Planet Watch

Record $4.5 billion settlement with BP in Gulf spill

US Attorney General Eric Holder announced Nov. 15 that British Petroleum (BP) has agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties and plead guilty to felony misconduct for its role in the devastation caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Holder emphasized that the settlement includes a roughly $1.25 billion criminal fine, and announced that two BP supervisors aboard the Deepwater Horizon during the spill have been charged with 23 criminal counts—including manslaughter, a result of the 11 workers killed in the April 2010 explosion. As part of the agreement, BP has agreed to plead guilty to 11 of the felonies related to the workers' deaths, a charge of obstruction of Congress and two misdemeanors.

Sandy and climate change: media hot air

Paul M. Barrett has made a splash (forgive the pun) on Bloomberg Businessweek with his piece (well on its way to meme-dom) "It's Global Warming, Stupid." He opens:

Yes, yes, it's unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they're right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Petro-oligarchs play presidential candidates —again

In case you were wondering, the oil and energy industry are hedging their bets by funding both candidates (gee, what a surprise)—but not equally. Politico noted back in April that BP has favored Obama: 

BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations come from a mix of employees and the company's political action committees — $2.89 million flowed to campaigns from BP-related PACs and about $638,000 came from individuals.

Arctic sea ice cover hits record low

Arctic sea ice cover this month fell to the lowest summer minimum extent since satellite records began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). "We are now in uncharted territory," said NSIDC director Mark Serreze. "While we've long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur."

Ninth Circuit dismisses Alaska village claim over greenhouse emissions

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed on Sept. 21 the dismissal of the Alaskan village of Kivalina's nuisance claims against energy companies for greenhouse emissions it claimed contributed to global warming and threatened its existence. Kivalina brought suit against 22 energy corporations, attributing the destruction of its land to the effects of global warming, which it alleged partially results from emissions of greenhouse gases by the defendants. The US District Court for the Northern District of California had dismissed the claim on standing in 2009, stating that because it was a political question the courts could not intervene. Citing to the Supreme Court's ruling in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, the Ninth Circuit ruled that:

Petro-oligarchs play presidential candidates —again

We don't doubt that Big Oil has its money on the Republicans and Mitt Romney when push comes to shove. But we noted back in 2008 that the reigning petro-oligarchs were deftly playing both sides in the presidential race. The nature of the game is that no matter who gets in, the petro-oligarchs win. But a part of the game is that Romney gets to bait Obama as a Green Stalin for suggesting that some remnants of federal oversight over the oil industry be retained—which only causes Obama to capitulate yet further. In terms of actual policy on oil and energy, the difference between the two parties has been narrowing almost from the moment Obama took office, until today it is vanishingly small. From AP, Aug. 23:

Keystone vs Enbridge: race or stratagem?

We noted earlier this year that the Canadian government is holding out the threat of selling the Alberta tar sands oil to China through the Northern Gateway pipeline that Enbridge Inc hopes to build to the British Columbia coast as a stratagem to pressure the US for rapid approval of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, which would export that same oil to stateside refineries as far south as Texas. In January, President Barack Obama denied a permit (for the time being) to the main trunk that would bring the oil down from Canada (to Republican outrage). But in March, he announced he would approve construction of the southern leg, from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast—a move blasted by enviros as a betrayal and (natch) by Republicans as inadequate. (LAT, March 22; see map from the Washington PostThe southern leg is, of course, contingent on the northern leg, thus establishing greater pressure for it. Now, as work commences on the southern leg, it emerges that Enbridge, in addition to fighting Canada's own enviros to win approval of the Northern Gateway, is quietly but rapidly expanding its own pipeline network south of the 49th parallel. Is this bet-hedging—keeping access to US markets in case Canada's greens prevail over the Northern Gateway? Or are Enbridge and TransCanada throwing each other a wink—divvying up the US market between them while cultivating the "China card" to lubricate access to that market? We recall the famous admonition of Calouste Gulbenkian, the Armenian oilman who brokered the post-World War I carve-up of the Middle East among US and European companies: "Oilmen are like cats; you can never tell from the sound of them whether they are fighting or making love." Exhibit A, from the LA Times, Aug. 16:

Chevron fire: how many more?

It hasn't won the merest fraction of the coverage enjoyed by the London Olympics, but last week's massive Chevron oil refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., sent hundreds of people rushing to hospitals, darkened the skies over East Bay, and has gasoline prices headed back up towards $4 a gallon. AP notes this "was just the latest pollution incident at the facility that records show has increasingly violated air quality rules over the past five years. The refinery is one of three such facilities near San Francisco that rank among the state's top 10 emitters of toxic chemicals, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory. Chevron's Richmond refinery...has been cited by San Francisco Bay area regulators for violating air regulations 93 times in the past five years."