Monday, October 27, 2014


Original Story:

The giant oil company BP doesn't do small-scale.

Not only is it responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill -- "unprecedented" in its "volume, depth, and spatial scale," in the words of the National Research Council -- but the firm has mounted what certainly looks like an unprecedented PR campaign to minimize the damage, along with a years-long effort to dodge the financial consequences of its spill.

This week, Politico provided the company with another valuable platform for its PR -- a two-page online spread titled "No, BP Didn't Ruin the Gulf." The piece was written by one Geoff Morrell, who turns out to be the oil company's spokesman, as you'll discover if you read down to the bottom of the screen.

As we honor the life and career of the just-departed former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, we should mark this groundbreaking advance in Washington journalism: a corporate advertisement presented as "opinion." It's not evident that BP paid for its placement in Politico, but whether it forked over nothing, a little or a lot, it scored well: as we write, Morrell's piece is demurely sharing space on Politico Magazine's home page with reported articles on Ebola policy, the Supreme Court's influence on election rules, and the fall of Atlantic City. A Corpus Christi Energy Lawyer is experienced in legal issues that arise from energy disputes.

But it's not Politico's credibility that's at issue here; it's BP's. Let's examine whether the oil company has any.

Morrell begins by posing an overarching question: "What impact did the spill actually have on the Gulf Coast environment?"

The answer, if you study the findings of experts, is that the spill has had massive impacts. These include immediate effects on sea fowl, marine mammals, and coral; and long-term effects on dolphins, sea turtles, fish and wildlife populations, and the gulf food web. Moreover, many effects are still imponderable at this time, because no one has studied an oil spill of this magnitude in a unique ecosystem such as the gulf. Assessing the damage may take decades, covering generations of animals. A Charleston Environmental Lawyer has experience representing clients in all areas of general environmental law.

BP sidesteps that point. Morrell mentions several predictions that were made in the immediate aftermath of the spill, and that were manifestly conjectural -- "tar balls...all the way to Europe," "a permanent end" to the gulf seafood industry, tourism revenues depressed for years.

"None of those things happened," Morrell states, as if that proves that there were no major effects. The only effects he acknowledges are short-term--11 workers killed, birds, fish and wildlife killed. "And with a camera trained 24/7 on the wellhead," he writes, "a sense of alarm was understandable while the well was flowing." (Yes, durn that camera -- if only the spill unfolded without witnesses, things would have been so much better.) A Boston Business Lawyer is experienced in providing legal advice to business clients on a variety of legal matters.

As for longer-term effects, Morrell attributes many of the reports to "advocacy groups (that) cherry-pick evidence and promote studies that paint an incomplete and inaccurate picture." He then proceeds to cherry-pick ostensibly exaggerated impacts: "For example, these groups claim the spill harmed the Gulf’s oyster population," he writes. "What they don’t say is that government sampling in 2010, 2011 and 2012 did not document a single visibly oiled oyster bed.

Here's what Morrell didn't say: The gulf oyster harvest is today near a historical low. Because oysters take three years to reach maturity, according to the Gulf Seafood Institute, gulf harvesters fear that they're seeing the oil spill impacts right now. According to historical cycles, oyster landings "currently should be trending upwards; but they’re not." Is this a consequence of the Deepwater Horizon spill? The most anyone can say is that the jury is still out. But it's certainly way too early to declare the impact "fiction," as BP would prefer.

In short, the questions about the impact of the oil spill haven't yet been answered. Not even close. BP has an obvious corporate interest in treating the spill as yesterday's news. It's not. BP has been adjudicated the legally responsible party for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It's a litigant facing billions of dollars in claims and penalties. It doesn't have an "opinion" worth reading, only a legal interest to promote. When a news organization such as Politico helps it promote its own interest, neither partner looks good.


Original Story:

The Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District declared a water supply emergency Wednesday amid record-low levels.

The agency, which supplies retailers that serve several San Gabriel Valley cities, said levels will continue to drop if this winter doesn’t provide above-average rainfall and if the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California doesn’t provide significant water to replenish groundwater.

The resolution adopting a water supply emergency was approved by the board of directors and called for a number of conservation actions. An Austin Energy Lawyer is experienced in resolving disputes involving improper use of land and breach of contract issues.

