
“I am risking arrest today in opposition to Cove Point and the pressure it would place on my home counties and on the mid-Atlantic at large to frack for gas,” said Benjamin Brown, an undergraduate student at Frostburg University and native of Cumberland. “I cannot remain idle as the places and things I love—fishing with my father, hiking with my friends, the splendor of these mountains—are exploited. I give up my temporary freedom in the hope that all leaders of our communities, including Governor Martin O’Malley, will rise to protect our collective future.”
All participants expressed deep concern that Dominion’s Cove Point plan would incite enormous pressure to open western Maryland to industrial fracking wells and new gas infrastructure, harming public health and transforming the rural landscape that sustains local livelihoods.
“An export facility at Cove Point would simply be another addition to a fossil fuel model that has drastically failed us,” said Desiree Bullard, a Cumberland native and a graduate student at Frostburg University. “The only way Dominion can possibly justify this plan is by hiding the truth. We can’t match Dominion’s money or influence, which is why we are peacefully sitting in today, appealing to our leaders for an Environmental Impact Statement that assesses the full impacts of Cove Point.”
“A thorough Environmental Impact Statement would undoubtedly prove that fracking, drilling and extracting is not a sustainable path for our communities,” said Gabriel Adam Echeverri of Frostburg. “I stand in solidarity with the residents of Cove Point, with the residents of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and Ohio, and with my neighbors in opposition to any corporation that would take all for profit and leave nothing for progeny.”
Dominion’s Cove Point export plan has sparked growing opposition across Maryland in recent months, drawing a record crowd of environmental protesters to Baltimore last week as hearings began at the Maryland Public Service Commission. The state must sign off on Dominion’s permit to build a 130-megawatt gas-fired power plant to run on-site liquefaction operations, and the Public Service Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal this Saturday in Calvert County.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also weighing Dominion’s plan but, to date, has rejected calls for a full Environmental Impact Statement made by dozens of environmental, health and faith leaders, Maryland citizens, and Maryland’s Attorney General. Advocates contend that a less thorough and less participatory “Environmental Assessment” would fail to account for the domino effect of rising gas prices, expanded fracking, new pipelines and compressor stations and, ultimately, significant new carbon pollution that the Cove Point project could trigger region-wide.
See statements by the four activists on why they engaged in civil disobedience over Cove Point: “Why Four Maryland Citizens Risked Arrest in Cumberland to Stop Cove Point.”
Photos from the protest are available here. The citizens arrested will be available for interviews pending their release.
View the news release online: “Western Marylanders Arrested at Cumberland Courthouse in Protest of Cove Point Fracked Gas Export Plan“
For more information contact:
Evidently Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon — the largest fracked gas producer in the U.S. — likes his home quiet, his air clean, and his property values pristine. So he’s suing to stop the shale gas operation next door. For years, he’s used his bully pulpit to attack fracking regulations as “dysfunctional” restraints on economic growth. But when the industry comes close to him, suddenly he wants more than just regulation. He wants to stop it.
In September 2012, while Rex Tillerson prepared his keynote speech praising the fracking juggernaut on the closing day of the “Shale Gas Insight” convention, protesters outside confronted shale gas industry conventioneers with signs such as, “I’m here to lie to you and exploit your community.” The nonviolent protesters experienced aggressive behavior from the police, who choked a legal observer, pulled the hair of a young man of color while arresting him; and shoved Rabbi Mordechai Liebling and elderly Rabbi Arthur Waskow roughly outside the police partition. Rex Tillerson’s keynote speech was delayed at least an hour by the protesters:
Rex Tillerson may have a chance — but his hypocrisy is not lost on anyone.
Fracking is never just “frac’ing,” the fracturing stage of shale gas drilling. As Rex Tillerson has suddenly personally discovered, this is an industry whose construction of well pads, roads, pipelines, compressor stations; whose waste dumping, waste leaking, water withdrawal, water transport, chemical transport, chemical leaks, radioactive toxic salt brine dumping, fracked gas processing, diesel exhaust, methane leaks, VOC emissions, radioactive drill cuttings dumping, extreme noise and crime ARE what ordinary people mean when they say “fracking.”
Rex Tillerson finally tells the truth about fracking. It lowers property values.
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson may be the world’s biggest fracker (Exxon is the biggest natural gas producer in the U.S.) but he isn’t stupid. He’ll frack my backyard and tell me it’s good for me and he’ll frack your place too, but don’t let any frackers near his home. He knows damn well that fracking lowers property values, but he wouldn’t admit it until the frackers came to his place. He just joined a lawsuit to stop the fracking because it would lower the value of his property.
