Friday, June 25, 2010

"The Environmentalists" and Deepwater Drilling


By Jeanette DeMain

You might surmise from the title that I am going to make a causal connection between "the environmentalists" and deepwater drilling.  However, the purpose of this post is to illustrate, using actual facts instead of talking points, that such a connection is false. A fabrication. A canard.  So, even though this is a very long post (you've been warned!), it has a pretty narrow focus.

Since the April 20th explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon which killed eleven people and caused the largest oil spill in United States history (with no end in sight), there has been what appears to be an organized propaganda push by various conservative factions to place the blame for the disaster on a shadowy and wildly powerful group of people known only as "the environmentalists," or occasionally, for variety, "the radical environmentalists."

The theory, such as it is, posits that because "the environmentalists" have somehow successfully prohibited drilling in safer shallow water (presumably because of their anti-American concern for the health of the oceans, and their unhealthy attachment to lower species of marine mammals, birds and fish), the environmentally conscious and altruistic oil companies have been forced to drill in increasingly deep and dangerous waters.  They don't want to do this, but they have to, because "the environmentalists" are apparently stationed around the Gulf of Mexico, using mind control to send dolphins with bombs to blow up their drilling platforms.  (OK, I made that part up, but I think I saw a movie once with a similar plot.)

It must take some super-human form of denial (or possibly living in an alternate universe) to really believe that non-profit environmental groups have more power than oil companies, but I keep hearing it again and again.
No particular regulation or piece of legislation is ever cited to back up this claim, and no specific environmental group is mentioned.  Nor is it ever explained how "the environmentalists" got to such a lofty position.  It is merely accepted as gospel because people like Bill Kristol, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin say it on TV or on Facebook.
Sarah Palin:  "Extreme deep water drilling is not the preferred choice to meet our country's energy needs, but your protests and lawsuits and lies about onshore and shallow water drilling have locked up safer areas. It's catching up with you. The tragic, unprecedented deep water Gulf oil spill proves it."
I understand that if something is repeated often enough, and if it reinforces one's existing bias, it is more readily accepted as truth.  That is human nature, and something to which no one is completely immune.  Often, though, there are easily accessible facts that can shed new light on our most deeply held beliefs.  We can either ignore these facts, or we can reconsider and adjust our beliefs accordingly.

I would like to debunk the theory on two separate fronts.

First, we need to talk about the way government actually works.  Here, I will discuss congressional lobbying and the Minerals Management Service.

Second, I will discuss the forces that are really behind the new focus on deepwater drilling.

Congressional Lobbying

With Congress' approval rating at its lowest point ever, I think it's safe to say that both liberals and conservatives realize that our lawmakers are bought by lobbyists and the interests those lobbyists represent.  In Washington, D.C., money talks - and it also writes legislation.  (In fact, according to this 2007 article in The Washington Post, Dick Cheney's energy task force met over 40 times with representatives of energy industries, but only once with representatives from environmental groups.  Dick Cheney wasn't even present at that meeting, and "the initial draft of the task was [already] substantially complete".  The work of the task force led to the passage of the Energy Policy Act in 2005.)

So who's throwing around the big money inside the beltway?

Thanks to a website called OpenSecrets.org, part of the Center For Responsive Government, there is a great deal of  information available about lobbyists, categorized by issue or industry, and the amounts of money that they give to members of Congress.  Below I compare the amounts spent so far this year by the environmental lobby and the oil and gas lobby.

Here is the report for environmental lobbying f0r 2010.  (I have only included the top ten lobbying clients, as I think it illustrates the point well enough.)

Total for Environment: $5,495,200
Total Number of Clients Reported: 92
Total Number of Lobbyists Reported: 314
World Wildlife Fund:  $700,000
Nature Conservancy:  $550,000
Environmental Defense Fund:  $522,000
Clean Economy Network:  $456,500
US Climate Action Partnership:  $255,000
Defenders of Wildlife:  $130,226
Green Tech Action Fund:  $130,000
National Parks Conservation Assn:  $127,772
Natural Resources Defense Council:  $117,700
Intl Assn of Fish & Wildlife Agencies:  $115,000

Here is the report for the oil and gas industry for 2010.  (Again, I have only included the top ten lobbying clients.)

Total for Oil & Gas: $38,178,838
Total Number of Clients Reported: 150
Total Number of Lobbyists Reported: 609
ConocoPhillips:  $6,408,978
BP:  $3,530,000
Exxon Mobil:  $3,390,000
Chevron Corp:  $3,090,000
Royal Dutch Shell:  $2,320,000
Koch Industries:  $1,950,000
Marathon Oil:  $1,380,000
Williams Companies:  $1,340,000
Anadarko Petroleum:  $1,320,000
American Petroleum Institute:  $1,260,000

As you can see, the total for the top 10 environmental organizations combined ($3,104,198) comes out to less than half of the amount from just the top oil and gas corporation, ConocoPhillips.  It is also less than the amount from BP alone, as well as the amount from Exxon Mobil alone.  All told, the oil and gas lobby spends seven times the amount that the environmental lobby spends.

The total amount of money given by environmental groups to their top 20 recipients comes to $375,421.  The total amount of money given by the oil and gas industry to its top 20 recipients comes to $2,816,602.  Again, this is a difference of 7.5 times.

This money is given so freely because lobbying works.  Even "the environmentalists" win the occasional minor victory, although any clout they may have pales in comparison.  No one would spend these amounts if they didn't get some return on the investment.  But it's particularly true of the oil industry.  (This industry, by the way, gave over $900,000 to Barack Obama in 2008, and almost $2.5 million to John McCain).
As Sam Stein writes in The Huffington Post:
As Congress gears up for a legislative response to the oil spill in the Gulf and energy reform more broadly, some political observers are increasingly worried that the deck may be stacked in private industry's favor.
That's because in the first three months of this year alone, the company at the heart of the current crisis, BP, has hired at least 27 lobbyists who formerly worked in Congress or the executive branch. The revolving door between the oil giant and elected office is spinning fast -- so much so that good government officials are hard-pressed to name a comparable organization with that much institutional clout on tap.
"It is a lot," said David Donnelly National Campaigns Director at Public Campaign Action Fund. "You don't often find more than two dozen."
In the first three months of 2010 -- the three months that immediately preceded the explosion of its Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig -- BP spent more than $3.8 million dollars on lobbying the federal government. The cash was spread around seven prominent lobby shops within the D.C. area (including BP's own internal operation), who in turn employed 39 lobbyists to help the company push its legislative interests. That nearly 70 percent of those hired guns have experience in elected office doesn't surprise good government officials because those are after all the most sought-after hires on K Street.
"A former Hill staffer who is now lobbying comes with a ready-made Rolodex of contacts for those people working and writing legislation," added Donnelly.
For an object lesson in how well lobbying works, read what Rep. Joe Barton had to say, as quoted in this June 17, 2010, Associated Press article, describing BP CEO Tony Hayward's appearance before a Congressional committee:
While most of the opening statements by members contained harsh criticisms of BP, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, accused the White House of conducting a "$20 billion shakedown" by requiring oil giant BP to establish a fund to compensate those hurt by the Gulf Coast oil spill.
"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House" on Wednesday, said Barton, who has received at least $100,470 in political contributions from oil and gas interests since the beginning of 2009, the second-highest amount among all the committee members.
And, by the way, not once in his prepared testimony did Hayward mention "the environmentalists", the environmental lobby or environmental regulations as bearing any of the responsibility for this disaster.  You would think, if he was looking to shift some of the burden from BP, he would have latched onto any reasonable scapegoat.  He didn't, because that scapegoat doesn't exist.

But back to Barton.  Of course, he has already been written about extensively after his "misconstrued misconstruction", but does it get any more blatant than that? According to votesmart.org, between 1995 and 2009, Rep. Barton supported the interests of the League of Conservation Voters between 0% and 8% of the time.  However, according to ontheissues.org, Rep. Barton has the following voting record when it comes to the interests of the oil and gas industry:
  • Voted NO on enforcing limits on CO2 global warming pollution. (Jun 2009)
  • Voted NO on tax credits for renewable electricity, with PAYGO offsets. (Sep 2008)
  • Voted NO on tax incentives for energy production and conservation. (May 2008)
  • Voted NO on tax incentives for renewable energy. (Feb 2008)
  • Voted NO on investing in homegrown biofuel. (Aug 2007)
  • Voted NO on criminalizing oil cartels like OPEC. (May 2007)
  • Voted NO on removing oil & gas exploration subsidies. (Jan 2007)
  • Voted NO on keeping moratorium on drilling for oil offshore. (Jun 2006)
  • Voted YES on scheduling permitting for new oil refinieries. (Jun 2006)
  • Voted YES on authorizing construction of new oil refineries. (Oct 2005)
  • Voted YES on passage of the Bush Administration national energy policy. (Jun 2004)
  • Voted YES on implementing Bush-Cheney national energy policy. (Nov 2003)
  • Voted NO on raising CAFE standards; incentives for alternative fuels. (Aug 2001)
  • Voted NO on prohibiting oil drilling & development in ANWR. (Aug 2001)
  • Voted NO on starting implementation of Kyoto Protocol. (Jun 2000)
So, do you think that that $38 million spent this year (and the $175 million spent last year) by the oil and gas companies, versus the $5.5 million spent by "the environmentalists" has paid off?  I'll say this in my best Sarah Palin voice:  You betcha'! It's kind of like majority rule, only with dollars instead of people!  Whoever has the most dollars rules!

