Category: Big Oil


A Taurus XL Rocket on its last successful launch in 2004 (Wikipedia)

Failures on Climate Change

NASA lost another payload that was to be launched to orbit on an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket on Friday because the nose cone failed to separate en route to orbit. The rocket was carrying the Glory satellite, a member of a cluster of satellites to study climate change, in this case by observing aerosol abundances in the atmosphere. Aerosols reflect light from the Sun before the light can be absorbed by the ground. Three out of the last four launches on the Taurus XL have failed for the same reason, and two of them were carrying a satellite that was intended to study Climate Change and the third was to study ozone in the atmosphere. This has led to some people to discuss conspiracy theories. Regardless, there is now a good deal of concern that important measurements needed to better forecast climate change will not occur in a timely fashion due to these launch failures and due to the $600 million cuts to NASA climate observational programs by Congressional Republicans (who do not believe in Climate Change, but do believe in Biblical Unicorns). NASA is trying to defend itself from claims of incompetence, which frankly happens a lot when budget cuts lead to cutting corners. Says Rick Obenschain, Deputy Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:

“To make any connection between our investigation of the 2009 … mishap and Friday’s failure of the Glory launch at this time would be purely speculative and wholly inappropriate.”

Of course. It would be wholly inappropriate to consider that a mishap due to one failure of a nose cone separation with another on the same launch system carrying the same type of satellite. That is the statement of a bureaucrat trying to defend his bureau.

During the presentation of the results of the inquiry, physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman embarrassed the NASA community with a simple and elegant description of the problem that destroyed the Space Shuttle Challenger – stiffness in seals on the rocket boosters at low temperatures. Watch here:

His work on the committee led to another perspective, encapsulated in bullet points from the Challenger Disaster investigation

Shrinking and unpredictable budgets became problematic. NASA was consistently asked to do more with less (the eternal hope of budget administrators everywhere).

The Reagan administration put more and more pressure on NASA to keep a regular schedule of launches. President Reagan’s dream of space weapons was dependent on keeping to the schedule. Launch delays became more problematic for NASA administrators.

The “can-do attitude” of the 1960s became a “make-do attitude.” Cost-saving mechanisms became the norm. Engineer salaries did not keep pace with inflation, and out-sourcing became commonplace.

Budget cuts made redundant safety systems less desirable. If the engineers found a mechanical problem, the classification of the problem became not just an issue of safety, but also of budget. So if a mechanical problem occurred, but didn’t immediately endanger life, it could be classified as a “concern” rather than a “problem.” In other words, if it didn’t work like we expected, but nothing bad happened, then we’ll just ignore it.

The o-rings had been a concern before. Cracks had been found in the o-rings after previous flights. However, since no disasters had happened, the cracks were seen as “normal,” rather than a “problem.”

–Courtesy of problems.olhoff.com

In essence (and I’m paraphrasing Feynman here): Continued budget cuts eliminate redundant checks and balances in systems that were there to ensure safety. Cutting back too much on the budget for an exploratory program like NASA guarantees there will be problems.

We should understand that the Challenger Disaster occurred during the lifetimes of all of the Members of Congress. It is known that scaling back programs leads to technical trouble. Therefore, scaling back Climate funding is a useful fait accompli for a Climate Change denying Congressman who calls for deep cuts to science budgets. The subsequent claim that either the net result was unexpected or that they have confidence that an organization can do more with less only serves to led plausible deniability to the Congressman. Yet most Climate Change denying Congressmen receive a good deal of campaign funding from oil companies that would be adversely impacted should there be a viable renewable alternative to oil – and these same companies lobby Congress intensely on the issue of Climate Change.

In short – whether by direct or indirect interference is no matter but the oil companies who hold the GOP purse strings are setting back Climate Change research upon which rely in order to better understand human impact on its own surroundings.