It also demands that the Metropolitan Water District deliver water requested by the San Gabriel agency for groundwater replenishment at the same cost as the other member agencies that pay “full service” water rates.

“Today’s action by the board is necessary to continue the reliable and safe operation of the basin’s water supply,” said Anthony Fellow, board president of the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District. “Groundwater levels continue to hit record lows and weather forecasts predict continued drought-like conditions.” A Tulsa Energy Lawyer represents clients in energy cases.

The three years of below-average rain and limited availability of imported water needed for groundwater replenishment have left the main San Gabriel Basin at a record-low level, the district said.

Groundwater levels could drop an additional 20 feet or more without water deliveries and if this winter is as dry as last year’s.

The Metropolitan Water District “will play a critical role in stretching its already thin water supplies to help San Gabriel Valley communities make it through this drought,” Fellow said.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Original Story:

Toledo, Ohio — A federal agency that has resisted calls to stop depositing tons of mud and soil in western Lake Erie said new research shows that the dumping isn’t contributing to the rising number of harmful algae outbreaks in recent few years.

The study released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that silt dumped into the lake isn’t a primary source of the phosphorus that feeds the algae, which produces toxins that this summer fouled the tap water for 400,000 people in Ohio and southeastern Michigan.

Environmental regulators and political leaders in Ohio have been trying to stop the dumping since the 1980s, arguing that it harms water quality and fish in the lake. The Army Corps has maintained that it’s safe and much cheaper to dump the sediment into the lake than storing it.

Researchers believe as much as two-thirds of the phosphorus in Lake Erie comes from farm fertilizers and livestock manure. Some also comes from sewage treatment plants and leaking septic tanks.

But many environmental groups also have long suspected there was a connection between the increasing algae growth and the dumping of silt in the western end of the lake.

Two members of Ohio’s congressional delegation proposed legislation last week that would force the Army Corps to end dumping sediment from Great Lakes shipping channels into the open water.

A day later, the Army Corps released the results of the 18-month study conducted by two outside engineering consulting firms that concluded dumping dredged sediment in the lake had no measurable impact on the amount of phosphorus in the water.

Two of the main backers of the federal bill — Republican Bob Latta and Democrat Marcy Kaptur, both of northwestern Ohio — said through their offices that the Army Corps’ study did not change their view that the dumping should be stopped.

Latta said that while coming up with the legislation he spoke with a number of experts about what causes the algae growth.

“Preventing the discharge of dredged materials is just one piece of the puzzle,” he said in a statement. “The goal of this legislation is not to shut down or slow navigation channels, but rather implement best management practices for our Great Lakes.”

Kristy Meyer, of the Ohio Environmental Council, said that while depositing sediment in the lake isn’t a main cause of the algae problem, ending the practice will help. There are other environmental reasons to consider as well, she said, including water quality and how dumping affects fish.

Pressure to stop the dumping had been increasing even before Toledo’s water supply was contaminated for two days in early August.

State lawmakers this past spring approved spending $10 million to research alternative uses for the silt dredged from northern Ohio’s harbors. Silt is usually stored because of the costs involved in putting it to a new use. The Army Corps and Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency pledged to work together on finding new uses.

Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler has set a goal of significantly reducing or eliminating the dumping of sediment dredged from Toledo’s harbor within five years.

Around the Great Lakes, Minnesota and Wisconsin have laws prohibiting nearly all open-water dumping while some other states have taken steps to reduce it.


Original Story:

CIUDAD MIER, Mexico (AP) — Mexico overcame 75 years of nationalist pride to reform its flagging, state-owned oil industry. But as it prepares to develop rich shale fields along the Gulf Coast, and attract foreign investors, another challenge awaits: taming the brutal drug cartels that rule the region and are stealing billions of dollars' worth of oil from pipelines.

Figures released by Petroleos Mexicanos last week show the gangs are becoming more prolific and sophisticated. So far this year, thieves across Mexico have drilled 2,481 illegal taps into state-owned pipelines, up more than one-third from the same period of 2013. Pemex estimates it's lost some 7.5 million barrels worth $1.15 billion.