Minerals Management Service

The listing in Wikipedia for the Minerals Management Service states:
Minerals Management Service (MMS) is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior that manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The Offshore program, which manages the mineral resources on the OCS, is comprised of three regions: Alaska, Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean.  The agency receives most of its revenue from leasing federal lands and waters to oil and natural gas companies with a profit margin of 98%. It is one of the largest revenue sources to the federal government after the IRS. The MMS is responsible for inspection and oversight of energy companies to ensure they are following the law and protecting the safety of their workers and the environment.
 According to CNN:
The MMS, which has about 1,700 employees, has two responsibilities when it comes to industries such as oil or natural gas. It must act as a regulator while also collecting royalties from the companies.
Some critics say those are opposite pulls and make the agency ripe for mismanagement.
I would say those critics are right about that.  These two functions are diametrically opposed to one another.  Of course, the agency (and the government) wants to collect more royalties.  The only way to do this is to keep regulation (and costs to energy companies) to a bare minimum. (In fact, a 2010 Inspector General's report charges that MMS inspectors let the oil and gas company personnel fill out their own inspection reports in pencil, later tracing over them in pen to make them "official".)

Concerns have also been voiced about the revolving door at MMS, where agency officials go on to highly-paid positions at the companies they once regulated.  Such an arrangement practically screams "conflict of interest". However, I am unaware of any MMS officials who have gone on to work for or lobby for environmental groups.

In 2008, the Inspector General for the United States Department of the Interior issued three reports which found wrongdoing by current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service.  As summarized in this New York Times article,the report cites "a culture of ethical failure" within the agency.  Some of the findings include:
  • In one of the new reports, investigators concluded that Ms. Denett (former  associate director of minerals revenue management)worked with two aides to steer a lucrative consulting contract to one of the aides after he retired, violating competitive procurement rules
  • The report says that eight officials in the royalty program accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules — including golf, ski and paintball outings; meals and drinks; and tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game.
  • The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”
  • The investigation separately found that the program’s manager mixed official and personal business. In sometimes lurid detail, the report also accuses him of having intimate relations with two subordinates, one of whom regularly sold him cocaine.
  • The report said that Mr. Smith (former program director of the royalty-in-kind program) improperly used his position with the royalty program to get an outside consulting job helping a technical services firm seek deals with oil and gas companies with which he was also conducting official business.
  • The report accused Mr. Smith of improperly accepting gifts from the oil and gas industry, of engaging in sex with two subordinates and of using cocaine that he purchased from his secretary or her boyfriend several times a year between 2002 and 2005. He sometimes asked for the drugs and received them in his office during work hours, the report said.
  • The report also detailed cozy relationships between energy companies and other officials in the royalty-in-kind program office. Some 19 officials — a third of the staff — took gifts from oil and gas executives, some with “prodigious frequency,” it said.
  • Two female employees “engaged in brief sexual relationships with industry contacts,” the reports’ cover memo said, adding that “sexual relationships with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms’ length.”  (A bit of bureaucratic humor!)
  • A report from Mr. Devaney’s (the Inspector General) office earlier this year found that the program had frequently allowed companies that purchased the oil and gas to revise their bids downward after they won contracts. It documented 118 such occasions that cost taxpayers about $4.4 million in all.
 The article goes on to state:
The report said that the officials told investigators that the gifts and socializing did not affect how they treated the companies in their official duties.  They also said they did not view socializing with oil company representatives and taking gifts as inappropriate because they said they needed to be part of the marketing culture in order to market the program’s oil and gas.
In other words, this was the culture of the Minerals Management Service.  Anyone who has worked for an organization knows that each one has a unique culture that develops over a number of years, one that is modeled from the top down, and to which new employees are expected to conform.  It is notoriously difficult to change an established organizational culture.  Luckily, in most cases, it doesn't cause so much damage.
Another report, issued last month, which focused on the MMS Lake Charles District Office, finds many of the same kinds of ethical lapses.  (But it seems that these employees have switched from cocaine to crystal meth.)

Given the above, is it any wonder that the following series of events occurred?

  • MMS's 2009 decision that an acoustically-controlled shut-off valve would not be required as a last resort against underwater spills at the site.
  • MMS's failure to suggest other "fail-safe" mechanisms after a 2004 report raised questions about the reliability of the electrical remote-control devices.
  • Prior to Director Birnbaum's appointment, MMS granted a categorical exclusion waiver on April 6, 2009 to BP exempting it from the National Environmental Policy Act's requirements including a detailed environmental analysis, concluding the spill risk in that part of the Gulf was "minimal or nonexistent."  Such NEPA waivers have become routine at MMS, and the Interior Department approves 250 to 400 per year for Gulf of Mexico projects.
  • MMS gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA) that assesses threats to endangered species - and despite strong warnings from NOAA about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the Gulf.  Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf each day.
  • MMS routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of drilling proposals in the Gulf and in Alaska.
  • Since April 20, 2010, twenty-seven new offshore drilling projects have been approved by MMS.  All but one project was granted similar exemptions from environmental review as BP.  Two were submitted by the UK firm, and made the same claims about oil-rig safety and the implausibility of a spill damaging the environment.

(The above taken from Wikipedia.org, footnoted with the following sources:  Houston Chronicle 5/8/10; Washington Post 5/5/10; New York Times 5/13/10; The Guardian 5/9/10.)
Look at that last bullet again.  And there are people who are claiming that a six-month moratorium is an overreaction!

Why Deepwater Drilling?

First off, according to the MMS (the industry that is in bed, both literally and figuratively, with the oil industry), there are 3,417 active shallow-water platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.  So it is not true that "the environmentalists" have prevented safer shallow-water drilling.

(But as for the "safer" part, let's not forget that, up until now, the most disastrous oil spill in North America, the Ixtoc well blowout in 1979, happened in less than 170 feet of water, and still took nearly a year to contain. Steve Klingaman wrote a very informative post about the Ixtoc spill, which you can read by clicking here.)

The problem is that these shallow-water wells are in decline. Oil fields do run dry, and the days of easy-to-get-to oil are over.  There aren't going to be anymore Jed Clampetts, Jett Rinks or Daniel Plainviews.  (I'm not really going to talk about peak oil, as this isn't really the focus of this post, but oil field decline certainly is a part of the peak oil discussion.)

Two years ago, the MMS published a report titled Deepwater Gulf of Mexico 2008:  America's Offshore Energy Future (which features a majestic photo of the pre-explosion Deepwater Horizon on page 33).  Here are some of the findings of that report:

Deep water has continued to be a very important part of the total GOM production, providing approximately 72 percent of the oil and 38 percent of the gas in the region. At the end of 2007, there were 130 producing projects in the deepwater GOM, up from 122 at the end of 2006. In fact, 15 deepwater fields, including Atlantis, Shenzi, and several associated with Independence Hub, began production last year. When Independence Hub reaches full capacity, it will represent over 10 percent of the total GOM gas production. Proved deepwater fields now number 125, representing a 44 percent increase from the end of 2006. For the first time in history, all 20 of the highest producing blocks in the GOM were in deep water. (Preface)

When the original version of this report (Cranswick and Regg, 1997) was published in February 1997, a new era for the GOM had just begun with intense interest in the oil and gas potential of the deepwater areas. At that time there were favorable economics, recent deepwater discoveries, and significant leasing spurred on by the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act (DWRRA; 43 U.S.C. §1337). In February 1997, there were 17 producing deepwater projects, up from only 6 at the end of 1992. Since then, industry has been rapidly advancing into deep water, and many of the anticipated fields have begun production. At the end of 2007, there were 130 producing projects in the deepwater GOM, up from 122 at the end of 2006. (Page 4)

In 1986, the first discovery in the GOM in water depths greater than 5,000 ft (1,524 m) occurred with Mensa. Since that time, there have been 60 additional discoveries in the ultra-deep provinces of the Gulf. (Page 9)

Significant challenges exist in deep water in addition to environmental considerations. Deepwater operations are very expensive and often require significant amounts of time between the initial exploration and first production. Despite these challenges, deepwater operators often reap great rewards. Figure 7 shows the history of discoveries in the deepwater GOM. There was a shift toward deeper water over time, and the number of deepwater discoveries continues at a steady pace. (Page 14)

The deepwater GOM has contributed major additions to the total reserves in the GOM. Figure 40 shows the proved reserves added each year by water-depth category. Additions from the shallow waters of the GOM declined in recent years but, beginning in 1975, the deepwater area started contributing significant new reserves. Between 1975 and 1983, the majority of these additions were from discoveries in slightly more than 1,000 ft (305 m) of water. It was not until 1985 that major additions came from water depths greater than 1,500 ft (457 m). From 1998 to 2001, significant proved reserves were added in the 5,000-to 7,499-ft (1,524- to 2,286-m) water depth range. The year 2002 saw the first substantial addition from water depths greater than 7,500 ft (2,286 m). (Page 58)

Figure 42 illustrates the most important feature of the deepwater field discoveries, that their average size is many times larger than the average size of shallow-water fields. Generally over the past 10 years, the field sizes in ultra-deep water are many times larger than shallower-water fields. (Page 58)