Code Pink Protest the Koch Brothers (Crystal Chatham, AP)

In two previous articles, Meet the Kochs, the billionaires who fund the Tea Party and Who are the Koch Brothers?, we have highlighted the corporate interests and the political actions of the Koch brothers. Well, there is more to the story. Back in the 1980s, David and Charles Koch were vying with their brother, Bill Koch, for control of Koch Industries. The fact that Bill was forced out of the country left a bit of a rift between the brothers, even if he is incredibly wealthy as well. A CBS News 60 Minutes episode dealt with the feud. Bill Koch accused Koch Industries of earning a minimum of $230 million bilking the government out of oil by falsifying the amount and quality of the oil it was purchasing from federal lands. A note for Libertarians: This is only possible when companies are allowed to police themselves.

Koch Industries was convicted not only of stealing oil, but also for cutting back on safety for the sake of cost. In 2000, Koch Industries was hit with the largest fine ever under the Clean Water Act for spilling 3 million gallons of crude oil in six states.

In another incident:

“They don’t care for any loss of human life. Like I said, it was the buck that counted for them,” says Danny Smalley. He had the extreme misfortune of living near a Koch Industries underground pipeline that ran through Texas. In August, 1996, Smalley was home with his daughter Danielle and her friend Jason Stone. Danielle was packing to leave for school the next day – the first person in her family to go to college.

She and Jason started smelling gas. It was butane, pouring from a corroded Koch Industries high pressure pipeline, 200 yards from their home. Jason and Danielle set out in a pickup truck to find help. But their truck set off the butane, and caused an explosion.

Danny Smalley filed suit against Koch Industries. His attorney, Ted Lyon, says the investigation exposed a pattern of negligence and coverup involving the pipeline known as Sterling One. Lyon describes the pipeline as like “Swiss Cheese.”

In April, 2001, the Koch Petroleum Group was fined for releasing benzene at a chemical plant in Texas. But that is not the only time that has happened. Greenpeace lists Koch Industries’ long and inglorious environmental record.

The Kochs are actively working to construct a major oil pipeline from the Tar Sands of Alberta to their refineries in Texas. The pipeline would pass through the heart of the Ogallala
aquifer that provides water to much of the central United States and they plan to put the pipeline under the aquifer… but the area is prone to earthquakes. If you are worried, do not worry: Koch Industries is seeking redactions of environmental regulations and they are buying political campaigns to have the project approved.

The long history of Koch Industries acting in an environmentally negligent and politically active way seems to be a perfect combination for corruption. Given the immense amounts of money that the Koch brothers funnel to their political operations, we should be wary of their influence on public elections. This is especially true when we consider the effects of their proposals to essentially void the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

It is time for a public investigation into the Koch brothers financial support for the Tea Party as well as for a close inspection of safety at their plants across the country. The U.S. Government should get involved in there investigation because the public should not be forced to rely on groups like Anonymous, who are monitoring the Koch’s computer networks now, when the Government is supposed to work in the best interests of the people.

David Koch (New Yorker)

In the aftermath of Wisconsin Governor’s phone call with a David Koch impersonator, we now know that Scott Walker is a puppet. The Koch’s have purchased his election, with a combination of both direct funding and indirect funding through the Kochs’ vast network of right-wing organizations. We can only speculate on the Kochs’ true motivations, but if the talking points listed on their think tank websites give any indication, it involves a dismantling and part and parcel sale of government assets to private interests as well as an assault on environmental regulations. The New Yorker published an excellent article about the Koch Brothers last August. This exposé is quite illuminating in that it brings up a number of issues, including the roots of their interest in the Libertarian movement, how they gained political influence, and how they have now been able to buy elections across the country.

