Oil

Four Oil Spills in One Week: Exxon's Arkansas Tar Sands spill one of many

  • Posted on: 9 April 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

As many people who watch the oil industry know, oil spills are not avoidable, preventable, or unlikely. From extraction to combustion, oil is a destructive and dirty business, based on sacrificing the health of environments and peoples for corporate profits.

Smoke pours from an Exxon Oil Refinery after an explosion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1989

This fact was especially evident last week, when Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled over 150,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude oil into Lake Conway and adjoining neighborhoods in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Exxon's tar sands spill in Mayflower, Arkansas

However, Exxon’s Mayflower spill is not an isolated incident. In fact, there were three other significant oil spills that occurred last week.

The spills, which were the result of both train derailments and pipeline ruptures, spilled many hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic crude oil in and around neighborhoods, marshes, and rivers.

March 26 - Train Derailment in Minnesota - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled

Last week's cacophony of oil industry irresponsibility began with a train derailment in Minnesota, which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil. The oil was from Canada which has become a top exporter of crude to the United States because of their exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta.

aerial view of the Alberta Tar Sands

In a fit of ill-timed opportunism, supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands oil from Canada to the gulf coast, used this this spill as a justification for building the tar sands pipeline. A spokesman for North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, who has been one of the chief political proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, had this to say:

"It should be clear that we need to move more oil by pipeline rather than by rail or truck...This is why we need the Keystone XL. Pipelines are both safe and efficient."

March, 29 - Lake Conoway, Arkansas - 156,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil spilled

In an incident that should make anyone question the "safety and efficiency" of oil pipelines, Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline spilled 157,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Lake Conway and surrounding neighborhoods in Arkansas. Since the spill, Exxon has limited press access to the spill site, oiled animals, and even the skies above the spill area. Exxon has even claimed that Lake Conway has been unaffected by the oil spill, though Arkansas Attorney General Dustin Mcdaniel has set that particular record straight.

"Of course there's oil in Lake Conway"

Mcdaniels said.

Arkansas Pipeline Spill
Exxon's tar sands oil spills into a cove of Lake Conway, Arkansas

April, 3 - Houston, Texas - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled

Four days after Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and seven days after Keystone XL pipeline proponents claimed "pipelines are both safe and efficient," a Shell pipeline running through a bayou outside of Houston spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the Texas marsh. The actual amount of oil spilled by Shell's West Columbia Pipeline is still unknown, as the cause of the leak has not been released by Shell.

 

April, 3 - White River, Ontario - 16,642 gallons of crude oil spilled

At the same time that Shell was spewing oil into the wetlands of Texas, a train derailment in White River, Ontario was leaking oil in Canada. Most people know White River as the original home of Winnie the Pooh, but it is also a major train depot for shipping crude oil. The company responsible claimed that 4 barrels of oil were spilled, though the actual number turned out to be 10 times larger, at 400 barrels. That's 16,642 gallons of toxic crude oil. Sorry Winnie.

As the oil industry proved this week, they are incapable of protecting people and the environment from their product. As Micheal Brune of Sierra Club said:

"In Ontario, the company said it spilled four barrels when it had actually spilled 400. In Arkansas, Exxon learned about the spill from a homeowner but kept pumping tar sands crude into the neighborhood for 45 minutes, and is bullying reporters who want to tell the public what's going on. In Texas, a major oil spill came to light that Shell had been denying for days. Transporting toxic crude oil -- and tar sands in particular -- is inherently dangerous, more so because oil companies care about profit, not public safety. This is why Keystone XL, at nine times the size of the Arkansas Pegasus pipeline, must never be built.”

If built, the Keystone XL pipeline will spill. Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Is Exxon trying to hide the effects from their tar sands pipeline spill?

  • Posted on: 4 April 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

 

Greenpeace photo of Exxon's Tar Sands oil spill, before the No-Fly zone was established

Sure seems like it. According to reports from the ground, Exxon is in full control of the response to the thousands of barrels of tar sands oil that began spilling from Exxon's ruptured pipeline in Arkansas last weekend. The skies above the spill has been deemed a no-fly zone, and all requests for aerial photos must be approved by Exxon’s own “aviation advisor” Tom Suhrhoff.