Tillerson has joined a lawsuit that cites fracking’s consequences in order to block the construction of a 160-foot water tower next to his and his wife’s Texas home.The Wall Street Journal reports the tower would supply water to a nearby fracking site, and the plaintiffs argue the project would cause too much noise and traffic from hauling the water from the tower to the drilling site. The water tower, owned by Cross Timbers Water Supply Corporation, “will sell water to oil and gas explorers for fracing [sic] shale formations leading to traffic with heavy trucks on FM 407, creating a noise nuisance and traffic hazards,” the suit says.
When he is acting as Exxon CEO, not a homeowner, Tillerson has lashed out at fracking critics and proponents of regulation. “This type of dysfunctional regulation is holding back the American economic recovery, growth, and global competitiveness,” he said in 2012.
Thousands of North Carolinians, like me, living in Moore, Lee, Chatham, Orange, Wake and Durham counties want to keep fracking out of our communities because fracking is incompatible with biotech, IT, retirement, higher education, world class hospitals, and the wonderful farm to market movement that has developed in central North Carolina. Our properties, our universities and schools, our farms, our retirement communities, our hospitals and our businesses deserve the same protection from loss of property values and environmental damage as Rex Tillerson’s. And our children deserve clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
Read the post on Daily Kos with 130 comments — and feel free to comment below, as well. North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, New York, West Virginia, Ohio and more: we’re all drawing closer together in a united struggle against the extreme arrogance of Chevron, Exxon and the like, who have lost control of public opinion just like they lost control of the fire that incinerated a worker thirteen days ago.
The February 11th Chevron disaster occurred in an area long accustomed to extractive industries. Some western PA residents were shocked when state environmental regulators (PA DEP) claimed to be “grateful” that no one lived within half a mile of the dangerous explosions, flames, heat and smoke — even while that same DEP continues to fight for fracking well pads to be set back as little as 300 feet from homes, schools, playgrounds, and vulnerable clean streams.
Still, many residents who lived close to the out-of-control Chevron fire in Greene County have been slow to anger.
Not any more. The response by Chevron, after the fire burned out of control for four days and continues to emit gas and heat in the area, earned it this headline from CNN:
(CNN) – Some Pennsylvania residents who live near a Chevron natural gas well that exploded, killing a worker, are getting compensation of sorts from the corporation.Free pizza and sodas.
Chevron is dispensing 100 gift certificates for pizza and soft drinks to those in the area of Greene County where the February 11 explosion sparked a fire that burned for four days. An employee at Bobtown Pizza confirmed the corporation’s order of gift certificates.
The cause of the explosion is still unknown, according to Jeff Rhodes, Greene County 911 Emergency Coordinator.
The blast killed a worker and injured another, and although the fire is out gas and heat are still being emitted into the atmosphere, Rhodes said.
Chevron’s edible outreach is not sitting well with some recipients.
“Worst apology ever: Sorry our fracking well exploded. Here’s a free pizza,” one angry Twitter user wrote Tuesday.
“Nice community relations: if you are frightened by fire and explosion, relax, have a pizza!” another tweet stated.
“Huge Slap in the Face”
One resident who said he wished to remain anonymous because of Chevron’s strong presence in the area told CNN that he received a certificate on Sunday while he and his family were out. He said it was the first and last time they had heard from Chevron regarding the incident.“It felt like a huge slap in the face,” the resident told CNN.“I do not feel that they’ve addressed anything. I haven’t even called their hotline yet because I’m just too upset. A pizza coupon? I mean come on!”
Residents to Move Out: Ongoing Dislocation in Shalefield Communities
The resident who spoke to CNN said he plans to move his family as a result of the incident.“We’re moving as soon as we can. That’s not their only well near our house. It’s just not safe,” he said.In an update published Tuesday on its website, Chevron said the situation at the well “remains serious and teams are working around the clock to safely approach and shut the well.”
Shale Gas Fires Kill Workers in Pennsylvania; Governor Praises Industry’s Safety Record
Eve Andrews of Grist reports, in “Just a Fracking Well Exploding Into Flames — Nothing to See Here!“:
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) has been a consistent advocate for fracking in the state. He’s refused to levy significant taxes on gas companies and is pushing for the reversal of both a state Supreme Court ruling and former Gov. Ed Rendell’s (D) executive order that protect many regions of the state, including parks, from drilling. In spite of the supersized natural gas bonfire in his backyard, Corbett continues to laud the safety of the fracking industry.
Twenty-one cars of a long, 118-car train carrying crude oil and liquified natural gas (propane, or LPG) derailed yesterday morning in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, about 36 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
The train is owned by Norfolk Southern, which said that thousands of gallons of crude oil will need to be cleaned up. Nineteen of the derailed cars were carrying crude oil, and two carried propane (LPG). Norfolk Southern said that four of the cars have been leaking crude oil since the derailment occurred shortly before 8 AM on Thursday, February 13th, according to the Pittsburgh television station WTAE in “Train carrying oil, propane derails in Vandergrift.”