Pemex director Emilio Lozoya called the trend "worrisome."

More than a fifth of the illegal taps occurred in Tamaulipas, the Gulf state neighboring Texas that is a cornerstone for Mexico's future oil plans. It has Mexico's largest fields of recoverable shale gas, the natural gas extracted by fracturing rock layers, or fracking.

Mexico, overall, is believed to have the world's sixth-largest reserves of shale gas — equivalent to 60 billion barrels of crude oil. That's more than twice the total amount of oil that Mexico has produced by conventional means over the last century.

The energy reform passed in December loosened Mexico's protectionist policies, opening the way for Pemex to seek foreign investors and expertise to help it exploit its shale fields. It hopes to draw $10 billion to $15 billion in private investment each year.

The attractiveness of the venture may hinge on bringing Tamaulipas under control.

"The energy reform won't be viable if we aren't successful ... in solving the problem of crime and impunity," said Sen. David Penchyna, who heads the Senate Energy Commission. "The biggest challenge we Mexicans have, and I say it without shame, is Tamaulipas."

One foreign oil company that had a brush with violence appears undeterred.

In early April, gunmen opened fire at a hotel in Ciudad Mier, in Tamaulipas' rough Rio Grande Valley, where eight employees of Weatherford International Ltd., a Swiss-based oil services company, were staying.

They were not injured, and Weatherford said in an email message that "Mexico continues to be a focused market for us with growing potential in 2014 and 2015."

But other potential bidders may be put off by such incidents.

Energy analyst David Goldwyn said the Mexico government is going to have to be a lot clearer about its security plan for most shale exploration and production companies, which don't have experience working in risky areas.

"What's the government going to do, what kind of protection, what is it going to allow the operators to do inside their fence line?" he said in a recent conference call with reporters.

Two rival gangs, the Zetas and the Gulf cartel, long have used Tamaulipas as a route to ferry drugs and migrants to the United States and, in recent years, diversified their business: stealing gas and crude and selling it to refineries in Texas or to gas stations on either side of the border.

At least twice a day, the gangs pull up to one of the hundreds of pipelines that crisscross the state. Workers quickly shovel down a couple of yards (meters) to uncover a pipeline and siphon their booty into a stolen tanker truck, said army Col. Juan Carlos Guzman, whose troops have raided a number of such illegal taps.

A dirt farm road led down to one site outside Ciudad Victoria, 180 miles southwest of McAllen, Texas. About a half-mile from a nearby highway, thieves had dug out a pit and inserted a large needle-like device into the pipeline. By the time soldiers arrived, the gang members had fled, and only the driver of the half-loaded gasoline truck was arrested.

The knowledge needed to tap into the pressurized pipelines leads authorities to suspect the gangs have infiltrated Pemex or co-opted company workers.

"It is impossible to do this without information on the timing and level of flows," said Marco Antonio Bernal, a federal congressman from Tamaulipas who is drafting legislation to toughen punishment for pipeline thefts.

The suspicions were reinforced earlier this month when detectives nabbed a Gulf cartel leader who was found carrying a fake Pemex employee credential, complete with his photo and a false name.

Pemex is installing more automated pipeline shut-off valves operated remotely from a control room in Mexico City. Such controls allow them to not only stop spills often caused by illegal taps but to avoid having to send workers out to unpopulated, dangerous areas to turn off valves manually.

With thousands of miles of pipeline stretching over far-flung regions of Tamaulipas, stopping oil theft is proving hard to do. Mexico has taken steps to rein in the cartels, putting military leaders in charge of the state's security and sending in soldiers, marines and federal police to patrol key cities.

Arrests and violence have taken out so many key Zetas leaders that the cartel's members have taken to camping out in the bush, dragooning Central American migrants into their ranks. They live off the land and change campsites constantly to avoid detection.

"They don't have structures. They sleep under the trees, near rivers to get water," said Gen. Mario Lopez Miguez, who commands nearly 600 soldiers at a base in the once cartel-dominated town of Ciudad Mier.

The Gulf cartel, for its part, remains in control of Tamaulipas' largest city, Reynosa, which sits across from McAllen, although the military has increased its patrols, making some residents feel safer.

