June 29 News: Oil Industry, Still Funding Climate Science Deniers, Whines About NY Times Fracking Stories

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Talk of natural gas bubble draws industry ire

Big energy company executives and government researchers are firing back at a recent New York Times story suggesting the recent boom in natural gas production from shale rock is unsustainable and perhaps fraudulent.

“You really have to wonder why the New York Times is campaigning against cleaner-burning, domestically produced natural gas,” ExxonMobil Vice President Ken Cohen wrote in a blogpost Monday. “If the writer had bothered to call us, we would have told him that ExxonMobil’s investment approach is disciplined and based on a long-term view of global market conditions.”

[Joe Romm:  You really have to wonder why Big Oil is still campaigning against clean energy legislation and funding climate science denial, if they actually care about “clean-burning, domestically produced” energy (see below).]

Exxon through its $41 billion purchase of XTO Energy last year, is now North America’s largest shale gas producer.

A spokeswoman for the Times noted that Exxon was barely mentioned in the story, and that the article contained several quotes from others in the industry defending natural gas production rates.

The multi-part story, run in the Times Sunday and Monday, cited numerous, anonymous emails from government staffers, industry consultants and energy company executives questioning whether natural gas production from shale rock is really living up to the hype or is instead just another bubble.

The emails, which the Times posted online with the names redacted, say the wells may be running dry much faster than anticipated and could actually lose money.

American climate skeptic Soon funded by oil, coal firms

Willie Soon, a U.S. climate change skeptic who has also discounted the health risks of mercury emissions from coal, has received more than $1 million in funding in recent years from large energy companies and an oil industry group, according to Greenpeace.

Soon, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has also gotten funding from scientific sources including NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But starting early in the last decade, Soon began receiving more funding from the energy companies, Greenpeace reported.

Last year, the foundation of Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of privately held Koch Industries, gave Soon $65,000 to study how variations in the Sun are related to climate change.

Koch is co-owned by David Koch, founder of Americans for Prosperity, a group aligned with the Tea Party movement, which opposes new air pollution regulations.

Beginning in 2002, Soon’s funding mostly came from oil companies, including Southern Co, one of the largest coal burners in the United States, and the American Petroleum Institute, according to documents uncovered in a Freedom of Information Act request by Greenpeace and seen by Reuters.

Next thing in wind energy: stealth turbines

Wind turbines that do not interfere with radar systems used by aircraft may soon become a commercially viable option for the wind energy industry, Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas said on Wednesday.

“Our testing has demonstrated that we have successfully adapted military stealth technology to make Vestas wind turbines viable for placement in many locations that have been restricted by radar concerns,” Vestas Technology R&D President Finn Strom Madsen said in a statement.

Vestas said it successfully tested in Britain a full-scale “stealth” rotor on a turbine, paving the way for wind power plants to be located near military installations, airports and other radar systems without interfering with their operations.

Stealth technology was initially developed by the U.S. military starting in the late 1950s to prevent radar tracking of spy planes and is currently used in the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit “Stealth Bomber.”

Stealth turbines are made with radar-absorbing materials, which can almost entirely eliminate the reflection of radar waves off the turbine, Vestas said.

Obama’s $7 Billion Renewable Energy Grants Targeted for Audits

Government investigators are auditing some of President Barack Obama’s more than $7 billion in renewable energy grants to determine whether the money was awarded properly and the recipients were eligible.

Examiners are reviewing 14 of the 2,600 projects that received tax dollars under the initiative to promote wind and solar power created in the 2009 stimulus bill, according to Richard Delmar, counsel to the Treasury Department’s inspector general. Under the program run by the Treasury, developers receive as much as 30 percent of the cost of a project.

The audits by Eric Thorson, the Treasury’s inspector general, aim to determine whether the department has “established (and followed) appropriate procedures for awarding the grants,” and whether developers meet eligibility requirements, Delmar said in an e-mail.

He declined to identify projects under review. The office expects to issue reports on five of the audits by the end of September, and the remaining nine reports in 2012, he said.

Leader of Rio eco-summit looks to U.S. for leadership

With the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development now less than a year away, Secretary General Sha Zukang says the conference will be critical in addressing sustainable development and global climate change.

Sha said that “humanity stands at a crossroads” in dealing with climate change, declaring that the time to deal with climate change is now and advocating for real progress at next June’s conference in Rio de Janeiro.

“Now is the time to accelerate the progress,” Sha said at the National Press Club yesterday to a crowd that included representatives from the Obama administration, the State Department and ambassadors from China and Brazil. “Nature waits for no one and nature’s warning signs are flashing.”

“I do have a sense of urgency and I hope this sense of urgency can be shared by all stakeholders: government, NGOs, public and private. I mean, everybody should have some urgency, because we don’t have much time to lose,” Sha added. “The environment is getting worse day by day. The resources are depleting very quickly day by day and the population is increasing day by day.”

