ExxonMobil Is Still Bankrolling Climate Science Deniers

ExxonMobil says it believes “the risk of climate change is real,” and it is “committed to being part of the solution.” The largest investor-owned oil company in the world also says it supports a federal carbon tax and the Paris climate agreement.

Then why, after all these years, is the company still financing advocacy groups, think tanks, and business associations that reject the reality and seriousness of the climate crisis, as well as members of Congress who deny the science and oppose efforts to rein in carbon emissions?

According to the company’s latest grantmaking report, it gave $772,500 to 10 such groups in 2018, which does not include its annual dues to trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, which opposes a carbon tax. In addition, ExxonMobil continued to promote gridlock directly on Capitol Hill. Two-thirds of the $1.65 million it spent on congressional election campaigns during the 2017-18 election cycle went to climate science deniers.

The shred of good news here is that ExxonMobil’s 2018 denier grant budget was half of what it spent in 2017 and the lowest amount since 2012. But if the company were truly serious about addressing climate change, it would cut off such funding completely. Likewise, it would support federal lawmakers who want to curb carbon emissions, not those standing in the way of government action.

So what did ExxonMobil get for its money in 2018?

Underwriting Climate Denial at the U.S. Chamber

In 2014, ExxonMobil pledged $5 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Capital Campaign over a five-year period on top of its annual dues, despite the lobby group’s history of misrepresenting climate science and the economics of transitioning to clean energy. Last year, the company kicked in $350,000 for the Capital Campaign and another $15,000 for the Chamber’s Corporate Citizenship Center, bringing its total 2018 donation to $365,000.

Two years ago, the Chamber sponsored a widely debunked report that wildly inflated the cost of adhering to the Paris climate agreement to the U.S. economy. President Trump used that report as his primary rationale for refusing to honor the U.S. commitment to the accord.

Earlier this year, however, the Chamber posted a new statement on its website that suggested that the business lobby is softening its position. “We stand with every American seeking a cleaner, stronger environment — for today and tomorrow,” the Chamber now asserts. “Our climate is changing and humans are contributing to these changes. Inaction is simply not an option.” The website also features the Chamber’s definition of an effective climate policy, which it says should include, among other things, “large-scale renewables, energy storage and batteries,” and should “encourage international cooperation.”

Does that mean the Chamber has finally come to its senses? Not quite. It opposed the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would have reduced coal power plant carbon emissions, and supports the Trump administration’s move to repeal it. And although a Chamber spokesman told Politico in August that it is “absolutely important for the U.S. to remain in the Paris climate agreement,” he added that the “Obama administration’s pledge was unrealistic [and] was going to have a negative impact on our economy. And so we’d like to see that revisited.” In other words, the Chamber would like the United States to remain a party to the agreement so that it can try to weaken the U.S. commitment to it.

Backing Denial at the American Enterprise Institute

The American Enterprise Institute, an 80-year-old, free market think tank in Washington, D.C., has received more money from ExxonMobil than any other climate science denier organization. In 2018, ExxonMobil gave the organization $160,000, bringing its total to $4.65 million since 1998.

Economist Benjamin Zycher, an Enterprise Institute staff member who writes regularly about climate issues, argues that a carbon tax would be “ineffective” and has called the Paris agreement an “absurdity.” He also routinely cites largely debunked papers by John ChristyJudith Curry and other outlier scientists to buttress his attacks on what he calls “climate alarmism.”

Last fall, for example, Zycher took aim at the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment — a periodic, congressionally mandated analysis of peer-reviewed climate science by 13 federal agencies. The report warned that by the end of this century, unchecked climate change could cause tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. The Trump administration issued it the day after Thanksgiving in the hope that it would receive limited attention.

Zycher took issue with the report’s conclusions in a blog post on the think tank’s website, citing “systematic evidence on climate phenomena” that he says the report ignored. His “evidence” included half-truths, cherry-picked facts and fabrications. Contrary to Zycher’s claims, human activity is responsible for more than half of the increase in average global temperatures since 1950; sea level rise has accelerated due to climate change; and although there has been little change in the frequency of hurricanes globally, research suggests there has been an increase in hurricane intensity over the past 40 years.

Zycher also posted a column belittling a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood that charges ExxonMobil with defrauding investors by publicly claiming to incorporate climate risks in its business decisions while downplaying or ignoring them for internal planning purposes. The lawsuit, scheduled to go to trial on October 22, alleges that ExxonMobil inflated its value, falsely assuring investors that its oil and gas reserves would not become “stranded assets” that would have to be left in the ground. Zycher accused Underwood of “picking an unpopular target and then trying to find a way to convict it of something,” and suggested that she filed the suit to advance her career.

Financing the Manhattan Institute’s Specious Case Against Renewables

The Manhattan Institute, a New York City-based think tank, received $75,000 from ExxonMobil last year for its Center for Energy Policy. Since 1998, the company has given the Libertarian policy shop more than $1.3 million.

Like the Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute opposes the Paris climate accord. Senior Fellow Oren Cass, who regularly testified before Congress against Obama administration climate efforts, alleges the international agreement is “somewhere between a farce and a fraud.” The think tank is also an outspoken opponent of renewable energy, routinely calling for an end to federal subsidies for wind, solar and electric vehicles. At the same time, it is mum about the significantly bigger subsidies the oil and gas industry has been receiving over the last 100 years.

