Category Archives: Fossil fuels

Local and Ecuador leaders protest at Chevron in Richmond

Press Release from AmazonWatch

Bay Area environmental and indigenous organizations join protest to call attention to Chevron’s key role in causing destruction to people and planet

MAY 17, 2018, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tell Amazon.com to Protect the Real Amazon!
AMAZON WATCH

Richmond, CA – Indigenous leaders from the Ecuadorian Amazon joined Bay Area allies at Chevron’s Richmond Refinery on Thursday morning to call on California’s political leadership to phase out oil and gas production and processing in the state, including its importation of crude oil drilled in the Amazon rainforest.


For more information contact:
Moira Birss 1.510.394.2041 moira@amazonwatch.org
Zoë Cina-Sklar 1.510.671.1878 zoe@amazonwatch.org
Interviews, photos, and more information available upon request


Gloria Ushigua and Manari Ushigua, leaders of the Sapara people, called attention to the impacts that the fossil fuel economy – including Chevron’s key role in causing destruction to people and planet. In addition to Chevron’s toxic legacy in Ecuador, the Sapara leaders and allies from Communities for a Better Environment, Green Action, and Bay Area indigenous-led organization Idle No More SF Bay outlined how California’s oil and gas extraction and processing is harming communities from the Ecuadorian Amazon to Richmond, California.

The Sapara Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon is recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” because their language and culture are in danger of disappearing. There are about 500 Sapara people still living in their ancestral home, a large territory that is a critical part of the Amazonian ecosystem. However, Sapara territory – and the Sapara themselves – are in serious danger from oil drilling planned for two oil blocks that overlap with approximately 500,000 acres of their ancestral territory.

Chevron refineries throughout California are the largest purchasers and processors of crude oil imported from the Amazon rainforest, as well as one of the state’s biggest overall polluters. A 2017 Amazon Watch report demonstrated that half of crude oil exports from the Western Amazon come to California, adding to the toxic impact of the California’s fossil fuel production and refining industry.

Manari Ushigua Santi, Sapara Nation, said: “The possibility of oil drilling in our territory – something the Ecuadorian government is pushing – could be the end of the Sapara people, and certainly an end to our strong connection with the forest. After all, there are few of us, and we have seen the deforestation and cultural destruction already caused by oil drilling in other parts of the Amazon. Now that we know about the link between oil from the Amazon and California refineries, we know that the state government’s continued support of the oil industry also puts us and other peoples of the Amazon in danger.

Gloria Ushigua Santi, Sapara Nation, said: “We are all fighting for our survival, to protect our little pieces of land. I have seen how destructive the fossil fuel industry is for California’s own communities. I don’t want our land to become polluted, like this land by the refinery. We call on California’s leadership to move quickly from an unsustainable reliance on a fossil fuel economy to a sustainable one based on renewable energy. Anything less puts the Sapara, the Amazon and other Amazonian indigenous peoples, California communities, and our entire global climate in danger.”

Isabella Zizi, Idle No More SF Bay, said: “It’s important to be here today because it shows that the very resistance starts in our own backyards. It makes a direct connection to what is happening down in the Ecuadorian Amazon with our indigenous brothers and sisters and our relatives down there who are facing the same destruction and harms to their own people and that we can come together and unite and make change together and stand up to Big Oil.”

Andrés Soto, Communities for a Better Environment, said: “I’m here today representing Communities for a Better Environment with our ongoing solidarity with Amazon Watch and the advocacy that connects the extractive activities in Ecuador directly to the refining activities in Richmond and the commonalities of not only health impacts but also political corruption. We need to link our resistance because we’re dealing with transnational corporations and so we also need to have a transnational resistance.”

