Citing climate change, U.S. judge blocks oil and gas drilling in large swath of Wyoming

The lawsuit challenged leases issued in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado in 2015 and 2016, during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Image: Climate Change Impact, Oil, Gas

Trinidad Drilling rigs are seen off of Way Highway 59 outside of Douglas, Wyo on March 5, 2013. A judge has blocked oil and gas drilling on almost 500 square miles in Wyoming and says the government must consider cumulative climate change impacts of leasing public lands across the U.S. for energy development. Leah Millis / The Casper Star-Tribune via AP file

By Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — A judge blocked oil and gas drilling across almost 500 square miles in Wyoming and said the U.S. government must consider climate change impacts more broadly as it leases huge swaths of public land for energy exploration.

The order marks the latest in a string of court rulings over the past decade — including one last month in Montana — that have faulted the U.S. for inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when approving oil, gas and coal projects on federal land.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington appeared to go a step further than other judges in his order issued late Tuesday.

Previous rulings focused on individual lease sales or permits. But Contreras said that when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management auctions public lands for oil and gas leasing, officials must consider emissions from past, present and foreseeable future oil and gas leases nationwide.

“Given the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land,” Contreras wrote.

The ruling coincides with an aggressive push by President Donald Trump’s administration to open more public lands to energy development.

It came in a lawsuit that challenged leases issued in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado in 2015 and 2016, during President Barack Obama’s administration.

Only the leases in Wyoming were immediately addressed in Contreras’ ruling. It blocks federal officials from issuing drilling permits until they conduct a new environmental review looking more closely at greenhouse gas emissions.

The case was brought by two advocacy groups, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

WildEarth Guardians climate program director Jeremy Nichols predicted the ruling would have much bigger implications than a halt to drilling in some areas of Wyoming, assuming the government does what Contreras has asked.

“This is the Holy Grail ruling we’ve been after, especially with oil and gas,” Nichols said. “It calls into question the legality of oil and gas leasing that’s happening everywhere.”

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon criticized the ruling, saying carbon emissions shouldn’t be reduced at the expense of workers who provide reliable and affordable energy.

“Bringing our country to its knees is not the way to thwart climate change. We need solutions not grandstanding,” said Gordon, a Republican.

Federal officials were reviewing the court ruling to determine its implications and had no further comment, BLM spokeswoman Kristen Lenhardt said.

Emissions from extracting and burning fossil fuels from federal land generates the equivalent of 1.4 billion tons annually of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, according to a November report from the U.S. Geological Survey . That’s equivalent to almost one-quarter of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

Companies paid more than $6.5 billion to produce oil, gas and coal from federal lands and waters in 2017, according to the most recent government figures. The money is split between the federal government and states where the extraction occurs.

Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance, which lobbies on behalf of the oil industry, said the BLM already was analyzing emissions appropriately under rules set up during the Obama administration.

Following previous court rulings over climate change, the BLM has gone back and reconsidered the effects of fossil fuels and then re-affirmed its approvals of projects.

That could happen again in this case, with further studies done before drilling is allowed to proceed, said Harry Weiss, an environmental lawyer based in Philadelphia whose clients have included oil and gas companies.

“This decision should not be interpreted as a ban on leasing activities,” Weiss said. “The court is not ruling on whether it’s thumbs up or thumbs down. The court is simply grading how the administration did analyzing the issues.”

BP lobbied Trump administration to roll back key Obama era climate rules

An investigation by Unearthed has revealed that the oil and gas major BP successfully lobbied the Trump administration to roll back key climate regulations preventing methane emissions, despite claiming publicly to support the Paris Agreement. Both directly and through influential trade associations, BP first opposed and then helped reverse rules that would have restricted the deliberate venting and flaring of methane on federal lands, and also that would have required more frequent equipment inspections to detect methane leaks. At least 1.7m tonnes of methane could be released into the atmosphere over the next seven years as a result of the rollbacks, says Unearthed, equivalent to 58m tonnes of CO2. In public, BP “has portrayed itself as an energy major at the forefront of a global campaign to reduce methane emissions from operations to combat climate change”, notes the Financial Times. While not responding directly to Unearthed, a BP spokesperson tells the FT that the company has “consistently advocated for regulation of methane emissions by one federal agency — the Environmental Protection Agency — rather than an inefficient patchwork of different federal or state agencies”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that BP is set to launch a new “very low sulphur fuel oil” ahead of a ban on more polluting fuels for the shipping industry that comes into force next year.

In other US news, Reuters reports that the White House is proposing eliminating a tax credit worth up to $7,500 (~£5,700) on the purchase of new electric vehicles. In its proposed “budget for a better America”, the Office of Management and Budget says the move would save the US government $2.5bn over a decade. The 2020 budget also proposes a 31% cut for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reports the Hill, a 13% cut for the National Science Foundation and a 2.3% cut for Nasa, reports the Washington Post. The budget aims to cut domestic spending by 5% overall, notes another piece in the Hill. In a statement, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler says: “This common sense budget proposal would support the agency as it continues to work with states, tribes and local governments to protect human health and the environment.” The proposed budget is “highly unlikely to become law”, says Reuters, after it was “immediately panned by Democrats”

Trump Forgot to mention Climate Change…

…in his State of the Union speech last night, but he did boast about this:

Energy production

CLAIM: The United States is now the #1 producer of oil and natural gas in the world.

FACTS: This is accurate. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short-Term Energy Outlook from September, the United States became the number one crude oil producer in the world last year. U.S. crude oil production exceeded that of Saudi Arabia for the first time in more than two decades in February 2018, and surpassed Russia in June and August 2018 for the first time since February 1999. The U.S. surpassed Saudi Arabia to become the top petroleum producer in 2013, and has continued to hold to that trend. The United States has been the number one producer of natural gas since 2009, when it surpassed Russia to claim the top rank.

— Sara Cook


Oil and gas leasing delayed in sage grouse habitat

Federal court rejects Interior’s ‘intentional decision’ to limit public comment.

Throughout his tenure as Interior Department secretary, Ryan Zinke has tried to prime the pump for oil and gas leasing on public lands. Under his leadership, and in pursuit of the Trump administration’s “American Energy Dominance” directive, the Bureau of Land Management has increased the area offered for oil and gas leases and relaxed regulations for natural gas producers on public lands.

But the BLM recently hit a snag in its push to lease more land for oil and gas production. In late September, a federal district court in Idaho issued a preliminary injunction stating that the Interior Department must hold off on energy leasing in sage grouse habitat to allow for more public participation. Because of the decision, oil and gas lease sales totaling more than 1 million acres and spanning six states have been delayed.

A wild horse drinks from a puddle near a pumpjack on BLM land in Wyoming.

The decision stems from a lawsuit brought by two conservation groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project, arguing that policies the BLM put in place in January unlawfully restrict public comment on oil and gas leases. The old guidelines called for 30-day comment and protest periods; under the new rules, individual BLM offices could do away with the initial public comment period entirely and limit the protest period to 10 days.