Cass’s colleague, Senior Fellow Robert Bryce, has been bashing wind power for years and, like President Trump, he wildly overstates its threat to birds. In fact, the top human-caused threats to birds are climate changebuildings, power lines, misapplied pesticides, communications towers, and oil and gas industry fluid waste pits. Bryce never mentions that. It would undermine his bogus argument.

Still another Manhattan Institute senior fellow, Mark P. Mills, wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal in May titled “What if Green Energy Isn’t the Future?” In it, he maintained that, “using wind, solar and batteries as the primary sources of a nation’s energy supply remains far too expensive.” In fact, renewables are now the cheapest type of new electricity generation for more than two-thirds of the world, according to a June report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. By 2030, Bloomberg researchers project, wind and solar will “undercut existing coal and [natural] gas almost everywhere.” Mills also failed to factor in the cost of doing nothing to curb carbon pollution. The top 10 largest climate change-related disasters in 2018 alone cost at least $85 billion in damages.

Aiding and Abetting Congressional Gridlock

On top of the hundreds of thousands of dollars ExxonMobil gave to climate science denier groups last year, the company continued to fund deniers on Capitol Hill. As noted above, 67 percent of the $1.65 million it spent during the 2017-18 election cycle — roughly $1.1 million — went to the campaigns of 189 climate science deniers. It then spent $11.15 million in 2018 to lobby lawmakers, more than any other oil and gas company.

One of the most talked-about climate proposals in Congress today is a carbon tax, and despite ExxonMobil’s professed decade-long support for one, it has consistently funded senators and representatives who oppose the idea. Since 2013, there have been at least five nonbinding resolutions in Congress on such a tax. Each time, a majority of ExxonMobil-funded legislators, ranging from 75 percent to 93 percent, voted against it. The most recent example of the company’s upside-down funding priorities is the outcome of a July 2018 nonbinding resolution in the House stating such a tax would be “detrimental” to the U.S. economy. Once again, a majority of ExxonMobil-funded lawmakers favored the resolution, which passed by a 229-to-180 vote. This time, 78 percent of the 174 House members who had received ExxonMobil campaign contributions since 2013 voted for it.

ExxonMobil first announced its support for a carbon tax in 2009 in a cynical attempt to derail a cap-and-trade bill in Congress, and last year, the company announced it would give $1 million over two years to Americans for Carbon Dividends, a political action group created to promote a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The proposal — developed by the Climate Leadership Council, a coalition of corporations, environmental groups and former government officials — would levy a carbon fee starting at $40 a ton in exchange for dropping all “stationary source” (non-transportation) carbon pollution regulations and granting the fossil fuel industry immunity from climate lawsuits.

In a surprise move, however, the Climate Leadership Council and Americans for Carbon Dividends recently deleted the provision shielding the fossil fuel industry from liability, apparently abandoning coalition co-founders BP, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, which are facing more than a dozen lawsuits for billions of dollars in climate change-related damages. It remains to be seen what ExxonMobil will do now, but based on past experience, the company likely will continue to finance lawmakers who cite fraudulent reports by the groups it funds to make their bogus case that climate change is not a threat. In other words, ExxonMobil will keep bankrolling climate science denial to make sure nothing happens on Capitol Hill.

Author’s note: Besides the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($365,000), American Enterprise Institute ($160,000) and Manhattan Institute ($75,000), ExxonMobil gave grants in 2018 to the following seven climate science denier groups: American Council on Science and Health ($60,000), Center for American and International Law ($12,500), Federalist Society ($10,000), Hoover Institution ($15,000), Mountain States Legal Foundation ($5,000), National Black Chamber of Commerce ($30,000) and the Washington Legal Foundation ($40,000).

Correction: This article has been updated to correct figures from ExxonMobil’s grantmaking report.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Thunberg faces counter-rally by workers in Canada’s oil heartland

EDMONTON, Alberta, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg’s planned march in Canada’s energy heartland of Alberta will face a counter-rally by a convoy of oil and gas workers on Friday.

The truck convoy organized by pro-oil group United We Roll left the city of Red Deer on Friday morning, bound for Edmonton where the organizers plan to protest against outside interference.

“I am asking everyone connected to the oil and gas industry to come out in unity to show Greta we do not need her yelling at us,” United We Roll said on its Facebook page, adding that Alberta was proud of its “clean energy.”

Swedish activist Thunberg, who has mobilized a global youth movement against climate change, faces a difficult audience in Alberta where the energy sector provides 150,000 direct jobs and contributes more than C$71 billion ($54.1 billion) annually to Canada’s gross domestic product.

Slideshow preview image

Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg

Thunberg’s Edmonton march, which is being organized by indigenous and environmental groups, comes days before a tight Canadian federal election in which climate change and the future of Canada’s oil and gas sector are hot topics.

Premier Jason Kenney said he has not had any request to meet Thunberg and hoped she would take a “fair and objective look” at Alberta’s energy sector. Last month in Montreal she met privately with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following a massive rally in Montreal.

Canada is the world’s fourth-largest oil and gas producer but the sector, which accounts for roughly 11% of GDP, has struggled to recover from the 2014-15 global oil price crash because of delays building new export pipelines as a result of environmental opposition and regulatory hold-ups.

