Tag Archives: InsideClimate News

DESMOGBLOG: “There is no doubt”: Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s

Repost from DeSmogBlog

“There is no doubt”: Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s

By Brendan DeMelle and Kevin Grandia, April 26, 2016 09:19
Throughout Exxon’s global operations, the company knew that CO2 was a harmful pollutant in the atmosphere years earlier than previously reported.

DeSmog has uncovered Exxon corporate documents from the late 1970s stating unequivocally “there is no doubt” that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels was a growing “problem” well understood within the company.

It is assumed that the major contributors of CO2 are the burning of fossil fuels… There is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases of forest cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Technology exists to remove CO2 from stack gases but removal of only 50% of the CO2 would double the cost of power generation.” [emphasis added]

Those lines appeared in a 1980 report, “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979,” produced by Imperial Oil, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary.

#exxonknew - it is assumed

#exxonknew | there is no doubt
[click on any of the screenshots in this story to see a PDF of the full document]

A distribution list included with the report indicates that it was disseminated to managers across Exxon’s international corporate offices, including in Europe.

#exxonknew | distirbution list
[click here to download the full PDF version of “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979”]

The next report in the series, “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1980-81,” noted in an appendix covering “Key Environmental Affairs Issues and Concerns” that: CO2 / GREENHOUSE EFFECT RECEIVING INCREASED MEDIA ATTENTION.


[click here to download the full PDF version of “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1980-1981”]

InsideClimate News unveiled much new information in its Exxon: The Road Not Taken series clearly demonstrating the depth of climate science knowledge among Exxon’s U.S. operations. Additional revelations about the company’s early climate research were published by the Los Angeles Times in collaboration with the Columbia School of Journalism.

A 1980 Exxon report explained the company’s plans:

CO2 Greenhouse Effect:  Exxon-supported work is already underway to help define the seriousness of this problem. Such information is needed to assess the implications for future fossil fuel use. Government funding will be sought to expand the use of Exxon tankers in determining the capacity of the ocean to store CO2.”

Now DeSmog’s research confirms that the knowledge of the carbon dioxide pollution threat was indeed global across Exxon’s worldwide operations, earlier than previously known, and considered a major challenge for the company’s future operations. The new documents revealed today were found by DeSmog researchers in an Imperial Oil (TSE:IMOarchival collection housed at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. We first learned of the existence of the collection in one of the articles published in the Los Angeles Times in collaboration with the Columbia School of Journalism.

“Since Pollution Means Disaster…”

A document discovered by DeSmog reveals that Exxon was aware as early as the late 1960s that global emissions of CO2 from combustion was a chief pollution concern affecting global ecology.

Those details were found in a 1970 report, “Pollution Is Everybody’s Business,” authored by H.R. Holland, a Chemical Engineer responsible for environmental protection in Imperial Oil’s engineering division. [click to download PDF of “Pollution is Everybody’s Business]

Holland wrote:

Since pollution means disaster to the affected species, the only satisfactory course of action is to prevent it – to maintain the addition of foreign matter at such levels that it can be diluted, assimilated or destroyed by natural processes – to protect man’s environment from man.”

Included in Holland’s report is a table of the “Estimated Global Emissions of Some Air Pollutants.” One of those “air pollutants” on the table is carbon dioxide with the listed sources as “oxidation of plant and animal matter” and “combustion.”

#ExxonKnew - Imperial Oil
The double asterisks beside CO2 in Holland’s list of pollutants refer to a citation for a 1969 scientific study, “Carbon Dioxide Affects Global Ecology,” in which the author explains the connections between the burning of fossil fuels, the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere and the potential effects this will have on future weather patterns and global temperatures.

Holland emphasized the need to control all forms of pollution through regulatory action, noting that “a problem of such size, complexity and importance cannot be dealt with on a voluntary basis.” Yet the fossil fuel industry has long argued that its voluntary programs are sufficient, and that regulations are unneeded.