Table 6 shows that for the first time all of the 20 most prolific producing blocks in the GOM are located in deep water. Figure 47 illustrates the relative volume of production from each GOM lease through time. Notice the large deepwater volumes that first appear in 1998 and 1999. More recent production continues to expand over a larger area and into deeper waters. (Page 61)

Figure 49a illustrates historic trends in oil production. Shallow-water oil production rose rapidly in the 1960’s, peaked in 1971, and has undergone cycles of increase and decline since then. Since 1997, the shallow-water GOM oil production has steadily declined and, at the end of 2006, was at its lowest level since 1965. From 1995 through 2003, deepwater oil roduction experienced a dramatic increase similar to that seen in the shallow-water GOM during the 1960’s, offsetting declines in shallow-water oil production. Starting in 2003, deepwater oil production leveled off. In 2006, deepwater oil production accounted for over 72 percent of total GOM oil production. (Page 67)

Figure 53a shows that the average deepwater oil completion currently produces at about 20 times the rate of the average shallow-water [less than 1,000 ft [305 m)] oil completion. (Page 71)
The future of deepwater GOM exploration and production remains very promising. Factors contributing to the increase in deepwater activity include several key discoveries (including those recent discoveries in the Lower Tertiary Trend), the recognition of high production rates, the evolution of development technologies, and a rise in oil and gas price (Page 76)
Hmm, no mention anywhere in this report of environmentalists or environmental regulations being behind the trend toward deepwater drilling.

So let's reiterate the real reason that oil companies are engaging in deepwater drilling.  Put quite simply, it's because that's where the oil is.  (If you need a graphic reminder of just how productive a deepwater well can be, just keep watching this or read this.) As we have seen since April 2oth, even though it took BP a long time to tell us how much oil was gushing out every day (and who knows if they're telling the truth even now), there is a lot of oil under those deep waters, and a lot of money to be made for people like Tony Hayward.

I don't think a radical environmentalist was holding a gun to the head of Andy Inglis, BP's chief executive for exploration and production, when BP issued this statement in 2009: "Tiber represents BP's second material discovery in the emerging Lower Tertiary play in the US Gulf of Mexico, following our earlier Kaskida discovery.  These material discoveries together with our industry leading acreage position support the continuing growth of our deepwater Gulf of Mexico business into the second half of the next decade."

In other words, BP was pissing its pants with excitement over these huge new oil fields.  In fact, it's shares rose 3.7% after the announcement.  Nowhere in the statement were environmental regulations mentioned as a reason for deepwater exploration.

Right about now is when I expect someone is will bring up the ANWR, and that's fine, let's talk about the ANWR.  This does appear to be one (precarious) victory for "the environmentalists" (even if the ANWR was established by Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower), but I see it as more of a victory for the American people, as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge belongs to all of us, even those of us who will probably never get to see it.  (You know, I might never get to see the Grand Canyon either - that doesn't mean it should be used as a landfill.)

This 2008 article from U.S. News and World Report, which references a report published by the U.S. Energy Information Agency, an independent statistical agency within the Department of Energy, states the following:
New oil from ANWR would lower the world price of oil by no more than $1.44 per barrel—and possibly have as little effect as 41 cents per barrel—and would have its largest impact nearly 20 years from now if Congress voted to open the refuge today.  
If Congress approved development in 2008, it would take 10 years for oil production to commence, EIA said.  With production starting, then, in 2018, EIA said the most likely scenario is that oil would peak at 780,000 barrels per day in 2027 and decline to 710,000 barrels per day in 2030.  Currently, the United States consumes about 20 millions barrels of oil per day.
EIA said its projection is that ANWR oil production would amount to 0.4 percent to 1.2 percent of total world oil consumption in 2030.  The figure is low enough that OPEC could neutralize any price impact by decreasing supplies to match the additional production from Alaska, EIA noted.
New oil from Alaska would, however, reduce foreign oil dependence slightly, EIA said.  With the United States currently on track to get 54 percent of its oil from overseas by 2030, EIA said, if ANWR were opened, the share of oil from foreign countries would drop to 48 percent in the best-case scenaior or 52 percent if ANWR turns out to produce at the lower end of the range of projections.  That would mean that U.S. spending on foreign oil between 2018 and 2030 would be reduced by $135 billion to $327 billion.
So we're talking a potential decrease of 2-6% in our dependence on foreign oil in about 10 years.  (That decrease of $135 billion, by the way, is equal to the amount that it cost to wage war on Iraq for about 9 months.  It's chump change.)  Is it worth it?  I think that "no" is a very legitimate answer, and not in any way a "radical" position.

And even if the ANWR were opened to drilling, does anyone really think that oil companies would stop looking for untapped oil reserves elsewhere, including deep water?  That they're going to say, "OK, we're done now.  We've got enough."?  That's makes no sense at all.  That's what they do.  They drill for oil so that they can make money for their shareholders.  Is there anyone who doesn't understand this?
According to this McClatchy article about deepwater drilling:
Ultra-deepwater production matters because conventional U.S. oil production has been in decline since the 1970s, and near-shore production along the Gulf Coast peaked in 1997.
"It's a big part of our supply from the entire gulf ... and we're expecting the increase to continue," said Leta Smith, the director of oil supply research for Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a leading oil analyst.
Globally, one in every 10 barrels of oil produced in 2030 will come from ultra-deepwater operations, she said, adding that roughly 70 percent of the deep water in the Gulf of Mexico remains unexplored.
In 1990, the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico yielded about 20,000 barrels per day of crude oil. By 2009, that number had grown to 1 million, according to CERA.
Nine projects that are coming onstream will add at least 200,000 barrels per day this year, said CERA researchers, who expect deepwater production to account for 17 percent of U.S. liquids production this year, which includes oil and natural gas.
Today there are at least 42 active deepwater projects for exploration or production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico or international gulf waters, and at least another five projects in the works. Seventeen of those are ultra-deepwater.
Deepwater drilling used to be considered depths around 1,000 feet below the sea surface, but it's now a range of about 1,500 feet to 5,000 feet. Anything 5,000 feet or more below the surface is described as ultra-deepwater.
Transocean Ltd., whose exploration rig exploded and collapsed last month, leading to the spill, boasted last September that it's drilled to 35,000 feet below the ocean floor, operating below 4,130 feet of water. That project was for BP, as is the one involving the spill. Switzerland-based Transocean also bragged that it held the record for operating in deep water, at 10,011 below the surface, on a Chevron project.
Outside the Gulf Coast region, Brazil is the world's most promising ultra-deepwater producer, with new discoveries in the past five years in the so-called Santos basin that experts think will make the South American giant a powerhouse in the oil business. Deep waters off the African nations of Nigeria and Angola also hold promise. (emphasis mine)
With regard to that last sentence, since since we know what hotbeds of environmental activism Nigeria and Angola are, the fact that oil companies are turning to deepwater drilling in these regions pretty much proves the point that shallow-water reserves are beginning to tap out, and they have to start looking elsewhere.

Well, if you've made it with me this far, all I can say is thanks.  Much of this information has been presented elsewhere, and for many of you, none of this is new.  I thought it might be helpful, however, to gather as much as possible in one place.  And I just needed to get it out of my system.

In closing, I'd like to say just a few words about "the environmentalists" who did not cause this oil spill.  "The environmentalists" are fighting for our environment, not the environment.  Our environment is where we all have to live (even people like Joe Barton), and it really comes down to a very simple concept. 

Just as you wouldn't take a shit in your own living room, corporations shouldn't be taking a shit in our collective living room.  This is what BP, aided and abetted by our Congress and the Minerals Management Service, did here.  Not because of environmental regulation, but because they bought a government and a regulatory agency, which in turn allowed them to circumvent most regulations, and because they go where the oil is.

I'll leave you with this quote by John Muir, founder of The Sierra Club:
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
I think anyone who doesn't understand that hasn't got a soul.  Such a person looks at every place of wilderness merely in terms of what can be sucked out of it to make money. 
We have seen what this has wrought in the Gulf of Mexico, and we (those of us with souls, anyway) weep for what's to come.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

BP Is Pursuing Risky Alaska Drilling

A causeway leads to BP’s oil and gas facility at Endicott, east of Prudhoe Bay. The facility is on a gravel island in the Beaufort Sea.
By IAN URBINA

The future of BP’s offshore oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico has been thrown into doubt by the recent drilling disaster and court wrangling over a moratorium.

But about three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters.
All other new projects in the Arctic have been halted by the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling, including more traditional projects like Shell Oil’s plans to drill three wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort.

But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea. The reason: it sits on an artificial island — a 31-acre pile of gravel in about 22 feet of water — built by BP.

The project has already received its state and federal environmental permits, but BP has yet to file its final application to federal regulators to begin drilling, which it expects to start in the fall.

Some scientists and environmentalists say that other factors have helped keep the project moving forward.
Rather than conducting their own independent analysis, federal regulators, in a break from usual practice, allowed BP in 2007 to write its own environmental review for the project as well as its own consultation documents relating to the Endangered Species Act, according to two scientists from the Alaska office of the federal Mineral Management Service that oversees drilling.

