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SolveClimate News

Utah Green Activist Guilty of Fraud in Oil Leasing

Tim DeChristopher faces as much as 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000 when he returns to court June 23 for sentencing

By James Nelson,

Mar 4, 2011
Tim DeChristopher speaks to supporters.

Editor's Note: In advance of Tim DeChristopher's trial, SolveClimate News conducted exclusive interviews with the environmental activist on his civil disobedience. The video series can be viewed here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

SALT LAKE CITY—An environmental activist was convicted on Thursday of defrauding the federal government by submitting phony bids to derail an auction of oil and gas drilling rights on vast tracts of public land in Utah.

A federal court jury in Salt Lake City deliberated nearly five hours before finding Tim DeChristopher, 29, guilty of fraud and violations of the , capping an unusual four-day trial.

DeChristopher admitted posing as a private energy developer in December 2008 for a government "lease sale" auction, where he ended up offering the winning bids for 22,500 acres of Interior Department mineral rights valued at $1.7 million.

Up to 40% of Gulf Oil Spill Was Potent Methane Gas, Research Shows

The findings underscore how little is understood about the behavior of gases in oceans, as countries launch the first gas hydrate drilling programs

By Lisa Song

Mar 3, 2011
An outcrop of methane hydrates, underwater.

BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is commonly referred to as the Gulf oil spill, but liquid oil wasn't the only hydrocarbon that gushed out of the Macondo well for 84 days.

Up to 40 percent of the leak was gas, mostly methane invisible to the naked eye, reported scientists who last month in the research journal Nature Geoscience.

The study authors — Samantha Joye, Ian MacDonald, Ira Leifer and Vernon Asper — calculate the total volume of discharged gas as between 260,000 to 520,000 tons. That is enough, if burned, to supply the same amount of energy as 1.6 to 3.1 million barrels of crude oil.

Gas and oil occur together in deep ocean deposits, so it should come as no surprise that the Macondo well released large amounts of gas.

"Natural gas was a huge fraction of the hydrocarbon discharge ... and we don't know what happened to it," said lead author Joye, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia.

The impact of the gas on marine ecosystems is largely unknown, and it has reignited a scientific debate about the behavior and whereabouts of hundreds of thousands of tons of natural gas. The discussions will have consequences for both the energy industry and climate change research and policy.

As U.S. Moves Ahead with Nuclear Power, No Solution for Radioactive Waste

A pair of legal actions against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raises fresh questions over how and where to store the nation's growing nuclear waste

By Abby Luby

Mar 3, 2011
Three Mile Island nuclear station

President Obama has won wide bipartisan support for his determination to revive American nuclear power — a low-carbon energy solution that electric utilities and conservatives can support.

But a pair of legal actions last month could complicate matters for Washington by forcing the (NRC) to address a longstanding and almost intractable problem: How and where to store the highly radioactive waste.

For many, the separate suits by state attorneys general and environmental groups raise fresh questions over why America is pouring billions into a nuclear renaissance with no long-term strategy for handling waste from the nation's existing facilities.

"The waste problem is the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry," said Daniel Hirsch, president of the , a California-based nuclear watchdog.

Can Obama's Bold Stroke on Cleantech Innovation Survive Budget Cuts?

Innovators fear that the generous allotments targeted for renewables and efficiency in the DOE budget — the largest ever — could be in jeopardy

By Elizabeth McGowan

Mar 2, 2011

WASHINGTON—Clean technology innovators looking to sharpen this country's competitive elbows have every reason to be buoyed by the relatively bold numbers President Obama is floating in his 2012 Department of Energy budget.

Understandably, though, they fear that such generous allotments targeted for energy efficiency and solar, wind and other renewables could be in jeopardy.

Austerity, after all, is evolving into Capitol Hill's newest buzzword as House Republicans are wielding a buzz saw mentality toward a multitude of environment and energy programs designed to carry the federal government through September, when the 2011 fiscal year ends.

Despite this cleaver-heavy climate, however, Scott Sklar refuses to be a pessimist. He heads up the , an energy marketing and policy firm in the nation's capital.

Special Status May Make Keystone Pipeline Impervious to Lawsuits

TransCanada has qualified as a 'common carrier' in the states along Keystone XL, a designation that has stumped some attorneys, advocates and observers

By Elizabeth McGowan

Mar 2, 2011
Welcome to South Dakota highway sign

Editor's Note: In this three-part series, SolveClimate News examines how landowners along the six-state route for TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline are dealing with potential property condemnation. Part III: Why Is TransCanada a 'Common Carrier?'

WASHINGTON—Though eminent domain statutes vary in each state, TransCanada seems to have made itself legally impenetrable in the half dozen states along the Keystone XL pipeline route by claiming "common carrier" status.

In a nutshell, that designation means the provider is under the obligation to treat each customer account equally. But parsing out how the Canadian company qualified as a common carrier has stumped some attorneys, advocates and observers.  