Its vast oil sands, which hold the third-largest crude reserves globally, have been blacklisted by environmentalists for high carbon emissions and many oil and gas workers feel unfairly targeted by foreign activists.

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Celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Jane Fonda have campaigned against the sector after visits to northern Alberta where some 3 million barrels of bitumen are extracted every day.

United We Roll organized a truck convoy across Canada earlier this year protesting new energy sector regulations introduced by the Liberal government.

Edmonton Police Service (EPS) said they were aware of the climate rally and convoy counter-protest and had prepared as they would for any major event. ($1 = 1.3134 Canadian dollars) (Writing by Nia Williams; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Who Owns the Arctic?

A polar bear in the Arctic.

Arctic treasures are spawning a new “Cold War,” and the battle to own the Arctic could reshape the region.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

In August, President Donald Trump made international headlines when he voiced an interest in buying Greenland, the world’s largest island, which teeters on the edge of the icy Arctic Ocean. As it turns out, Greenland isn’t for sale, and Trump was widely ridiculed for his diplomatic blundering. Yet, many wondered what could be behind this unprecedented move —and if it might have something to do with the United State’s growing interest in owning a slice of the Arctic.

The U.S. is one of eight nations surrounding the Arctic — along with Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden — that are all currently jostling for ownership of the region’s frozen seas. Several of the countries have already submitted formal papers to a United Nations body, claiming portions of the vast Arctic seabed. Climate change is also opening up the Arctic’s formerly ice-locked waters, making the region more accessible than ever before. “Based on current trends, the predictions of the Arctic being completely ice-free are [that it will happen] around 2040 or 2050,” said Richard Powell, a polar geographer at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

This surge of interest in the region has been dubbed the “scramble for the Arctic,” or more sensationally, “the new Cold War,” because Russia and the United States are big players. But despite the opportunities the region presents, can the Arctic Ocean really be owned by anybody? And why do so many countries want a stake in this landscape of drifting icebergs and polar bears?

Related: Why Is There So Much Oil in the Arctic?

There’s a straightforward answer to the second question: The Arctic possesses massive oil and gas reserves. The seabed beneath the Arctic Ocean houses an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil — about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves — and an estimated 30% of the planet’s untapped natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

A century ago, this immense mineral wealth would have been unreachable, because we lacked the technology to exploit it. Back then, countries were limited to exploring only a thin sliver of sea along their coasts, while areas of remote ocean, like the deep Arctic, were designated as high seas that belonged to no country. But with huge technological advancements in recent decades, remote stretches of ocean have become increasingly accessible. That’s forced international lawmakers to play catch-up and expand the definitions of where countries can legally explore.

Currently, under a treaty called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), signatory countries can exploit resources from the seabed out to 370 kilometres off their shorelines. But if a country can provide evidence that particular geological features on the seabed located farther out from that 200-mile limit are connected to the nation’s continental landmass, then the country’s jurisdiction can be expanded deeper into the sea.

“[Countries] compile the data, make the claim, then the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf [a U.N.-appointed body] rule as to whether they accept the reasoning or not,” Powell told Live Science.

In the Arctic, this approach puts large swathes of once-untouchable ocean up for grabs by the surrounding nations, known as the “Arctic 8.” Many of their claims now focus on the Lomonosov Ridge, a huge, deep-sea geological feature that stretches across the Arctic Ocean. Several nations posit that this ridge is an extension of their continental shelf, a claim that could grant them access to larger areas of Arctic seabed, and thus, vast mineral wealth.

The long game

All this points to a future in which different nations will indeed own chunks of the Arctic Ocean, each with varying degrees of power. Russia and Canada, for instance, are staking the two largest claims, which would inevitably give these nations more regional influence.

However, the divvying up of the Arctic isn’t likely to happen very soon. For one thing, gathering evidence about the seafloor, crafting detailed reports and wading through the intricate science of nations’ claims is an intensive procedure that’s only just begun.

“The process of deciding on those claims itself is going to take possibly decades. Some people predict a couple of decades, but certainly years,” Powell said. Even if countries get the go-ahead, they’ll then have to shoulder the huge expense of getting their ships to the Arctic, building deep-sea infrastructure, and extracting oil and gas from miles beneath the surface.

“It’s not just about melting ice. It’s still an isolated environment. There are still difficult seas and icebergs, and it’s very difficult to get insurance to operate,” Powell said. “There’s a whole set of other issues that are involved in whether that’s practical.”

Related: 10 Things You Need to Know about Arctic Sea Ice

At this stage, therefore, countries’ claims to the Arctic are mostly anticipatory, said Amy Lauren Lovecraft, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and director of the Center for Arctic Policy Studies. “A lot of what’s being divvied up doesn’t have anything to do with immediate need. It’s about ‘let’s get what we can under UNCLOS so that we have access to all of that space in the future,'” she said.

Still, should we be worrying now about what ownership will ultimately do to the Arctic, even if that reality is still decades away? Could nations’ jockeying for oil access spark a war? And how will an influx of resource-hungry countries affect the region’s fragile ecology?

Unchecked exploitation?