The environmental assessment was taken away from the agency’s unit that typically handles such reviews, and put in the hands of a different division that was more pro-drilling, said the scientists, who discussed the process because they remained opposed to how it was handled.

“The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre,” one of the federal scientists said.
The scientists and other critics say they are worried about a replay of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico because the Liberty project involves a method of drilling called extended reach that experts say is more prone to the types of gas kicks that triggered the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.

“It makes no sense,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental watchdog group. “BP pushes the envelope in the gulf and ends up causing the moratorium. And now in the Arctic they are forging ahead again with untested technology, and as a result they’re the only ones left being allowed to drill there.”

BP has defended the project in its proposal, saying it is safe and environmentally friendly. It declined to respond to requests for further comment.

Extended-reach drilling has advantages. Drilling at an angle might be less threatening to sensitive habitats. But engineers say that this type of drilling is riskier and more complicated than traditional drilling because it is relatively new and gas kicks are more frequent and tougher to detect.

And because of the distance and angles involved, drilling requires far more powerful machinery, putting extra pressure on pipes and well casings.

Several companies have built artificial islands to drill offshore in the Arctic and elsewhere, in part because surging ice floes can destroy conventional floating or metal-legged offshore drilling platforms.

Critics say that such islands are so tiny that a large oil spill will quickly flow into the surrounding waters.
BP officials say that by accessing the Liberty oil field from far away, the project reduces its environmental impact in the delicate North Shore area.

The Liberty field lies about five miles from land under the shallow waters of the Beaufort Sea in an area populated during the winter by seals and polar bears and covered by thick floating ice.

During the summer, bowhead whales migrate through the region.

“The overall Liberty Project has been planned and designed to minimize adverse effects to biological resources,” BP wrote in 2007 in the development proposal to federal regulators. “Impacts to wetlands have been significantly reduced including shoreline and tundra habitat for birds and caribou.”

The project will also involve nearly 400 workers in a region where jobs are scarce, according to BP.
But concerns exist about the project’s oversight and critics say the project offers another example of dangerous coziness between industry and regulators.

For example, the federal scientists say that BP should never have allowed to do environmental reviews that are the responsibility of the regulators. And yet, the language of the “environmental consequences” sections of the final 2007 federal assessment and BP’s own assessment submitted earlier the same year are virtually identical.

No such overlap existed in the documents for other major projects approved by the same office around the same time, a review of the documents shows.

Both assessments concluded that the effects from a large spill potentially could have a major impact on wildlife, but discounted the threat because they judged the likelihood of spill to be very remote.

They also asserted that BP’s spill response plan would be able to handle a worst case — which BP estimated as a spill of 20,000 barrels per day.

Officials from the minerals agency declined to answer questions about the handling of the BP’s environmental assessment, but they added, “In light of the BP oil spill in the gulf and new safety requirements, we will be reviewing the adequacy of the current version of the Liberty project’s spill plan.”

In promotional materials, BP acknowledges that the Liberty project will push boundaries of drilling technology.

To reduce weight on the rig, BP has developed a new steel alloy for the drill pipe.

So much force is needed to power a drill over such long distances that BP had to invest more than $200 million in what it describes as the largest land rig in the world.

The drill’s top drive is rated at 105,000 foot-pounds of torque, while North Slope rigs are typically rated at 40,000 foot-pounds.

“It will take all of this technology that we’ve developed and exploited in Prudhoe Bay and extend it to a new realm,” Gary Christman, BP’s director of Alaska drilling and wells, told Petroleum News in 2007.

But engineers say that realm includes greater risk.

John Choe, an expert in extended-reach drilling and director of the department of energy resources at Seoul National University, said that it was less safe than conventional types of drilling because gas kicks that can turn into blowouts are tougher to detect as they climb more slowly toward the rig.

“So, you may not detect it until it becomes serious,” he said. “In that case, the kick or drilling related problems become too big to be managed easily.”

A 2004 study commissioned by the Minerals Management Service came to a similar conclusion.

“A gas kick represents probably the most dangerous situation that can occur when drilling a well since it can easily develop to a blowout if it is not controlled promptly,” it said. Extended-reach drilling wells “are more prone to kicks and lost-circulation problems than more conventional and vertical wells, but have some advantages when the well takes a kick because gas migration rates are lower.”

Despite these concerns, the Liberty’s 614-page environmental assessment says nothing about how the project would handle the unique risks posed by this type of drilling.

Mike Mims, a former owner of a company that specialized in extended-reach drilling, said he believed that the worries about this type of drilling were overblown. “The kicks can occur but they move slower and the bubbles don’t expand as fast,” he said.

“It all comes down to personnel,” he added, “If your people understand the risks and handle the work carefully, this drilling is entirely safe.”

BP discovered the Liberty oil field in 1997, began construction of a rig there in 2008, and was nearing final preparations this April when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

Two weeks after the Obama administration declared a moratorium on offshore drilling on May 27, BP announced that the Liberty project would continue, with drilling scheduled to start in the fall, generating its first oil production by 2011. By 2013, BP estimates, Liberty will yield 40,000 barrels of oil per day.

If approved, the Liberty will be the longest horizontal well of its kind in the world. BP’s production plan for the Liberty notes that drilling studies only support horizontal wells up to 8.33 miles. Any horizontal wells longer than that, the plan says, “have not been studied.”

State regulators have faulted BP for not being prepared to handle a spill at a similar, though less ambitious project, known as the Northstar field. That project involves vertical drilling and sits on an artificial island six miles northwest of Prudhoe Bay in the Beaufort Sea.

The Liberty project will tie into the Endicott pipeline when complete. On April 20, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration warned BP that it was in “probable violation” of federal standards because of corrosion found on its Endicott oil pipeline and a lack of records indicating corrosion protection and monitoring efforts.

BP has faced a number of challenges at its Alaska facilities. The company sustained two corrosion-caused leaks in its rigs in Prudhoe Bay in 2006, including a leak of over 200,000 gallons that cost the company around $20 million in fines and restitution. This was the largest spill to have occurred on Alaska’s North Slope.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The greased wheels of offshore drilling justice

Dead fish stuck in oil in Bay Jimmy near Port Sulpher, Louisiana
By Andrew Leonard

Could there be less of a surprise than the fact that a Louisiana district court judge with financial ties to the offshore oil industry, appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan, granted a preliminary injunction against President Obama's six-month moratorium on offshore "deepwater" drilling? The real shocker would have been finding a local judge who didn't have any entanglement with the oil business.

Yahoo News reports that as recently as 2008, Judge Martin Feldman "owned stock in Transocean, as well as five other companies that are either directly or indirectly involved in the offshore drilling business." Irrespective of the merits of the argument made by the judge in his opinion, the fact that he did not recuse himself is inexcusable. But as the case flies up the appellate ladder, it's not going to get any easier to find an impartial hearing. As Feldman observed, this case "seems driven by political or social agendas on all sides." Judges appointed by presidents who stressed the primacy of deregulated free markets will likely have different views than judges appointed by presidents who took protection of the environment seriously.

It's a mess, and it's going to stay a mess. It's also an apt reminder of the limits to Obama's power to deal appropriately with the spill. To many of the people who voted for him, his announcement of the moratorium seemed like a no-brainer, especially given the pathetic state of regulatory enforcement over past decades. The closer one examines the trail of cost-cutting incompetence that BP was able to get away with, the harder it is to avoid the sense that we've been very very lucky not to have experienced a devastating blowout earlier. If ever there was a time for a timeout, it's now.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear

Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.
by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele

No thanks: An anti-Monsanto crop circle made by farmers and volunteers in the Philippines. By Melvyn Calderon/Greenpeace HO/A.P. Images.

(Updated below)

Gary Rinehart clearly remembers the summer day in 2002 when the stranger walked in and issued his threat. Rinehart was behind the counter of the Square Deal, his “old-time country store,” as he calls it, on the fading town square of Eagleville, Missouri, a tiny farm community 100 miles north of Kansas City.

The Square Deal is a fixture in Eagleville, a place where farmers and townspeople can go for lightbulbs, greeting cards, hunting gear, ice cream, aspirin, and dozens of other small items without having to drive to a big-box store in Bethany, the county seat, 15 miles down Interstate 35.

Everyone knows Rinehart, who was born and raised in the area and runs one of Eagleville’s few surviving businesses. The stranger came up to the counter and asked for him by name.

“Well, that’s me,” said Rinehart.

As Rinehart would recall, the man began verbally attacking him, saying he had proof that Rinehart had planted Monsanto’s genetically modified (G.M.) soybeans in violation of the company’s patent. Better come clean and settle with Monsanto, Rinehart says the man told him—or face the consequences.

Rinehart was incredulous, listening to the words as puzzled customers and employees looked on. Like many others in rural America, Rinehart knew of Monsanto’s fierce reputation for enforcing its patents and suing anyone who allegedly violated them. But Rinehart wasn’t a farmer. He wasn’t a seed dealer. He hadn’t planted any seeds or sold any seeds. He owned a small—a really small—country store in a town of 350 people. He was angry that somebody could just barge into the store and embarrass him in front of everyone. “It made me and my business look bad,” he says. Rinehart says he told the intruder, “You got the wrong guy.”

When the stranger persisted, Rinehart showed him the door. On the way out the man kept making threats. Rinehart says he can’t remember the exact words, but they were to the effect of: “Monsanto is big. You can’t win. We will get you. You will pay.”

