Monthly Archives: October 2017

U.S. lawmakers ask DOJ if terrorism law covers pipeline activists

by Timothy Gardner, Reuters
October 23, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. representatives from both parties asked the Department of Justice on Monday whether the domestic terrorism law would cover actions by protesters that shut oil pipelines last year, a move that could potentially increase political rhetoric against climate change activists.

Ken Buck, a Republican representative from Colorado, said in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that damaging pipeline infrastructure poses risks to humans and the environment.

The letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said “operation of pipeline facilities by unqualified personnel could result in a rupture – the consequences of which would be devastating.” It was signed by 84 representatives, including at least two Democrats, Gene Green and Henry Cuellar, both of Texas.

The move by the lawmakers is a sign of increasing tensions between activists protesting projects including Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Dakota Access Pipeline and the administration of President Donald Trump, which is seeking to make the country “energy dominant” by boosting domestic oil, gas, and coal output.

Last year activists in several states used bolt cutters to break fences and twisted shut valves on several cross border pipelines that sent about 2.8 million barrels per day of crude to the United States from Canada, equal to roughly 15 percent of daily U.S. consumption.

The letter asks Sessions whether existing federal laws arm the Justice Department to prosecute criminal activity against energy infrastructure. It also asks whether attacks on energy infrastructure that pose a threat to human life fall within the department’s understanding of domestic terrorism law.

The Department of Justice acknowledged receiving the letter and is reviewing it, a spokesman said.

A terrorism expert said it was ironic the lawmakers referred to the law, which defines “domestic terrorism” as acts dangerous to human life intended to intimidate civilians, but does not offer a way to prosecute anyone under it. David Schanzer, a homeland security and terrorism expert at Duke University, said the lawmakers’ request of Sessions “won’t have any legal ramifications, but possibly could be used for rhetorical value.”

A Minnesota court is considering charges against several protesters suspected of turning the valves on the pipelines last year. District Court Judge Robert Tiffany has allowed the defendants to present a “necessity defense.” That means they will admit shutting the valves, but may call witnesses, such as scientific experts, to offer testimony about the urgency of what they say is a climate crisis, activists said.

» See original story on Reuters site


» Activists just disrupted Canada’s tar sands pipelines into the United States: Five oil pipelines into the U.S. were allegedly disrupted

by Alejandro Davila Fragoso, Think Progress
Oct 11, 2016

This was action referred to in the Reuters’ article above, in which activists shut down tar sands pipelines

Slow Down on Back Bay Pipeline

by James Michel, Boston Clean Energy Coalition and Ania Camargo, Mothers Out Front
October 19, 2017

Boston – Today the Public Improvement Commission delayed action on National Grid’s proposed gas pipeline expansion for the Back Bay. Yesterday Boston City Council voted unanimously to ask the Public Improvement Commission to hold off on making any binding decisions on a controversial pipeline proposal for the Back Bay.

Councillor Josh Zakim presented the resolution, “I first heard about this pipeline in my district some months ago. One of the issues here is there has not been enough attention. This is a major addition to the non-renewable infrastructure in the City of Boston. If we want to be bold, better, greener, planning for the future, we need to start now and talk about what kind of infrastructure we’re building. We need to make sure the people in our neighborhoods what is happening.”

Councillor Matt O’Malley co-presented the resolution and commented, “With the paucity of leadership in Washington, it’s up to cities and towns to work on combatting climate change. Our focus should be on building renewable energy infrastructure, not furthering our reliance on fossil fuels. I was proud to partner with Josh Zakim in unanimously passing a resolution that seeks to protect the residents of Boston.”

Councillor Tito Jackson spoke in strong support, “I want to quote J.F.K. He said that our basic and most common link is we all inhabit the planet, all breathe the same air and we all cherish our children’s future. What are we doing? We need to thoughtful and move cautiously when it comes to this. This is gas not for affordable housing, but for luxury condos. We should be thinking about all we can do to get off fossil fuels. We are a coastal city and there’s no doubt that weather events are coming. We must do our part.”

Martyn Roetter Chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay said, “I am concerned about the foreseeable growth in the use of natural gas to meet the needs of the new buildings already approved and under review in Boston, which is inconsistent with the City’s climate change targets to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 to 30 years.  As the resolution passed by the City Council calls for, careful deliberation is required to develop solutions that enable a transition to much lower and ultimately zero reliance on fossil fuels in buildings, and do not lock the City into long lived investments in additional natural gas infrastructure and equipment that will make these targets unachievable.”

James Michel of the Boston Clean Energy Coalition reacted,  “Why on earth would we as a city invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a fracked gas pipeline – and certainly National Grid will be transferring the costs to ratepayers – when we could be designing net zero carbon buildings for the 21st century?”

Dozens of community leaders attended the Public Improvement Commission meeting to express their opposition to the proposed pipelines. Councillor Jackson personally testified to inform the Commission of the City Council’s resolution calling for a more broad and thoughtful consideration.

