Just weeks before President Obama announced details of his climate change action plan, federal officials approved a deal to allow expanded mining of coal on Navajo lands and its continued burning at the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington, NM. The deal extends the lease on the plant by 25 years, and allows for an expansion of the Navajo Mine that supplies it. It came less than a month after operators of the Four Corners plant (chiefly Arizona Public Service) agreed to settle a lawsuit by federal officials and environmental groups that claimed plant emissions violated the Clean Air Act. Under the settlement, operators agreed to spend up to $160 million on equipment to reduce harmful emissions, and to set aside millions more for health and environmental programs. The regional haze produced by the plant and others ringing the Navajo reservation has long drawn protest. Under pressure from the EPA, the plant in 2013 shut down the oldest and dirtiest three of the five generating units to help the facility meet emission standards. But many locals are not appeased. "Our Mother Earth is being ruined," said Mary Lane, president of the Forgotten People, a grassroots Navajo organization. "We don't want the power plant to go on. It's ruining all the environment, the air, the water." (Navajo-Hopi Observer, July 21)
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a final environmental impact statement (PDF) on the dangers of fracking on June 29, which carries the force of law and officially bans fracking in the state. Signed by DEC commissioner Joseph Martens, the report cited significant water withdrawals, increased stormwater runoffs, potential severe flooding and inadequate waste disposal as possible dangers that may affect the state's water resources. The report also cited the dangers of increased greenhouse gas emissions and the release of naturally occurring radioactive material. The Department considered extensive mitigation measures but were not convinced as to their efficacy. "In the end...[t]he Department’s chosen alternative to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the best alternative based on the balance between protection of the environment and public health and economic and social considerations." This decision confirms a report issued in December by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration affirming their intent to block hydraulic fracturing across the state.
Indigenous leaders from across Argentina's 17 provinces met in Buenos Aires on May 27-9 to coordinate resistance to dispossession from their ancestral lands by interests of fracking, mining, hydroelectric development and soy cultivation. The First National Summit of Indigenous Peoples was called by the inter-ethnic association QOPIWINI, which since February has been maintining a protest encampment in in downtown Buenos Aires to oppose land-grabs in indigenous territories across the country. The summit was especially called to respond to a recent wave of violent attacks on indigenous protesters—including a Molotov cocktail hurled at the QOPIWINI camp by unknown assailants on April 24.
As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?
The UN Climate Change Conference, officially the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, closed its 14-day meeting in Lima, Peru, late Dec. 14, two days after its scheduled end. The 196 parties to the UNFCCC approved a draft of a new treaty, to be formally approved next year in Paris, and to take effect by 2020. An earlier draft was rejected by developing nations, who accused rich bations of dodging their responsibilities to fight climate change and pay for its impacts. Peru's environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the summit, told reporters: "As a text it's not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties." Friends of the Earth's Asad Rehman took a darker view: "The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year. Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialized world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change." (BBC News, ENS, Dec. 14)
Argentina's Chamber of Deputies voted 130-116, with one abstention, on Oct. 30 to pass a new version of a 1967 federal law governing the exploitation of oil and gas resources. The controversial new version had already been approved by the Senate; it will become law once it is signed and published in the Official Gazette by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Under the revised law—which was pushed through the National Congress by the Front for Victory (FPV), President Fernández's center-left faction of the Peronist Justicialist Party (PJ)—concessions will be granted to private companies for 25 years for conventional oil drilling, for 30 years for offshore drilling and for 35 years for unconventional techniques like hydrofracking. The royalties the companies pay on oil and gas sales will be limited to 12% for the federal government and to just 3% for the oil-producing provinces, which technically control the resources. Private companies can also benefit from a provision letting them sell 20% of their production in international markets without paying export taxes if they invest $250 million over a three-year period.
The president of Colombia's Ecopetrol, Javier Genaro Gutiérrez, announced Sept. 24 that the state oil company will process licenses for the use of fracking technology. Gutiérrez upheld Texas as an example of successful fracking, saying, "I invite you to see the fracking tower next to a hospital for the elderly" in the US state. In the Ronda Colombia 2014, the country's latest round of auctioning oil leases on public lands, 19 of the 98 bids sold were for the development of fracking sites. In March, a law was passed to expedite the process for allowing "non-conventional" drilling sites. Ecopetrol in a partnership with Canadian-based Talisman Energy acquired the country's two largest natural gas fields from BP in 2010.
We've long maintained that global oil prices are not determined by scarcity or even the laws of supply and demand so much as by politics—the price rises or falls in response to war or comparative stability in the Middle East. Oil fields don't have to actually go up in flames—the mere fear that this will happen is sufficient to drive up the price: it is about perception. We've also noted that the global petro-oligarchs are hoping to reap a windfall from the multiple global crises, plugging the North American energy boom as a key to security and low prices. But ultimately, high prices are needed to fuel continued expansion of the industry, whether in North America, the Arctic, Persian Gulf or Caspian Basin. So, to an extent, the global price is manipulated—we are alternately told that energy self-sufficiency is reducing reliance on unstable global markets, and that instability threatens our "way of life" so we had better loosen burdensome environmental restraints on new exploitation. At the moment, we are on the first part of the cycle: After an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, prices have now stabilized, and we are being told it is thanks to domestic fracking and tar-sands oil. Soon enough (just you wait) they will be surging up again, especially if (as seems all too likely) the Middle East continues to escalate. This much is admitted in a Sept. 15 National Public Radio report, "With Turmoil Roiling Abroad, Why Aren't Oil Prices Bubbling Up?"...