Scenes like this are playing out in many parts of rural America these days as Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers—anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the “seed police” and use words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe their tactics.

When asked about these practices, Monsanto declined to comment specifically, other than to say that the company is simply protecting its patents. “Monsanto spends more than $2 million a day in research to identify, test, develop and bring to market innovative new seeds and technologies that benefit farmers,” Monsanto spokesman Darren Wallis wrote in an e-mailed letter to Vanity Fair. “One tool in protecting this investment is patenting our discoveries and, if necessary, legally defending those patents against those who might choose to infringe upon them.” Wallis said that, while the vast majority of farmers and seed dealers follow the licensing agreements, “a tiny fraction” do not, and that Monsanto is obligated to those who do abide by its rules to enforce its patent rights on those who “reap the benefits of the technology without paying for its use.” He said only a small number of cases ever go to trial.

Some compare Monsanto’s hard-line approach to Microsoft’s zealous efforts to protect its software from pirates. At least with Microsoft the buyer of a program can use it over and over again. But farmers who buy Monsanto’s seeds can’t even do that.

The Control of Nature

For centuries—millennia—farmers have saved seeds from season to season: they planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, then reclaimed and cleaned the seeds over the winter for re-planting the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head.

Monsanto developed G.M. seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. Monsanto then patented the seeds. For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. “It’s not like describing a widget,” says Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety, which has tracked Monsanto’s activities in rural America for years.

Indeed not. But in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover “a live human-made microorganism.” In this case, the organism wasn’t even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.

This radical departure from age-old practice has created turmoil in farm country. Some farmers don’t fully understand that they aren’t supposed to save Monsanto’s seeds for next year’s planting. Others do, but ignore the stipulation rather than throw away a perfectly usable product. Still others say that they don’t use Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, but seeds have been blown into their fields by wind or deposited by birds. It’s certainly easy for G.M. seeds to get mixed in with traditional varieties when seeds are cleaned by commercial dealers for re-planting. The seeds look identical; only a laboratory analysis can show the difference. Even if a farmer doesn’t buy G.M. seeds and doesn’t want them on his land, it’s a safe bet he’ll get a visit from Monsanto’s seed police if crops grown from G.M. seeds are discovered in his fields.

Most Americans know Monsanto because of what it sells to put on our lawns— the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup. What they may not know is that the company now profoundly influences—and one day may virtually control—what we put on our tables. For most of its history Monsanto was a chemical giant, producing some of the most toxic substances ever created, residues from which have left us with some of the most polluted sites on earth. Yet in a little more than a decade, the company has sought to shed its polluted past and morph into something much different and more far-reaching—an “agricultural company” dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations.” Still, more than one Web log claims to see similarities between Monsanto and the fictional company “U-North” in the movie Michael Clayton, an agribusiness giant accused in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit of selling an herbicide that causes cancer.

Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. So far, the company has produced G.M. seeds for soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. Many more products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output, and it is taking aggressive steps to put those who don’t want to use growth hormone at a commercial disadvantage.

Even as the company is pushing its G.M. agenda, Monsanto is buying up conventional-seed companies. In 2005, Monsanto paid $1.4 billion for Seminis, which controlled 40 percent of the U.S. market for lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetable and fruit seeds. Two weeks later it announced the acquisition of the country’s third-largest cottonseed company, Emergent Genetics, for $300 million. It’s estimated that Monsanto seeds now account for 90 percent of the U.S. production of soybeans, which are used in food products beyond counting. Monsanto’s acquisitions have fueled explosive growth, transforming the St. Louis–based corporation into the largest seed company in the world.

In Iraq, the groundwork has been laid to protect the patents of Monsanto and other G.M.-seed companies. One of L. Paul Bremer’s last acts as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority was an order stipulating that “farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties.” Monsanto has said that it has no interest in doing business in Iraq, but should the company change its mind, the American-style law is in place.

To be sure, more and more agricultural corporations and individual farmers are using Monsanto’s G.M. seeds. As recently as 1980, no genetically modified crops were grown in the U.S. In 2007, the total was 142 million acres planted. Worldwide, the figure was 282 million acres. Many farmers believe that G.M. seeds increase crop yields and save money. Another reason for their attraction is convenience. By using Roundup Ready soybean seeds, a farmer can spend less time tending to his fields. With Monsanto seeds, a farmer plants his crop, then treats it later with Roundup to kill weeds. That takes the place of labor-intensive weed control and plowing.

Monsanto portrays its move into G.M. seeds as a giant leap for mankind. But out in the American countryside, Monsanto’s no-holds-barred tactics have made it feared and loathed. Like it or not, farmers say, they have fewer and fewer choices in buying seeds.

And controlling the seeds is not some abstraction. Whoever provides the world’s seeds controls the world’s food supply.

Under Surveillance

After Monsanto’s investigator confronted Gary Rinehart, Monsanto filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Rinehart “knowingly, intentionally, and willfully” planted seeds “in violation of Monsanto’s patent rights.” The company’s complaint made it sound as if Monsanto had Rinehart dead to rights:

During the 2002 growing season, Investigator Jeffery Moore, through surveillance of Mr. Rinehart’s farm facility and farming operations, observed Defendant planting brown bag soybean seed. Mr. Moore observed the Defendant take the brown bag soybeans to a field, which was subsequently loaded into a grain drill and planted. Mr. Moore located two empty bags in the ditch in the public road right-of-way beside one of the fields planted by Rinehart, which contained some soybeans. Mr. Moore collected a small amount of soybeans left in the bags which Defendant had tossed into the public right-of way. These samples tested positive for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready technology.

Faced with a federal lawsuit, Rinehart had to hire a lawyer. Monsanto eventually realized that “Investigator Jeffery Moore” had targeted the wrong man, and dropped the suit. Rinehart later learned that the company had been secretly investigating farmers in his area. Rinehart never heard from Monsanto again: no letter of apology, no public concession that the company had made a terrible mistake, no offer to pay his attorney’s fees. “I don’t know how they get away with it,” he says. “If I tried to do something like that it would be bad news. I felt like I was in another country.”

Gary Rinehart is actually one of Monsanto’s luckier targets. Ever since commercial introduction of its G.M. seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers. In a 2007 report, the Center for Food Safety, in Washington, D.C., documented 112 such lawsuits, in 27 states.

Even more significant, in the Center’s opinion, are the numbers of farmers who settle because they don’t have the money or the time to fight Monsanto. “The number of cases filed is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Bill Freese, the Center’s science-policy analyst. Freese says he has been told of many cases in which Monsanto investigators showed up at a farmer’s house or confronted him in his fields, claiming he had violated the technology agreement and demanding to see his records. According to Freese, investigators will say, “Monsanto knows that you are saving Roundup Ready seeds, and if you don’t sign these information-release forms, Monsanto is going to come after you and take your farm or take you for all you’re worth.” Investigators will sometimes show a farmer a photo of himself coming out of a store, to let him know he is being followed.

Lawyers who have represented farmers sued by Monsanto say that intimidating actions like these are commonplace. Most give in and pay Monsanto some amount in damages; those who resist face the full force of Monsanto’s legal wrath.

Scorched-Earth Tactics

Pilot Grove, Missouri, population 750, sits in rolling farmland 150 miles west of St. Louis. The town has a grocery store, a bank, a bar, a nursing home, a funeral parlor, and a few other small businesses. There are no stoplights, but the town doesn’t need any. The little traffic it has comes from trucks on their way to and from the grain elevator on the edge of town. The elevator is owned by a local co-op, the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator, which buys soybeans and corn from farmers in the fall, then ships out the grain over the winter. The co-op has seven full-time employees and four computers.

In the fall of 2006, Monsanto trained its legal guns on Pilot Grove; ever since, its farmers have been drawn into a costly, disruptive legal battle against an opponent with limitless resources. Neither Pilot Grove nor Monsanto will discuss the case, but it is possible to piece together much of the story from documents filed as part of the litigation.

Monsanto began investigating soybean farmers in and around Pilot Grove several years ago. There is no indication as to what sparked the probe, but Monsanto periodically investigates farmers in soybean-growing regions such as this one in central Missouri. The company has a staff devoted to enforcing patents and litigating against farmers. To gather leads, the company maintains an 800 number and encourages farmers to inform on other farmers they think may be engaging in “seed piracy.”

Once Pilot Grove had been targeted, Monsanto sent private investigators into the area. Over a period of months, Monsanto’s investigators surreptitiously followed the co-op’s employees and customers and videotaped them in fields and going about other activities. At least 17 such surveillance videos were made, according to court records. The investigative work was outsourced to a St. Louis agency, McDowell & Associates. It was a McDowell investigator who erroneously fingered Gary Rinehart. In Pilot Grove, at least 11 McDowell investigators have worked the case, and Monsanto makes no bones about the extent of this effort: “Surveillance was conducted throughout the year by various investigators in the field,” according to court records. McDowell, like Monsanto, will not comment on the case.