Initially Norfolk Southern estimated about 1,000 gallons; then it refused to say, but sources told WTAE that 3 to 4,000 gallons had spilled from four cars. Later yesterday afternoon, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokespeople clarified that 15,000 gallons had spilled so far:
Four of the cars were punctured and are leaking heavy crude oil – three of them have released only a few gallons. The fourth car split open and released about half its load, or up to 15,000 gallons. Deputy Sec. Dana Aunkst says when the oil spilled, it “tarred up in the snow” so it did not spread.
Source: “Train carrying crude oil derails in western PA,” StateImpact PA, by Marie Cusick and Katie Colaneri.
UPDATE 4:54 pm Friday, February 14th: PA DEP has revised its earlier statement, according to StateImpact, clarifying that the entire rail car carries about 15,000 gallons. So, about half that load means an estimated 7,500 gallons spilled. We revised our headline and inserted this update as soon as we learned about the clarification. Norfolk Southern continues to claim that about three to four thousand gallons of crude oil have spilled.
Some of the cars struck a building where metal products are made. Westmoreland County officials said the accident occurred on a rail line between Vandergrift and East Vandergrift, near the MSI Corporation property.
Photos: Train derailment in Vandergrift
Another news story, “Penn train derailment leaks thousands of gallons of oil, sends car into building,” commented that the train, derailed as it was making its way across Pennsylvania, resulted in “spilling thousands of gallons of oil and alarming observers who have called for stricter safety standards on trains hauling hazardous material.”
Some close-at-hand observers were quite alarmed:
Residents said the derailment was tremendous enough to shake buildings and could be heard throughout the surrounding area. One of the loose cars slammed into a business, destroying equipment that is used to mill steel blocks.
“I heard a strange noise, a hollow, screeching sound,” witness Ray Cochran, whose home oversees the railroad tracks, told Reuters. “I looked out the window and saw three or four tankers turn over and one of them ran into the building.”
Call to Action
Consider yourselves alarmed, observers, wherever you live. If you live in a rural area or small town anywhere that these mile-long oil trains travel, please call your town or county’s governing body today expressing that alarm, and urging that these unsafe trains be halted.
If you live in a larger city, including Pittsburgh, Philadelpha, Chicago or Albany, consider making a Valentine’s call to your City Councilmember to demand a moratorium on the oil trains (not just on Valentine’s Day, but any time this week.) And wherever you live — this is a national and international issue — a call to your state and federal legislators demanding not just for safeguards, but a moratorium on these dangerous trains now — would be well-timed this week.
1. This is the seventh recent major oil train derailment since last June, when a train carrying Bakken Shale oil derailed, exploded, and incinerated 15 acres of downtown Lac Megantic, killing 47 people.
2. Officials say they do not know why the derailments are happening. Therefore the trains should be stopped until they do know.
3. In particular, the DOT-111 cars, known to be thin, easily punctured, overly rigid, and unsafe, should be taken off the tracks immediately. No compromising safety for profit.
4. The Philadelphia derailment of explosive Bakken Shale crude oil involved stronger, less easily punctured 101 trains. That suggests that if the DOT- 111 trains had derailed over the Schuylkill River on that train bridge, the derailed cars would have exploded, burning a power station and gas pipelines in an expanding fire which would have burned universities, likely nearby hospitals including Children’s Hospital and the vast UPenn medical complex, residences, and a major highway, the Schuylkill Expressway; all while sending oil into the river below.
5. Officials are still testing the Bakken Shale crude oil to see whether it has too much gas in it and whether it should be re-classified as a more dangerous gas, rather than as ordinary crude. Obviously there should be a moratorium at least until the final test results are in and hazardous cargo can be properly classified.
6. Those who have inspected several of the wrecks have said that when oil trains have exploded and burned, it may be the explosion which causes the derailment and not the other way around. With cargo so intensely flammable and explosive, why wait for a major disaster, a full-scale catastrophe, to occur? Why not act now?
7. Over one million gallons of crude oil spilled from oil trains in 2013, with a total of 1.15 million gallons. That’s more than spilled in the years from 1975 to 2010 combined, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Protect our waterways!
8. This oil does not “have to get to where it needs to go,” as NPR cheerfully framed the derailment story last night. The oil has no needs. The oil is happy underground, in the shale, in the sands, in the earth. The oil, in the process of being extracted, transported, processed, transported again, and finally burned, is destroying our climate.
9. Have you ever seen solar panels spill? Have you ever seen wind turbines explode and incinerate 15 acres, killing 47 people? Where is the national climate action plan?
10. The town of Cassleton was evacuated; and a 5-mile radius around Casselton was urged to evacuate, when that oil train exploded and sent a fireball high into the sky on December 30th, 2013. Yesterday only 35 people were evacuated in the tiny town of Vandergrift… because the accident didn’t happen “in town.” Ask your local officials: what’s the evacuation plan for an oil train derailment within five miles of you?