In his decision stating that the new policies are inadequate, Idaho Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush found the agency had purposefully circumvented public participation. “The record contains significant evidence indicating that BLM made an intentional decision to limit the opportunity for (and even in some circumstances to preclude entirely) any contemporaneous public involvement in decisions concerning whether to grant oil and gas leases on federal lands,” he wrote.

Bush’s ruling was an initial judgment, which temporarily halted lease sales pending the court’s final decision. While the ruling was limited to critical habitat for sage grouse, the final judgment could overrule the BLM’s new public participation policies entirely, said Sarah Stellberg, an attorney for Advocates for the West, the nonprofit environmental law firm that tried the case. And the judge may go even further. “It is possible leases issued under the policy could be vacated,” Stellberg said. Even if such a sweeping judgment doesn’t happen, leases sold earlier this year could be challenged in separate lawsuits if the court rules that they went forward under unlawful policies.

The September court decision was one of several recent federal rulings against Zinke’s Interior Department. Courts have pushed back on Fish and Wildlife decisions regarding endangered species protections for Pacific fishers and Yellowstone’s bison and grizzly bears. And earlier this summer, a court in New Mexico ordered the BLM to consider climate change during environmental reviews.

As conservationists and the Interior Department await a final ruling in the sage grouse case, federal officials are preparing significantly smaller lease sales. In Wyoming, where the majority of the affected parcels are located, only 720 acres are still set to be auctioned in December, an area dwarfed by the more than 750,000 acres of Wyoming leases delayed by the temporary injunction.

But those parcels haven’t escaped the auction block altogether. They are now scheduled to be leased in February, following a longer period for public comment and protest. How that expanded public input will impact any future push by the Interior Department to open more acres to oil and gas leasing is an open question.

From the frontlines of climate change resistance

People protest against President Donald Trump’s executive order fast-tracking the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The planet is only 1°C warmer than pre-industrial times, yet we are already witnessing a chain of catastrophic climate-related extremes all over the globe.

If we want to avoid even more dramatic impacts, we have to stay under a 1.5°C increase in global mean temperatures. This is according to the latest special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN-backed climate science body. Meeting the 1.5°C threshold will inevitably require a very rapid and immediate phase-out of fossil fuels: we need to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2050 and cut them in half by 2030.

This goal is incompatible with clearing forests to expand mines (Germany), fracking in the countryside (Britain), or the selling off of exploration rights for dee-water oil reserves (Brazil) or the expansion of coal plant projects happening across the Global South. The transition from fossil fuels is going to require systemic change at a pace never seen before, but it is technically feasible, economically sound and it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the only choice we have.

The Pacific front

This plan is at total odds with the coal mega-mine planned by fossil fuel giant Adani in Eastern Australia. The Carmichael mine will sit right next to the Great Barrier Reef, through which the extracted coal will be shipped.

The coal deposit is part of the Galilee Basin, one of the world’s largest untapped coal reserves, where a further eight new mines have been proposed. If they go ahead, the coal from these projects would more than double Australia’s annual coal production and burn through five per cent of the world’s carbon budget. Australia and the Pacific Islands have witnessed the destructive potential of climate change. The continent is currently experiencing a record drought and massive wildfires have already ravaged parts of the east coast. Meanwhile, surging storm fronts and rising sea levels have even forced some Pacific Islands states to plan the relocation of their entire population within a few decades.

Despite the Australian government’s support for the Adani mine, people have been fighting against it through the #StopAdani campaign. The Pacific Climate Warriors, a network of Pacific Islanders who are campaigning on the frontlines of climate change, are soon going to knock on doors to raise awareness of the threat that the Adani coal mine poses to lives, livelihoods and ecosystems in the Pacific. Activists are urgently advocating campaigning for withdrawing any social license to the fossil fuel industry.

Free movement for…oil?

Halfway across the world, in San Foca, southern Italy, a local community is fighting against the infamous Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), trying to protect their centuries-old olive groves from eradication.

Facing police violence and being threatened with heavy fines, local people are organizing peacefully and powerfully to stop the pipeline’s construction. The pipeline would bring Azerbaijan’s gas to Europe, carrying billions of cubic metres every year from 2020.

Considered a strategic priority by European governments, the project will cost €45bn, making it the most expensive fossil fuel project under development in the continent. When factoring in the potential methane leakage that will take place along the route, the climate impacts of the gas it will carry is thought to be at least as bad as coal.

Scientists warn that unless average temperature rises in the region stops short of reaching the 1.5C threshold, large parts of Southern Europe and Northern Africa will permanently turn into deserts with more frequent deadly heat waves and dramatic consequences on food production. Olive groves and grapes that have shaped the region over thousands of years might be gone within a few generations.

Renewable resistance

Yet, a powerful example of how things can be different comes directly from some of the most threatened and vulnerable communities. It’s the case of those resisting the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States. The pipeline would connect Canada with Gulf Coast refineries, carrying around 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil across the United States. President Obama rejected the federal permit for this project in 2015 because of the impact Keystone XL would have on the climate. One of Trump’s first moves in office was to reverse this decision.

In response, indigenous communities, landowners, farmers, along with supporting organizations, launched Solar XL – a wave of renewable energy resistance that’s building solar arrays directly in the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline – putting clean energy solutions in the path of the problem.

These are only some of the stories of resistance to the fossil fuel madness, collated in the People’s Dossier on 1.5°C, a new report by the campaigning organization 350. As the IPCC shows, activists denouncing the fossil fuel lobby were right all along and it’s now clear that three fundamental things need to happen:

We must stop all new fossil fuel projects.

It’s clear that the fossil fuel industry is trying to squeeze enough from their current business model before being forced to change tune.

Not a penny more can go to dirty energy companies and projects.

Those who have control of the money, often our money, need to immediately and massively divest from fossil fuels and invest instead in renewable energy, energy storage and low-carbon transition projects in the transport, building and agriculture sectors.

We must accelerate the transition to 100% locally distributed, renewable energy systems with off-the-grid solar and wind power and community-led energy production.

This will take away power from energy giants and put it back where it belongs, with the people, while ensuring that we stop soiling our planet with the byproducts of fossil fuels extraction.

The required transformations are so systemic and urgent that they cannot possibly be left to market forces. Laws and policies need to change at all levels of government; financial institutions must accept scientific evidence in their assessments of energy projects.

According to the IPCC, we have less than 12 years of emissions as usual before we hit the 1.5°C cap. If we start slowing down emissions dramatically now, we might get a few more years of controlled phase-out. But this means no new fossil fuel extraction projects, anywhere, ever again.

A global uprising for climate action, led by local communities and built from the ground up, can tip the scales in favor of the fossil free world we need to see. People worldwide are already spearheading the change, taking action to confront those who are profiting from climate change and taking power for the people by promoting the kind of community-controlled and just alternatives we need.

It’s true, we don’t have much time left, but we were right all along, and now it’s the moment to make our voices, the voices of the people, heard by those who wouldn’t listen to make change happen.