Leila Salazar-López, Amazon Watch Executive Director, said: “Continued oil and gas extraction in California – both on land and offshore – and its imports of Amazon crude is a significant obstacle to doing what science says must be done to prevent the worst outcomes from climate change: keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

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GOP Tax Law Bails Out Fracking Companies Buried in Debt

Repost from DeSmogBlog
[Editor: See also the Pacific Standard report, Inside The Tax Bill’s $25 Billion Oil Company Bonanza.  – RS]

GOP Tax Law Bails Out Fracking Companies Buried in Debt

By Justin Mikulka • Thursday, April 26, 2018 – 08:44

A Scrabble board spells out 'Bankruptcy' overlaid on an unconventional oil and gas rigEOG Resources is one of the top companies in the fracking industry, and thanks to the new tax bill passed by Republicans and President Donald Trump at the end of last year, EOG had an exceptionally strong year compared to 2016.

In 2017, the company reported a net income of $2.6 billion. The previous year? A loss of $1.1 billion. That financial turnaround seems very impressive until you realize that $2.2 billion, or about 85 percent, of its 2017 income was the result of the new tax law. Without that gift from the GOP and Trump, EOG would have lost approximately $700 million between those two years. Instead they are $1.5 billion ahead of the game.

With numbers like these, it is easy to see how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was a much-needed lifeline for the money-losing fracking industryEOG is routinely touted as one of the best shale oil and gas companies. Yet the company still lost $700 million in the past two years. Or at least it would have if not for the tax bill.

This is the same company that an analyst at the investment advice website Seeking Alpha says is “generally considered one of the best unconventional upstream oil and gas players in the business, and its financials back it up.” If those are the best financials in your industry, your industry has a big problem.

An interesting side note is that EOG stands for Enron Oil and Gas, which was spun off as its own company from Enron — the company notorious for one of the great energy Ponzi schemes of the 20th century. Today, an Enron spinoff company is being held up as the most fiscally sound in the shale oil industry.

And Seeking Alpha is now pushing EOG as a good investment and wondering when “the equities market will wake up and smell this opportunity” despite EOG still being over $6 billion in debt. Without the tax overhaul it would be much harder to make this argument.

There is one prominent person in the shale industry warning against rosy forecasts for shale oil, and that is Mark Papa, head of independent oil company Centennial Resource Development. Papa’s last job? CEO of EOG Resources.

Continental Resources is another of the shale companies being heralded as a good investment in 2018. Continental is run by Harold Hamm who was an advisor to the Trump campaign and has taken the title of “Shale King” that once belonged to Aubrey McClendon. Hamm’s net worth is estimated at over $13 billion.

Thanks to the new tax law, Continental took home an extra $700 million because its effective tax rate for 2017 was negative 406 percent.


Continental Resources 2017 Annual 10-K Filing

And Continental needed that money (although Hamm certainly doesn’t). In 2007 Continental had $165 million in debt and paid $13 million a year in interest on that debt. In 2016 its debt had ballooned to $6.5 billion and the annual interest payments rose to $321 million. The GOP tax law essentially pays off two years of Continental’s interest payments, allowing this failing business model to continue because Continental has not been generating enough income to pay even the annual interest on its debt.

While the company he leads is drowning in $6.5 billion of debt, Harold Hamm is personally worth twice that amount. He’ll be fine. He was easily able to afford one of the most expensive divorce settlements ever.

These are just two examples of shale companies receiving an immediate financial lifeline from the GOP tax bill. These companies also will benefit from lowered tax rates in future years. However, this one-time handout simply masks the reality that the shale revolution looks a lot like a Ponzi scheme enriching CEOs and Wall Street financiers by producing oil and gas with borrowed money that is unlikely to be paid back in the future.

And Hamm and the Wall Street financiers have no incentive to do anything differently. Sure bankrupt energy companies destroy worker pensions, wipe out investors equity, layoff thousands of workers — but if we use the coal industry as an example — CEOs will still get bonuses after driving their companies into bankruptcy.

Tax Bill Especially Beneficial to Oil Companies

The benefits of the new tax bill are certainly not unique to oil and gas companies. Utility companies did even better and the big Wall Street banks who are financing the cash-burning shale industry also are awash in new profits thanks to the GOPtax overhaul.