In addition, the entire area has been cordoned off and news media have been prevented from inspecting the spill zone.

Now, Exxon is trying to limit access to the animals impacted by the tar sands crude. A wildlife management company hired by Exxon has taken over all oiled wild animal care. The company, called Wildlife Response Services, is now refusing to release pictures and documentation of the animals in their care, unless they are authorized by Exxon’s public relations department.

A dead American Coot covered in oil from Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline

The spill, which leaked heavy, viscous tar sands oil, emanates from the Pegasus Pipeline, which was built in the 1940’s. The pipeline pumps diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, just like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. However, the Pegasus is much smaller, carrying 90,000 barrels per day (BPD), while the Keystone would carry 800,000 BPD. Tar Sands oil is shipped through pipelines in the form of Diluted Bitumen (Dilbit), which must be heated and forced through the pipeline at high pressure. Due to the corrosive nature of the tar sands oil, which contains sand, plus the high temperature and high pressure needed to pump it through the  pipes, tar sands oil pipelines are particularly dangerous.

Exxon’s control of the oil spill response is reminiscent of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when the polluter, BP, effectively controlled the response and cleanup.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sMQCj9UHCpM

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ExxonMobil, other pipeline operators don't have to pay into oil spill fund when it's tar sands oil?!

  • Posted on: 2 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Photos courtesy of Lady with a Camera.

Written by Carol Linnitt, crossposted from DeSmog Canada.

As Think Progress has just reported, a bizarre technicality allowed Exxon Mobil to avoid paying into the federal oil spill fund responsible for cleanup after the company's Pegasus pipeline released 12,000 barrels of tar sands oil and water into the town of Mayflower, Arkansas.

According to a thirty-year-old law in the US, diluted bitumen coming from the Alberta tar sands is not classified as oil, meaning pipeline operators planning to transport the corrosive substance across the US - with proposed pipelines like the Keystone XL - are exempt from paying into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

News that Exxon was spared from contributing the 8-cents-per-barrel fee to the clean-up fund added insult to injury this week as cleanup crews discovered oil-soaked ducks covered in "low-quality Wabasca Heavy Crude from Alberta." Yesterday officials said 10 live ducks were found covered in oil, as well as a number of oiled ducks already deceased.

Photographer Eilish Palmer, known as Lady with a Camera, has been working with HAWK (Helping Arkansas Wild Kritters), a wildlife rehabilitation centre, to locate and help ducks and other animals affected by the spill.

We I connected with Eilish on the phone she was in the rain, searching for more oil-covered animals: "I'm actually out in the woods right now looking for animals. We just found two dead ducks and one live one…We actually saw a dead wood duck and we saw its mate, it couldn't fly away, only walk. It was pretty saturated." 

Eilish said HAWK was the first responder for affected wildlife in the area but has since seen Exxon establish a local mobile unit to treat animals on site. "As the number of animals increased Exxon brought in their own rehabilitation centre because we were taking that animals to a centre about an hour away. HAWK doesn't have a mobile unit."

In addition to ducks, the team working with HAWK also found this oil-laden male muskrat, suggesting a number of species may be affected.

Faulkner Country Judge Allen Dodson said "I'm an animal lover, a wildlife lover, as probably most of the people here are. We don't like to see that. No one does."

He added, "Crude oil is crude oil. None of it is real good to touch."

The Exxon spill leaked 80,000 gallons of oil into an Arkansas residential area, causing the evacuation of 40 homes. This weekend Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. president Gary Pruessing told displaced homeowners, "If you have been harmed by this spill then we're going to look at how to make that right." 

According to InsideClimate News, Exxon is currently preventing the media from accessing the spill scene. Today the Arkansas Attourney General announced an investigation is being launched into the cause of the 60-year old pipeline's rupture. 

The Pegasus pipeline was originally built in the 1940s and was recently dormant for four years before its flow was reversed to carry Alberta diluted bitumen from Illinois to the Gulf Coast. In 2006 Exxon called the line's reversal a win-win for the people of the Gulf Coast and Canada.

The revelation that companies transporting diluted bitumen in the US have some concerned about pre-existing pipelines, as well as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that will transport the tar sands-derived oil across a number of ecologically sensitive areas. 