Shell and Exxon’s secret 1980s climate change warnings

Newly found documents from the 1980s show that fossil fuel companies privately predicted the global damage that would be caused by their products.

A Royal Dutch Shell logo.
 A Royal Dutch Shell logo. Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/PA

One day in 1961, an American economist named Daniel Ellsberg stumbled across a piece of paper with apocalyptic implications. Ellsberg, who was advising the US government on its secret nuclear war plans, had discovered a document that contained an official estimate of the death toll in a preemptive “first strike” on China and the Soviet Union: 300 million in those countries, and double that globally.

Ellsberg was troubled that such a plan existed; years later, he tried to leak the details of nuclear annihilation to the public. Although his attempt failed, Ellsberg would become famous instead for leaking what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers – the US government’s secret history of its military intervention in Vietnam.

America’s amoral military planning during the Cold War echoes the hubris exhibited by another cast of characters gambling with the fate of humanity. Recently, secret documents have been unearthed detailing what the energy industry knew about the links between their products and global warming. But, unlike the government’s nuclear plans, what the industry detailed was put into action.

In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions. In 1982, for example, Exxon predicted that by about 2060, CO2 levels would reach around 560 parts per million – double the preindustrial level – and that this would push the planet’s average temperatures up by about 2°C over then-current levels (and even more compared to pre-industrial levels).

Exxon’s private prediction of the future growth of carbon dioxide levels (left axis) and global temperature relative to 1982 (right axis). Elsewhere in its report, Exxon noted that the most widely accepted science at the time indicated that doubling carbon dioxide levels would cause a global warming of 3°C.
 Exxon’s private prediction of the future growth of carbon dioxide levels (left axis) and global temperature relative to 1982 (right axis). Elsewhere in its report, Exxon noted that the most widely accepted science at the time indicated that doubling carbon dioxide levels would cause a global warming of 3°C. Illustration: 1982 Exxon internal briefing document

Later that decade, in 1988, an internal report by Shell projected similar effects but also found that CO2 could double even earlier, by 2030. Privately, these companies did not dispute the links between their products, global warming, and ecological calamity. On the contrary, their research confirmed the connections.

Shell’s assessment foresaw a one-meter sea-level rise, and noted that warming could also fuel disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, resulting in a worldwide rise in sea level of “five to six meters.” That would be enough to inundate entire low-lying countries.

Shell’s analysts also warned of the “disappearance of specific ecosystems or habitat destruction,” predicted an increase in “runoff, destructive floods, and inundation of low-lying farmland,” and said that “new sources of freshwater would be required” to compensate for changes in precipitation. Global changes in air temperature would also “drastically change the way people live and work.” All told, Shell concluded, “the changes may be the greatest in recorded history.”

For its part, Exxon warned of “potentially catastrophic events that must be considered.” Like Shell’s experts, Exxon’s scientists predicted devastating sea-level rise, and warned that the American Midwest and other parts of the world could become desert-like. Looking on the bright side, the company expressed its confidence that “this problem is not as significant to mankind as a nuclear holocaust or world famine.”

The documents make for frightening reading. And the effect is all the more chilling in view of the oil giants’ refusal to warn the public about the damage that their own researchers predicted. Shell’s report, marked “confidential,” was first disclosed by a Dutch news organization earlier this year. Exxon’s study was not intended for external distribution, either; it was leaked in 2015.

Nor did the companies ever take responsibility for their products. In Shell’s study, the firm argued that the “main burden” of addressing climate change rests not with the energy industry, but with governments and consumers. That argument might have made sense if oil executives, including those from Exxon and Shell, had not later lied about climate change and actively prevented governments from enacting clean-energy policies.

Although the details of global warming were foreign to most people in the 1980s, among the few who had a better idea than most were the companies contributing the most to it. Despite scientific uncertainties, the bottom line was this: oil firms recognized that their products added CO2 to the atmosphere, understood that this would lead to warming, and calculated the likely consequences. And then they chose to accept those risks on our behalf, at our expense, and without our knowledge.

The catastrophic nuclear war plans that Ellsberg saw in the 1960s were a Sword of Damocles that fortunately never fell. But the oil industry’s secret climate change predictions are becoming reality, and not by accident. Fossil-fuel producers willfully drove us toward the grim future they feared by promoting their products, lying about the effects, and aggressively defending their share of the energy market.

As the world warms, the building blocks of our planet – its ice sheets, forests, and atmospheric and ocean currents – are being altered beyond repair. Who has the right to foresee such damage and then choose to fulfill the prophecy? Although war planners and fossil-fuel companies had the arrogance to decide what level of devastation was appropriate for humanity, only Big Oilhad the temerity to follow through. That, of course, is one time too many.

Benjamin Franta, a former research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, is a doctoral candidate at Stanford University, where his research focuses on the history of climate science and politics.

An earlier version of this piece, entitled “Global Warming’s Paper Trail”, was published on Sept. 12, 2018 by Project Syndicate.

Traps Of Our Own Making: Climate Change, Blame And Denial + Overpoulation U-tube





 Despite warnings from renowned scientists and unfavorable market conditions due to cheap natural gas, some politicians are pushing to revive the fortunes of coal-fired power plants. Photo courtesy flickr user Ozzy Delaney
Despite warnings from renowned scientists and unfavorable market conditions due to cheap natural gas, some politicians are pushing to revive the fortunes of coal-fired power plants. Photo courtesy flickr user Ozzy Delaney

Come morning, I throw my covers aside, swing my legs over the edge of the bed, turn on my bedside lamp, crank up my bedside radio for a first dose of the daily news, then pull on some clothes and head for the kitchen to get a pot of coffee going. That done, it’s time to turn on my computer and pick my way through the latest reports on all things climate.

Put another way, I start my climate-oriented day by doing my bit to heat the planet just a little more, simply because everything from my bedside lamp and radio to my kitchen stove and computer are powered by electricity.
Electricity where I live in Montana is powered by coal. So, here I sit,  typing these words into a coal-fired computer, sipping coffee heated on a coal-fired stove, listening to news and music on a coal-fired radio, effectively pushing atmospheric CO2 density higher than the normal background levels that have kept the planet from being too cold to support Life. It boils down to my own daily creation of too much of an otherwise good thing.

I do all this knowing full well that I’m adding to the increasing risk for things that many people care about deeply, including children going outdoors to play and adults going outdoors to work. A team led by the University of Hawaii’s Camilo Mora cites evidence that “it is unlikely that human physiology will evolve the necessary higher heat tolerance, highlighting that outdoor conditions will remain deadly.