"The situation has gotten a lot better," said Nora Gonzalez, who runs a secondhand furniture shop near downtown Reynosa.

Still, just a few blocks away, Reynosa remains dangerous.

A reporter asking residents about the crime situation was quickly approached by a young man driving a battered car with no license plates.

"Where are you from? What are you doing here? Identify yourself," said the young man, using language similar to that of drug cartel lookouts, known as "halcones," or falcons.

"How much money are you carrying? Pull over," the man demanded, as the reporter opted to drive away.

Friday, April 25, 2014


Original Story:

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A major supplier to the oil and gas industry says it will begin disclosing 100% of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid, with no exemptions for trade secrets. The move by Baker Hughes of Houston is a shift for a major firm; it's unclear if others will follow suit.

The oil and gas industry has said the fracking chemicals are disclosed at tens of thousands of wells, but environmental and health groups and government regulators say a loophole that allows companies to hide chemical "trade secrets" has been a major problem.

A statement on the Baker Hughes website said the company believes it's possible to disclose 100% "of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations," to increase public trust.

"This really good news. It's a step in the right direction," said Dr. Bernard Goldstein, the former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. "One hopes that the entire industry goes along with it."

But Goldstein noted one "major hedge" in the Baker Hughes position, since the company said it will provide complete lists of the products and chemical ingredients used in frack fluids "where accepted by our customers and relevant governmental authorities."

Still, Goldstein said the Baker Hughes language sets a new standard for transparency and "clearly distinguishes them from Halliburton," another major industry supplier.

Baker Hughes spokeswoman Melanie Kania wrote in an email that it will take "several months" for the new policy to take effect. She said the end result will be a "single list" that provides "all the chemical constituents" for frack fluids, with no trade secrets.

Amy Mall, a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Baker Hughes move is a positive step, and that "if one company can do it, it's very clear all companies can do it." Mall said NRDC doesn't believe companies should use the trade secret argument to hide drilling chemicals.

A spokeswoman for Houston-based Halliburton, another major oil and gas supplier, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A boom in drilling has led to tens of thousands of new wells being drilled in recent years using the fracking process. A mix of water, sand and chemicals is forced into deep underground formations to break rock apart and free oil and gas. That's led to major economic benefits but also fears that the chemicals used in the process could spread to water supplies.

The mix of chemicals varies by company and region — and some of the chemicals are toxic and could cause health problems in significant doses — so the lack of full transparency has worried landowners and public health experts.

Many companies voluntarily disclose the contents of their fracking fluids through, a website partially funded by the oil and gas industry that tracks fracking operations nationwide. But critics say the website has loose reporting standards and allows companies to avoid disclosure by declaring certain chemicals as trade secrets.

An Energy Department task force report issued in March that found that 84% of the wells registered on FracFocus invoked a trade secret exemption for at least one chemical. The Task Force said it "favors full disclosure of all known constituents added to fracturing fluid with few, if any exceptions."

The FracFocus website is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, both based in Oklahoma, and is funded by industry and the Energy Department.

Gerry Baker of the Oil and Gas Compact said he doesn't know of any other major supplier that has made a pledge similar to the one from Baker Hughes.

"It's a business decision on their part," Baker said. "Somehow, they've committed to this at the highest levels" of disclosure.

The Interior Department is expected to finalize proposed regulation for hydraulic fracturing on public lands by the end of the year. The measure would apply to some 700 million acres of federal lands and 56 million acres of lands controlled by federally recognized Indian tribes.

The rule proposed last year would require companies drilling for oil and natural gas to disclose chemicals used in fracking operations. The information would be made public.

The DOE said 25 states now mandate public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, including 15 that use FracFocus as a reporting tool.

Industry groups oppose the disclosure rule, saying it would be costly for businesses, with little environmental or safety benefit. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's top lobbying group, has praised the efforts of states to adopt the FracFocus database for disclosing chemicals, but has said additional federal regulations could jeopardize economic growth.