Not long after investigators showed up in Pilot Grove, Monsanto subpoenaed the co-op’s records concerning seed and herbicide purchases and seed-cleaning operations. The co-op provided more than 800 pages of documents pertaining to dozens of farmers. Monsanto sued two farmers and negotiated settlements with more than 25 others it accused of seed piracy. But Monsanto’s legal assault had only begun. Although the co-op had provided voluminous records, Monsanto then sued it in federal court for patent infringement. Monsanto contended that by cleaning seeds—a service which it had provided for decades—the co-op was inducing farmers to violate Monsanto’s patents. In effect, Monsanto wanted the co-op to police its own customers.

In the majority of cases where Monsanto sues, or threatens to sue, farmers settle before going to trial. The cost and stress of litigating against a global corporation are just too great. But Pilot Grove wouldn’t cave—and ever since, Monsanto has been turning up the heat. The more the co-op has resisted, the more legal firepower Monsanto has aimed at it. Pilot Grove’s lawyer, Steven H. Schwartz, described Monsanto in a court filing as pursuing a “scorched earth tactic,” intent on “trying to drive the co-op into the ground.”

Even after Pilot Grove turned over thousands more pages of sales records going back five years, and covering virtually every one of its farmer customers, Monsanto wanted more—the right to inspect the co-op’s hard drives. When the co-op offered to provide an electronic version of any record, Monsanto demanded hands-on access to Pilot Grove’s in-house computers.

Monsanto next petitioned to make potential damages punitive—tripling the amount that Pilot Grove might have to pay if found guilty. After a judge denied that request, Monsanto expanded the scope of the pre-trial investigation by seeking to quadruple the number of depositions. “Monsanto is doing its best to make this case so expensive to defend that the Co-op will have no choice but to relent,” Pilot Grove’s lawyer said in a court filing.

With Pilot Grove still holding out for a trial, Monsanto now subpoenaed the records of more than 100 of the co-op’s customers. In a “You are Commanded … ” notice, the farmers were ordered to gather up five years of invoices, receipts, and all other papers relating to their soybean and herbicide purchases, and to have the documents delivered to a law office in St. Louis. Monsanto gave them two weeks to comply.

Whether Pilot Grove can continue to wage its legal battle remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, the case shows why Monsanto is so detested in farm country, even by those who buy its products. “I don’t know of a company that chooses to sue its own customer base,” says Joseph Mendelson, of the Center for Food Safety. “It’s a very bizarre business strategy.” But it’s one that Monsanto manages to get away with, because increasingly it’s the dominant vendor in town.

Chemicals? What Chemicals?

The Monsanto Company has never been one of America’s friendliest corporate citizens. Given Monsanto’s current dominance in the field of bioengineering, it’s worth looking at the company’s own DNA. The future of the company may lie in seeds, but the seeds of the company lie in chemicals. Communities around the world are still reaping the environmental consequences of Monsanto’s origins.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a tough, cigar-smoking Irishman with a sixth-grade education. A buyer for a wholesale drug company, Queeny had an idea. But like a lot of employees with ideas, he found that his boss wouldn’t listen to him. So he went into business for himself on the side. Queeny was convinced there was money to be made manufacturing a substance called saccharin, an artificial sweetener then imported from Germany. He took $1,500 of his savings, borrowed another $3,500, and set up shop in a dingy warehouse near the St. Louis waterfront. With borrowed equipment and secondhand machines, he began producing saccharin for the U.S. market. He called the company the Monsanto Chemical Works, Monsanto being his wife’s maiden name.

The German cartel that controlled the market for saccharin wasn’t pleased, and cut the price from $4.50 to $1 a pound to try to force Queeny out of business. The young company faced other challenges. Questions arose about the safety of saccharin, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture even tried to ban it. Fortunately for Queeny, he wasn’t up against opponents as aggressive and litigious as the Monsanto of today. His persistence and the loyalty of one steady customer kept the company afloat. That steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.

Monsanto added more and more products—vanillin, caffeine, and drugs used as sedatives and laxatives. In 1917, Monsanto began making aspirin, and soon became the largest maker worldwide. During World War I, cut off from imported European chemicals, Monsanto was forced to manufacture its own, and its position as a leading force in the chemical industry was assured.

After Queeny was diagnosed with cancer, in the late 1920s, his only son, Edgar, became president. Where the father had been a classic entrepreneur, Edgar Monsanto Queeny was an empire builder with a grand vision. It was Edgar—shrewd, daring, and intuitive (“He can see around the next corner,” his secretary once said)—who built Monsanto into a global powerhouse. Under Edgar Queeny and his successors, Monsanto extended its reach into a phenomenal number of products: plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides. Its safety glass protects the U.S. Constitution and the Mona Lisa. Its synthetic fibers are the basis of Astroturf.

During the 1970s, the company shifted more and more resources into biotechnology. In 1981 it created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto scientists hit gold: they became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. “It will now be possible to introduce virtually any gene into plant cells with the ultimate goal of improving crop productivity,” said Ernest Jaworski, director of Monsanto’s Biological Sciences Program.

Over the next few years, scientists working mainly in the company’s vast new Life Sciences Research Center, 25 miles west of St. Louis, developed one genetically modified product after another—cotton, soybeans, corn, canola. From the start, G.M. seeds were controversial with the public as well as with some farmers and European consumers. Monsanto has sought to portray G.M. seeds as a panacea, a way to alleviate poverty and feed the hungry. Robert Shapiro, Monsanto’s president during the 1990s, once called G.M. seeds “the single most successful introduction of technology in the history of agriculture, including the plow.”

By the late 1990s, Monsanto, having rebranded itself into a “life sciences” company, had spun off its chemical and fibers operations into a new company called Solutia. After an additional reorganization, Monsanto re-incorporated in 2002 and officially declared itself an “agricultural company.”

In its company literature, Monsanto now refers to itself disingenuously as a “relatively new company” whose primary goal is helping “farmers around the world in their mission to feed, clothe, and fuel” a growing planet. In its list of corporate milestones, all but a handful are from the recent era. As for the company’s early history, the decades when it grew into an industrial powerhouse now held potentially responsible for more than 50 Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites—none of that is mentioned. It’s as though the original Monsanto, the company that long had the word “chemical” as part of its name, never existed. One of the benefits of doing this, as the company does not point out, was to channel the bulk of the growing backlog of chemical lawsuits and liabilities onto Solutia, keeping the Monsanto brand pure.

But Monsanto’s past, especially its environmental legacy, is very much with us. For many years Monsanto produced two of the most toxic substances ever known— polychlorinated biphenyls, better known as PCBs, and dioxin. Monsanto no longer produces either, but the places where it did are still struggling with the aftermath, and probably always will be.

“Systemic Intoxication”

Twelve miles downriver from Charleston, West Virginia, is the town of Nitro, where Monsanto operated a chemical plant from 1929 to 1995. In 1948 the plant began to make a powerful herbicide known as 2,4,5-T, called “weed bug” by the workers. A by-product of the process was the creation of a chemical that would later be known as dioxin.

The name dioxin refers to a group of highly toxic chemicals that have been linked to heart disease, liver disease, human reproductive disorders, and developmental problems. Even in small amounts, dioxin persists in the environment and accumulates in the body. In 1997 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, classified the most powerful form of dioxin as a substance that causes cancer in humans. In 2001 the U.S. government listed the chemical as a “known human carcinogen.”

On March 8, 1949, a massive explosion rocked Monsanto’s Nitro plant when a pressure valve blew on a container cooking up a batch of herbicide. The noise from the release was a scream so loud that it drowned out the emergency steam whistle for five minutes. A plume of vapor and white smoke drifted across the plant and out over town.Residue from the explosion coated the interior of the building and those inside with what workers described as “a fine black powder.” Many felt their skin prickle and were told to scrub down.

Within days, workers experienced skin eruptions. Many were soon diagnosed with chloracne, a condition similar to common acne but more severe, longer lasting, and potentially disfiguring. Others felt intense pains in their legs, chest, and trunk. A confidential medical report at the time said the explosion “caused a systemic intoxication in the workers involving most major organ systems.” Doctors who examined four of the most seriously injured men detected a strong odor coming from them when they were all together in a closed room. “We believe these men are excreting a foreign chemical through their skins,” the confidential report to Monsanto noted. Court records indicate that 226 plant workers became ill.

According to court documents that have surfaced in a West Virginia court case, Monsanto downplayed the impact, stating that the contaminant affecting workers was “fairly slow acting” and caused “only an irritation of the skin.”

In the meantime, the Nitro plant continued to produce herbicides, rubber products, and other chemicals. In the 1960s, the factory manufactured Agent Orange, the powerful herbicide which the U.S. military used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, and which later was the focus of lawsuits by veterans contending that they had been harmed by exposure. As with Monsanto’s older herbicides, the manufacturing of Agent Orange created dioxin as a by-product.

As for the Nitro plant’s waste, some was burned in incinerators, some dumped in landfills or storm drains, some allowed to run into streams. As Stuart Calwell, a lawyer who has represented both workers and residents in Nitro, put it, “Dioxin went wherever the product went, down the sewer, shipped in bags, and when the waste was burned, out in the air.”