The ongoing spike in derailments, explosions, fires and spills from the surge in crude-by-rail is completely unacceptable. No one’s life is expendable, rural or urban. Neither are our waterways or our climate. Resist the oil trains. And take the DOT-111 cars off the tracks immediately.
Future: Look for future posts related to resisting fossil fuel transportation in the Philadelphia area. The Philadelaphia Inquirer reports that the derailed Pittsburgh area train was carrying Canadian crude oil bound for Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The particular oil tankers which derailed were headed for an asphalt plant in Paulsboro, New Jersey.
“We are aggressively pursuing a robust, enforceable environmental standard in the TPP including U.S. proposals that go above and beyond previous free trade agreements,” [Froman] said. “We have worked closely with the environmental community from the start and have made our commitment clear.”
Michael Froman, U.S. trade representative, as quoted in “Green groups fear U.S. U-turn on Pacific trade deal vows,” Financial Times, 01/15/14
The outcry is growing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the proposed fast track process for approving it in the U.S. In our last post, “The Secret Scary TPP: What You Need to Know and Do,” we covered the basics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and some of the main issues with it. Today, we’ll explain how not only does it fail to protect the environment, it also includes tools that allow corporations to punish countries for environment and public health protections that threaten corporate profits.
The most important of these is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), mentioned in our last post.
Investor-State Dispute Settlements
The investor–state dispute settlement process emerged in the 1960s. It didn’t become popular until the 1990s, though, when bilateral investment treaties became more commonplace. Corporations began using the tool and discovered how useful it was, and it became more and more popular from there.
Investor-state dispute settlements have three main parties: the investor, the state, and an arbitrator. The “investor” in investor-state disputes is generally a corporation, although individuals have occasionally filed suits. The “state” is generally a country, though it can be a province as well. Only investors can initiate cases. The arbitrator comes from a rotating panel, and someone who serves as arbitrator in one case can serve as counsel for another.
The investor-state system isn’t tied to any particular country or body. However, its settlements are binding and can be enforced in domestic court. More worryingly, there is no appellate body and decisions are not made based on precedent. Because arbitration can only be initiated by corporations, if a state is successful in defending itself, it has only won that specific case. Change the parties or the details, and the corporation or a similar one can try again. Because arbitrators are paid by the hour, it is in their interest to drag on legal proceedings as long as possible.
According to the United Nations, the average cost of a tribunal exceeds $8 million per party per case. An unwelcome decision by a state can cost the state millions of dollars for defense in multiple similar cases, even if they successfully defend themselves one or every time. Additionally, there is no cap on the amount of compensation investors can seek. For example, the Swedish nuclear energy corporation Vattenfall is currently suing Germany for $4.6 billion for its planned phase-out of nuclear power. Even if a state believes they have a strong case, the threat of damages in the hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars can be daunting. When even careful, justified decisions can lead to endless legal battles and costs, the result is a chilling effect on new domestic protections.
This is especially true for poorer, less-developed countries, which often need new environmental and public health protections the most. Investors can sue states for prohibiting or restricting processes or products that are banned in the investor’s home country or proven to be unsafe, as long as the investment arrived before the new regulation. For example, in the infamous Ethyl Corp. v. Canada case of 1996/1997, Ethyl Corp, a U.S. company, sued Canada for $251 million plus legal costs for Canada’s ban on the import and trade of MMT, a dangerous octane booster in gasoline. Use of MMT was already banned in the U.S. when Ethyl Corp. brought the case, but not only could Ethyl Corp. bring a case to the tribunal, they won. Ethyl Corp. received a $13 million settlement plus legal fees, a reversal of the ban, and a public statement from the Canadian government saying that there were no risks from the use of MMT in gasoline.
While corporations often favor undeveloped countries for the smooth operations and large profits that come from a lack of oversight and regulation, investor-state systems are a cherry on top. Because poorer countries can’t afford huge legal battles or settlements, they are reluctant to put new regulations in place. And if they do dare, corporations can always threaten–or pursue–tribunals and huge settlements. Developing countries are in a no-win situation, and corporations, as they are wont to do, capitalize on this.
We’ve covered the damage done by the mere existence of these cases–but what about the problems with the arbitration itself? Tied to no particular state or body, unmoored from any foundation of precedent, arbitration is characterized by vague, corporate-friendly guidelines. The most prominent of these are “minimum standard of treatment” and “fair and equitable treatment.” Violating the minimum standard of treatment essentially means denial of justice–violating what any reasonable neutral party would consider fair. Depending on who’s doing the interpreting, “fair and equitable treatment” is sometimes the same standard, sometimes a higher one. In the context of investor-state relations, “fair and equitable treatment” generally means that deals and new regulations or restrictions are decided on quickly and transparently, and favor investors.