They find it odd that South Dakota's three-member granted TransCanada's Keystone XL common carrier status when the state has no oil to ship onto the pipeline. If that's the case, they ask then how can the characterization be tested?

EPA Extends Deadline for Reporting GHG Emissions

The Obama administration will delay a deadline requiring polluters to report their greenhouse gases from March 31 to later this summer

By Tom Doggett and Timothy Gardner,

Mar 1, 2011
Factories and bridge over a river

The Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday it was extending the deadline requiring thousands of businesses to report their greenhouse gas emissions.

The agency said it was moving the deadline from March 31 to later this summer, when it will have a user-friendly online electronic platform in place for companies to report their emissions. The EPA said it will provide more details on the changes in its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program in coming weeks.

The reporting program was launched in 2009 to collect information on greenhouse gas pollution to inform future policy decisions.

The trade group that represents oil refiners, which will have to report their emissions, said the delay would result in an accurate greenhouse gas database.


Amid Budget Worries, America's Schools Embrace Energy Efficiency

Participation from schools in the government's 'Energy Star' program shot up last year to include 130 districts, up from 54 in 2009, and just six in 2005

By Maria Gallucci

Mar 1, 2011
Elementary school building

Facing budget squeezes, America's school districts have found new resolve to conserve energy and rein in the fossil fuel emissions that cause climate change.

"Districts' energy costs are usually their second biggest budget line item behind staff salaries, and with [property] taxes going down, funding sources are getting smaller," said Randy Hoff, CEO of , a consulting firm that aims to get schools to reduce their electricity use. "This is a much more painless way to solve the problem than looking to cut staff salaries."

Data from schools countrywide shows that savings can climb into the millions.

Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia saved enough money over two decades from energy efficiency to equal the cost of a new $37-million middle school set to open this fall.

In Keystone XL Pipeline Negotiations, Charges of Bad Faith Tactics

Some U.S. landowners along the Keystone XL route say they are being 'pushed around' and 'intimidated' by TransCanada, an accusation the energy giant denies

By Elizabeth McGowan

Mar 1, 2011
Rural Montana

Editor's Note: In this three-part series, SolveClimate News examines how landowners along the six-state route for TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline are dealing with potential property condemnation. Part II: Defining Good Faith

WASHINGTON—While TransCanada has maintained all along that its negotiations are fair and accomplished in good faith, landowner holdouts along the proposed six-state route for Keystone XL beg to differ.

For instance, residents of Oklahoma and Texas — where oil is the economy's bread and butter — are accustomed to navigating easement negotiations with domestic petroleum providers.

But TransCanada's approach evidently fired up these veterans. For instance, two advocacy organizations in Texas — and (STOP) — fielded dozens of complaints about how TransCanada land agents trespassed, didn't offer specifics about Keystone XL carrying unconventional oil and were fuzzy about explaining pipeline safety precautions.

Trial Begins for Activist Accused of Crashing Utah Drilling Auction

Tim DeChristopher, who bid $1.7 million for oil and gas leases he couldn't pay for, faces up to 10 years in prison in a trial expected to end Thursday

By Bibi van der Zee,

Feb 28, 2011
Tim DeChristopher speaking to the media

Editor's Note: In advance of Tim DeChristopher's trial, SolveClimate News conducted exclusive interviews with the environmental activist on why he chose to cross legal boundaries. The seven-part video series can be viewed here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

The trial has begun of a U.S. activist accused of sabotaging an oil and gas land auction by bidding $1.7 million for land parcels that he could not pay for. Tim DeChristopher, whose case has attracted support from high-profile environmentalists including actor Daryl Hannah and environmentalist Bill McKibben, faces up to 10 years' jail if found guilty.

At an auction in Utah on 19 December, 2008 — the last before the end of George Bush's term in office, and seen as a gift for the oil and gas industry — 130,000 acres of land near pristine areas of Utah such as Nine Mile Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument were due to be sold off.

Some Landowners Mount Legal Bid to Deny Right-of-Way to Keystone Pipeline

TransCanada has gathered easements to use the property of 5,354 landowners along the oil pipeline's route. Some in Oklahoma are among the last holdouts

By Elizabeth McGowan

Feb 28, 2011

Editor's Note: In this three-part series, SolveClimate News examines how landowners along the six-state route for TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline are dealing with potential property condemnation. Part I: Holding Out in Oklahoma

WASHINGTON—As the youngest of eight siblings, Doris Lynn knows firsthand how diligently her family members labored on their 180-acre crop and livestock farm to fill their stomachs and their bank account.

So it's little wonder the 61-year-old is now reluctant to give up even a square inch of her inheritance in far southeastern Oklahoma's Bryan County, near the Texas border.

That pride in ownership — and a pursuit of fairness — have prompted two generations of her family to hire an attorney to counter a Canadian oil pipeline company's attempt to deploy eminent domain to condemn about an acre at one corner of the family farm where three natural gas pipelines are already buried.