According to the NRDC, in 2011 a number of pipelines carried Alberta bitumen in the US:

Although the spread of oil refineries across the US receiving bitumen suggests the network of tar sands oil transport is much more widely spread across the States:

The network potentially connecting bitumen-carrying pipelines with other pipelines is quite extensive across the US:

Last week a coalition of environmental groups, communities and inviduals petitioned the US EPA and Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Association (PHMSA) to place a moratorium on pending tar sands pipelines, including the Keystone XL pipeline, until new safety rules are established. 

"Simply put, diluted bitumen and conventional crude oil are not the same substance," the petitioners wrote. "There is increasing evidence that the transport of diluted bitumen is putting America's public safety at risk. Current regulations fail to protect the public against those risks. Instead, regulations ... treat diluted bitumen and conventional crude the same."

Image Credit: Refinery map by ForestEthics. Wildlife photos courtesy of Eilish Palmer, Lady with a Camera, used with permission.

 

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Jim DeMint and Heritage Foundation Awash in Koch Brother Money

  • Posted on: 6 December 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Senator Jim DeMint will lead the Heritage Foundation. Photo: Washington Post

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) has announced his departure from the U.S. Senate in order to become head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank with notable support from fossil fuel interests like the Koch brothers ($2.73 million, 2005-2010) and ExxonMobil ($250,000, 2005-2010).

Both Exxon and the Kochs are known for their heavy financial support to organizations that promote doubt over climate science, peddle fossil fuel use and attack clean energy on precedent. The Heritage Foundation has played a consistent role in promoting the oil ideology--see DeSmog, Greenpeace, ExxonSecrets and SourceWatch for documentation.

Senator DeMint, commonly associated with the tea party, has been a particular favorite of the Charles Koch and David Koch. In the 2010 election, David, Charles and Elizabeth Koch (married to Charles) funneled a collective $12,000 to Senator DeMint's election campaign committee, on top of a $10,000 contribution from Koch Industries. Only a handful of politicians were handpicked by the Kochs in the 2010 election for direct contributions--see p.22 of Koch Industries: Still Fueling Climate Denial).

Here is a breakdown of total donations from the Koch family members and Koch Industries to Sen. DeMint and his associated leadership PACs (the Senate Conservatives Fund and MINT PAC) during DeMint's Senate career. Each donation was the maximum legal contribution limit.

Total Koch money to Senator Jim DeMint, 2004-2012: $86,000

 

2011-2012: Sen. DeMint departs from the U.S. Senate after 2012

  • $15,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund (OpenSecrets)

2009-2010: Jim DeMint was re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010

  • $10,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's campaign (OpenSecrets)
  • $10,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's MINT PAC
  • $5,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund

2007-2008: Sen. DeMint was not up for election

2005-2006: Sen. DeMint first term began in January, 2005

2003-2004: Jim DeMint was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004

  • $10,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's campaign (OpenSecrets)
  • $2,000 from David Koch to DeMint's campaign
  • $2,000 from Julia Koch to DeMint's campaign
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ALEC, CSG, ExxonMobil Fracking Fluid "Disclosure" Model Bill Failing By Design

  • Posted on: 4 December 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.

Last year, a hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") chemical fluid disclosure "model bill" was passed by both the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It proceeded to pass in multiple states across the country soon thereafter, but as Bloomberg recently reported, the bill has been an abject failure with regards to "disclosure."

That was by design, thanks to the bill's chief author, ExxonMobil

Originating as a Texas bill with disclosure standards drawn up under the auspices of the Obama Administration's Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee rife with oil and gas industry insiders, the model is now codified as law in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Bloomberg reported that the public is being kept "clueless" as to what chemicals are injected into the ground during the fracking process by the oil and gas industry.

"Truck-Sized" Loopholes: Fracking Chemical Fluid Non-Disclosure by Design 

"Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August," explained Bloomberg. "Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms."

For close observers of this issue, it's no surprise that the model bills contain "truck-sized" loopholes

"A close reading of the bill...reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets," The New York Times explained back in April.

