Tuesday Roundup: Fracking Secrets

Keystone XL decision ready soon • The Postal Service made money • Farmer fights Monsanto over soy bean rights • Renewable electricity now cheaper than new coal or gas in Australia

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Texas had what many said was a model law that required firms using hydraulic fracturing techniques to extract oil and gas to disclose what was contained in the liquids forced underground. The law was supposed to let landowners know what was in the fracking fluid.

But Jennifer Hiller at the San Antonio News-Express has found that drilling firms almost always escape disclosure by claiming that the mixture is a trade secret. Of 12,410 instances of fracking between April 2011 and early December 2012, Hiller found, companies claimed confidentiality 10,120 times. 

“I think it’s a loophole big enough you can drive a frack truck through,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. 

Farmer v. Monsanto — Indiana farmer Hugh Bowman took commodity grain from a local elevator and planted it. The soy beans he grew, however, came from a patented Monsanto seed, modified to work with Roundup.

Monsanto says Bowman violated the company’s ownership rights. Bowman disagrees. Now their dispute is before the Supreme Court. The Washington Post describes the case: 

Those supporting Bowman hope the court uses the case, which is scheduled for oral arguments later this month, to hit the reset button on corporate domination of agribusiness and what they call Monsanto’s “legal assault” on farmers who don’t toe the line. Monsanto’s supporters say advances in health and environmental research are endangered.

And the case raises questions about the traditional role of farmers.

For instance: When a farmer grows Monsanto’s genetically modified soybean seeds, has he simply “used” the seed to create a crop to sell, or has he “made” untold replicas of Monsanto’s invention that remain subject to the company’s restrictions?

An adverse ruling, Monsanto warned the court in its brief, “would devastate innovation in biotechnology,” which involves “notoriously high research and development costs.”

Postmaster’s Reputation — Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe “damaged his reputation with congressional leaders” by announcing his decision to cut postal delivery to five days. 

“Given the importance of the post office to communities in Nevada and across our nation, such a drastic policy change cannot be enacted without approval from Congress,” Reid said. “Instead, the postmaster general relied on flawed legal guidance to claim that he can circumvent Congress’ s authority on the matter.”

Renewable Now Cheaper — A new study has found that electricity from renewable sources is now cheaper than electricity from newly-built coal and gas-fired plants in Australia. 

“The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“The fact that wind power is now cheaper than coal and gas in a country with some of the world’s best fossil fuel resources shows that clean energy is a game changer which promises to turn the economics of power systems on its head,” he said.

These cost comparisons include the cost of carbon emissions, but the study found that even without carbon prices, wind remained 14 percent cheaper than new coal and 18 percent cheaper than new gas.

Good First Quarter for P.O. — If Congress had not required the Postal Service to pre-pay its retirement and health fund costs, the Postal Service would have shown a first quarter profit of $144 million, Save The Post Office tells us

With the extraordinary payments included, the Postal Service had a $1.3 billion loss. So, except for Congress, the Postal Service showed a profit last quarter, before the end of Saturday delivery or the closing of thousands of rural post offices.

Dropping a Silo — If anybody tells you that dropping a silo using a sledge hammer is just like cutting down a tree, tell them to watch this video. Yes, the silo came down, but this guy is lucky to have been around for dinner. 

Keystone Decision Near — Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that he hoped to “make an announcement in the near term” on the Keystone XL pipeline permit application. 

The Department of State must grant a permit for the pipeline, which is to move Canadian tar sands oil to the Texas Gulf Coast. Environmentalists and Nebraska landowners oppose the pipeline.

 

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