Two other key terms:
“Indirect expropriation“: here generally interpreted to mean any action that takes control of or lowers the value of an investor’s assets/investments in a place.
“Regulatory takings“: regulation or similar actions that constrain a corporation’s activities, thereby lowering or preventing expected profits.
More legal definitions are available in Consumers International’s Fact Sheet. The cases cited above come from Public Citizen’s long and outrage-provoking history of all investor-state cases, available here. It’s worth a read.
The Famed Environment Chapter: Empty Hopes for Environmental Protection
On January 7th, Wikileaks released the draft Environment Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Environmental groups had been anxious to see a draft of the chapter to evaluate the strength of the language and see whether agreements against overfishing, illegal logging, and shark fin harvesting were included as required by U.S. law and previous trade agreements.
As feared, despite its title, the Environment Chapter gives essentially no assurance of environmental protection. As with investor-state arbitration, environmental protection comes after trade and corporate profits in priority. To that end, the chapter is characterized by its weak, vague language. Variations on “cooperative,” “voluntary,” and “facilitate” come up frequently. Article SS.9.1: Voluntary Mechanisms to Enhance Environmental Performance, is a typical example of this:
“The Parties recognize that flexible, voluntary mechanisms […] can contribute to the achievement and maintenance of high levels of environmental protection and complement domestic regulatory measures. The Parties further recognize that such mechanisms should be designed in a manner that maximizes their environmental benefits and avoids the creation of unnecessary barriers to trade.”
Another example: the section on Corporate Social Responsibility, which reads in part:
“Each Party should encourage enterprises operating within its territory or jurisdiction, to adopt
voluntarily, into their policies and practices, principles of corporate social responsibility related
to the environment [...].”
The few tools for enforcement that the Environment Chapter does include are known to be weak. As the Sierra Club points out in their analysis, “Raw Deal: How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Could Threaten Our Climate,” “While the provisions of the environment chapter may be strong on paper, similar provisions in other trade pacts that allow one trading partner to challenge the environmental practices of another trading partner have never before been utilized.”
As for the required provisions? They’re in there, somewhat, but again with weak language. Even though the U.S. is required to seek a ban on shark fin hunting in any new international trade agreements, the Environment Chapter doesn’t include one. Additionally, in 2007, the U.S. government had agreed that any future Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) should be binding. The U.S. proposed that here, but other countries fought that as well as any other specific issue discussions in the Environment Chapter, even with non-binding language throughout. In their explanation of the Environment Chapter’s background, Grist points out that as the Environmental Chapter stands, instead of enforceable language, “if a country is found wanting, it just has to promise to work toward changing its ways.”
The TPP and Fracking
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would encourage more fracking exports. As the Sierra Club points out in their factsheet, “An Explosion of Fracking? One of the dirtiest secrets of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement,” “the DOE loses its authority to regulate exports of natural gas to countries with which the United States has a free trade agreement that includes so-called ‘national treatment for trade in gas.”
‘[...] The TPP, therefore, could mean automatic approval of liquid natural gas (LNG) export permits—without any review or consideration—to TPP countries.”
And once those agreements are in place, impeding them could lead to an investor-state case. That means that beyond its current limited respect for the people’s voice, the government would have to weigh the cost of listening to protest against potentially huge legal settlements. And even if we were victorious there, investor-state dispute tribunals could, in an arbitrary arbitration, undo all of our work.
What Can You Do?
If you’re in the United States, call your congressional Representative to oppose TPP Fast Track! Today, February 12th, is a National Call-In Day against the fast-track process. The TPP is unlikely to go through without the fast track process. If you are reading this on, or within a few days of, February 12th, use the Coalition call-in number, 1-888-925-7006. Tell your Representative that you oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to vote NO on the fast track process.
After February 14th: call your U.S. Representative directly with the same urgent message. Just look up their phone number with an easy zip code-based search here: Find My Representative.
Learn More: if you’re in southeastern Pennsylvania and want to learn more or discuss more, come to the TPP Forum at the Jenkintown Library at 6:30PM on February 20th to hear representatives from Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Food & Water Watch, the Pennsylvania Sierra Club, and Pennsylvania Fair Trade Coalition talk about the TPP. Protecting Our Waters is a co-sponsor of this event. For more information and to RSVP, see the event’s Facebook page or Food & Water Watch’s event page.
“Pennsylvania State Police said it could take days to contain the fire from an explosion at a Greene County gas well this morning that left one person missing,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today at 3:21 pm.
The well near Bobtown, Pennsylvania, where about 20 employees were working, exploded around 7 a.m., drawing emergency crews and ambulances to the scene.
DEP spokesman John Poister said that Chevron, which is responsible for the apparent blowout, explosions and fire, called in a Wild Well gas well fire control unit from Houston but that unit will not be on site til 4 pm today.