Exxon Understood Climate Science, Yet Funded Decades of Climate Science Denial

Despite Exxon’s advanced scientific understanding of the role of CO2 pollution from fossil fuel burning causing atmospheric disruption, the company shelved its internal concerns and launched a sophisticated, global campaign to sow doubt and create public distrust of climate science. This included extensive lobbying and advertising activities, publishing weekly op-eds in The New York Times for years, and other tactics.

Exxon and Mobil were both founding members of the Global Climate Coalition, an industry front group created in 1989 to sow doubt — despite the GCC‘s internal understanding of the certainty.

While the GCC distributed a “backgrounder” to politicians and media in the early 1990s claiming “The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” a 1995 GCC internal memo drafted by Mobil Oil(which merged with Exxon in 1998) stated that: “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”

And the most obvious evidence of Exxon’s pervasive efforts to attack science and pollution control regulations lies in the more than $30 million traced by Greenpeace researchers to several dozen think tanks and front groups working to confuse the public about the need to curb CO2 pollution.

FROM THE DESMOG RESEARCH DATABASE: ExxonMobil’s Funding of Climate Science Denial

As the science grew stronger, Exxon’s embrace of its global, multi-million dollar denial campaign grew more intense.

Imperial Oil’s Public Denial Grew Stronger In 1990s Despite Its Own Prior Scientific Certainty

Imperial Oil, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, as these documents demonstrate, had a clear understanding of the environmental and climate consequences of CO2 pollution from fossil fuel combution, yet its public denial of these links grew stronger throughout the 1990s.

Imperial Oil chairman and CEO Robert Peterson wrote in “A Cleaner Canada” in 1998: “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but an essential ingredient of life on this planet.”

(DeSmog will take a deeper look at Imperial Oil’s conflicting CO2 positioning in public vs. its internal communications in future coverage.)

Reached for comment, Imperial Oil did not respond by press time. ExxonMobil media relations manager Alan Jeffers provided the following response:

“Your conclusions are inaccurate but not surprising since you work with extreme environmental activists who are paying for fake journalism to misrepresent ExxonMobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research. To suggest that we had reached definitive conclusions, decades before the world’s experts and while climate science was in an early stage of development, is not credible.”

Legal Implications of Fossil Fuel Industry’s Knowledge of CO2 Pollution and Climate Impacts

Calls are growing louder to hold Exxon and other fossil fuel interests accountable for funding climate denial campaigns given their advanced understanding of climate science and the implications of CO2 pollution for the atmosphere going back many decades.

In multiple U.S. states and territories — including New York, California, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands — state Attorneys General are investigating Exxon’s depth of knowledge regarding the climate impacts of burning fossil fuels, and whether the company broke the law by fueling anti-science campaigns through corporate contributions to organizations and individuals working to sow doubt and confusion about global warming. [DeSmog coverage: State Investigations Into What Exxon Knew Double, and Exxon Gets Defensive]

Climate activists and even presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are urging the Department of Justice and other relevant government agencies to investigate the fossil fuel industry’s deliberate efforts to delay policy action to address the climate threat.

Democratic U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Ed Markey (MA) and Brian Schatz (HIintroduced an amendment to the energy bill expressing Congress’s disapproval of the use of industry-funded think tanks and misinformation tactics aimed at sowing doubt about climate change science. But it remains to be seen what action Congress might take to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for delaying policy solutions and confusing the public on this critical issue.

Imagine where the world would be had Exxon continued to pursue and embrace its advanced scientific understanding of climate change decades ago, rather than pivoting antagonistically against the science by funding decades of denial?

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NEW YORK TIMES: Dangerous Trains, Aging Rails

Repost from The New York Times
[Editor:  Another excellent investigative report by Marcus Stern.  New information here – another must-read for CBR opponents.  See his highly-acclaimed December report, Boom! North America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem.  – RS]

Dangerous Trains, Aging Rails

By Marcus Stern, March 12, 2015

A CSX freight train ran off the rails last month in rural Mount Carbon, W.Va. One after another, exploding rail cars sent hellish fireballs hundreds of feet into the clear winter sky. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency, and the fires burned for several days.