Powell said the effects on the Arctic will be determined by the general global situation when nations finally move in. “One could imagine a world where there’s more conflict and anxiety about different things, and in that scenario, it would be bad news for the Arctic. But then you can also imagine increasing global organization to combat climate change,” which might prompt states to work together to forge better environmental regulation, Powell said. “I definitely think it depends on other, wider issues.”

Lovecraft said she is more cautiously optimistic. “If I put on my absolute environmentalist’s hat, it’s true, the Arctic will be used more.” However, she added, “I don’t think it’s a race to the bottom.” In other words, the Arctic will be owned and explored — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be destroyed.

The reason is that too much hangs in the balance. For instance, the Arctic’s frigid waters,already threatened by climate change, support food chains that benefit the entire planet. Lovecraft said that governments grasp the crucial importance of protecting that resource.

There’s proof in the Arctic Council, established in the 1990s by the eight Arctic nations. It promotes cooperation among different countries and indigenous communities of the region, “in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic,” the council website says.

Lovecraft said that countries have a desire to safeguard political and environmental stability in the region; they’re not blindly hurtling towards disaster. “People tend to think only about the Arctic in environmental terms, or in these old, Cold War terms. But it’s far more nuanced, and there’s a lot of goodwill,” she said.

This cooperation might also become increasingly crucial as other, non-Arctic nations, like China, grow interested in the region. “They’re never going to be an Arctic country, but they have money. They will use that soft power to create joint ventures [with Arctic nations] and all other kinds of ways to be in the Arctic,” Lovecraft said. A major question then becomes whether the Arctic 8 will band together to protect the region from exploitation, Lovecraft said.

She added that a fixation with the national “scramble for the Arctic”‘ could be distracting people from a larger and more immediate threat to the region: climate change. Ownership will change the face of the Arctic, but climate change is shaping the landscape irrevocably, right now.

“We’re not going to have a war anytime soon in the Arctic. What we are going to have is a fundamental disruption in the ecosystem,” Lovecraft said. “What can [the eight Arctic countries] do to better steward this resource? Why not put more energy into protecting that future, for the common good of mankind?”

Trump administration rolls out final environmental review for Arctic Refuge oil leasing

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS)
Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS)

Today, the Trump administration took one of the last necessary steps before it allows oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Interior Department has released its final environmental analysis for oil lease sales in the northernmost 1.6 million acres of the refuge, known as the coastal plain. The agency is expected to sign a final decision on oil leasing in the refuge in roughly 30 days.

In its final environmental impact statement, the agency selected a preferred option that would give oil companies the chance to express interest in close to the entirety of the refuge’s coastal plain.

Interior had proposed alternatives with tighter restrictions, including one that would put hundreds of thousands of acres off limits to help protect caribou habitat.

Still, during a call with reporters, Bureau of Land Management Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said he believes the agency’s preferred choice would strike the right balance between economic development and protecting the environment.

“I’m confident that we are on track to do what Congress has asked us to do in a safe and balanced way, that advances the president’s goals of job creation and energy independence with the minimal impact to the area,” Padgett said.

There are restrictions to how oil companies can develop in the area under the preferred alternative, including limitations on how much surface area can be covered by infrastructure.

But environmental groups immediately condemned Interior’s analysis, calling it a “sham.”

In an interview, Susan Culliney with Audubon Alaska said she isn’t surprised the Trump administration’s preference is to try to maximize the amount of land available for oil leasing:

“No matter how you cut it, we don’t think oil drilling belongs in the Arctic Refuge, but this is a particularly bad way to do it,” Culliney said.

The issue has long been hugely controversial, and following Congress’ vote to allow drilling in the refuge in 2017, Interior’s push to make it happen has been tumultuous.

An effort to allow early-stage oil exploration in the refuge last winter stalled. Joe Balash, the Interior official spearheading the effort to hold a lease sale, recently left the Trump administration to take a job at an oil company.

And today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would once again block oil development in ANWR. That legislation is largely symbolic, as it has little chance of passing the Republican-led Senate. Still, it sends a strong signal regarding Democrats’ position on drilling in the refuge ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Alaska’s political leaders condemned the House bill and praised the release of the environmental review.

“I’m hopeful we can now move to a lease sale in the very near future, just as Congress intended, so that we can continue to strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who played a pivotal role in passing the legislation that allowed for oil development in ANWR.

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, an Alaska Native corporation with a significant stake in potential oil development on the coastal plain, also welcomed the release.

“We are encouraged the Department heard our voices and incorporated our concerns into the final EIS. We look forward to a successful lease sale and strongly believe exploration and production can incorporate cultural and environmental protections while providing for the nation’s energy security,” ASRC said in a statement.

Neets’aii Gwich’in leaders from Alaska Native communities south of the refuge, who have long opposed drilling there, accused the Interior Department of downplaying potential impacts.

“Any impacts to the Porcupine Caribou Herd from changes in migration patterns, lower fertility rates, and loss of habitat will have significant adverse social, cultural, spiritual, and subsistence impacts on our people,” Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government First Chief Margorie Gemmill said in a statement. “This process must be stopped.”

With the release of the final environmental review, leaders at Trump’s Interior Department reiterated that they aim to let oil companies bid on land in ANWR’s coastal plain before the end of the year.

Facing Climate Crisis, Senators Have Millions Invested in Fossil Fuel Companies

Why Is There So Much Oil in the Arctic?