Disclosure Goes Through FracFocus, PR Front For Oil and Gas Industry

The model bill that's passed in four states so far mandates that fracking chemical fluid disclosure be conducted by FracFocus, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, claiming it has produced chemical data on over 15,000 fracked wells in a promotional video

The reality is far more messy, as reported in an August investigation by Bloomberg

"Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year," wrote Bloomberg. "The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy."

This moved U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) to say that FracFocus and the model bills it would soon be a part of make a mockery of the term "disclosure."

"FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure," she said.

"Fig leaf" is one way of putting it.

Another way of putting it is "public relations ploy." As Dory Hippauf of ShaleShock Media recently revealed in an article titled "FracUNfocusED," FracFocus is actually a PR front for the oil and gas industry.

Hippauf revealed that FracFocus' domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation - a front group for Chesapeake Energy. 

Given the situation, it's not surprising then that "companies claimed trade secrets or otherwise failed to identify the chemicals they used about 22 percent of the time," according to Bloomberg's analysis of FracFocus data for 18 states.

Put another way, the ExxonMobil's bill has done exactly what it set out to do: business as usual for the oil and gas industry.

Image Credit: ShutterStockbillyhoiler

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Shell's Arctic Oil Spill Gear "Crushed Like a Beer Can" In Simple Test

  • Posted on: 4 December 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Parody advertisement from Greenpeace's mock "Arctic Ready" website.

Written by Brendan DeMelle, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.

Royal Dutch Shell, the massive multinational oil company, badly wants to be ready to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean next summer. This year, the company's plans to begin drilling in the treacherous seas of the Arctic were thwarted by its late start and repeated failures to get even basic oil spill response equipment into place. 

But the full extent of the company's failed attempts to test oil spill response gear was recently revealed by Seattle's NPR radio affiliate KUOW. Shell has faced repeated criticism and regulatory scrutiny over its cavalier attitude towards Arctic drilling, and the KUOW investigation makes clear why Shell is not "Arctic Ready" by a long shot.

Documents obtained by KUOW through FOIA requests indicate that Shell's oil spill response gear failed spectacularly in tests this fall in the relatively tranquil waters of Puget Sound. 

The containment dome - which Shell sought to assure federal regulators would be adequate to cap a blowout in the event of emergency at its Arctic operations - failed miserably in tests.  The dome "breached like a whale" after malfunctioning, and then sank 120 feet. When the crew of the Arctic Challenger recovered the 20-foot-tall containment dome, they found that it had "crushed like a beer can" under pressure.
 

That was the embarrassing news that emerged from documents released through FOIA from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which required the tests of Shell's proposed oil spill response system. 


Environmentalist Todd Guiton sums up the implications of the failed tests on Shell's plans to drill in the Arctic: 


"It failed under very calm, tranquil conditions in the best time of year up here in the Pacific Northwest. If it can’t handle the best we have here, I really have my doubts it can handle even a little adversity in the Arctic."


Federal regulators are reviewing the wisdom of Shell's Arctic adventure, and are calling for more real-world testing in the Arctic Ocean to see how the oil spill response gear would stand up to extreme conditions. 

Besides the horrifying prospect of an out-of-control oil disaster in the far north, why would the Obama administration want to flirt with catastrophe in the Arctic when there is (supposedly) a huge oil boom going on in the Lower 48 anyway? If there really is such a glut of recoverable oil in unconventional shale plays via fracking, then why would the U.S. or any other nation allow Big Oil to rush into the Arctic? 

If Shell is this ill-prepared to operate critical safety equipment in the calm waters of Washington State, then they clearly have no business drilling for oil in the Arctic. 

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Koch’ed up: Petcoke’s political pollution

  • Posted on: 18 October 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Bill Koch, CEO of Oxbow Carbon and billionaire brother of Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries

Written by David Turnbull, crossposted from Oil Change International

If there is a statistical correlation between dirty oil and dirty politics, we have yet to fully quantify it – but you can add this to the growing pile of anecdotal evidence that the dirtiest political players are responsible for some of the dirtiest energy on the planet.