The Feb. 16 accident was one of a series of recent fiery derailments highlighting the danger of using freight trains to ship crude oil from wellheads in North Dakota to refineries in congested regions along America’s coastlines. The most recent was last week, when a Burlington Northern Santa Fe oil train with roughly 100 cars derailed, causing at least two cars, each with about 30,000 gallons of crude oil, to explode, burn and leak near the Mississippi River, south of Galena, Ill.

These explosions have generally been attributed to the design of the rail cars — they’re notoriously puncture-prone — and the volatility of the oil; it tends to blow up. Less attention has been paid to questions surrounding the safety and regulation of the nation’s aging network of 140,000 miles of freight rails, which carry their explosive cargo through urban corridors, sensitive ecological zones and populous suburbs.

Case in point: The wooden trestles that flank the Mobile and Ohio railroad bridge, built in 1898, as it traverses Alabama’s Black Warrior River between the cities of Northport and Tuscaloosa. Oil trains rumble roughly 40 feet aloft, while joggers and baby strollers pass underneath. One of the trestles runs past the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. Yet when I visited last May, many of the trestles’ supports were rotted and some of its cross braces were dangling or missing.

The public has only one hope of finding out if such centenarian bridges are still sturdy enough to carry these oil trains. Ask the railroads. That’s because the federal government doesn’t routinely inspect rail bridges. In fact, the government lacks any engineering standards whatsoever for rail bridges. Nor does it have an inventory of them.

The only significant government intrusion into the railroads’ self-regulation of the nation’s 70,000 to 100,000 railroad bridges is a requirement that the companies inspect them each year. But the Federal Railroad Administration, which employed only 76 track inspectors as of last year, does not routinely review the inspection reports and allows each railroad to decide for itself whether or not to make repairs.

The railroad that operates the Tuscaloosa bridge, Watco Companies, and the Federal Railroad Administration assured me it was safe. But shortly after my reporting was published on the websites of InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel, Watco announced that it would make $2.5 million in repairs. And the Department of Transportation’s inspector general said it would begin a review of the F.R.A.’s oversight of rail bridges.

Even where federal engineering standards do exist, it’s unclear how much safety they provide. For instance, federal track safety standards allow 19 out of 24 crossties to be defective along any 39-foot stretch of the lowest grade of track, where the speed limit is 10 m.p.h. These crossties stabilize the rails. On the best of tracks, which have a speed limit of 80 m.p.h., the standards allow half of the crossties to be decayed or missing.

Five oil trains have exploded in the United States in the last 16 months. Miraculously, there have been no deaths. Canada, however, hasn’t been so lucky. In July 2013, an oil train carrying North Dakota oil burst into flames in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, about 10 miles from the Maine border, killing 47 people.

After that accident, federal officials promised to develop sweeping new regulations to make sure nothing like it happens in the United States. In the interim, the Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring railroads to get federal permission before leaving trains unattended with their engines running, a major factor in the Lac-Mégantic explosion. And the railroads agreed to a number of voluntary steps, including keeping oil trains under 50 m.p.h.

But more than a year and a half after Lac-Mégantic, new regulations have yet to be finalized as the railroad and oil industries argue about various proposed provisions. The emergency order didn’t end the practice of railroads’ leaving oil trains on tracks with their engines running; it simply required companies to have a written plan for doing so. And without regulations, reporting or penalties, the public has only the railroads’ word they are complying with the 50 m.p.h. speed limit.

For trackside communities, the stakes are obviously high. New hydraulic fracturing technology has allowed oil developers to tap vast amounts of deeply buried oil in parts of North Dakota, Montana and Canada. Without significant new pipeline capacity, the only way to get the oil to refineries is by train. Rail car shipments of crude oil rose from 9,500 in 2008 to more than 400,000 last year.

To protect communities and the environment, the Transportation Department needs to act quickly to require more resilient rail cars, improve the safety of rail infrastructure and operations, and reduce the volatility of oil at the wellhead, before it is loaded onto trains.