23 protesters arrested after blocking start of construction of Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline on property of nuns

by Ad Crable and Lindsey Blest, Lancaster Online
October 16, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.42.19 AM
Police arrested 23 opponents of the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline Monday afternoon after they blocked the movement of a backhoe to prevent the beginning of construction on farmland owned by a Catholic order of nuns in West Hempfield Township.

The protesters, charged with defiant trespass, had vowed to stop heavy equipment from accessing a corn field owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. The protesters held hands and stood in front of the backhoe.

All those arrested are believed to be Lancaster County residents, according to Brett Hambright, spokesperson for the district attorney’s office.

“While any arrest is a matter to be taken seriously, the protesting individuals were extremely cooperative and peaceful in their behavior today,” he said. “Our police officers strived to reciprocate that same level of respect in their dealings with the individuals,” he said.

Police gave protesters until 12:45 p.m. to remove the blockade. When 23 stayed, standing in rows of five, police began arresting them one by one. The protesters were handcuffed and led off without resistance as other anti-pipeline protesters cheered support.

Lancaster Against Pipelines co-founder Mark Clatterbuck said all those arrested stood in solidarity with the nuns.

“The way the system is set up, there is not a way to legally protect our communities and our water and our land from a project like this. And so it comes to civil disobedience where the community says ‘We are not going to let this happen anymore,’ ” Clatterbuck, a Martic Township resident, said.

“We want to expose today that the system has to change. What a shame that a community is charged with trespassing on our own land to keep a harmful project out that we don’t want.”

» Read full article


Eversource, Avangrid artificially constrained gas pipeline capacity for years, report argues

Researchers estimate withholding of pipeline capacity cost New England electricity customers $3.6 billion over the past three years. Eversource called the report a “complete fabrication.”

by Gavin Bade, Utility Dive
Oct. 11, 2017

A new academic analysis argues gas utility subsidiaries of Avangrid and Eversource have artificially constrained gas pipeline capacity in New England for years, driving up natural gas and electricity prices and potentially violating federal laws.

The systematic withholding of pipeline capacity, particularly on the coldest days, has cost New England electricity consumers $3.6 billion in higher prices over the past three years, according to “Vertical Market Power in Interconnected Natural Gas and Electricity Markets,” a new white paper posted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday.

A group of university researchers working with the Environmental Defense Fund found that local gas distribution utilities owned by the two holding companies regularly scheduled more gas than they needed on the Algonquin Pipeline in Connecticut and Massachusetts, only to cancel some of the orders later in the day — too late for the pipeline space to be resold.

This practice, referred to as down-scheduling, “essentially locks up some pipeline capacity,” said Matthew Zaragoza-Watkins, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University and co-author of the report. On the worst days, including during the Polar Vortex of 2013-2014, up to 7% of Algonquin’s capacity could be artificially constrained.

“When you relate that back to gas-fired generators, that’s about 28% of the gas that would be demanded,” Zaragoza-Watkins said.

This “capacity withholding,” researchers wrote, “increased average gas and electricity prices by 38% and 20%, respectively, over the three year period we study.”

Eversource officials called the report “a complete fabrication” and denied engaging “in any behavior to underutilize capacity to ‘artificially constrain capacity.'”

“The pipeline capacity we reserve is done so to meet the needs of our customers, no other purpose,” Media Relations Manager Tricia Taskey Modifica wrote to Utility Dive. Avangrid did not return requests for comment.

It does not appear either company broke any contract laws or market rules with their behavior, researchers said. But if the report’s findings are accurate, industry lawyers say they could amount to violations of federal law — and become one of the biggest price manipulation scandals since the California energy crisis.

“If this analysis is correct, honestly, this isn’t a whole lot short of Enron,” said Andy Weissman, senior counsel at the Washington, D.C., law firm Pillsbury. “If customers really paid $3.6 billion as a result of withheld capacity … that is a big time scandal that is going to lead to huge litigation.”

» Read the whole story

Welfare Kings? Study Finds Half of New Oil Production Unprofitable Without Government Handouts

By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 3, 2017

A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Energy found that 50 percent of new oil production in America would be unprofitable if not for government subsidies. The study, performed by researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute and Earth Track, Inc., found that, at prices of $50 per barrel, light oil produced by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) was heavily dependent on subsidies.

In fact, forty percent of the Permian basin in Texas would be economically unviable without subsidies, and for the home of Bakken crude production, Williston Basin, that number jumps to 59 percent, according to the researchers.

In addition, the study highlights what this additional fossil fuel production means for impacts to the climate:
“…continued subsidies for oil investment could produce oil (and associated gas) that, once burned, will yield CO2 emissions equivalent to nearly 1 percent of the remaining global carbon budget for all sectors of all economies.”

At current oil prices, perhaps the most effective “keep it in the ground” strategy might be to stop subsidizing oil production.

» Read the full article