William Koch – the “other” Koch brother along with David and Charles – was recently sued by a former senior executive at his Oxbow Carbon & Minerals Inc. for false imprisonment.  The allegations are that Koch lured the former executive to his Colorado ranch and then held him against his will to intimidate him.  The executive was allegedly being pressured not to go public with concerns over an illegal tax avoidance scheme being pursued by Oxbow.

Of course, Koch denies that such an event took place and, rather, claims that the lawsuit is intended to draw attention away from another scandal at the corporation involving the executive in question.  Koch claims that the executive was part of a scheme to defraud Oxbow, by taking bribes from competitors and participating in various other unsavory business practices.

So let’s get this straight:  Either William Koch held an executive hostage in order to intimidate him from exposing an illegal tax scheme…OR…a substantial number of Oxbow executives were taking bribes and colluding with competitors.  Or, perhaps both stories are true.  Either way, there’s some shady business going on at Oxbow.

Now, other than being shady, what kind of business is Oxbow in, you might ask?  Well, it’s about as dirty as it gets. Oxbow hails itself as “the largest distributor of petroleum coke in the world with annual shipments of nearly 11 million tons.” What is this petroleum coke (or “petcoke”) that Oxbow is distributing all around the world?  Petcoke is a byproduct produced through the oil refining process that is coal-like in composition, yet dirtier and more carbon heavy than coal. In other words, when you refine really dirty oil such as tar sands oil (aka bitumen), what’s left over is petcoke. And it’s extremely dirty.

As the tar sands industry in Alberta, Canada has heated up in recent years, many citizens, communities, and advocacy groups have raised strong concerns about the intensive nature of its extraction and the dirty oil that comes from the tar sands.  Tar sands extraction is destroying huge swaths of pristine and sacred land, and the oil that is produced from the tar sands is as dirty as it gets.  Meanwhile communities in both Canada and the United States are standing up to try to stop the transport of dirty tar sands oil through their backyards and waterways.

But that’s actually only part of the tar sands story – with tar sands oil also comes petcoke, and this stuff is ugly. When it is burned in power plants or factories, it emits 38% more carbon by weight than conventional coal and significantly more toxic pollutants as well.  Essentially, wherever petcoke is used as fuel it generally is making a dirty process even dirtier.  And Oxbow makes its millions in moving this dirty fuel around the world.

Aside from dealing in dirty fuels, Oxbow also deals in dirty politics as well. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Oxbow and its executives have contributed over $3 million this election season – the second most of any energy company, more than $1 million more than even Exxon.  Add that to the $1.6 million in lobbying this Congress, and Oxbow is clearly one of the Beltway heavyweights buying votes and favors left and right.

While David and Charles Koch have received much of the notoriety in recent years due to their overt attempts at co-opting our democratic process, the other brother, William, is no saint either.  For years, he’s been standing in the way of progress up in Massachusetts as one of the key financiers of anti-Cape Wind efforts, to the tune of several million dollars.  It’s no surprise, really, given his stake in dirty energy.

So, what does this all come down to?  Unfortunately it’s the much of the same old story that we’ve seen time and again in the fossil fuel business. We see a picture of a corporation that is profiting from both the destruction of the planet and also our political system.  The product it sells is the dirtiest of the dirty; its business practices are unsavory at best, dangerous and illegal at worst; and they use their money to buy politicians to allow them keep making obscene profits doing all of the above.

It’s time for a cleaner future – one that takes us off of these dirty fuels and separates dirty energy money from our politics.

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Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson attacks fracking videographer Josh Fox, spreads lies about fracking

  • Posted on: 2 July 2012
  • By: JesseColeman

THE SKY IS PINK by Josh Fox and the GASLAND Team

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil lashed out at fracking critics, especially filmaker Josh Fox. Tillerson's attack featured numerous mistruths, which Joh Fox's newest film, called "The Sky is Pink" and featured above, points out.

It is no big surprise the Rex Tillerson and Exxon have begun attacking anyone and anything that might influence the profitability of fracking.