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Why Is There So Much Oil in the Arctic?

An illustration of an oil platform in the Arctic Ocean.

Credit: Shutterstock

In 2007, two Russian submarines plunged down 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) into the Arctic Ocean and planted a national flag onto a piece of continental shelf known as the Lomonosov Ridge. Rising from the center of the Arctic Basin, the flag sent a clear message to the surrounding nations: Russia had just laid claim to the vast oil and gas reserves contained in this underwater turf.

Russia’s dramatic show of power had no legal weight — but it isn’t the only nation that’s trying to stake claims to the Arctic’s vast depository of oil and gas. The United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland and China are all trying to cash in. It’s no wonder: Projections show that the area of land and sea that falls within the Arctic Circle is home to an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil, an incredible 13% of Earth’s reserves. It’s also estimated to contain almost a quarter of untapped global gas resources.

Most of the oil that’s been located in this region so far is on the land, just because it’s easier to access. But now, countries are making moves to start extracting offshore, where the vast majority — 84% — of the energy is believed to occur. But long before this oil race began, how did the Arctic become so energy rich? [How Does Oil Form?]

“The first thing you realize [if you look at a map] is that the Arctic — unlike the Antarctic — is an ocean surrounded by continents,” Alastair Fraser, a geoscientist from Imperial College London, told Live Science. Firstly, this means there’s a huge quantity of organic material available, in the form of dead sea creatures such as plankton and algae, which form the basis of what will ultimately become oil and gas. Secondly, the surrounding ring of continents means that the Arctic Basin contains a high proportion of continental crust, which makes up about 50% of its oceanic area, Fraser explained. That’s significant because continental crust — as opposed to ocean crust, which makes up the rest of the area — typically contains deep depressions called basins, into which organic matter sinks, he said.

Here, it gets embedded in shale and preserved in ‘anoxic’ waters, meaning they contain little oxygen. “Normally, in a shallow sea with lots of oxygen, it would not be preserved. But if the sea is deep enough, the ocean will be stratified, meaning the oxygenated waters at the top will be separated from the anoxic conditions at the base,” Fraser explained. Conserved within these oxygen-deprived basins, the matter maintains compounds that ultimately make it useful as an energy source millions of years in the future.

The geography of the Arctic

The geography of the Arctic

Credit: Alistair Fraser

As mountains erode over millennia, the continents also provide a wealth of sediment, transported via huge rivers into the sea. This sediment flows into the basins, where it overlays the organic material, and over time, forms a hard but porous material known as “reservoir rock,” Fraser said. Fast-forward millions of years, and this repeated layering process has put the organic material under such immense pressure that it has begun to heat up.

“The temperature of the sediments in basins increases roughly 30 degrees Centigrade [54 degrees Fahrenheit] with every 1 kilometer [0.6 miles] of burial,” Fraser said. Under this intensifying pressure and heat, the organic material very gradually transforms into oil, with the highest temperatures forming gas.

Because these substances are buoyant, they begin moving upward into the gaps within the porous sedimentary rock, which becomes like a storage container — the reservoir — from which oil and gas are extracted.

So it’s the combination of these ingredients — huge quantities of organic matter, abundant sediment to lock in the oil and gas, the ideal underlying geology and the huge scale across which these occur — which makes the Arctic Ocean so unusually energy rich. (On land, where a smaller percentage of the Arctic’s overall oil and gas lies, these reserves were most likely formed in a time when the land was covered by sea.)

However, just because the energy is there doesn’t mean it should be extracted, many conservationists and scientists say. The Arctic’s remoteness, its dense, moving sea ice and drifting icebergs will make it a huge logistical challenge to safely extract oil and gas. [How Are Oil Spills Cleaned?]

“I really don’t support it, because the industry does not have the technology to do it safely and in an environmentally friendly way,” Fraser said. “Some people will argue that you never can do it in the Arctic in an environmentally friendly way.”

Even on land, plans to expand oil and gas development in the Arctic are treated with concern. This year, the United States government intends to start leasing land in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy companies, because the refuge contains a vast, 1.5 million-acre (607,000 hectares) coastal plain that’s rich in oil. But, it’s also a biodiverse landscape that’s home to huge migratory herds of caribou, hundreds of bird species and polar bears. “It’s been called America’s last great wilderness; it’s one of the ecologically richest landscapes in the U.S.,” said Garett Rose, an attorney with the Alaska Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Credit: Garett Rose

It’s not just the increased risk of oil spills if drilling goes ahead that’s concerning; conservationists also worry about seismic exploration, which “involves running these giant trucks over the landscape to send shock waves into the ground that return information on the underlying geology,” Rose told Live Science. That would cause obvious disruption to wildlife. Construction of roads and pipelines will slice up this intact landscape and bring in increasing numbers of people — which will intensify the pressure on wildlife.

“[The refuge] is a dynamic and interconnected landscape that’s extremely sensitive to change,” Rose said. He also said he was concerned about the U.S. government’s recent (but failed) attempt to open the Arctic off Alaska’s coast to offshore drilling, too. “This is part of a wholesale attempt to expand oil and gas development across the Arctic,” Rose said.