Mora has since said, “What we’re understanding is that the human body is actually very sensitive to heat, and that suggests pretty much everybody’s at risk. ” He went on to warn that “this is coming at our doors right now.”
As a consequence of how I live, increasingly deadly heat is going to be pounding on our doors for a very long time to come—the leading greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, remains in the atmosphere for 1,000 years once we dump it there.
The net result is that the heat I turn up in the humdrum routine of my ordinary day can’t even start coming back down for 1,000 years, and lingering effects may persist for thousands of years beyond that.
Even short of deadly outdoor heat during summer days, our work and play is likely to suffer if rising overnight heat keeps us from getting a good night’s sleep.
The fingers of blame point in many directions
It’s clearly not just me, and just as clearly not just our dependency on coal. Our shared situation is reminiscent of then-President George W Bush’s remark that “we are addicted to oil.” It was a profoundly honest admission.
Bush may as well have said we’re addicted to all the fossil fuels, but our dependency on oil brings transportation into the picture. Every time someone turns an ignition key to commence a routine commute to work, the atmosphere becomes just that much better a heat trap. It’s the same for planes, ships, trains, just about everything in the fossil fuel economy. Some would take this and say we can do nothing, that the dire result bearing down on us is inevitable.
A November 21 2010 issue of Nature Geoscience reported that “the growth in CO2 emissions closely follows the growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) corrected for improvements in energy efficiency.”
The relationship between CO2 emissions and economic growth was confirmed in 2012. “Changes in world GDP (WGDP) have a significant effect on CO2 concentrations, so that years of above-trend WGDP are years of greater rise of CO2 concentrations.”  In other words, our unquestioning carbon-based approach to economic prosperity, resting on the belief that it is elevating the human condition is actually achieving the opposite effect.


 In the recently-released Montana Climate Assessment, a team of scientific experts noted that climate change could spell disaster for dryland farmers and beef growers on the high plains. Photo courtesy USDA
In the recently-released Montana Climate Assessment, a team of scientific experts noted that climate change could spell disaster for dryland farmers and beef growers on the high plains. Photo courtesy USDA
Big Oil has acknowledged much of climate science’s validity, much the same as I’m acknowledging mine here. In an unusual court case in which the judge asked both sides of a climate change lawsuit to state their stance on climate science, Chevron attorney Theodore Boutrous told the judge that Chevron agrees with IPCC findings that humans are a major force driving heat to higher levels.
However, he went on to say, “IPCC doesn’t say that the extraction or production of fossil fuels leads to emissions. It’s energy use, the economic activity, that drives the demand for fuel that leads to emissions.”
Boutros is essentially arguing that the finger of blame points not at the oil industry itself, but instead to its own customers. That’s us. But do we make no distinction between the responsibilities of addicts and the responsibilities of the pushers?
Chevron can’t shift all the blame to its consumers, if only because the oil industry is as addicted to sales as its customers are to buying its fuels. Nor can I shift all the blame to the three big fossil fuel industries—coal, oil, and gas. This buck stops everywhere, and there can be no shift if other options are being stifled by the fossil fuel industry and elected officials.
Read the recent editorial by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana titled “Reaching energy potential right for state, country” where it is suggested we should get back big into coal extraction and applauded the Trump Administration’s move to start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Yet the senator makes no mention of climate change. In the past, without providing any substantive facts, he has downplayed or ignored the compelling scientific evidence produced by the National Academies of Sciences. A current extended drought in the heart of Australia’s beef country could be a symbolic prelude, reminding ag producers in the arid U.S. West what lies in store when drought is not treated as an aberration but the new normal.
Has the fossil fuel economy become a trap?
There’s an interesting alternative to the addiction model of our situation. In 1973, American Psychologist published an article by John Platt. Platt opened his analysis describing “a new area of study is the field that some of us are beginning to call social traps.
The term refers to situations in society that contain traps formally like a fish trap, where people or whole societies get themselves started in some direction or some set of relationships that later prove to be unpleasant or lethal and that they see no easy way to back out of or to avoid.
The cumulative effect of our self-made trap already adds up to atmospheric greenhouse gases exceeding anything in the history of humans on Earth.
Bringing the consequences of a fossil fuels trap a bit closer to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Rockies, Montana has already passed through three temperature-driven thresholds important for the state’s ecosystems, people, and society as a whole.
This change is consequential; it has already been associated with a decline of plant species in the mountains here even though global average temperatures had not yet reached 1-degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and atmospheric CO2 concentration had not yet reached 400 ppm. Note: Read also the recent Montana Climate Assessment and Mountain Journal’s investigative story For Yellowstone and America, Climate Change Brings Our Moment Of Truth.
Our forests and the logging industry are also ensnared—in a heat trap
Like a growing number of others, my attention turned to climate science as a result of the attention we’ve given to wild spaces and systems including forests and the animal life associated with forests. Now it’s clear that the forests are at risk, a risk that translates directly to risk for the logging industry.
In 2007, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published an article by Andrei P. Kirilenko and Roger A. Sedjo. These authors focused solely on climate change impact on commercial forestry. In a review of 75 studies of industry’s own risk, they concluded that “even without fires or insect damage, the change in frequency of extreme events, such as strong winds, winter storms, droughts, etc. can bring massive loss to commercial forestry.”
Forests and the understories beneath them are drying out, with wildfires coming earlier, bigger and more intense. Some elected officials, despite compelling scientific evidence refuting their assertions, claim that going back to the days of intensive logging will result in better forest health. Photo courtesy US Forest Service
Forests and the understories beneath them are drying out, with wildfires coming earlier, bigger and more intense. Some elected officials, despite compelling scientific evidence refuting their assertions, claim that going back to the days of intensive logging will result in better forest health. Photo courtesy US Forest Service
A year later, in 2008, the Journal of Forestry published an article by Robert Malmshiemer and other authors including Doug Crandall of the Forest Service Washington Office and former manager of a timber mill in Livingston, Mont. These authors began their report saying “Forests are shaped by climate. Along with soils, aspect, inclination, and elevation, climate determines what will grow where and how well. Changes in temperature and precipitation regimes therefore have the potential to dramatically affect forests nationwide.”
The reference to nationwide change meant that forests from Yellowstone north through Glacier National Parks would not be immune. So it was no surprise that, in 2018, the authors of chapter five of a book on Climate Change and Rocky Mountain Ecosystems, report that “Increasing air temperature, through its influence on soil moisture, is expected to cause gradual changes in the abundance and distribution of tree, shrub, and grass species throughout the Northern Rockies, with drought tolerant species becoming more competitive.”
A few years earlier, the August 21 2015 issue of Science had already published a review of drought impact by Constance Millar and Nathan Stephenson. This team found that “exceptional droughts, directly and in combination with other disturbance factors, are pushing some temperate forests beyond thresholds of sustainability,” and that “serious thresholds are crossed when forests convert to vegetation types without trees.”
The reference to drought in combination with other disturbance poses a challenge to recent US Forest Service optimistic claims that it can manage for “resilient” forests that spring back to their former selves through intensive logging.  This claim has been looking increasingly fanciful for forests across the Rockies, where the forest image as a comeback kid has been challenged by drought that snuffs seedlings’ ability to restore forest cover after fire.
That study’s lead author Dr. Camille Stevens-Rumann briefly summarizes the evidence of failing forest resilience in a one-minute video.
My coal-fired radio, computer, and kitchen stove bear a share of the responsibility for the threats to forests, and by extension to the forest economy. And so of course do the coal, oil, and natural gas industries — and all their customers.
Logging as a self-endangering industry
In an ironic twist, the logging industry may share guilt for creating an emissions problem that comes right back around to endangering the industry itself. There’s evidence already available for testing this simultaneously ecological and economic risk.
By 2008, Forest Ecology and Management could publish findings that “… a ‘no timber harvest’ scenario eliminating harvests on public lands would result in an annual increase of 17-29 million metric tonnes of carbon (MMTC) per year between 2010 and 2050,” referring to how much carbon would be kept in the forest.
In 2012, Global Change Biology-Bioenergy could confirm that trend with findings that, “When the most realistic assumptions are used and a carbon-cycle model is applied, an increased harvest level in forests leads to a permanent increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration.”
A 2017 study determined that “…CO2 emissions from land-use change have been substantially underestimated because processes such as tree harvesting and land clearing from shifting cultivation have not been considered.”  In 2018, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published an analysis of Oregon’s logging industry. The gist of the study is that the logging industry is the leading source of CO2 emissions in that state.
The logging industry might prefer that the fossil fuel industry shoulder all the blame for forests’ exposure to climate risk. That won’t wash.
Sharing the cost/sharing the pain/spreading the truth
As the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung once observed, we commonly blame devils on the other side of the mountain for the troubles on our side of the mountain. The blame-shifting is substantially aimed toward avoiding responsibility for costs both ecological and economic, but we’ll all end up paying in one way or another if the heat continues its dangerous climb to new extremes.
A crucial choice we face is paying to avoid the new extremes with something like a carbon tax, or paying for all the damage the new extremes will bring. The rub is that too few are willing to pay to avoid even the pain of heat to dangerous for kids to go outside and play or grownups to go outside and work, let alone pay to avoid damages to forests, farms, waters, and wildlife.