ExxonMobil placed a huge bet on hydraulic fracturing when it bought XTO Energy for $31 billion in 2009. Prices for natural gas have since plummeted from a high of $10.78 (per Thousand Cubic Feet) in 2008, to a low of $1.89 in April of 2012. This is bad news for Exxon's CEO Rex Tillerson, the man behind Exxon's grand wager. If shale gas is curtailed because of enviromental concerns, or the price of gas doesn't rise sharply, Rex will have lost his big bet, and Exxon hates losers. Currently Rex is feeling the heat - he recently said "We are all losing our shirts today. You know, we're making no money. It's all in the red" in reference to his shale gas investment. In order to get out of the red, Tillerson and Exxon will do everything in their considerable power to make fracking a cheap and as profitable as possible, including misleading the public (whom Tillerson calls "illiterate") about the dangers inherent to the fracking process.

Some of the misleading statements about fracking from Rex Tillerson's speech to the Council on Foreign Relations are chronicled below.

Rex Tillerson:

"The "Gasland" movie did more to set us back in this endeavor than anything else out there, and yet every aspect of that movie has been completely, scientifically debunked."

Not true, the facts in Gasland still stand, as Fox's newest film shows.

"Farmer Joe lit his faucet on fire, and that's because there was gas drilling going on, you know, in his back (porch ?). And we can go out there and we can prove with science that that is biogenic gas; it's been in the water table for millions of years; it finally made its way Farmer Jones' (sic) faucet, it had nothing to do with any oil and gas activities."

Oil and gas activities were responsible for water contamination in Colorado, and oil and gas activities do cause biogenic gas migration into water wells.

"There's nothing new in what we're doing, and we've been hydraulically refracturing (sic) wells in large numbers since the 1960s; first developed in 1940. So this is an old technology just being applied, integrated with some new technologies. So the risks are very manageable."

Because of advances in drilling technology, fracking is now done on a scale that would be unimaginable to anyone in 1960, including Rex Tillerson. Today's fracking is nothing like the fracking done in earlier decades, and this new technology poses risks that have not been fully explored, much less mitigated.

For more on the many mistruths in Rex Tillerson's speech, see these polluterwatch blogs by Cindy Baxter and Jesse Coleman.

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Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson believes in science... when convenient

  • Posted on: 29 June 2012
  • By: JesseColeman

At a recent meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson laid down some knowledge on the general public, which he referred to as "lazy" and "illiterate." Mr. Tillerson is supremely confident that technology will solve the problems of resource extraction and climate change, if those "problems" even exist. Here are some of the highlights:

Think the tar sands are destructive and dirty?

r.jpgTillerson says:

“There are always technological solutions to these challenges and the risk associated with resource development.”

Phew.

 

 

Worried about hydraulic fracturing ruining groundwater and damaging the environment?

Tillerson says:

“If you look at the technologies that are front and center today around the shale resources -- hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, the integration of those technologies, how we drill these wells, how we protect fresh water zone, how we protect emissions -- we have all of that engineered.

"And the consequences of a misstep by any member of our industry -- and I'm speaking again about the shale revolution -- the consequences of a misstep in a well, while large to the immediate people that live around that well, in the great scheme of things are pretty small, and even to the immediate people around the well, they could be mitigated."

Well. Rex thinks the permanent poisoning of your water well is "in the great scheme of things are pretty small." Good to know.

Worried about Global climate change, rising seas, crippling drought?

Tillerson says:

“And as human beings as a -- as a -- as a species, that's why we're all still here. We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around -- we'll adapt to that. It's an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions. And so I don't -- the fear factor that people want to throw out there to say we just have to stop this, I do not accept."

So we'll just engineer ouselves out of heat waves, wildfires and superstorms. Simple enough I guess if you made $34.9 million in 2011. 

 

Have high hopes for electric cars and renewable energy as a solution to the coming climate change related problems?

Tillerson says:

“No, I think we're not [going to use electric cars], which is why I'm not optimistic because it is a -- it's a very, very difficult science-physics problem to overcome.”

So when it comes to pumping more oil and gas from the ground, the answer is “yes, we can,” but when we talk about reducing carbon and the technologies required to do it, Tillerson sings a different tune.

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Could we really have expected a tiger to change its stripes? Tillerson invokes Raymond.

  • Posted on: 27 June 2012
  • By: Cindy Baxter

ExxonMobil advert, published in May 2000, questions climate science. This was in a series of adverts as opinion pieces, begun by Mobil as early as 1972 to question the Clean Air Act and continued after the ExxonMobil 1998 merger, when the ads promulgated Lee Raymond's anti climate-science stance. 