Indeed, the situation in the Alaskan Refuge provides just a taster of what could unfold in other parts of the Arctic, if oil and gas extraction projects forge ahead. The risk of oil spills is enlarged offshore, because they’d be impossible to contain — with untold potential effects on sea life. And some scientists say the greatest ultimate threat is climate change. Bringing these fossil fuels to the surface would only lead to more fuel use, and more emissions being pumped into our atmosphere.

We’re not there yet: Countries need to ratify an international United Nations agreement if they want to extract fossil fuels from parts of the continental shelf that fall beyond their offshore jurisdiction. That’s slowing the Arctic rush. Still, international pressure is mounting, with countries like Russia having already staked out their claim on the seafloor.

And it could be a hard sell to make countries see that those reserves should remain untapped. In short, said Fraser, “I hope this region doesn’t become too important [for energy production].”

Originally published on Live Science.

Our Public Lands Must Be Part of the Climate Change Solution

The millions of acres of public lands that belong to all Americans should be part of the solution to the climate crisis, but mismanagement by the federal government is making them part of the problem. The fossil fuels found on our public lands are significant sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Instead of addressing this problem, the Trump administration is downplaying or outright ignoring it to benefit the oil, gas, and coal industries.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a dire warningabout the rapidly shrinking window of time remaining if we want any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, such as extreme temperatures, flooding and drought, sea level rise, and species loss and extinction. Yet the data show we’re still going in the wrong direction—a recent report found that America’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion rose by 2.7% in 2018—the second largest annual increase since 2000 after three years of continuous decline. While our emissions are still down overall, we’re not cutting them anywhere near fast enough to meet Paris Agreement climate goals, let alone the more ambitious target of holding global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that federal lands are a big contributor to U.S. emissions. The researchers found that together, coal, oil, and gas produced on federal lands account for approximately 25 percent of the total fossil fuels produced annually in the United States and that, on average, emissions from combustion and extraction of those fossil fuels accounted for 23.7 percent of national carbon dioxide emissions, 7.3 percent methane emissions, and 1.5 percent of nitrous oxide emissions from 2005-2014.

Many of the subsurface minerals (fossil fuels) managed by U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are in the American West—places like Utah, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico. These lands are also home to some of our nation’s most spectacular public lands and national monuments, wildlife, culturally significant areas, and stunning landscapes and wilderness.

Natural gas infrastructure in Rifle, CO
Natural gas development in Rifle, Colorado

Source: Alison Kelly, NRDC

Thanks to the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda, our iconic western landscapes and wildlife face serious threats from fossil fuel leasing and development and the intensive environmental and human health impacts that come with it. Although leasing of federal fossil fuels was a common practice before the 2016 election, this administration is moving with uncommon speed to make western lands available for development. The BLM has offered millions of acres to the fossil fuel industry with minimal public input and little consideration for the climate and other ecological and cultural values.

This is why NRDC and its allies on western conservation and climate have sought relief from the courts—resulting in victories on climate change. For example, a federal judge in Montana found that BLM illegally opened up 80 billion tons of coal and more than 8 million acres for oil and gas development in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming without considering reasonable alternatives and the resulting impacts on the climate. Similarly, a federal judge in Colorado found that BLM illegally made thousands of acres in Colorado available for oil and gas leasing without considering reasonable alternatives or the impacts of GHGs. And just last month, an appeals court reversed a decision by a federal judge in New Mexico and found that BLM violated the law when it failed to consider the cumulative impacts associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Greater Chaco—a landscape that Native Americans and surrounding communities regard as culturally significant.

Oil and gas production in Greater Chaco
Oil and gas production in Greater Chaco

Source: Western Environmental Law Center

Yet despite repeated court victories for climate, BLM continues to conceal from the American people the true impacts of its leasing decisions. BLM often fails to fully disclose all possible GHG emissions and, even if it does, generally ignores how those emissions could impact the environment. BLM also relies on outdated and incomplete science to assess the impacts of emissions of a particularly potent greenhouse gas—methane. Getting that assessment right is critical because, relative to carbon dioxide, methane has much greater climate impacts in the near term, which is the time period in which the world’s leading experts tell us we need to make rapid and deep reductions in emissions.

BLM owes the American people a complete picture of how its management of our federal public lands damages our climate. And it’s not enough for BLM to just crunch the numbers—agencies also have a legal obligation to tell us what those numbers mean, by assessing how emissions from federal fossil fuels contribute to climate change and explaining it in a way that decisionmakers and members of the public can understand.

Requiring BLM to provide a full picture on how fossil fuel development on our public lands contributes to climate change will help us defend these iconic places from irreparable harm. We must ensure a transition to a secure and prosperous clean energy future that protects our treasured public lands and the climate. Federal public lands should be part of the climate solution—not a significant contributor to the problem.

Trump says an Iranian attack on anything American will be met with ‘obliteration’

  • Trump slams Iran on Twitter for issuing a “very ignorant and insulting statement” after the U.S. slapped fresh sanctions on Tehran.
  • Trump says any Iranian attack on Americans would be met with “great and overwhelming force” and “obliteration.”
  • The latest confrontation comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran since the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
RTS: Trump annoyed White House
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order aimed at requiring hospitals to be more transparent about prices before charging patients for healthcare services, at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 24, 2019.
Erin Scott | Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump slammed Iran on Tuesday, saying any Iranian attack on Americans would be met with “great and overwhelming force” and “obliteration.”