New Yorker: Covert Operations, The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama

Naomi Klein (TED)

Literature is filled with strange tales of monsters lurking in the woods or other elements and the lengths to which lost travelers must go in order to survive in the vast, deep wilderness. Wildlife in these stories is as plentiful as it is dangerous. Bears, wolves and large cats bound into the man versus nature conflict whenever the unsuspecting wayfarer’s attention and strength are at an ebb. Living off the land in a foreign environment, without the resources and safety of the village are portrayed as an existential test of strength, tenacity and pluck against the unknown dangers of the gigantic world beyond the meadows in the immediate vicinity of the hero(ine)’s hamlet.

"The Voyage of Life - Childhood" by Thomas Cole (1842) (National Gallery of Art, via Wikipedia)

The narrative was first developed by the enscription of Epic of Gilgamesh into clay cuneiform tablets around 2600 BCE, though it is more famously rendered in Homer’s relatively recent 800 BCE Odyssey. Somehow this narrative has survived despite the passage of nearly a thousand generations of people over forty-seven centuries without regard to the massive changes in technology and the scale of human populations since those times. The first paragraph of the Odyssey, as translated by Samuel Butler begins:

Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home

The world population never exceeded 15 million people before the development of agriculture in northern Africa by ~ 12,000BCE. That is 25% less than the population of the New York Metro Area today. The world population has increased fully 460 times that value in the intervening years. There were only about 450 million people by the time that Little Red Riding Hood was first told in the 14th century CE.

Energy use per person was nil at the time of Gilgamesh but now average power consumption among 300 million Americans is 12,000W per person, roughly twice that of the average Western European, nine times that of the average Chinese person and twelve times that of the average Indian. But as 2.4 billion Chinese and Indians seek a better life, we risk the prospect of requiring 11 America-equivalents of power consumption within 30 years. The world’s biome is already fracturing at the current capacity of 5 America-equivalents and in all honesty, it can not sustain even one for the long term.

The solution is simple: Convert to wind and solar power and decetralize consumption in society. It is possible and we can do it. The investment would be no more than that which created the vast petroleum network we use to fill our cars every day. But because we would no longer need to purchase power, this is a tremendous problem for petrochemical companies who have worked with the Tea Party to introduce legislation to eliminate wind power in Montana and soon Wisconsin and other states. This means that as we continue to consume oil, we take greater and greater risks with our environment. We are told that everything will be ok – do not worry about climate change. Climate has changed before! Stay the course!

Google Maps image of Tar Sand Extraction near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada (Google Maps)

Disappointingly, the major news media, who display big oil advertisements have obfuscated the issue, it is simpley the nature of a for profit institution to seek profit over truth. These companies do not want change because they are doing well enough as it is and their executives are incredibly wealthy. CEOs will always be able to afford food, even when no one else can. Their advertising is like the veritable wolf in grandma’s garb as Little Red Riding Hood walks into the house with butter and cakes.

Still, Environmental degradation is plainly visible if we simply pay attention. The BP Oil Disaster is a clear and ominous sign and another is much less widely known – the Alberta Tar (Oil) Sands. The U.S. has reduced its consumption of oil from the Middle East, but it now consumes far dirtier oil (it creates 3x the carbon dioxide of normal oil in production and use) and we are stripping bare vast regions of Alberta’s Boreal Forest. The impact can be seen from space. Gray area in the Google Map Image are current extraction sites near Fort McMurray. The small brown rectangles you see surrounded by green forest regions that are being logged before becoming new strip mines.

Picking up from where we left off in the first paragraph of Odyssey:

but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

Alberta Aerial view of tar sands extraction in Alberta (Garth Lenz)

We no longer live in the world of Little Red Riding Hood. We no longer fear the woods because they are small, fragile and finite. They do not house predators anymore. Large animals that are not livestock have been allowed to remain only in a few reservations around the world that cover a small fraction of the Earth’s surface. Humans have taken over and we are now a geological force. It can be seen in the form of the road grid on any plane flight, it can be seen in the images of tar sands extraction and it can be seen in the Gulf of Mexico. There are few expansive horizons and they are no longer threatening. We have reached a new physical limit in which we do have a profound effect on our surroundings. That means that we have new responsibilities to care for the Earth if we wish to keep it as a home: We need to change the narrative.