In 1981 several former Nitro employees filed lawsuits in federal court, charging that Monsanto had knowingly exposed them to chemicals that caused long-term health problems, including cancer and heart disease. They alleged that Monsanto knew that many chemicals used at Nitro were potentially harmful, but had kept that information from them. On the eve of a trial, in 1988, Monsanto agreed to settle most of the cases by making a single lump payment of $1.5 million. Monsanto also agreed to drop its claim to collect $305,000 in court costs from six retired Monsanto workers who had unsuccessfully charged in another lawsuit that Monsanto had recklessly exposed them to dioxin. Monsanto had attached liens to the retirees’ homes to guarantee collection of the debt.

Monsanto stopped producing dioxin in Nitro in 1969, but the toxic chemical can still be found well beyond the Nitro plant site. Repeated studies have found elevated levels of dioxin in nearby rivers, streams, and fish. Residents have sued to seek damages from Monsanto and Solutia. Earlier this year, a West Virginia judge merged those lawsuits into a class-action suit. A Monsanto spokesman said, “We believe the allegations are without merit and we’ll defend ourselves vigorously.” The suit will no doubt take years to play out. Time is one thing that Monsanto always has, and that the plaintiffs usually don’t.

Poisoned Lawns

Five hundred miles to the south, the people of Anniston, Alabama, know all about what the people of Nitro are going through. They’ve been there. In fact, you could say, they’re still there.

From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto’s Anniston works produced PCBs as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment. One of the wonder chemicals of the 20th century, PCBs were exceptionally versatile and fire-resistant, and became central to many American industries as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, and sealants. But PCBs are toxic. A member of a family of chemicals that mimic hormones, PCBs have been linked to damage in the liver and in the neurological, immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, now classify PCBs as “probable carcinogens.”

Today, 37 years after PCB production ceased in Anniston, and after tons of contaminated soil have been removed to try to reclaim the site, the area around the old Monsanto plant remains one of the most polluted spots in the U.S.

People in Anniston find themselves in this fix today largely because of the way Monsanto disposed of PCB waste for decades. Excess PCBs were dumped in a nearby open-pit landfill or allowed to flow off the property with storm water. Some waste was poured directly into Snow Creek, which runs alongside the plant and empties into a larger stream, Choccolocco Creek. PCBs also turned up in private lawns after the company invited Anniston residents to use soil from the plant for their lawns, according to The Anniston Star.

So for decades the people of Anniston breathed air, planted gardens, drank from wells, fished in rivers, and swam in creeks contaminated with PCBs—without knowing anything about the danger. It wasn’t until the 1990s—20 years after Monsanto stopped making PCBs in Anniston—that widespread public awareness of the problem there took hold.

Studies by health authorities consistently found elevated levels of PCBs in houses, yards, streams, fields, fish, and other wildlife—and in people. In 2003, Monsanto and Solutia entered into a consent decree with the E.P.A. to clean up Anniston. Scores of houses and small businesses were to be razed, tons of contaminated soil dug up and carted off, and streambeds scooped of toxic residue. The cleanup is under way, and it will take years, but some doubt it will ever be completed—the job is massive. To settle residents’ claims, Monsanto has also paid $550 million to 21,000 Anniston residents exposed to PCBs, but many of them continue to live with PCBs in their bodies. Once PCB is absorbed into human tissue, there it forever remains.

Monsanto shut down PCB production in Anniston in 1971, and the company ended all its American PCB operations in 1977. Also in 1977, Monsanto closed a PCB plant in Wales. In recent years, residents near the village of Groesfaen, in southern Wales, have noticed vile odors emanating from an old quarry outside the village. As it turns out, Monsanto had dumped thousands of tons of waste from its nearby PCB plant into the quarry. British authorities are struggling to decide what to do with what they have now identified as among the most contaminated places in Britain.

“No Cause for Public Alarm”

What had Monsanto known—or what should it have known—about the potential dangers of the chemicals it was manufacturing? There’s considerable documentation lurking in court records from many lawsuits indicating that Monsanto knew quite a lot. Let’s look just at the example of PCBs.

The evidence that Monsanto refused to face questions about their toxicity is quite clear. In 1956 the company tried to sell the navy a hydraulic fluid for its submarines called Pydraul 150, which contained PCBs. Monsanto supplied the navy with test results for the product. But the navy decided to run its own tests. Afterward, navy officials informed Monsanto that they wouldn’t be buying the product. “Applications of Pydraul 150 caused death in all of the rabbits tested” and indicated “definite liver damage,” navy officials told Monsanto, according to an internal Monsanto memo divulged in the course of a court proceeding. “No matter how we discussed the situation,” complained Monsanto’s medical director, R. Emmet Kelly, “it was impossible to change their thinking that Pydraul 150 is just too toxic for use in submarines.”

Ten years later, a biologist conducting studies for Monsanto in streams near the Anniston plant got quick results when he submerged his test fish. As he reported to Monsanto, according to The Washington Post, “All 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3½ minutes.”

When the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) turned up high levels of PCBs in fish near the Anniston plant in 1970, the company swung into action to limit the P.R. damage. An internal memo entitled “confidential—f.y.i. and destroy” from Monsanto official Paul B. Hodges reviewed steps under way to limit disclosure of the information. One element of the strategy was to get public officials to fight Monsanto’s battle: “Joe Crockett, Secretary of the Alabama Water Improvement Commission, will try to handle the problem quietly without release of the information to the public at this time,” according to the memo.

Despite Monsanto’s efforts, the information did get out, but the company was able to blunt its impact. Monsanto’s Anniston plant manager “convinced” a reporter for The Anniston Star that there was really nothing to worry about, and an internal memo from Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis summarized the story that subsequently appeared in the newspaper: “Quoting both plant management and the Alabama Water Improvement Commission, the feature emphasized the PCB problem was relatively new, was being solved by Monsanto and, at this point, was no cause for public alarm.”

In truth, there was enormous cause for public alarm. But that harm was done by the “Original Monsanto Company,” not “Today’s Monsanto Company” (the words and the distinction are Monsanto’s). The Monsanto of today says that it can be trusted—that its biotech crops are “as wholesome, nutritious and safe as conventional crops,” and that milk from cows injected with its artificial growth hormone is the same as, and as safe as, milk from any other cow.

The Milk Wars

Jeff Kleinpeter takes very good care of his dairy cows. In the winter he turns on heaters to warm their barns. In the summer, fans blow gentle breezes to cool them, and on especially hot days, a fine mist floats down to take the edge off Louisiana’s heat. The dairy has gone “to the ultimate end of the earth for cow comfort,” says Kleinpeter, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Baton Rouge. He says visitors marvel at what he does: “I’ve had many of them say, ‘When I die, I want to come back as a Kleinpeter cow.’ ”

Monsanto would like to change the way Jeff Kleinpeter and his family do business. Specifically, Monsanto doesn’t like the label on Kleinpeter Dairy’s milk cartons: “From Cows Not Treated with rBGH.” To consumers, that means the milk comes from cows that were not given artificial bovine growth hormone, a supplement developed by Monsanto that can be injected into dairy cows to increase their milk output.

No one knows what effect, if any, the hormone has on milk or the people who drink it. Studies have not detected any difference in the quality of milk produced by cows that receive rBGH, or rBST, a term by which it is also known. But Jeff Kleinpeter—like millions of consumers—wants no part of rBGH. Whatever its effect on humans, if any, Kleinpeter feels certain it’s harmful to cows because it speeds up their metabolism and increases the chances that they’ll contract a painful illness that can shorten their lives. “It’s like putting a Volkswagen car in with the Indianapolis 500 racers,” he says. “You gotta keep the pedal to the metal the whole way through, and pretty soon that poor little Volkswagen engine’s going to burn up.”

Kleinpeter Dairy has never used Monsanto’s artificial hormone, and the dairy requires other dairy farmers from whom it buys milk to attest that they don’t use it, either. At the suggestion of a marketing consultant, the dairy began advertising its milk as coming from rBGH-free cows in 2005, and the label began appearing on Kleinpeter milk cartons and in company literature, including a new Web site of Kleinpeter products that proclaims, “We treat our cows with love … not rBGH.”

The dairy’s sales soared. For Kleinpeter, it was simply a matter of giving consumers more information about their product.

But giving consumers that information has stirred the ire of Monsanto. The company contends that advertising by Kleinpeter and other dairies touting their “no rBGH” milk reflects adversely on Monsanto’s product. In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in February 2007, Monsanto said that, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that there is no difference in the milk from cows treated with its product, “milk processors persist in claiming on their labels and in advertisements that the use of rBST is somehow harmful, either to cows or to the people who consume milk from rBST-supplemented cows.”

Monsanto called on the commission to investigate what it called the “deceptive advertising and labeling practices” of milk processors such as Kleinpeter, accusing them of misleading consumers “by falsely claiming that there are health and safety risks associated with milk from rBST-supplemented cows.” As noted, Kleinpeter does not make any such claims—he simply states that his milk comes from cows not injected with rBGH.

Monsanto’s attempt to get the F.T.C. to force dairies to change their advertising was just one more step in the corporation’s efforts to extend its reach into agriculture. After years of scientific debate and public controversy, the F.D.A. in 1993 approved commercial use of rBST, basing its decision in part on studies submitted by Monsanto. That decision allowed the company to market the artificial hormone. The effect of the hormone is to increase milk production, not exactly something the nation needed then—or needs now. The U.S. was actually awash in milk, with the government buying up the surplus to prevent a collapse in prices.