Trump’s comments on Twitter came a day after he announced fresh sanctions on the Islamic Republic in the wake of its downing of an unmanned U.S. drone last week.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded to the new sanctions by calling them  “outrageous and idiotic” and saying the White House  was suffering from a “mental illness.”

Trump called that response a “very ignorant and insulting statement.”

Donald J. Trump


Iran leadership doesn’t understand the words “nice” or “compassion,” they never have. Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military Force in the world, with 1.5 Trillion Dollars invested over the last two years alone..

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“Iran leadership doesn’t understand the words “nice” or “compassion,” they never have,” Trump wrote. “Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military Force in the world, with 1.5 Trillion Dollars invested over the last two years alone.”

In another tweet, Trump said that any Iranian attack on Americans would be met with “great and overwhelming force” and “obliteration.”

Donald J. Trump


….The wonderful Iranian people are suffering, and for no reason at all. Their leadership spends all of its money on Terror, and little on anything else. The U.S. has not forgotten Iran’s use of IED’s & EFP’s (bombs), which killed 2000 Americans, and wounded many more…

Donald J. Trump


….Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry & Obama!

26.3K people are talking about this

The latest confrontation comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran since the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement in May 2018.

Last week, U.S. officials said an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an American military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said the aircraft was over its territory. Hours later, Trump said Iran made a “very big mistake ” by shooting down the spy drone.

On Thursday, he approved military strikes on Iran before calling them off, saying the attack would have been disproportionate to Iran’s downing of an unmanned American surveillance drone.

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die,” Trump wrote. “150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not […] proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world.”

The downing of the drone came a week after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region. Four tankers were attacked in May. Iran denies involvement.

PA: Oil tanker Gulf of Oman
Fire and smoke billow from the Norwegian owned Front Altair tanker, which was said to have been attacked in the Gulf of Oman.
ISNA | AFP | Getty Images

“Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month without citing specific evidence as to why Tehran was responsible. “No economic sanctions entitle the Islamic Republic to attack innocent civilians, disrupt global oil markets and engage in nuclear blackmail.”

The Pentagon last week released declassified images showing the sustained damage from one of the oil tankers and maintained that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy was responsible.

“Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,” the Pentagon said in a June 17 statement.

What would a US-Iran conflict look like?

Iranian protesters burn a painted US flag at a rally in Tehran on 10 May 2019Image copyrightAFP
Image captionTensions have been escalating between the two countries

A US naval reconnaissance drone was downed by Iranian missiles. President Donald Trump says he ordered – and then aborted – a retaliatory attack, changing his mind 10 minutes before the planned strikes. The sequence of events provided a glimpse of how a conflict might start.

Just suppose the president had not changed his mind. What might have happened? The first US strikes would have been limited in scope, targeting Iranian missile sites or radars, either associated with or similar to the ones that shot down the US drone. They would have been accompanied by a clear diplomatic warning to Iran (as appears to have been delivered over-night on Thursday) that this was indeed a limited attack, solely in retaliation for the loss of the US aircraft.

Mr Trump also reportedly offered an olive branch; according to reports the message to Tehran – which was relayed through Oman – included a further request for talks.

Say the strikes had gone ahead. What would happen then? The next move would be Iran’s. According to one report, it responded last night that it was not interested in talks, and gave a warning of its own: “Any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences,” one un-named official told the Reuters news agency.

Image captionIranian TV published pictures of what it says was the wreckage of the US drone

So where might such a conflict go and what would it look like? There are many variables to consider, and it is easier to say what will not happen. The Trump administration may be an implacable foe of the Iranian regime but there is not going to be a full-scale ground invasion of Iran to topple the regime. This is not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Iran is an altogether more complex challenge both militarily and politically. Some in the White House clearly want regime change. They are likely to be disappointed. So rule out a major land war.

Any follow-up Iranian attack on US ships or aircraft would almost certainly be met by an escalation from the Americans. Iranian naval installations, air bases and so on would be hit by aircraft and cruise missiles with the focus, in part, on the Revolutionary Guard Corps whose naval arm appears to have played a prominent role in recent events.

Of course the United States can deliver punishing strikes against Iran’s military infrastructure. But Iran has the means to strike back too. It can use a variety of measures from mines, swarming small boat attacks or submarines to disrupt operations in the confined waters of the Gulf. Oil tankers could be attacked forcing the Americans to take steps to protect them too.

Where the US clearly has an extraordinary advantage is in intelligence gathering and situational awareness. But as the downing of the very sophisticated and hugely expensive drone illustrates, there are significant US vulnerabilities too. All Iran may think it needs to do is to damage or sink a few US warships to make the price of this conflict one that Mr Trump will not want to pay.

Media captionIran ‘made a very big mistake’ – Trump

Any war would be characterised by this “asymmetric” aspect. This term suggests a war of the weak against the strong – two sides with very different goals and very different metrics for success. If a war does break out the US will seek to pummel Iran’s armed forces. It would probably go about it in its time-honoured fashion; initially taking down Iranian air defences and so on. But the Iranians simply need to do enough damage to turn US public opinion against the conflict – to make it appear open-ended and uncertain.