There is one thing that we should keep: Ulysses was the only member of his crew that returned home. Homer makes it abundantly clear that it was due to his creativity, his leadership, and his foresight that he found his way back to Ithaca. If you read Odyssey carefully, you will find that while his crew were staging a man vs. nature drama, Ulysses was primarily concerned with the part about man vs. self – especially when traveling near the Sirens.

Please watch this excellent and informative talk on risk and the environment by Naomi Klein as part of the TED lecture series.

References
I am using Wikipedia simply to illustrate how easy it is to find this information. Other resources include governmental regulatory websites, newspapers, blogs, magazines, and published studies.
Wikipedia: Current Energy Use
Wikipedia: World Population
Wikipedia: Tar Sands

Artist depiction of Michele Bachmann's inner thoughts (yo2boy)

US Federal Budget

Fear not! Michele Bachmann know’s who to turn to to solve the Federal Budget Deficit! Sure, we all know that the Tax Code is a Weapon of Mass Destruction, but who better to handle WMDs than Glenn Beck? Do not get all of the apocalypse porn get to you and do not let the fact that he can not tell the difference between a socialist and a fascist bother you, but he is full of … it.

Returning to the real world, the US Budget is a big point of contention, with Republicans gearing up to defund everything that makes America a modern nation. Rachel Maddow has a great piece on how the GOP is defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting but how it wants to give more money ($40 billion) to big oil. Meanwhile, Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) asks the GOP why they want to get rid of government health care for the middle class, but they do not want to get rid of their own government health care. Current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates suggest that the Tea Party/Republican proposal to cut $100 billion in discretionary spending would kill nearly 1 million jobs and cause the second Republican-induced recession in three years.

News from Abroad

A number of people are dead after a shallow 6.3-magnitude earthquake strikes Christchurch, New Zealand. The earthquake was followed by magnitude 5.5 and 5.6 aftershocks as well.

Fired upon in a sneak attack Thursday evening, protestors swelled in numbers Friday as they took back Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain. They had been calling for a constitutional monarchy and now they are calling for the king’s head. After the king told hospitals not to treat demonstrators, Britain and France have stopped exporting crowd control weapons to Bahrain, but will the US do the same in the nation where it holds a huge naval base?

While students protest in Algiers, Trade Unions continue to protest in the streets in Tunisia. Workers are also calling for higher wages in Egypt, though the mention of the labor movements that brought down dictatorships in these two countries is simply called a “democracy” movement by the corporate American press.
Cracks appear in the Gadhafi regime as the military attacks jets to attack the crowds. Violence against the nonviolent protests has been fruitless throughout the Middle East and Libya is no different: Demonstrators now occupy several major cities, including the second largest city Banghazi, despite reports of heavy casualties there and in Tripoli. Two Libyan military jets also landed in Malta seeking asylum rather than fire on civilians.

In Pakistan, an American arrested for murder in Lahore is a CIA covert agent. Relations with Pakistan are already tense due to numerous civilian deaths after a large number of American drone attacks on its supposed ally. This also comes just a day after American airstrikes in Afghanistan kill 64 civilians, according to the Kunar provicial governor.

Labor protests in America – On Wisconsin!

Protests continue strong in Wisconsin as Egyptians purchase pizzas for state employees over the internet, saying ‘We Stand With You As You Stood With Us’ in a beautiful statement of solidarity. The protests in Madison met for the eight day as another round of mammoth protests are scheduled for Tuesday across the country.