Asked about the Baker Hughes plan, API spokesman Zachary Cikanek said in an email that they "also welcome additional efforts by individual companies to increase public engagement and transparency."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Original Story: Bloomberg News

A court challenge holding up TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline should be dismissed, Nebraska’s governor said, urging his state’s high court to allow the project to move forward.
The case is delaying the Obama administration’s review of the project, the president said April 18. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman yesterday asked the state’s top court to throw out a trial judge’s ruling that the route for the pipeline was approved without proper authority. The court may not hear the case until at least September and may not rule until after mid-presidential term congressional elections in November.A Tulsa Oil and Gas Lawyer said he has had not had a case quite like this before.
TransCanada is awaiting a U.S. permit to build the northern leg of Keystone XL, which would supply U.S. Gulf Coast refineries with crude from Alberta’s oil sands. Because it crosses an international boundary, the proposal requires U.S. State Department approval.
Based in Calgary, TransCanada is seeking to build the 830,000 barrel-a-day, 1,179-mile (1,897-kilometer) conduit running from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect to an existing network.
Backers of the project say it will create jobs. Opponents have countered it will contribute to global warming. If the Nebraska Supreme Court upholds the trial outcome, Keystone will need to apply to the state’s Public Service Commission for approval. Under law the commission has seven months to review such applications.
Judge’s Ruling
Judge Stephanie Stacy in Lincoln ruled on Feb. 19 that legislation enabling Heineman and TransCanada to bypass the commission when planning the pipeline route violated the state’s constitution.
Stacy erred in allowing a challenge by three property owners to move forward because they hadn’t shown they had been injured as taxpayers by the state’s plan, Heineman, a Republican, said in a filing yesterday with the supreme court.
State Attorney General Jon Bruning, a Republican running to succeed Heineman as governor, argued in the filing that the trial judge set too low a threshold for taxpayers to bring court challenges to state legislation.
Bruning also argued the not all crude oil pipelines qualified as “common carriers” falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission.
U.S. Senate
David Domina, a lawyer for the landowners, is seeking the Democratic Party nomination to run for U.S. Senate in the state, where he would follow Republican Mike Johanns, who is retiring after a single term.
Domina didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment on the governor’s arguments yesterday’s filing. A San Antonio Oil and Gas Lawyer would not comment on the case.
He argued in the trial court that the challenged legislation, which took effect in 2012, improperly divested the constitutionally-created Public Service Commission of jurisdiction over pipeline routing, placing it with the governor and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.
Stacy rejected the state’s contention that pipeline routing was outside the PSC’s purview.
In her Feb. 19 decision, Stacy agreed with the landowners that the shift in authority effected by the legislation was improper.
“The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which such provisions could be constitutional,” she said. Addressing the state’s argument that its outlay of funds under the law, later recouped when TransCanada paid it $5.15 million, didn’t deprive the three plaintiffs of standing to sue.
“While private reimbursement of public expenditures may be good fiscal policy, it should not be used as a legislative tool to insulate allegedly unconstitutional laws from taxpayer challenge,” she said.
The case is Thompson v. Heineman, S-14-000158, Nebraska Supreme Court (Lincoln).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Story originally appeared in

It’s too late to save Crimea, and possibly half of Ukraine, now that Vlad the Annexer has articulated the Putin Doctrine: Russia will invade any country that “oppresses” its Russian minority.

But Putin’s Doctrine is underpinned by Russia’s oil and natural-gas industry, which provides 70 percent of the country’s export income and 52 percent of its governments revenues. Moscow now controls half the energy market in Europe and is able to adjust prices to punish or reward countries and to keep others quiet. A Tulsa Oil and Gas Lawyer is watching the story closely.

This strategy has made Russia, with an economy the size of California’s, wealthier than ever but also exceedingly vulnerable. Russia is a petro-economy and little else.

Since Ukraine’s crisis, sanctions have been imposed and its stock market and currency have tanked. But a geopolitical and energy policy shift is needed to stop Putin in his tracks, and only the United States and Canada can flex enough energy muscle to impede the Russian energy juggernaut.

Together, the US and Canada have more oil and natural-gas reserves than Russia or the Middle East.

Canada is the only supplier of natural gas and largest supplier of oil to the United States, at 2.5 million barrels a day. The US is nearly self-sufficient in natural gas, thanks to shale deposits, and in 2013 became the world’s second-biggest oil producer at more than 10.3 million barrels a day.