Mr. Poister also said that a truck on the well pad that contained propane also exploded. The fire was so intense that firefighters had to pull back from the flames, he said.
More from the Post-Gazette reporters Molly Born and Amy McConnell Schaarsmith:
“We’re being told … the site itself, that fire, will not be contained and we will not have access to that property for at least a few days,” Trooper Stefani Plume said.
A representative from Chevron Corp., which operates the site, would not answer questions at the briefing.
One worker was hospitalized with minor injuries, Trooper Plume said.
Another is missing, according to the trooper and Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver. The other 18 workers had been accounted for as of 8:48 a.m., according to Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene. It is not yet clear what sparked the explosion.
“I’m praying that everyone is safe, and that if anyone is unaccounted for that they are found alive and well,” Ms. Snyder said.
The explosion at the Chevron Appalachia-owned Lanco 7H well at 641 Bald Hill Church Road just caused a fire that forced state troopers from the Waynesburg barracks to close the road to traffic and establish a half-mile perimeter around the site, according to state police and Ms. Snyder.
Plumes of smoke billowed from the area of the well, which was still burning after noon.
Firefighters from Bobtown/Dunkard Township, Greensboro, Mount Morris and Carmichaels have responded to the scene.
The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Greene County Emergency Management Agency also are on the scene, and help from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Red Cross has been requested.
The explosion and fire appear to be a fracking blowout. However, after the first big blowouts in Pennsylvania in 2010, the fracking industry has been successful in making sure the word “blowout” does not appear in the press.
This appears to be key to industry PR efforts to de-link the fracking industry blowouts, in the public mind, from BP’s blowout and its well-known elements: devastating pollution, death and injury to workers; cozy relationships between the industry and regulators which led safety procedures to be ignored.
We trust the public to understand that whether it’s BP, Chevron, Range, Cabot, or Chesapeake, the resulting destruction is reprehensible and could have been prevented. By not fracking Pennsylvania shale, for instance.
Have you seen the extraordinary photos and video from the natural gas pipeline explosion which lit up the night sky in Manitoba early Saturday?
Because of the explosion and fire, several thousand people in southern Manitoba are without natural gas service as temperatures influenced by the polar vortex hover close to —20 C.
“The explosion and fire at a TransCanada Pipelines valve site near St. Pierre-Jolys happened early Saturday morning, sending a massive fireball into the dark sky,” the Canadian Press reported.
The timing of this latest major disaster — coming close on the heels of series of six major oil by rail disasters and countless other recent pipeline fireballs and spills — underscores the danger of transporting fossil fuel whether by rail or by pipeline.
In an added irony, the icy polar vortex escaping southward — due to warmer air caused, scientists say, by our past burning of fossil fuels — deepens the desperation of 4000 Canadians without natural gas service due to the explosion.
The spectacular series of oil and gas pipeline disasters and oil by rail catastrophes, along with the West Virginia water contamination due to chemicals used in coal processing, beseeches us all to connect the dots to climate, to corporate control, and to our need to rapidly transition to a sustainable energy future.
Deeper meaning of pipeline and oil by rail disasters
This endless series of disasters is not just telling us we need safer rail cars, better pipelines. It’s telling us that our extreme wastefulness and disconnectedness from the earth, from the longer-term consequences of our actions, and from each other must shift.
What remaining fossil fuel we can afford to extract, as slowly and safely as possible, must be used for life support, and for the rapid transition to a sustainable energy economy, with care and planning to achieve energy justice.
This will probably require a shift to stakeholder capitalism in the U.S., rather than shareholder capitalism. Shareholder capitalism, our current system, essentially legislates that blind profit must drive the political economy “no matter what,” even if that means steadily committing long-term climate suicide.
Stakeholder capitalism is also much more protective of jobs and income. This is of tremendous relevance as income inequality in the U.S. continues to skyrocket. Germany, for example, has stakeholder capitalism, as Harold Meyerson recently pointed out in a January 14th Washington Post article showing that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would increase income inequality tremendously if allowed to pass: “Free Trade and the Loss of U.S. Jobs.”
Rapid phasing out of extreme energy extraction essential
Minnesota is leading the way, with a judge ordering a major utility to invest in a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of solar, instead of natural gas, for power plants — for ecological reasons.
“Spending a given amount of money on a clean-energy investment agenda generatesapproximately 3.2 times the number of jobs within the United States as does spending thesame amount of money within the fossil fuel sectors.”
Yet the larger-scale transition urgently needed is barely even being discussed.