Tea Party New Jersey Governor Christie faces the possibility of protests as he plans to force staff to pay more toward benefits. Labor unions have already marched in Trenton in solidarity with demonstrators in Wisconsin. Angry union workers filled the Statehouse in Indianapolis as Tea Partiers in a legislative committee approved a measure to eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees, approving a Chamber of Commerce-supported “Right to Work” bill. The Tea Party Governor of Michigan will not push for a similar measure, saying he won’t “pick fights” with unions by following the same path as Wisconsin’s Walker. In nearby Illinois, workers from Chicago are joining the Madison protests. More workers joined protests across the state of Nevada in solidarity with the Wisconsin state employees, while hundreds gathered in Helena, MT to argue against state budget cuts, crazy legislation and for solidarity with Wisconsin.

More protests are scheduled around the country Tuesday, including:

Little Rock, Arkansas
Phoenix, Arizona
Palmdale, California
Sacramento, California
Denver, Colorado
Des Moines, Iowa
Annapolis, Maryland
Boston, Massachusetts
Springfield, Massachusetts
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Santa Fe, New Mexico
New York, New York
Columbus, Ohio
Providence, Rhode Island
Montpelier, Vermont
Madison, Wisconsin

Koch Industries (Green Market)

Koch Industries is a private company, the second largest one in the U.S. behind Cargill, and it has revenues on the order of $100 billion per year. Yet you may not have heard of the company because it keeps a rather low profile. Why might this be, you ask? Here is a rundown of the industries they are involved in: Petrochemicals, mining, lumber, fertilizers and distribution (trucking) and several others. You see, Koch Industries is one of the largest, most heavily polluting companies in the world and it is completely wedded to the use of fossil fuels.

According to Wikipedia, their subsidiaries include:

Georgia-Pacific paper and pulp company, maker of Brawny paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper, Mardi Gras napkins and towels and Quilted Northern toilet paper.

Invista, a polymer and fibers company that makes Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra fiber, among other products.

Koch Pipeline Company LP, that owns and operates 4,000 miles of pipeline used to transport oil, natural gas liquids and chemicals.

Flint Hill Resources LP, that operates oil refineries in six states.

Koch Fertilizer, LLC, owns or has interests in fertilizer plants the United States, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, and Italy, among others. In October 2010, a plant in Venezuela was nationalized by the government.

The company was founded by Fred C. Koch in 1940 and his sons, Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch now run the company and they are both billionaires. The family has long been very politically active. Fred Koch was a huge ultra-right-wing libertarian and he was an original member of the John Birch Society (now headquartered in Grand Chute, Wisconsin), which worked on things like distributing flyers entitled “What’s Wrong With Civil Rights?” in which it used Red Scare tactics to attempt to convince people that the 1960s Civil Rights Movement was, you know, a bad and scary thing. They said it would lead to Communists infiltrating the highest levels of government. Sound familiar? They also argued against the Civil Rights Act because they claimed that it violated the Tenth Amendment (essentially state’s rights) and that it should be countered by Nullification. So that was the father and the sons have sprouted from the same roots.

Owning a heavily polluting company with a poor record on labor, the Koch Brothers would be forced to pay a few billion dollars in carbon taxes if a carbon regulation mechanism were adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, they seek to end the EPA, which regulates companies through the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, among other regulations.

Why do we have the EPA? So that the sky over our cities does not look like this one did circa 1970. It was also because the Cuyahoga River started on fire a few times in Cleveland by the 1960s. Rivers, normally constituted of water are not typically meant to burn.

Anyway, the Koch Brothers have found that it is cheaper for them to wreck the American political system than it is to clean up their companies or to seek to improve labor standards. By simply doling out a few hundred million dollars to PACs and political organizations that intend to create “smaller government”. Otherwise, they would have to pay billions to convert to more sustainable practices. Why do they like smaller government? Because governments that do not have much funding can not regulate wealthy billionaires with highly polluting companies.