When Greenpeace first began focussing on ExxonMobil's funding of climate denial, its CEO and Chairman was arch denier Lee Raymond.

Raymond had spent years - and millions - on denying the science of climate change, both in funding right wing think tanks and scientists, and in his role as chair of the American Petroleum Institute's climate change committee.  A 1998 document revealed ExxonMobil plotting with some of those think tanks to challenge climate science. 

For years, Exxon had paid for expensive, weekly "Opinion Advertorials" on the New York Times opinion pages challenging the science (see image).

When Raymond stepped down and Rex Tillerson  took over in 2006, we hoped the worst was over.  That year, ExxonMobil dropped its funding of the Competitive Enterprise Institute that ran the charmingly titled "Cooler Heads Coalition". The final straw for ExxonMobil was the CEI's "C02 is life" advert (this links to an annotated version, but it's the original ad) positing that we couldn't get enough of the stuff.  

In dropping the CEI, ExxonMobil told everyone it had been "misunderstood" on its stance on climate change - and the media were led to believe that this tiger had changed its stripes. Its "Corporate Responsibility report" that year stated it was dropping its funding of a few think tanks because their "‘position on climate change diverted attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."

And yet, the company continued to fund deniers and does to this day. As of May last year, Exxon has poured a total of $26,061,235 into the campaign against climate denial.  While the funding in 2010 was just above $1 million, well down from its 2005 peak of $3.478 million, in 2010 Exxon started funding one of the think tanks that it had dropped and arguably the first off the blocks in the climate denial campaign, the George C Marshall Institute.  The Koch brothers have taken up where Exxon left off, but its legacy is clear.

But yesterday, Tillerson stepped right back into Raymond's old shoes, revealing that the company truly hasn't changed its thinking.  While he doesn't disagree  with the fact that climate change is happening,  he thinks we can adapt to it.  

The public is illiterate on science, and it's Exxon's job to fill in the gaps for everyone, apparently.  We just have to trust them as they know best (?).

Climate change, he says, is a “great challenge,” but it could be solved by adapting to risks such as higher sea levels and changing conditions for agriculture.
“There are much more pressing priorities that we, as a human race, need to deal with.”

“Increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere will have a warming impact,” “As a species that’s why we’re all still here: we have spent our entire existence adapting. So we will adapt to this,” he said. “It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.”

While Tillerson has accepted the science of climate change, saying we can all adapt is no different. It's the same old obfuscation we have been seeing from this company, and from the denier groups it's been funding.   It's all about ExxonMobil being able to continue to pump fossil fuels out of the ground - and into the sky, and its profits from doing so. Which is why Tillerson says that fracking science is also "solid"/ 

Apparently, this man has "seen the drafts" of next year's IPCC report. Not sure what to make of this, but the question must be asked: how has he seen these drafts?  What might a company that is so keen on climate science do with early drafts?  A spot of lobbying?

The science on the impacts shows us that we will NOT be able to adapt.

Tillerson's comments remind me of a US delegate, J.R.Spradley, way back in 1990 when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was being negotiated.   When confronted by the Bangladeshi delegation about the impacts of sea level rise, he told them:  "the situation is not a disaster; it is merely a change. The area won't have disappeared; it will just be underwater. Where you now have cows, you will have fish."

Tillerson says that the world’s poorest residents “don’t even have access to fossil fuels to burn. They’d love to burn fossil fuels because their quality of life would rise immeasurably.”

All the predictions on the impacts of climate change point to the world's poorest bearing the brunt of the worst impacts.  The quality of life for small island states who could lose their entire nations will cease to exist as they know it.

But right now, much closer to home, Colorado's on fire. I'm sure Tillerson's words will be welcomed by residents forced to flee from the flames.

If we don't change tack, we are currently heading to a 3.5degC temperature rise.  This infographic from the scientists at the Climate Action Tracker gives us a clear outline of what we can expect.

It seems that what we can also continue to expect is business as usual from ExxonMobil so that it can continue its own business as usual.

What it also shows is that a tiger really cannot change its stripes.

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