But Americans consume 19.4 million daily and, despite gains in oil production from shale, cannot become self-sufficient in oil until 2035, with 4 million barrels a day from the oil sands, according to the International Energy Agency.

Clearly, the two must gear up for battle by deploying oil and natural-gas weaponry. The most immediate retaliatory blow would be the approval of Keystone XL from Canada. This oil pipeline would add 830,000 barrels a day into the US oil market, more than enough to replace the 755,000 barrels a day of oil imports from Russia’s western hemispheric ally Venezuela.

A Keystone bomb would deliver several payloads: punishment toward anti-American Venezuela; proceeds toward Canada which buys more goods and services from the US than the European Union does; punishment toward Russia by casting into the markets more Venezuelan oil; replacement of Venezuelan oil with Canadian oil that is $30 a barrel cheaper (roughly 30 percent less) and even an improved environmental outcome. A Construction Consultant may be called in on the case.

A recent study by US energy consultant IHS Global Insight showed that oil sands crude represents 6 percent more emissions than average crude consumed in the US, but Venezuela’s is 14 percent higher.

President Obama has been dragging his feet on this pipeline even in light of his November speech that stated “after years of talk about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we are actually poised to control our own energy future.”

The fact is that the only way the United States can control its oil future is by tapping into the oil sands. For these and other reasons, Bill Clinton has called upon his environmental friends to “embrace” Keystone and move on.

America’s other weapon is natural gas exports in concert with Canada. Natural gas can only be transported by pipeline and vessel unless chilled to -161 degrees Fahrenheit. This process makes the gas more expensive, but the world now knows that Russian energy carries with it a hefty and hidden price tag.

A glimpse into a burgeoning American-Canadian strategy occurred this week when the Department of Energy and Canadian authorities approved a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant and port in Oregon using Canadian natural gas. Shipments will go to India and Japan, the world’s largest importer of LNG, reliant on Russia for 76 percent of its LNG. A Dallas Fort Worth Oil and Gas Lawyer is also considering to be an expert witness.

This week, Canada also approved its first four LNG projects in British Columbia and in the past 10 months, the US has approved five more LNG projects. One bill in Congress proposes immediate approval of the two dozen projects pending in the US. Most will help Europe and Asia reduce their dependence on Russian natural gas over time.

Europe’s 22 LNG ports are under-utilized but have the capacity to reduce Russian gas imports by 25 percent. Likewise, Japan, India, China and South Korea have the facilities and are eager to reduce dependence on Russian LNG.

The importance of North America’s entry into the energy war cannot be understated, as Lithuania’s energy minister Jaroslav Neverovic explained to the US Senate this week. His country is gouged by Russia, which has the monopoly on its gas supplies. So Lithuania is just 250 days away from completing its first LNG plant and he pleaded for the US “to release its gas to world markets as quickly as possible.” An Austin Energy Lawyer is analyzing the mineral aspects of the case.

The only obstacle to fighting fuel with fuel will be the environmental movement that has held up Keystone for five years and now opposes LNG exports.

But Putin is going to continue his aggression and the world is going to continue to use oil and natural gas until alternative energies are capable of replacing fossil fuels. Environmentalists should invest their time, and donations, on conservation efforts and financing scientific efforts to come up with viable alternatives — not opposing reality. A Salt Lake Energy Lawyer will keep a close eye to see how this case will be resolved.

Monday, February 24, 2014


This story first appeared in USA Today.

Exxon Mobil's CEO has joined a lawsuit to stop construction of a water tower near his home that would be used to in the fracking process to drill for oil.

While fracking -- hydraulic fracturing of rock to release pockets of oil -- has raised complaints from environmentalists around the country, Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson's opposition to a project in his own neighborhood is interesting, given how deeply Exxon Mobil is involved in the process.

Tillerson appeared at a Town Council meeting in Bartonville, Tex., the wealthy enclave near his Dallas home last November to join in the protest over the water tower, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The lawsuit contends the project would create "a noise nuisance and traffic hazards." Trucks would be needed to haul and pump water.