We know that most of the current reserves owned by oil and gas companies must stay in the ground in order to protect climate. So it’s logical that the remaining oil and gas must be used for life support, not to make billions of plastic bags. Not for U.S. military bases all over the world. Not for bigger, more powerful cars. Not for bigger, harder to heat homes and unhealthy levels of meat consumption. Not for inefficient construction in cold regions that makes no use of passive solar techniques, double-pane and triple-pane windows, and high R-value insulation. Not for extraction of energy which approaches a 1:1 ration of energy used for cradle to grave production. Not for extreme energy exports. And not for continued subsidies of fossil fuels at the expense of and instead of renewables.
Why is there not more change? Are we so cowed by the Koch brothers? Are we so terrified of change? Are we so petrified of inconvenience? Do we consider going without plastic bags to be the ultimate in deprivation? Really?
Conveniencing ourselves to death
Fossil fuels have contributed enormously to human development, but now they are doing the opposite. We are “conveniencing ourselves to death,” as Wyoming rancher and farmer John Fenton said at our Freedom from Fracking conference this past September in Philadelphia.
Fenton, who has benzene in his drinking water at 50 times the “safe” limit after fracking contaminated his water, had witnessed a plastic bag (manufactured using ethane, a natural gas product) floating high in the sky and had an epiphany.
The massive Manitoba explosion, coinciding with the polar vortex which scientists say is caused by global warming, must be our collective epiphany.
We cannot deny that we are in a true planetary emergency. This endless series of massive pipeline explosions and spills, and this endless series of rail explosions and spills, is trying to tell us something. When will we listen to the deeper message?
As of 9 p.m. Monday night, the train cars were still on the bridge. According to a Reuters story published yesterday, “CSX Railroad said it would take one to two days for workers to remove the oil and sand cargo and the derailed cars.” But with close to a foot of snow falling on Philadelphia through Tuesday night, that seems unlikely.
For Immediate Release: January 21, 2014
Contacts: Iris Marie Bloom, Director, Protecting Our Waters, 215-840-6489 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director, Clean Air Council, 215-567-4004 x 121, email@example.com
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Member, Philadelphia Interfaith Power and Light, 215-913-8363
Wes Gillingham, Program Director, Catskill Mountainkeeper, 845-901-1029
Philadelphia Derailment of “Oil Bomb” Train Sparks Outrage;
Near-Miss from Disaster is Sixth Derailment of Bakken Shale Train Since June
Groups Press for Immediate Halt
Philadelphia, PA – Outrage is building among residents whose lives are put at risk by the mile-long oil and gas trains coming from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, Montana and Canada, in the aftermath of the oil train derailment yesterday in Philadelphia. The derailment occurred in a densely populated neighborhood, over a major highway, near several large universities, Children’s Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania medical complex. Rapid evacuation of a five-mile radius from any future oil train explosion and fire in the Philadelphia area, or any urban area, would be impossible. When a similar train exploded and burned on December 30th, 2013 in Casselton, North Dakota, evacuation was urged for a five-mile radius to avoid damaging inhalation of toxic smoke.
Today Protecting Our Waters, Clean Air Council, Philadelphia Interfaith Power and Light, the Catskill Mountainkeeper, and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy join together in calling for a halt to the dangerous trains carrying fracked oil and gas.
“This derailment, just blocks from my Philadelphia home of 24 years, is truly terrifying because all five of the other recent derailments of this type of shale oil and gas train have erupted into fireballs, including the one that incinerated fifteen acres of downtown Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people in that small town,” said Iris Marie Bloom, director of Protecting Our Waters, a Philadelphia-based grassroots nonprofit.
“Human life is worth more than oil and gas, which is changing our climate and harming the health of residents in the increasingly extreme “sacrifice zones” for fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, including risky transportation. These ‘oil bomb’ trains are putting lives at risk in urban and rural areas alike,” Bloom continued. “We agree with Canadian Pacific Railroad CEO E. Hunter Harrison, who told CNBC on January 15th, ‘These 111 tank cars that you hear so much about, if I was calling the shots, would be stopped tomorrow.’’“
“This near miss [in Philadelphia] highlights the public safety and health concerns related to a continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels for our energy needs,” said Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council. “No one—not the residents of the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota living near active drilling and flaring, or residents of Philadelphia, should have to be exposed to the health and safety impacts of unbridled dirty energy. The Council calls for a swift transition away from polluting and harmful energy, including fracked crude oil and gas, to clean, safe renewable energy, with conservation and energy efficiency.”
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, a member of the Philadelphia chapter of Interfaith Power and Light PA, said: “It is morally indefensible to endanger the lives of tens of thousands of people along hundreds of miles of railroad track by shipping an extremely dangerous substance in tanker cars that the authorities admit are unsafe and need to be phased out.”
“This could have been catastrophic,” said Wes Gillingham, Program Director for the Catskill Mountainkeeper. “The train could have exploded onto a busy highway, spewing the toxic contents directly into the Schuylkill river which flows into the Delaware River.”
“This should stand as a wake up call not just to Philadelphia but also all across the country to any community near a rail transport,” said Gillingham. “The clear message is we need to stop the runaway gas and oil industry from endangering our communities for the sake of their profits.”