Iran, if under sufficient pressure, might also seek to spread the conflict more broadly, urging its proxies in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere to attack US targets. In extremis it might even try to prevail upon Hezbollah (in concert with its own forces in Syria) to launch rocket attacks on Israel. The goal would be to demonstrate to Washington that what Mr Trump might see as a short-punitive campaign actually risks setting the region on fire.

But why would either country allow themselves to drift into a war? After all, modern conflicts are not “won” in any conventional sense. The Americans should have learnt this lesson all too well from Afghanistan and Iraq. And Iran surely cannot think it can “beat” the United States in any meaningful sense? But the reality is that somewhere between punitive attacks on the one hand and a full-scale conflict on the other, both countries may believe that they can make strategic gains.

The US wants to contain Iran. Severely damaging its military capabilities – especially those of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – would serve this purpose. A serious reversal for Tehran might ultimately impact domestic politics in the country, though a war could equally have the unwanted result of consolidating support for the current regime.

Iran may be pursuing its own high-stakes version of a “regime change” policy too. It may see the current US administration as aggressive, but equally as indecisive and lacking support from its key western allies. By drawing the Americans into a costly and open-ended conflict, the Iranian leadership may believe that they can absorb the pain while damaging President Trump’s chances in the next Presidential race. An Iranian reading of the US political scene may see the Democrats as more likely to return to some kind of nuclear deal and as more willing therefore to relax economic sanctions.

Image captionEconomic sanctions are hitting Hassan Rouhani’s regime hard

The problem for Tehran is that time is not on its side. The economic pressure of sanctions is hitting hard. Iran has relatively few cards to play beyond threatening chaos. Thus it may see escalation as a route out of this crisis. President Trump on the other hand, according to his own tweets, says he is “in no hurry”.

Let’s hope all this discussion is academic. President Trump appeared ready to strike back at Iran after the downing of the drone and then had second thoughts. Many will hope that it is these second thoughts that prevail in the president’s mind over the coming days.

A war with Iran would indeed be costly and unpredictable. It would neither resolve the problem of Iran’s nuclear programme nor of Iran’s growing prominence in the region. That was the indirect outcome of Washington’s last major war in the Middle East – the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Conflicts, it should be remembered, have unintended consequences.

The US blames Iran for the tanker attacks. Here’s what the Navy could do next

  • The U.S. blames Iran for the Gulf of Oman attacks on two tankers.
  • It will likely take days, weeks or even months for the military to go through the forensics needed to find out exactly who is behind the attack.
  • But “Iran’s ships are very exposed. I’d expect the U.S. would be able to sink Iran’s navy in about two days,” one defense expert tells CNBC.

Five experts on Iran-US relations after tanker attacks

The war of words between the U.S. and Iran took a dangerous turn after two ships were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. One of the tankers was operated by a Japanese company.

They were hit Thursday, the same day Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rhouhani.

The Trump administration put the blame squarely on Iran.

“It was not an accident that the Japanese tanker was attacked,” said Alireza Nader, who heads the New Iran Foundation, a Washington-based think tank that opposes the Islamic Republic. “This was a very blunt warning. Iran is saying to the world we are able to disrupt the world’s oil markets and we’re going to do it.”

But not everyone is convinced. “You have to fully understand what happened before you start shooting” said Mark Cancian, a defense expert with Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former colonel in the Marines with decades of operational knowledge of naval combat.

Reusable: USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier
File photo of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier, which is currently enroute to Persian Gulf.
Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Billy Ho | Flickr

“The Department of Defense will be reluctant to retaliate until they are certain what happened and who fired on whom, and why,” he said.

The U.S. has been beefing up naval and air power, capable of striking Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf over the last month after the White House said it had information about possible future attacks against American interests. The Pentagon would not say Thursday whether there were plans to speed the buildup.

Nader and Cancian believe it’s possible Iranian-funded Houthi rebels, who are mired in a civil war in Yemen, may be to blame. If that’s the case, “the U.S. will not want to get involved in a shooting war over Yemen,” Cancian said.

It will likely take days, weeks or even months for the military to go through the forensics needed to find out exactly who is behind the attack. But if it is determined to be Iran, Cancian believes the U.S. forces in the area will make quick work of Iran’s navy. “The U.S. has assets designed to take on Russia and China. Iran’s ships are very exposed. I’d expect the U.S. would be able to sink Iran’s navy in about two days.”

Two tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman

There are, however, problems for military planners. Iran has invested heavily in a fleet of small speed boats that are capable of overwhelming bigger U.S. ships. Military planners call this a “first-minute threat.”

“Once the shooting starts,” said Cancian, “those smaller boats will be the first target of the U.S. Navy.”

Iran, according to Nader, is under increasing pressure due to a new wave of American sanctions. “The regime is desperate because the economy is being choked off,” he said. “Khamenei and Iranian officials did not realize how hard sanctions would hurt oil, petrochemicals, steel and minerals, the core of Iran’s economy.”

GP: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 190422
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during his meeting with students in Tehran, Iran on October 18, 2017.
Iranian Leader’s Press Office – Handout | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

This is the second time in a month Iran is being blamed for attacking international shipping. Last month, four ships were hit by limpet mines off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Limpet mines are magnetic and are often attached to a ship by an underwater attack team.

While it’s too early to tell, there is speculation similar mines may have been used in this latest attack, after being attached to the tankers while docked.