The tower, being built by Cross Timbers Water Supply, would rise 15 stories, the Journal says. It's adjacent to Tillerson's 83-acre horse ranch and not far from an 18-acre homestead. Tillerson is devoting considerable time to the matter: he sat for three hours in the lawsuit last May and attended an all-day mediation session in September, besides his Town Council appearance.

Among the others opposing the project are those who are not exactly known for environmental crusading: former U.S.House Majority Leader Dick Armey and his wife are the lead plaintiffs.

An Exxon Mobil spokesman contacted by the Journal said that the suit is Tillerson's own matter and the oil giant "has no involvement in the legal matter."


This story first appeared in The Economic Times.

SINGAPORE: The El Nino weather pattern that can trigger drought in some parts of the world while causing flooding in others is increasingly likely to return this year, hitting production of key foods such as rice, wheat and sugar.

El Nino - the Spanish word for boy - is a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific that occurs every four to 12 years. The worst on record in the late 1990s killed more than 2,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

A strong El Nino can wither crops in Australia, Southeast Asia, India and Africa when other parts of the globe such as the US Midwest and Brazil are drenched in rains.

While scientists are still debating the intensity of a potential El Nino, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology and the US Climate Prediction Center have warned of increased chances one will strike this year.

Last month, the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization said there was an "enhanced possibility" of a weak El Nino by the middle of 2014.

"The world is bracing for El Nino, which if confirmed, could wreak havoc on supply and cause prices of some commodities to shoot up," said Vanessa Tan, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore.

Any disruption to supply would come as many crops have already been hit by adverse weather, with the northern hemisphere in the grip of a savage winter.

The spectre of El Nino has driven global cocoa prices to 2-1/2 year peaks this month on fears that dry weather in the key growing regions of Africa and Asia would stoke a global deficit. Other agricultural commodities could follow that lead higher if El Nino conditions are confirmed.

"Production estimates for several crops which are already under stress will have to be revised downwards," said Phillip Futures' Tan.

"Wheat in Australia may be affected by El Nino and also sugar in India."

In India, the world's No.2 producer of sugar, rice and wheat, a strong El Nino could reduce the monsoon rains that are key to its agriculture, curbing production.

"If a strong El Nino occurs during the second half of the monsoon season, then it could adversely impact the production size of summer crops," said Sudhir Panwar, president of farmers' lobby group Kishan Jagriti Manch.

El Nino in 2009 turned India's monsoon patchy, leading to the worst drought in nearly four decades and helping push global sugar prices to their highest in nearly 30 years.

Elsewhere in Asia, which grows more than 90 percent of the world's rice and is its main producer of coffee and corn, a drought-inducing El Nino could hit crops in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and China.

And it could deal another blow to wheat production in Australia, the world's second-largest exporter of the grain, which has already been grappling with drought in the last few months.

El Nino could also crimp supply of minerals such as gold, nickel, tin, copper and coal if mines flood or logistics are disrupted.

In North America, crops in the US Pacific Northwest could suffer as El Nino tends to cause rain to the area, with the major white wheat region already abnormally dry.

But El Nino doesn't spell bad news for all farmers. It could bring rain to drought-hit California's dairy farms and vineyards.

"El Nino has a bad connotation, undeservedly so in the US," said Harry Hillaker, state climatologist in Iowa.

"Given the water supply issues they are having in California, more rain would be helpful."

And in Central America, while dryness associated with El Nino would curb coffee production, it would also help drive back the leaf rust that has blighted crops in the region.

Monday, February 10, 2014


This story first appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Snow and sleet continue to fall across huge swathes of the U.S., and the national supply of road salt is running low. New York has declared a state of emergency, while Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and other states have also disclosed their difficulties in covering streets and sidewalks amid a long-running cold snap. What exactly is road salt and where does it come from?

The U.S. first began using salt on roads in 1938, and now spreads between 10 million and 20 million tons annually, according to the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Heavy salt deployment helps save drivers and pedestrians from icy dangers but isn’t without hazards of its own: The salt used on roads is also partly responsible for the potentially harmful increase in the salinity of our water. The U.S. is the second-largest road salt producer worldwide after China, accounting for an estimated 15 percent of world output in 2013, according to Roskill Information Services.