Ireland-based Ryanair tops list of most efficient airlines

Dublin-based Ryanair ranked as the world’s most efficient airline, while Continental and JetBlue led the way for U.S. airlines in a new report from an environmental group examining the aviation industry’s impact on emissions and fuel use.

The report from Brighter Planet found that overall efficiency in air travel has increased 20 percent since 2000, saving the emission of 670 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent. But there is still a wide gulf in the industry, with the world’s most efficient large airline using just over a third of the fuel per passenger as the most wasteful, American Eagle.

Air travel accounts for 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 4 percent of the emissions from the United States. Worldwide, airlines use roughly 75 billion gallons of fuel a year, and there has been growing work by national and international bodies, including the European Union and the International Civil Aviation Organization to restrict emissions from planes.

Speculation Behind High Gas Prices, Report Says

Speculative commodities trading on Wall Street is significantly inflating prices at the gas pump, according to a new report by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The report criticizes regulators for not restraining speculative energy trading and calls upon the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to finally put trading limits in place.

Over the seven months through May, the average price of gasoline around the country jumped by roughly $1, or 35 percent, the report said. Since then, gas prices have retreated a bit as oil prices backed off their highs above $100 a barrel.

Turmoil in oil-producing countries across the Middle East and growing demand for oil elsewhere was responsible for some of the run-up in gasoline prices. But, the report contended, oil speculators drove much of this year’s surge in prices. The speculation, according to the report, cost the average consumer an extra 83 cents a gallon in May, amounting to a more than $1 billion premium across the country.

Climate change study: More than 300 months since the planets temperature was below average

The world’s climate is not only continuing to warm, it’s adding heat-trapping greenhouse gases even faster than in the past, researchers said Tuesday.

Indeed, the global temperature has been warmer than the 20th century average every month for more than 25 years, they said at a teleconference.

“The indicators show unequivocally that the world continues to warm,” Thomas R. Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center, said in releasing the annual State of the Climate report for 2010.

“There is a clear and unmistakable signal from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” added Peter Thorne of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, North Carolina State University.

Carbon dioxide increased by 2.60 parts per million in the atmosphere in 2010, which is more than the average annual increase seen from 1980-2010, Karl added. Carbon dioxide is the major greenhouse gas accumulating in the air that atmospheric scientists blame for warming the climate.

Pawlenty: The science is ‘bad’ when it comes to global warming

Before going off to the Council on Foreign Relations to give a speech on foreign policy, former Minnesota governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty appeared on Fox & Friends Tuesday morning. Asked about his stance on cap and trade, he acknowledged that he had changed his mind. He added, “I denounced it for a variety of reasons, one of which is the science is bad and it’s in great dispute,” repeating once more that there is a “scientific dispute” about the issue of climate change.

But there isn’t.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reviewed the scientific analyses on the subject in 2007 and found that it is “very likely” — greater than 90 percent certainty — that most of the increase in global temperatures since the mid-20th century was due to increased greenhouse gas emissions. The American Association of the Advancement of Science wrote in 2007, “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.” The National Academy of Sciences also agrees that global warming is real and largely man-made.

Pawlenty has shifted from saying that global warming is real and human-caused to voicing skepticism about the science. In a 2007 press release, he said, “[O]ur global climate is warming, at least in part due to the energy sources we use. We cannot solve it by ourselves, but we need to lead and do our part. We also need to push for an effective national and international effort.”

Kentucky coal companies remind us why we really, really need the EPA

The latest episode in the saga known as Big Coal’s Watergate began Tuesday when environmental and citizen groups filed a second notice of intent to sue the two largest mountaintop-removal mining companies in Kentucky. Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance notified ICG and Frasure Creek Mining of their intent to sue the companies for more than 4,000 violations of the Clean Water Act — these on top of more than 20,000 violations the groups already sued over back in October. As an editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote about the previous lawsuit against these same companies:

“The environmental groups uncovered a massive failure by the industry to file accurate water discharge monitoring reports. They filed an intent to sue which triggered the investigation by the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet. Also revealed was the cabinet’s failure to oversee a credible water monitoring program by the coal industry.

In some cases, state regulators allowed the companies to go for as long as three years without filing required quarterly water-monitoring reports. In other instances, the companies repeatedly filed the same highly detailed data, without even changing the dates. So complete was the lack of state oversight it’s impossible to say whether the mines were violating their water pollution permits or not.”

This time around, none of the evidence that mines were violating pollution limits is in question. Moreover, the notice of intent to sue came at a particularly bad time for the coal industry and for Kentucky’s regulatory agencies, right when their momentum to hamstring the EPA’s authority was really starting to gather steam. Examples of recent anti-EPA efforts include:

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