Gillingham added, “Every time we turn around there is another report of problems with Bakken oil or tar sands crude being shipped by rail. In 2006, reports show there were 5000 rail cars of petroleum. Now we are up to somewhere around 500,000. This is a recipe for disaster with combination of inadequate inspections faulty cars, aging tracks and a greedy industry bent on getting their tar sands crude and fracked oil and gas to market as fast as they can no matter the cost to the communities along the way. In 2013, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), over 1.5 million gallons of crude spilled from rail cars. That is more than has spilled in the previous forty years.”
The exploding trains have also damaged air, drinking water and wetlands. Yesterday’s derailment put the Schuylkill River at risk as toxic Bakken shale oil, known to contain carcinogenic benzene and deadly hydrogen sulfide at high levels, dangles over the river, threatening to catch fire and explode as other train cars have done.
Economist Janette Barth, PhD, who has written and lectured extensively on the economic impact of shale gas development and is a director of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, commented, “The recent derailments and explosions of trains carrying crude are just another of the many costs that have not been considered in analyses of the economic impacts of increased shale oil and gas production in the United States. It is far too costly for Americans to allow continued exploration and development of shale oil and gas. The time is now to ramp down the production and use of fossil fuels and to increase the development of renewable energy.”
BACKGROUND: The chronology of six derailments across North America overshadows the fact that yesterday’s derailment is also the fourth derailment of this type of train to occur in the Philadelphia area since 2011. First, the five previous “oil bomb” train derailments, explosions, fires and evacuations:
1. 2013: June 6th: Lac-Megantic, Canada: Bakken Shale oil train derails, explodes, burns 15 acres of downtown Lac-Megantic, kills 42 people; additional five presumed dead.
2. 2013: October 19th: Edmonton, Canada: A fireballs erupts as a Bakken Shale train derails; one LPG car explodes and three burn; homes burn to the ground.
3. 2013: November 8th: In rural Alabama, 20 cars of a Bakken Shale oil train derail, burning and sending a fireball 300 feet into the air, also polluting a wetlands.
4. 2013: December 30th: In Casselton, North Dakota a stunning mushroom-shaped fireball erupts, followed by heavy plumes of toxic smoke, when 21 cars of a Bakken Shale oil and gas train derail and burn. Town evacuated; evacuation urged for everyone in a five mile radius to avoid the toxic smoke.
5. 2014: January 7th: Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Canada: 150 people evacuated when 17 cars derailed including 5 oil cars, 4 LPG cars. Two LPG tank cars and one crude oil tank car caught fire.
6. 2014: January 20th: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Seven cars of a 101-car CSX train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge over the Schuylkill River. Six were carrying crude oil, and one was carrying sand.
Philadelphia area derailments involving 111 type tank cars since 2011:
1. Derailment in East Park near Fountain Green Drive in January 2011
2. Derailment in Paulsboro in November 2012
3. Derailment in September 2013 near PBF’s Paulsboro refinery
Risk factors making Bakken Shale oil trains particularly unacceptably dangerous:
1. Rail cars of the 111 type are not designed to carry this type of fuel.
2. Presence of volatile organic compounds, including carcinogenic benzene, increases pressure, flammability and explosive character of the fuel
3. Presence of deadly and explosive hydrogen sulfide gas, found by Enbridge in Bakken Shale oil at 1,200 parts per million. Just a few inhalations of H2S at 200 parts per million can cause respiratory failure in humans.
4. Researchers have found that in collisions, the highly rigid, thin skins of the (111 type) tank ruptures easily.
5. Rails over which these trains travel are often very old. The Philadelphia railroad bridge involved in yesterday’s derailment was built at the turn of the 20th century.
6. Experts are wondering whether the Bakken Shale oil and gas is so flammable that it should be re-categorized as a Class 1 explosive material, but while the experts wonder, it is categorized as if it is less explosive and flammable than it is.
Source for CNBC quote: A lifelong “railroad man,” E. Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific, said on January 15th, 2014, “The 111 tank cars that you hear so much about, if I was calling the shots would be stopped tomorrow,” Harrison said, speaking with Tyler Matheson on CNBC’s Nightly Business Report. “They’re not ready, they’re not equipped for that commodity [Bakken Shale crude] as I see it, they’ve been controversial for two decades now, so that needs to change.”
Source for Philadelphia area derailments and H2S content in Enbridge oil tank: Hidden City: “A Petaled Rose of Hell: Refineries, Fire Risk, and the New Geography of Oil in Philadelphia’s Tidewater,” by Christopher Dougherty. Online at http://hiddencityphila.org/2013/12/a-petaled-rose-of-hell-refineries-fire-risk-and-the-new-geography-of-oil-in-philadelphias-tidewater/