American companies like Morton Salt and Cargill get their rock salt from mines as well as evaporated salt plants and solar salt operations. Cargill’s salt, for example, comes from Kansas, Louisiana, California, Oklahoma, and New York, which has some of the country’s largest underground salt mines in which workers blast enormous walls of salt before processing the crystals down to size.

With salt reserves running low, companies are now struggling to keep up with orders. “We are working overtime in our mines to try and keep up with demand,” said Cargill spokesman Mark Klein in an e-mail. “In addition to widespread demand, the weather is affecting transportation, slowing trucks, trains and barges.” Desperate states and municipalities are already paying a premium for emergency deliveries. Whereas the Ohio Department of Transportation reported paying only $36 per ton this past summer, it recently shelled out $72 per ton for an extra delivery.

Road salt—also called rock salt (PDF)—is made of granular sodium chloride, the same chemical that’s in table salt. It works by lowering the freezing point of water, often by enough to melt existing ice. A solution with 20 percent salt, for example, freezes at 2F. Even when temperatures are too low for the ice to melt, salt still provides some traction, although it’s less effective than sand in this regard.

Some states are getting creative with alternative solutions. New York launched a pilot program to de-ice roads using beet juice, which helps stop the runoff of salt; waste from beer making would apparently do the same thing. Some New York towns have also used briny wastewater from fracking operations, which has environmentalists up in arms.

New Jersey, meanwhile, is experimenting with pickle brine, and Milwaukee in December began pouring cheese brine on its streets. “You want to use provolone or mozzarella,” Jeffrey A. Tews, a fleet operations manager for the public works department, told the New York Times. “Those have the best salt content. You have to do practically nothing to it.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Original Story:

WASHINGTON – U.S. lawmakers risk slowing or even stopping the torrid economic growth in rural America if Congress fails to pass a farm bill this year, the head of the Agriculture Department said Friday.
The rural economy has been humming along in recent years with high crop prices and a record of $136.3 billion in farm exports during 2011. Farmers also are flush with cash after income vaulted past $100 billion for the first time last year as the rural economy rebounded from the recent global recession. In addition, land prices are high and there is a record amount of conservation activity in rural America.  Many farmers are putting off equipment improvement such as purchasing Trelleborg Ag Tires.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview he understands lawmakers are saddled with a bevy of challenges that could make passing a farm bill difficult, including the need to balance the interests of different geographic regions and commodities. But he added that should not be enough to deter Congress from acting in order to keep the momentum going in agriculture.

"If it does not get done then we are left without programs to support farmers and ranchers, and we create a great deal of uncertainty, which no doubt will impact and effect decisions throughout the supply chain that will compromise the enormous progress we've seen recently," the former Iowa governor said.

"Why would you not want to get this done when things are going as well as they are going?" said Vilsack.

Efforts to complete a farm bill this year before the current legislation expires on Sept. 30 received a push this week after the Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version on Thursday. The bill would cut spending by $25 billion during the next decade, slashing subsidy payments in favor of new crop insurance programs.

Most U.S. farm groups were supportive of the legislation that passed the Senate even though they found areas that could be improved as lawmakers continue to work on the bill.  Farmers were having group conversations in Outdoor Living Spaces.

"Get this farm bill done," was the message from Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau. "We need the certainty and confidence in the next growing season of what the programs will be," he said.

The House has floated more aggressive cuts of as much as $33 billion, including a larger reduction in spending for food stamps, but so far has not established a timetable for when it might act on its farm bill. Vilsack said he does not envy the challenges facing House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who has to listen to Republican lawmakers who want significant cuts to farm programs.

"I think everybody in Congress recognizes the need to get the job done, and you've got to do it quickly," said Vilsack, 61. When asked what would happen if the farm bill doesn't get passed before October, he said: "I don't want a backup plan. I don't want a plan 'b' because I want people to focus on plan 'a' and get it done."

Vilsack expressed concern over the "serious, serious depth of cuts" that are being floated in the House that could "irreparably harm" a host of farm programs ranging from conservation to nutrition. He pointed out that excessive cuts to programs such as food stamps, for example, could make their way down to the bottom line of farmers who collect about 16 cents of every dollar spent at the grocery store.