Trump’s war of words with Iran is another sign the world’s oil supply is at risk

  • Iran’s leaders this weekend threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important seaborne transit lane for oil.
  • The comments appeared to provoke a late-night response from President Donald Trump threatening severe consequences for Iran.
  • Oil prices would rise sharply if Iran shuts down the Strait of Hormuz or engages in military conflict with the United States, analysts said.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards drive speedboats in front of an oil tanker at the port of Bandar Abbas 

Atta Kenare | AFP | Getty Images
Iranian Revolutionary Guards drive speedboats in front of an oil tanker at the port of Bandar Abbas

The threat of military conflict between the United States and Iran is rising, threatening to shut the world’s busiest seaway for oil exports and send crude prices higher, analysts told CNBC on Monday.

President Donald Trump on Sunday night warned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Twitter that his country would “SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE” if Rouhani ever threatened the United States again.

Donald J. Trump



Trump appeared to be responding to comments over the weekend from Rouhani, who said, “Iran’s power is deterrent and we have no fight or war with anybody but the enemies must understand well that war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” according to an English translation on the Iranian president’s official website.

Oil prices jumped by about $1 per barrel on Monday following the back-and-forth, but ultimately pulled back to end the day roughly flat.

“I think the market’s a little complacent,” said Bob McNally, founder and president of energy consultancy The Rapidan Group. “Maybe they’re thinking this is a repeat of North Korea. The president will tweet about fire and fury and before you know it, the president and President Rouhani will be in Geneva having a meeting and talking about a deal.”

PL McNally 180723

We are threatening economic war on Iran, says Rapidan Energy president  

On Monday, Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton — who has argued for launching a military strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure — doubled down on Trump’s late-night tweet.

“I spoke to the President over the last several days, and President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“You do not want to give Jeff Bezos a seven-year head start.”
Hear what else Buffett has to say

While war is not imminent, the odds of a military incident occurring in the Persian Gulf is increasing, Cliff Kupchan, chairman at risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

“Neither side wants war; Trump seeks to avoid new foreign ventures, Iran knows it would come out on the short end of direct conflict with the U.S. But, when threatened, Iran has a long history of aggressive responses,” Kupchan said in a briefing.

The rhetoric has been heating up as the first of two U.S.-imposed deadlines for international businesses to cut ties with Iran approaches next month. By November, the United States expects most oil buyers to reduce purchases of Iranian crude to zero or face U.S. sanctions.

In May, Trump pulled out of an international nuclear accord with Iran and restored sanctions against the nation, the world’s fifth biggest oil producer.

This weekend, Iran renewed its threats to shut the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important seaborne passageway for crude oil shipments. Rouhani mentioned the strait in his speech on Sunday, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday endorsed the president’s threat to shut the chokepoint if U.S. sanctions disrupt Iran’s exports.

“Mr Trump! We are the people of dignity and guarantor of security of the waterway of the region throughout the history. Don’t play with the lion’s tail; you will regret it,” Rouhani said.

To be sure, the U.S. military and its Gulf allies would be able to reopen the strait in a matter of days, according to Admiral James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. However, Iran could repeatedly shut the strait on a temporary basis by mining its waters and using other surreptitious methods, he told CNBC.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain and has responsibility for the waterways around the Middle East, including the Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

If Iran were able to lay mines in the Persian Gulf, it would potentially extend the disruption from a couple days to several weeks, McNally estimated.

“When you talk about Iran’s exports, that’s about 2.5 million barrels per day, but if you talk about interrupting the Strait of Hormuz, that’s 19 million barrels a day,” he told CNBC’s “Power Lunch.” “About 30 percent of … seaborne-traded oil goes through that strait. So that’s a much bigger problem.”

Oil prices move higher as tensions escalate between the US and Iran

Oil prices move higher as tensions escalate between the US and Iran  

John Kilduff, founding partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital, said Brent crude — the international benchmark for oil prices — is on a path to $90 a barrel because the Trump administration is unlikely to issue many sanctions waivers. Top Cabinet officials have recently said countries could get sanctions relief on a case-by-case basis if they cannot entirely cut off purchases from Iran by November.

However, if Iran opts for the “nuclear option” of shutting down the Strait of Hormuz, Brent could pop to several hundred dollars a barrel, in Kilduff’s view.

“The numbers on a blockage or any kind of upset or military situation in the Strait of Hormuz, that is off to the races. Pick your number — $150, $200 — it goes sky high,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “Because we are talking about an abject shortage of oil then in the global market.”

Brent crude is currently trading just above $73 a barrel. It hit a record high above $147 a barrel in 2008.

Rouhani also hinted that Iran could cause problems in other regional sea routes. Those could include Bab el-Mandeb, the strait off the coast of Yemen, where Iranian-aligned rebels are fighting a Saudi-led coalition, said Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets.

Crude moves higher Trump threatens Iran

Crude moves higher after Trump threatens Iran  

“I don’t think anyone believes that with the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain that we cannot protect ships going through there, but if we start having to deploy those military resources, I think that’s going to put additional pressure on oil,” said Croft.

“That’s the scenario for a real breakout in oil prices in the back half of this year,” she told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” on Monday.