Monsanto began selling the supplement in 1994 under the name Posilac. Monsanto acknowledges that the possible side effects of rBST for cows include lameness, disorders of the uterus, increased body temperature, digestive problems, and birthing difficulties. Veterinary drug reports note that “cows injected with Posilac are at an increased risk for mastitis,” an udder infection in which bacteria and pus may be pumped out with the milk. What’s the effect on humans? The F.D.A. has consistently said that the milk produced by cows that receive rBGH is the same as milk from cows that aren’t injected: “The public can be confident that milk and meat from BST-treated cows is safe to consume.” Nevertheless, some scientists are concerned by the lack of long-term studies to test the additive’s impact, especially on children. A Wisconsin geneticist, William von Meyer, observed that when rBGH was approved the longest study on which the F.D.A.’s approval was based covered only a 90-day laboratory test with small animals. “But people drink milk for a lifetime,” he noted. Canada and the European Union have never approved the commercial sale of the artificial hormone. Today, nearly 15 years after the F.D.A. approved rBGH, there have still been no long-term studies “to determine the safety of milk from cows that receive artificial growth hormone,” says Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist for Consumers Union. Not only have there been no studies, he adds, but the data that does exist all comes from Monsanto. “There is no scientific consensus about the safety,” he says.

However F.D.A. approval came about, Monsanto has long been wired into Washington. Michael R. Taylor was a staff attorney and executive assistant to the F.D.A. commissioner before joining a law firm in Washington in 1981, where he worked to secure F.D.A. approval of Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone before returning to the F.D.A. as deputy commissioner in 1991. Dr. Michael A. Friedman, formerly the F.D.A.’s deputy commissioner for operations, joined Monsanto in 1999 as a senior vice president. Linda J. Fisher was an assistant administrator at the E.P.A. when she left the agency in 1993. She became a vice president of Monsanto, from 1995 to 2000, only to return to the E.P.A. as deputy administrator the next year. William D. Ruckelshaus, former E.P.A. administrator, and Mickey Kantor, former U.S. trade representative, each served on Monsanto’s board after leaving government. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas was an attorney in Monsanto’s corporate-law department in the 1970s. He wrote the Supreme Court opinion in a crucial G.M.-seed patent-rights case in 2001 that benefited Monsanto and all G.M.-seed companies. Donald Rumsfeld never served on the board or held any office at Monsanto, but Monsanto must occupy a soft spot in the heart of the former defense secretary. Rumsfeld was chairman and C.E.O. of the pharmaceutical maker G. D. Searle & Co. when Monsanto acquired Searle in 1985, after Searle had experienced difficulty in finding a buyer. Rumsfeld’s stock and options in Searle were valued at $12 million at the time of the sale.

From the beginning some consumers have consistently been hesitant to drink milk from cows treated with artificial hormones. This is one reason Monsanto has waged so many battles with dairies and regulators over the wording of labels on milk cartons. It has sued at least two dairies and one co-op over labeling.

Critics of the artificial hormone have pushed for mandatory labeling on all milk products, but the F.D.A. has resisted and even taken action against some dairies that labeled their milk “BST-free.” Since BST is a natural hormone found in all cows, including those not injected with Monsanto’s artificial version, the F.D.A. argued that no dairy could claim that its milk is BST-free. The F.D.A. later issued guidelines allowing dairies to use labels saying their milk comes from “non-supplemented cows,” as long as the carton has a disclaimer saying that the artificial supplement does not in any way change the milk. So the milk cartons from Kleinpeter Dairy, for example, carry a label on the front stating that the milk is from cows not treated with rBGH, and the rear panel says, “Government studies have shown no significant difference between milk derived from rBGH-treated and non-rBGH-treated cows.” That’s not good enough for Monsanto.

The Next Battleground

As more and more dairies have chosen to advertise their milk as “No rBGH,” Monsanto has gone on the offensive. Its attempt to force the F.T.C. to look into what Monsanto called “deceptive practices” by dairies trying to distance themselves from the company’s artificial hormone was the most recent national salvo. But after reviewing Monsanto’s claims, the F.T.C.’s Division of Advertising Practices decided in August 2007 that a “formal investigation and enforcement action is not warranted at this time.” The agency found some instances where dairies had made “unfounded health and safety claims,” but these were mostly on Web sites, not on milk cartons. And the F.T.C. determined that the dairies Monsanto had singled out all carried disclaimers that the F.D.A. had found no significant differences in milk from cows treated with the artificial hormone.

Blocked at the federal level, Monsanto is pushing for action by the states. In the fall of 2007, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary, Dennis Wolff, issued an edict prohibiting dairies from stamping milk containers with labels stating their products were made without the use of the artificial hormone. Wolff said such a label implies that competitors’ milk is not safe, and noted that non-supplemented milk comes at an unjustified higher price, arguments that Monsanto has frequently made. The ban was to take effect February 1, 2008.
Wolff’s action created a firestorm in Pennsylvania (and beyond) from angry consumers. So intense was the outpouring of e-mails, letters, and calls that Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell stepped in and reversed his agriculture secretary, saying, “The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced.”

On this issue, the tide may be shifting against Monsanto. Organic dairy products, which don’t involve rBGH, are soaring in popularity. Supermarket chains such as Kroger, Publix, and Safeway are embracing them. Some other companies have turned away from rBGH products, including Starbucks, which has banned all milk products from cows treated with rBGH. Although Monsanto once claimed that an estimated 30 percent of the nation’s dairy cows were injected with rBST, it’s widely believed that today the number is much lower.

But don’t count Monsanto out. Efforts similar to the one in Pennsylvania have been launched in other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, and Missouri. A Monsanto-backed group called afact—American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology—has been spearheading efforts in many of these states. afact describes itself as a “producer organization” that decries “questionable labeling tactics and activism” by marketers who have convinced some consumers to “shy away from foods using new technology.” afact reportedly uses the same St. Louis public-relations firm, Osborn & Barr, employed by Monsanto. An Osborn & Barr spokesman told The Kansas City Star that the company was doing work for afact on a pro bono basis.

Even if Monsanto’s efforts to secure across-the-board labeling changes should fall short, there’s nothing to stop state agriculture departments from restricting labeling on a dairy-by-dairy basis. Beyond that, Monsanto also has allies whose foot soldiers will almost certainly keep up the pressure on dairies that don’t use Monsanto’s artificial hormone. Jeff Kleinpeter knows about them, too.

He got a call one day from the man who prints the labels for his milk cartons, asking if he had seen the attack on Kleinpeter Dairy that had been posted on the Internet. Kleinpeter went online to a site called StopLabelingLies, which claims to “help consumers by publicizing examples of false and misleading food and other product labels.” There, sure enough, Kleinpeter and other dairies that didn’t use Monsanto’s product were being accused of making misleading claims to sell their milk.

There was no address or phone number on the Web site, only a list of groups that apparently contribute to the site and whose issues range from disparaging organic farming to downplaying the impact of global warming. “They were criticizing people like me for doing what we had a right to do, had gone through a government agency to do,” says Kleinpeter. “We never could get to the bottom of that Web site to get that corrected.”

As it turns out, the Web site counts among its contributors Steven Milloy, the “junk science” commentator for FoxNews.com and operator of junkscience.com, which claims to debunk “faulty scientific data and analysis.” It may come as no surprise that earlier in his career, Milloy, who calls himself the “junkman,” was a registered lobbyist for Monsanto.

Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are Vanity Fair contributing editors.

*******************
UPDATE:

Monsanto Wins Supreme Court Case: Genetically Modified Alfalfa Ban Lifted

06-21-10

WASHINGTON (AP)-- The Supreme Court on Monday lifted a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa seeds, despite claims they might harm the environment.

In a 7-1 vote Monday, the court reversed a federal appeals court ruling that had prohibited Monsanto Co. from selling alfalfa seeds because are resistant to the popular weed killer Roundup.

The U.S. Agriculture Department must now decide whether to allow the genetically-modified seeds to be planted. It had earlier approved the seeds, but courts in California and Oregon said USDA did not look hard enough at whether the seeds would eventually share their genes with other crops.

"This Supreme Court ruling is important for every American farmer, not just alfalfa growers," said David F. Snively, Monsanto's senior vice president and general counsel. "All growers can rely on the expertise of USDA, and trust that future challenges to biotech approvals must now be based on scientific facts, not speculation."

A federal judge in San Francisco had barred the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa nationwide until the government could adequately study the crop's potential impact on organic and conventional varieties.

St. Louis-based Monsanto argued that the ban was too broad and was based on the assumption that their products were harmful. Opponents of the use of genetically engineered seeds say they can contaminate conventional crops, but Monsanto says such cross-pollination is unlikely.

"We agree that the District Court's injunction against planting went too far," said Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion.

Justice John Paul Stevens was the only justice to dissent. "It was reasonable for the court to conclude that planting could not go forward until more complete study ... showed that the known problem of gene flow could in reality be prevented," he said.

Alfalfa, which is used for livestock feed and can be planted in spring or fall, is a major crop grown on about 22 million acres in the U.S., Monsanto said in court papers. Monsanto's alfalfa is made from genetic material from bacteria that makes the crop resistant to Roundup.

Justice Stephen Breyer took no part in the case because his brother, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco, issued the initial ruling against Monsanto.

The case is Monsanto v. Geerston Seed Farms, 09-475