The Koch Brothers also hate paying the taxes that they can easily afford. So the Koch Brothers are very active in politics these days. Below is a list of the conservative foundations and political organizations that they have founded, that they fund, and that they run. Each of these organizations hires people to go onto cable TV to misinform the public. If you see a pundit on cable news from one of these groups, you know that they are trying to convince you to agree to something that is bad for you. They talk about “small government”, they spread the lie that Climate Change is not real, to misinform the public on health care by shouting “Death Panels!”, and try to convince people that they should allow Social Security to be handled by the same banks that should have gone bankrupt two years ago, and the list goes on and on.

Americans for Prosperity (David Koch is Chairman of the Board of Trustees, this organization spent $40 million on Tea Party candidates including Scott Walker. They also paid people to shout down Congressional Representatives who were trying to talk about health care reform with their constituents.)

Patients United (Fought against a single-payer health care system)

Citizens for a Sound Economy (Co-founded by D. Koch and funded with millions for activities including campaigns in the 1980s that argued that acid rain was a hoax – this spun off to form Citizens for the Environment)

Cato Institute (The Kochs founded it – this organization intends to privatize Social Security, they oppose the Kyoto Protocol, and claim Climate Change is a hoax)

Federalist Society (The Kochs are key donors for this organization which wants to see an “originalist constitution” – remember the original constitution did not allow women’s suffrage and african americans were slaves, but most of all they like Supreme Court Rulings that claim big companies are people like you and me.)

Mercatus Center (This group believes that truckers should not have limited hours behind the wheel, nor should drinking water have EPA-regulated arsenic limits, and they did not believe the US government should have cleaned up the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina)

Institute for Humane Studies (They think government should not regulate the environment and that private companies can police themselves)

Institute for Justice (They support originalist judges and seek greater rights for private companies)

Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (Fights taxes on corporations, denies climate change, and promotes military spending by the U.S. government)

Institute for Energy Research (Seeks to create a privatized, free market and unregulated energy system in the U.S. they also support off-shore oil drilling)

Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (Another group that believes that big corporations can protect the environment on their own, free of regulations that make them do it)

Heritage Foundation (A group that sought to halt nuclear nonproliferation, supports the invasion of Afghanistan, Chile and Haiti, promotes war profiteering, and seeks the privatization of public infrastructure and entitlement programs, they do not like unions either, but they love free, unregulated markets.)

Manhattan Institute (Promotes free-market (unregulated and private) solutions to the economy, energy, education and health care)

George C. Marshall Institute (A conservative think tank – they supported the Star Wars defense initiative, deny climate change, denied acid rain and did not believe in the ozone hole)

Reason Foundation (They believe in free markets, no unions and commercial education)

American Enterprise Institute (They believe in privatized and unregulated everything, war profiteering, ending labor right, they deny global warming, seek to repeal environmental regulations, and for the kicker Dick Cheney is a trustee)

Aspen Institute (here, the Koch brothers wine and dine with politicians in person. After a meeting last year with Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the two justices wrote an opinion for the Citizens United ruling giving companies the right to spend an unlimited amount of money on public elections. That money, funneled through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Progress gave you all of the Tea Party candidates that are trying to break unions, privatize Social Security, deregulate Wall Street, defund the Department of Education, end the EPA and reinstitute child labor.)

You should do your best to boycott each of the above products and institutions. The only way to regain politcal influence for live, breathing human beings and to eliminate corporate control of elections is to make it more expensive for companies to mess with our political system. If a company supports policies that are bad for the public, the public should make them pay a high premium in the form of lost revenue. Good luck!

A Texaco station in the Lago Agrio oil field in 1967 (El Comercio, Quito)

Welcome to a portion of the Lago Agrio oil field in Ecuador. The American oil giant Texaco kept produced water, that is contaminated water brought up from the ground along with oil, in open pits rather than sending it back into the ground. The practice contaminated regional water supplies and led to a marked increase of illness, especially cancer, within the area. Texaco’s current owner, Chevron, has just been ordered to pay the Ecuadorian government $8 billion in fines as a result of the pollution that accumulated from 1967 to 1993.