However, due to the nature of how oil and gas companies book profits and losses — and the epic money-losing streak the shale industry created over the past few years — these companies benefited more than most.

To be clear — this bill which was signed at the end of 2017 was applied to the deferred tax liabilities that were already on the books — thus erasing a large chunk of the liabilities for these companies that had built up while the industry kept borrowing to drill more and ultimately lose more money. Simply a bailout of reckless financial behavior by any other name.

And it wasn’t just the companies primarily working in shale that benefited. ExxonMobil raked in a $6 billion benefit from the new tax law, which even CNN Money referred to as a “gift.”

Industry Will Use Bailout to Borrow and Drill More 

In discussing the trade deficit President Trump recently tweeted the following:

Coming from a man whose career includes multiple bankruptcies, this shouldn’t be surprising. The shale oil industry definitely has a kindred spirit in the White House.

What happens when you give free money to gamblers on an epic losing streak? In the shale industry, they double down.

ExxonMobil has promised to use the billions it gained from the tax bill to … drill and frack more shale oil. Which is likely to result in further discounts of Permian Shale oil, which will lower the price of oil and put more pressure on the heavily leveraged shale companies.

While the mainstream media is pushing the industry message that shale companies now are focused on profits instead of just production volume, record U.S. oil production and predictions for even greater increases would appear to reveal the lie in that promise. Just as most sharks must swim to stay alive, shale companies must drill to preserve CEO bonuses, which are often tied to oil production, not profits. So, they drill. Even when that means losing money on nearly every barrel of oil they pump.

A graphic from the Wall Street Journal reveals just how much money the shale industry has been losing compared to traditional oil — all while CEOs such as Harold Hamm were amassing billions in personal wealth. The shale oil industry generated free cash flow pumping oil for one brief period in the last seven years. Hamm has done a bit better personally during that time frame.

Shortly after President Trump signed the new tax bill, he took another vacation to Mar-a-Lago where he reportedly told those in attendance: “You all just got a lot richer.”

A rare moment of honesty from the President. And while he wasn’t speaking specifically to shale oil CEOs — it’s safe to say they got the message loud and clear.


Follow the DeSmog investigative series: Finances of Fracking: Shale Industry Drills More Debt Than Profit

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Donald Trump’s Extract-Everything Energy Policy Dooms Us All

Repost from The Nation

Donald Trump’s Extract-Everything Energy Policy Dooms Us All

The expansion of the fossil-fuel industry has been transformed into a major component of American foreign policy.

By Michael T. Klare, Feb 12, 2018 1:39 PM

A coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kansas. (AP Photo / Charlie Riedel)
NOTE: This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.

The new US energy policy of the Trump era is, in some ways, the oldest energy policy on Earth. Every great power has sought to mobilize the energy resources at its command, whether those be slaves, wind-power, coal, or oil, to further its hegemonic ambitions. What makes the Trumpian variant—the unfettered exploitation of America’s fossil-fuel reserves—unique lies only in the moment it’s being applied and the likely devastation that will result, thanks not only to the 1950s-style polluting of America’s air, waters, and urban environment, but to the devastating hand it will lend to a globally warming world.

Last month, if you listened to the chatter among elite power brokers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, you would have heard a lot of bragging about the immense progress being made in renewable energy. “My government has planned a major campaign,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the group. “By 2022, we want to generate 175 gigawatts of renewable energy; in the last three years, we have already achieved 60 gigawatts, or around one-third of this target.” Other world leaders also boasted of their achievements in speeding the installation of wind and solar energy. Even the energy minister of oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Khalid Al-Falih, announced plans for a $30 billion to $50 billion investment in solar power. Only one major figure defied this trend: US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. The United States, he insisted, is “blessed” with “a substantial ability to deliver the people of the globe a better quality of life through fossil fuels.”

A better quality of life through fossil fuels? On this, he and his Trump administration colleagues now stand essentially alone on planet Earth. Virtually every other country has by now chosen—via the Paris climate accord and efforts like those under way in India—to speed the transition from a carbon-based energy economy to a renewable one.