The risk of conflict is rising because the Trump administration is signaling that its ultimate goal is regime change in Iran, several of the analysts said. On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech that was fiercely critical of Iran’s leadership to an audience largely composed of members of the Iranian diaspora.

— CNBC’s Jason Gewirtz and Mike Calia contributed reporting to this story.

Judge dismisses New York City’s climate change lawsuit against oil and gas companies

Judge dismisses New York City’s climate change lawsuit against oil and gas companies

New York City’s efforts on climate change were dealt a blow in court Thursday, as a U.S. District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit the city brought against five oil and gas companies.

The city filed suit against BP, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil over the role the companies play in exacerbating climate change. According to the ruling, the companies are collectively responsible for over 11% of all carbon and methane pollution that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

They have also allegedly known for decades about the dire effects their businesses have on the environment; the ruling notes that the companies have known since the 1950s “that their fossil fuel products pose risks of severe impacts on the global climate” — yet despite knowing these risks, the companies “extensively promoted fossil fuels for pervasive use, while denying or downplaying these threats.”

These fossil fuel emissions are the primary cause of climate change and directly threaten New York City, the ruling explains. The city’s coastline is vulnerable to sea-level rise, which is largely due to climate-related factors, and the ruling notes that rising temperatures could result in an estimated 30% to 70% increase in heat-related deaths in the summer of 2020.

As a result, New York City sought compensatory damages for its climate change-related costs from the companies, in order to “shift the costs of protecting the City from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat.” The city argued that the companies’ “ongoing conduct continues to exacerbate global warming and cause recurring injuries to New York City,” and filed the lawsuit on the grounds of the companies’ actions being both a public and private nuisance and constituting as trespassing.

In his ruling, however, U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan dismissed the case by saying that federal law and the Clean Air Act displaces the city’s claims, as the “widespread global dispersal” of the companies’ greenhouse gas emissions go far beyond New York City. The Clean Air Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency to establish pollutant standards and prosecute polluters who do not comply, which a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling noted means that “any federal common law right to seek abatement of carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel fired power plants” — such as New York City’s attack on oil companies — are displaced.

A tanker truck passes the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, in 2010.
A tanker truck passes the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, in 2010. Paul Sakuma/AP

“Given the interstate nature of these claims, it would thus be illogical to allow the City to bring state law claims when courts have found that these matters are areas of federal concern that have been delegated to the Executive Branch as they require a uniform, national solution,” Keenan wrote.

Keenan also noted the global nature of these companies — two of which are not based in the U.S. — and that their greenhouse gas emissions prohibit the city’s case from going forward, due to “the need for judicial caution in the face of ‘serious foreign policy consequences.’”

“The Court recognizes that the City, and many other governmental entities around the United States and in other nations, will be forced to grapple with the harmful impacts of climate change in the coming decades,” Keenan wrote. “However, the immense and complicated problem of global warming requires a comprehensive solution that weighs the global benefits of fossil fuel use with the gravity of the impending harms.”

“To litigate such an action for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. Government. Accordingly, the Court will exercise appropriate caution and decline to recognize such a cause of action.”

In a statement quoted by the New York Times, New York City spokesman Seth Stein said about the ruling: “The mayor believes big polluters must be held accountable for their contributions to climate change and the damage it will cause New York City. We intend to appeal this decision and to keep fighting for New Yorkers who will bear the brunt of climate change.”

Keenan argued against using the courts to fight climate change more generally in his ruling, saying “the serious problems caused [by climate change] are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”

This reasoning was praised by Chevron’s lead lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who said in a statement quoted by the Times that “Judge Keenan got it exactly right.”

“Trying to resolve a complex, global policy issue like climate change through litigation is ‘illogical,’ and would intrude on the powers of Congress and the executive branch to address these issues as part of the democratic process,” Boutrous said.

Despite Keenan’s warning, however, New York City’s lawsuit is one of many climate change suits that have recently emerged and moved forward in an attempt to force accountability on climate change.

The New York City lawsuit marks the second oil company suit to be thrown out in recent weeks, after a similar legal challenge by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California, failed in June. Yet there are still other opportunities for such suits to prevail: The Boston Globe noted that more than a dozen cities and counties have filed suit against fossil fuel companies, including legal challenges in ColoradoWashington and Imperial Beach, California.

“It’s easy to see this decision as momentum,” Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told Grist about the New York ruling’s potential effect on other cases. “[But] no other court is bound by this decision. It’s as simple as that.”

Rhode Island became the first state to file suit against these companies in early July, and the Boston Globe noted that state courts could take a different view than the more unfavorable recent federal court rulings. Keenan explained in his ruling that while federal common law challenges are invalid under the Clean Air Act, state law claims against polluters could be brought under “the law of each State where [oil and gas companies] operate power plants.”

Investigations are also underway in Massachusetts and New York to determine if Exxon Mobil misled the public and its investors by concealing information about climate change. A state court allowed the Massachusetts investigation to move forward in April after Exxon Mobil sued to bring the investigations to an end.

Activists rally outside of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office to support the New York state investigation into whether the oil giant Exxon covered up its knowledge about climate change on Feb. 22, 2017, in New York City.
Activists rally outside of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office to support the New York state investigation into whether the oil giant Exxon covered up its knowledge about climate change on Feb. 22, 2017, in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Trump administration has also been frequently taken to task in the court system for its role in exacerbating the climate change crisis. The New York Times reported in March that since January 2017, attorneys general in blue states have filed more than two dozen lawsuits against the Trump administration’s environmental policies — and the lawsuits have only continued to mount. Fourteen states sued the EPA for failing to establish guidelines for limiting methane emissions in April, and 17 states separately sued the EPA over its attempt to roll back emission standards in May.

Most recently, California and 14 other states filed suit against the EPA on Thursday over its recent decision to suspend Obama-era rules that limited pollution from trucks, the Associated Press reported. The initial rules limited the production of trucks with older engines that don’t meet emission standards. While the EPA claimed the rule was to protect small businesses who produce the trucks, the Obama administration said the pollution from these noncompliant engines could result in an additional 1,600 early deaths per year, according to the AP.

In addition to these attorney general-backed lawsuits, another group has emerged as a major force in climate change lawsuits: America’s youth. Climate advocacy group Our Children’s Trust is currently backing lawsuits brought by young Americans against the governments of nine states: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington.

The lawsuits are aimed at forcing “science-based climate recovery action” in the states. The Florida lawsuit, for instance, attacks the government’s “deliberate indifference to [the Plaintiffs’] fundamental rights to a stable climate system in violation of Florida common law and the Florida Constitution” and asks the state to take such actions as “prepar[ing] and implement[ing] an enforceable comprehensive statewide remedial plan” to phase out fossil fuel use.

Twenty-one children and young adults are also taking the federal government to task for its climate change inaction. The federal lawsuit, which was first filed against the Obama administration in 2015, alleges that through “the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources,” Our Children’s Trust wrote on its website.

The federal trial is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 29, although the Trump administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to block further legal proceedings until an appeals court rules on a request to have the case dismissed.