Instead, the debate over regulations inches along as oil trains continue to roll through downtown Philadelphia, suburban Chicago and along the Hudson River in New York and the Schuylkill in eastern Pennsylvania, passing close to a nuclear power plant.

Before leaving office last year, Deborah A. P. Hersman, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, questioned whether industry representatives and regulators had a tombstone mentality when it came to oil trains. If nobody dies, she suggested, there’s no pressure to act. So far, the tombstones have all been in Canada.

Marcus Stern has examined the hazards of shipping oil by rail for InsideClimate News, the Weather Channel and the Investigative Fund. He reports for a San Diego-based writers group, Hashtag30.
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U.S. Crackdown on Oil Trains—Less Than Meets the Eye

Repost from Inside Climate News

U.S. Crackdown on Oil Trains—Less Than Meets the Eye

Federal regulators don’t stop oil trains from being left unattended, engines running.
By Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones, Dec 8, 2014
The aftermath of the Lac-Megantic crude rail explosion in 2013 in Canada. Credit: Axel Drainvile, flickr

This story is part of a joint investigation by InsideClimate News, The Weather Channel and The Investigative Fund. Read the main story Boom: North America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem.

The first public action U.S. rail regulators took after a fiery oil train explosion killed 47 people in Canada in July 2013 seemed clear, impactful and firm: Trains carrying hazardous materials could no longer be left unattended with their engines running unless the railroad first got approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Leaving a freight train unattended overnight with the engines running had been a major factor in the Lac-Megantic, Canada, disaster, and the August 2, 2013 news release announcing the U.S. action had a no-more-business-as-usual tone. The emergency order was “a mandatory directive to the railroad industry, and failure to comply will result in enforcement actions,” the press release said, adding no train shall be left unattended on the tracks with its engines running “unless specifically authorized.”

But it turns out that the emergency order had a loophole big enough to drive a locomotive through.

VIDEO: Boom: North America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem

Early on the morning of May 6, less than a year after the order was announced, James Racich, a trustee of the town of Plainfield, Ill., noticed a train parked near a crossing in the middle of town with its engines running early. Racich didn’t know about the emergency order, and he was accustomed to seeing trains left unattended on that stretch of track, enough so that it was a sore point with him. When he returned six hours later and saw the train still there—its engines still running with nobody aboard—he contacted the police. They confirmed that the train’s engines were unattended and contacted the railroad, Canadian National.

“They basically told us the train was secure, was locked up, things like that,” Plainfield Police Chief John Konopek said in an interview, adding “We have our hands tied. Because of federal regulation they can do that.”

The half-mile long train parked in Plainfield was a mix of hazmat tankers and non-hazmat box cars, Konopek said. Its crew members had left it unattended because they had reached their maximum allowable number of hours of continuous work. By the time the replacement crew arrived, the train had been parked in downtown Plainfield, unattended with its engines running, for more than seven hours, according to Racich.

Patrick Waldron, Canadian National’s director of state government relations, said in an interview that stopping the train on that section of track was part of the company’s “normal operating practices and is in full compliance of the laws and regulations, including that order.”

When pressed about the emergency order, he said, “I know the emergency order, but I’ve answered your question.”

It turns out that Waldron was right, because the emergency order is far weaker than advertised.

A tough-sounding FRA news release announcing the order had said that railroads could no longer leave idling trains unattended without approval from the FRA. Five days later, however, the FRA published the actual order in the Federal Register with less fanfare and tough talk. It contained fine print masking a huge loophole: The order would be satisfied when the “the railroad develops, adopts, complies with and makes available to the FRA upon request, a plan” for such stoppages. The “FRA does not intend to grant approval to any plan,” the order continued. So railroads could continue leaving trains unattended without FRA approval.

According to FRA spokesman Kevin Thompson, regulators aren’t required to review the plan. The railroad simply has to keep the plan in its files.

Canadian National reported it had a plan, Thompson explained, so the company had complied with the emergency order and can continue leaving trains unattended on the tracks with their engines running.

This article is part of a project supported by the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the George Polk Award program at Long Island University, the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Fund for Environmental Journalism. It was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

 

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