A possible explanation for this: Donald Trump’s indebtedness to the very fossil-fuel interests that helped propel him into office. Think, for example, of his interior secretary’s recent decision to open much of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling (long sought by the oil and gas industry) or his administration’s moves to lift restrictions on coal mining on federal lands (long favored by the coal industry). Both were clearly acts of payback. Still, far more than subservience to oil and coal barons lurks in Trump’s energy policy (and Perry’s words). From the White House perspective, the United States is engaged in a momentous struggle for global power with rival nations and, it is claimed, the country’s abundance of fossil fuels affords it a vital edge. The more of those fuels America produces and exports, the greater its stature in a competitive world system, which is precisely why maximizing such output has already become a major pillar of President Trump’s national-security policy.

He laid out his dystopian world vision (and that of the generals he’s put in charge of what was once known as American “foreign policy”) in a December 18th address announcing the release of the administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) document. “Whether we like it or not,” he asserted, “we are engaged in a new era of competition.” The United States faces “rogue regimes” like Iran and North Korea and “rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values, and wealth.” In such an intensely competitive world, he added, “we will stand up for ourselves, and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before.… Our rivals are tough. They’re tenacious and committed to the long term. But so are we.”

To Trump and his generals, we’ve been plunged into a world that bears little relation to the one faced by the last two administrations, when great-power conflict was rarely the focus of attention and civilian society remained largely insulated from the pressures of the country’s never-ending wars. Today, they believe, the United States can no longer afford to distinguish between “the homeland” and foreign battle zones when girding for years of struggle to come. “To succeed,” the president concluded, “we must integrate every dimension of our national strength, and we must compete with every instrument of our national power.”

And that’s where, in the Trumpian worldview, energy enters the picture.

ENERGY DOMINANCE

From the onset of his presidency, Donald Trump has made it clear that cheap and abundant domestic energy derived from fossil fuels was going to be the crucial factor in his total-mobilization approach to global engagement. In his view and that of his advisers, it’s the essential element in ensuring national economic vitality, military strength, and geopolitical clout, whatever damage it might cause to American life, the global environment, or even the future of human life on this planet. The exploitation and wielding of fossil fuels now sits at the very heart of the Trumpian definition of national security, as the recently released NSS makes all too clear.

“Access to domestic sources of clean, affordable, and reliable energy underpins a prosperous, secure, and powerful America for decades to come,” it states. “Unleashing these abundant energy resources—coal, natural gas, petroleum, renewables, and nuclear—stimulates the economy and builds a foundation for future growth.”

So, yes, the document does pay lip service to the role of renewables, though no one should take that seriously given, for instance, the president’s recent decision to place high tariffs on imported solar panels, an act likely to cripple the domestic solar-installation industry. What really matters to Trump are those domestic reserves of fossil fuels. Only by using them to gain energy self-sufficiency, or what he trumpets not just as “energy independence” but total “energy dominance,” can the United States avoid becoming beholden to foreign powers and so protect its sovereignty. That’s why he regularly hails the successes of the “shale revolution,” the use of fracking technology to extract oil and gas from deeply buried shale formations. As he sees it, fracking to the max makes America that much less dependent on foreign imports.

It follows then that the ability to supply fossil fuels to other countries will be a source of geopolitical advantage, a reality made painfully clear early in this century when Russia exploited its status as a major supplier of natural gas to Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet republics to try to extract political concessions from them. Donald Trump absorbed that lesson and incorporated it into his strategic playbook.

“Our country is blessed with extraordinary energy abundance,” he declared at an “Unleashing American Energy Event” last June. “We are a top producer of petroleum and the number-one producer of natural gas.… With these incredible resources, my administration will seek not only American energy independence that we’ve been looking for so long, but American energy dominance. And we’re going to be an exporter.… We will be dominant. We will export American energy all over the world, all around the globe.”