When Covering Up a Crime Takes Precedence Over Human Health: BP’s Toxic Gulf Coast Legacy

By Dahr Jamail, Truthout

Cleanup crew vessels stand in oil-slicked water 30 days after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf Of Mexico on June 9th, 2010. (Photo: Green Fire Productions)Cleanup crew vessels stand in oil-slicked water 30 days after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf Of Mexico on June 9, 2010. (Photo: Green Fire Productions)

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. Over the next 87 days, it gushed at least 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, creating the worst human-made environmental disaster in US history and afflicting the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Less than one year after the disaster began, I spoke with Fritzi Presley, a Gulf Coast resident in Long Beach, Mississippi, who was already very sick at the time. Her doctor was treating her for bronchitis, extreme headaches, memory loss and other symptoms which mirrored those of hundreds of other sick fishers and cleanup workers I had interviewed.

Her blood tests revealed m-Xylene, p-Xylene, hexane and ethylbenzene in her body — chemicals that MacArthur Award-winning toxicologist Wilma Subra had already shown to be present in BP’s crude oil. The acute impacts include those which Presley was experiencing, among many others, like damage to the nervous system, nausea, skin rashes, vision and balance problems, and ultimately, possibly even death.

Every year in the Gulf, 2,100 oil and chemical spills are reported to the Coast Guard.

“I started having respiratory problems, a horrible skin rash, headaches, nosebleeds, low energy and trouble sleeping,” Presley’s daughter, Daisy Seal, told me at the time. “And I now feel like I’m dying from the inside out.”

Seal is still alive, but her mother died last year at the age of 62.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

Most media would allow you to believe that that disaster ended years ago. But if you were an oil cleanup worker, fisher or resident on the Gulf coast in the oil impact zone, the human health disaster is ongoing, and there appears to be no end in sight.

A Deadly Mix

As if BP’s disaster weren’t enough, according to the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental NGO, 330,000 gallons of oil are spilled in Louisiana alone every year. There is a fire every three days on an offshore oil platform, three workers die annually and every year in the Gulf, 2,100 oil and chemical spills are reported to the Coast Guard.

Even this April, a massive spill of heavy fuel oil fouled the Mississippi River during the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, which was ironically sponsored by Chevron, reminding people there how deeply the oil industry is embedded in their lives.

Corexit, when mixed with crude, is 52 times more toxic than crude alone.

BP used two kinds of toxic chemical dispersants to sink the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527, manufactured by Nalco Environmental Solutions. Approximately 770,000 gallons were injected at the wellhead while the oil gushed, while another million gallons were sprayed on the oil slick on the surface. Tens of thousands of cleanup workers, Coast Guard members, fishers and coastal residents were within range of the airborne chemicals, and many of them were sprayed directly with Corexit, which when mixed with crude, is 52 times more toxic than crude alone.

Other studies have also shown that dispersants are highly toxic to wildlife, including fish, crabs and even deep-sea coral. Other research has shown recently how dispersants hamper the growth of oil-eating bacteria, which of course, weakens nature’s ability to clean up after a spill.

There have been at least three major health studies in the last year alone showing that Corexit only made the oil more toxic. An ongoing National Institutes of Health study of 30,000 oil cleanup workers linked the dispersants to symptoms including coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and burning in the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Meanwhile, a recently published Johns Hopkins study showed how the dispersants can turn oil into a toxic mist that can travel up to 50 miles, penetrating human bodies along the way. Thousands of Coast Guard personnel who responded to the disaster were shown by a study to have their acute respiratory problems linked to the dispersants. There have been numerous studies on the chemicals’ impacts on marine life, including one on how sperm whales have been harmed.

As astounding as those numbers are, they fail to tell the story of the human cost, much less the environmental catastrophe left in the wake of BP’s disaster.

Here is a video of Presley, literally on her deathbed, telling the story of a fellow cleanup worker who got sepsis and died, as well as her and others’ failed attempts to find one single doctor to attribute their ailments to BP’s chemicals. Presley worked as long as she could until she could literally not make the walk to the beach.

Truthout spoke with Presley’s very close friend, who asked that only her first name, Lana, be used. Shortly after the disaster began, Lana became involved in activism around the sick cleanup workers, which is how she met Presley.

“After the spill, she [Presley] would often walk down to the beach to assess the damages and talk to the cleanup workers,” Lana said. “Like so many others, she was emotionally devastated.”

“She had beat cancer. She had survived the death of her teenage son…. But she couldn’t shake the damages that came with BP’s oil and Corexit.”

Lana went on to tell of how she watched her dear friend become weaker from her ongoing exposure to BP’s toxic airborne chemicals until she was unable to continue her beach walks. “She did have her blood tested for VOCs [volatile organic compounds from BP’s oil] at one point,” Lana said. “The results showed high levels of toxins known to be attributed to the signature of the oil and Corexit. No one knew of any successful treatments. Many professionals denied there was a connection.”

Presley developed chronic shortness of breath and told Lana she was only able to take “little sips of air.” In 2014, Lana went to visit her friend in person and found her to be far sicker than she had let on. Presley talked to Lana about the “log in her lung.” Three days later, Lana talked her into going to the ER, where Presley was diagnosed with pleurisy and pneumonia.

As Presley’s condition deteriorated, she was in and out of the hospital, and ultimately remained at home in hospice.

“I met a woman who was full of life in 2010, and over the next seven years, I saw that life slowly drain until she had no more breath to take,” Lana told Truthout. “She had beat cancer. She had survived the death of her teenage son…. But she couldn’t shake the damages that came with BP’s oil and Corexit.”

But Lana explained that Presley isn’t the only person she knows who has succumbed to the effects of BP’s chemicals.

More than 37,000 medical benefit claims have been submitted by cleanup workers, first responders and coastal residents, yet only a scant 40 of them have been paid.

“There are several that I know of who have died, and many others who suffer similar and worse symptoms, all easily attributed to exposures during the gulf oil spill and the ‘cleanup’ efforts,” she said. “I personally know several who were not sick before the spill, yet, have been plagued with illness since.”

An Ongoing Crisis

Activists remain busy seeking justice for victims of BP’s disaster. Facebook pages have been created, and video testimonies of sick commercial fishers and oil cleanup workers are easy to find.

According to Jonathan Henderson, formerly with the Gulf Restoration Network and who now continues to work to help sick cleanup workers and fishers find compensation, more than 37,000 medical benefit claims have been submitted by cleanup workers, first responders and coastal residents, yet only a scant 40 of them have been paid for chronic conditions. And it gets worse.

“While the plaintiff’s steering committee for this disaster walked away with between $350 and $700 million in fees and the claims administrator walked away with $155 million, all the victims who were compensated shared in only a $60 million payment,” Henderson has written about the situation. “Those paid from that $60 million represent only a small fraction of the injured who helped in the cleanup and live in the designated impact zones.”

And not a single case has gone to trial.