ATTAINING ENERGY DOMINANCE

In energy terms, what does dominant mean in practice? For President Trump and his cohorts, it means above all the “unleashing” of the country’s energy abundance by eliminating every imaginable regulatory impediment to the exploitation of domestic reserves of fossil fuels. After all, America possesses some of the largest reservoirs of oil, coal, and natural gas on the planet and, by applying every technological marvel at its disposal, can maximally extract those reserves to enhance national power.

“The truth is that we have near-limitless supplies of energy in our country,” he declared last June. All that stood in the way of exploiting them when he entered the Oval Office, he insisted, were environmental regulations imposed by the Obama administration. “We cannot have obstruction. Since my very first day in office, I have been moving at record pace to cancel these regulations and to eliminate the barriers to domestic energy production.” He then cited his approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, the cancellation of a moratorium on the leasing of federal lands for coal mining, the reversal of an Obama administration rule aimed at preventing methane leakage from natural gas production on federal lands, and the rollback of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which (if implemented) would require sharp cuts in coal usage. And from the recent opening of the pristine Alaskan Arctic Refuge to that of those coastal waters to every kind of drilling, it’s never ended.

Never mind that the Paris agreement in no way intruded on American sovereignty. It only obligated its partners—at this point, every country on Earth except the United States—to enact its own greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures aimed at preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above their pre-industrial levels. (That is the biggest increase scientists believe the planet can absorb without experiencing truly catastrophic impacts like a 10-foot rise in global sea levels). In the Obama years, in its own self-designed blueprint for achieving this goal, the United States promised, among other things, to implement the Clean Power Plan to minimize the consumption of coal, itself already a dying industry. This, of course, represented an unacceptable impediment to Trump’s extract-everything policy.

The final step in the president’s strategy to become a major exporter involves facilitating the transport of fossil fuels to the country’s coastal areas for shipment abroad. In this way, he would also turn the government into a major global salesman of fossil fuels (as it already is, for instance, of American weaponry). To do so, he would expedite the approval of permits for the export of LNG, or liquefied natural gas, and even for some new types of “lower emissions” coal plants. The Department of the Treasury, he revealed in that June talk of his, “will address barriers to the financing of highly efficient, overseas coal energy plants.” In addition, he claimed that the Ukrainians tell us “they need millions and millions of metric tons [of coal] right now. There are many other places that need it, too. And we want to sell it to them, and to everyone else all over the globe who need[s] it.” He also announced the approval of expanded LNG exports from a new facility at Lake Charles, Louisiana, and of a new oil pipeline to Mexico, meant to “further boost American energy exports, and that will go right under the [as yet unbuilt] wall.”

Such energy moves have generally been viewed as part of a pro-industry, anti-environmentalist agenda, which they certainly are, but each is also a component in an increasingly militarized strategy to enlist domestic energy in an epic struggle—at least in the minds of the president and his advisers—to ensure America’s global dominance.

WHERE ALL THIS IS HEADED

Trump achieved many of these maximal-extraction objectives during his first year in office. Now, with fossil fuels uniquely imbedded in the country’s National Security Strategy, we have a clearer sense of what’s happening. First of all, along with the further funding of the US military (and of the “modernization” of the country’s nuclear arsenal), Donald Trump and his generals are making fossil fuels a crucial ingredient for bulking up our national security. In that way, they will turn anything (or any group) standing in the way of the extraction and exploitation of oil, coal, and natural gas into obstructers of the national interest and, quite literally, of American national security.

In other words, the expansion of the fossil-fuel industry and its exports has been transformed into a major component of American foreign and security policy. Of course, such developments and the exports that go with them do generate income and sustain some jobs, but in the Trumpian view they also boost the country’s geopolitical profile by encouraging foreign friends and partners to rely ever more heavily on us for their energy needs, rather than adversaries like Russia or Iran. “As a growing supplier of energy resources, technologies, and services around the world,” the NSS declares without a hint of irony, “the United States will help our allies and partners become more resilient against those that use energy to coerce.”

As the Trump administration moves forward on all this, the key battlefield will undoubtedly be the building and maintaining of energy infrastructure—the pipelines and railroads carrying oil, gas, and coal from the American interior to processing and export facilities on the coasts. Because so many of the country’s large cities and population centers are on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, or the Gulf of Mexico, and because the country has long depended on imports for much of its petroleum supply, a surprising share of existing energy infrastructure—refineries, LNG facilities, pumping stations, and the like—is already located along those same coasts. Yet much of the energy supply Trump seeks to exploit—the shale fields of Texas and North Dakota, the coal fields of Nebraska—is located in the interior of the country. For his strategy to succeed, such resource zones must be connected far more effectively to coastal facilities via a mammoth web of new pipelines and other transport infrastructure. All of this will cost vast sums of money and lead to intense clashes with environmentalists, Native peoples, farmers, ranchers, and others whose lands and way of life will be severely degraded when that kind of construction takes place, and who can be expected to resist.

For Trump, the road ahead is clear: Do whatever it takes to install the infrastructure needed to deliver those fossil fuels abroad. Not surprisingly then, the National Security Strategy asserts that “we will streamline the Federal regulatory approval processes for energy infrastructure, from pipeline and export terminals to container shipments and gathering lines.” This is bound to provoke numerous conflicts with environmental groups and other inhabitants of what Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything, calls “Blockadia”—places like the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where thousands of Native people and their supporters camped out last year in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to block construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Given the administration’s insistence on linking energy extraction to US security, don’t for a moment imagine that attempts to protest such moves won’t be met with harsh treatment from federal law enforcement agencies.

Building all of that infrastructure will also prove expensive, so expect President Trump to make pipeline construction integral to any infrastructure modernization bill he sends to Congress, thereby securing taxpayer dollars for the effort. Indeed, the inclusion of pipeline construction and other kinds of energy build-out in any future infrastructure initiative is already a major objective of influential business groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce. Rebuilding roads and bridges is fine, commentedThomas Donohue, the Chamber’s influential president, but “we’re also living in the midst of an energy renaissance, yet we don’t have the infrastructure to support it.” As a result, he added, we must “build the pipelines necessary to transport our abundant resources to market.” Given the influence such corporate interests have over this White House and congressional Republicans, it’s reasonable to assume that any bill on infrastructure revitalization will be, at least in part, energy focused.

And keep in mind that for President Trump, with his thoroughly fossil-fuelized view of the world, this is just the beginning. Issues that may be viewed by others as environmental or even land-conservation matters will be seen by him and his associates as so many obstacles to national security and greatness. Facing what will almost certainly be a series of unparalleled potential environmental disasters, those who oppose him will also have to contest his view of the world and the role fossil fuels should play in it.

Selling more of them to foreign buyers, while attempting to stifle the development of renewals (and thereby ceding those true job-creatingsectors of the economy to other countries) may be good for giant oil and coal corporations, but it won’t win America any friends abroad at a moment when climate change is becoming a growing concern for ever more people on this planet. With prolonged droughts, increasingly severe storms and hurricanes, and killer heat waves affecting ever-larger swaths of the planet, with sea levels rising and extreme weather becoming the norm, the urge for progress on climate change is only growing stronger, as is the demand for climate-friendly renewables.

Donald Trump and his administration of climate-change deniers are quite literally living in the wrong century. The militarization of energy policy at this late date and the lodging of fossil fuels at the heart of national-security policy may seem appealing to them, but it’s an approach that’s obviously doomed. On arrival, it is, in fact, already the definition of obsolescence.

Unfortunately, given the circumstances of this planet at the moment, it also threatens to doom the rest of us. The further we look into the future, the more likely international leadership will fall on the shoulders of those who can effectively and efficiently deliver renewables, not those who can provide climate-poisoning fossil fuels. That being so, no one seeking global prestige would say at Davos or anywhere else that we are blessed with “a substantial ability to deliver the people of the globe a better quality of life through fossil fuels.”

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