Jacob Boudreaux worked as a deck hand on a utility vessel pulling up containment boom that was soaked in oil for days on end, month after month. While his vision was great before the disaster, now on some days he struggles to see. It’s the same with his lungs and skin, as he continues to have breathing issues, and his skin still suffers from rashes. He did not have insurance, so was unable to see his own doctor.

“I got a lot of oil on me, and that is why I’m sick,” Boudreaux told Truthout.

“BP sent me to a doctor, but it was their doctor,” he said. “They made me walk up and down a hall, took blood and urine, took some x-rays, but didn’t tell me anything was wrong, and never gave me the paperwork from the samples they took.”

Boudreaux said that “they always give me the runaround” whenever he attempts to acquire his test results.

“I worked that spill for more than six months,” he said. “BP was supposed to give us all kinds of Tyvek suits and respirators, but they gave us water, Gatorade and baseball hats for the sun.”

And now the only money he has received for his medical compensation claim is a scant $650, and that was only for the acute claim he filed from when he got sick on the boat. His long-term chronic claim has not been addressed, his lawyer recently told him he will have to wait three more years to possibly see any money, and he’s already been fighting it for six years.

“My vision and lungs are not the same, and I suffered from headaches for a month straight, even when I was off the boat,” Boudreaux concluded. “They have all the money in the bank, they just don’t want to give it to any of us who it is owed.”

“I’ve got a lawsuit against BP, and they’ve strung it out for eight years now … bottom line, they are hoping we will die.”

In July 2015, the federal government and Gulf Coast states reached an $18.7 billion settlement agreement with BP for the disaster. However, the payments will be spread out over the next 18 years, according to BP, which actively worked to cut the amount down as low as possible. The federal government and BP previously reached a $4 billion settlement over criminal charges stemming from the accident, which killed 11 Deepwater Horizon workers.

Another man spoke with Truthout on condition of anonymity, given he has an ongoing lawsuit against BP. He was one of the first supervisor foremen for oil cleanup workers on the beaches of Alabama. He told Truthout that during their training, “nobody said anything about Corexit,” and he currently has a pending lawsuit against BP for his illnesses.

He has suffered from chronic skin rashes, his hearing is nearly completely gone, his vision is now impaired, his short-term memory is shot, and he still has headaches and balance issues.

He also worked on a fishing boat contracted to haul oil boom into the backwaters, during which time he got covered in oil and was sprayed with Corexit from airplanes.

“Covering up a crime took precedence over human health in order to salvage tourism and property values.”

“I started having symptoms after I got into the oil cleanup program,” the man told Truthout. “As soon as the sun set each day, the planes spraying the Corexit started spraying it all over us, and of course, we had no respirators. We got sprayed every night and every morning. I started having problems after that, and of course, I had no health insurance.”

Like others, doctors he has seen in his area will not give him a diagnosis and refuse to link any of his ailments to BP’s oil or Corexit. Meanwhile, his conditions persist, he finds it difficult to sleep at night because his skin rashes are “extremely bad,” and he is struggling financially.

“They hired us to clean it up, and now we are high and dry,” he added. “Now I’m sick and waiting on this lawsuit. I’ve got a lawsuit against BP, and they’ve strung it out for eight years now … bottom line, they are hoping we will die.”

“An Entire Population Was Compromised”

Trisha Springstead has been a registered nurse for four decades. Having worked in ICUs, ERs, in oncology and in cardiac units, she has seen it all. She has been involved in tracking the human health impacts of BP’s disaster from the very beginning.

Truthout asked her how she would characterize the human health consequences of BP’s ongoing disaster in the Gulf.

“This a catastrophe where lives and the health of an entire population was compromised in an effort to cover up a crime,” Springstead said, referring to BP’s work of sinking the oil with the dispersants, which knowingly exposed much of the coastal population to highly toxic chemicals. “Humans did not matter and covering up a crime took precedence over human health in order to salvage tourism and property values.”

In 2015, National Institutes of Health sources estimated that 170,000 Gulf residents would die of spill-related illnesses over the next five years.

She refers to the cleanup workers as “collateral damage,” and a study she was involved in about the human health impacts of the chemicals showed very high levels of BP’s polycyclic hydrocarbons (crude oil) in the people they tested.

“Basically, the blood of the people was turning to gas and melting their cell walls, not to mention it was changing their DNA, creating cytotoxicity and genetic toxicity.”

Springstead cited a study on the aforementioned sperm whales, which showed the dispersants’ negative health impacts on them. The study, published in the journal Aquatic Toxicology, is titled “Chemical dispersants used in the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis are cytotoxic and genotoxic to sperm whale cells.

It is now more than eight years since BP’s oil disaster began, and practically nothing has changed as far as how the government responds to offshore oil disasters.

She told Truthout she had spoken to “numerous people” who had visited the National Institutes of Health (the agency conducting the ongoing study on the sick oil cleanup workers) who “were told to go home or take their children home because they were going to die.”

During her more recent trips along the Gulf Coast to meet with sick people, she found “kidney, liver and lung cancers are rampant.”

Springstead believes Fritzi Presley clearly died from BP’s toxic chemicals, given that she lived just a few blocks from the coast and regularly went there to visit with the cleanup workers.

She attributes the visual impairments, breathing problems, skin rashes and massive uptick in cancer cases along the Gulf Coast to BP’s chemicals.

“Had they not used those chemicals, let that oil rise to the surface, oxygenate and separate, then sent it to refineries, I don’t believe it would have been nearly as bad as it is now,” she added.

Similar to the cleanup worker who spoke with Truthout on condition of anonymity, Springstead believes BP is “stonewalling” when it comes to making the health claim payouts and is “waiting for these people to die.”

Meanwhile, it is now more than eight years since BP’s oil disaster began, and practically nothing has changed as far as how the government responds to offshore oil disasters.

Nalco’s Corexit remains listed on the EPA’s list of acceptable chemical dispersants. Despite ample documentation of their dangerous impacts, the Obama administration did nothing to regulate the use of dispersants, and of course, neither has the current administration.

“If l could reach out to the people who live along the Gulf, and who vacation along the Gulf, I would tell them the water isn’t safe,” Lana warned. “I would tell them to go easy on the seafood. I would tell them about my friends and what has happened to them. I would tell them the oil is still there.”

Lana added that she would warn everyone of the possibility of being exposed to BP’s chemicals across much of her region and tell them not to go into the water. “I would tell them not to let their precious children dig too deep in the sand where the oil is still buried … people here just want their lives back,” she concluded. “It’s not over. Big oil companies lie, and they have very deep pockets. They spin lies and twist the truth, then the mainstream media complies by sending it out to the world.”

There are enough sick oil cleanup workers that an already massive and growing petition exists demanding they have their day in court for what happened to them. Meanwhile, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people across the four Gulf states in BP’s impact zone are sick and possibly dying, and there is no end in sight.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon.

Dahr Jamail is also the author of the book, The End of Ice, forthcoming from The New Press. He lives and works in Washington State.

For his Truthout work on climate change and militarism, Dahr Jamail is a 2018 winner of the Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism.