fracking

Meet The Couple Behind Pro-Fracking Front Groups in Colorado

Fracking in Northern Colorado A fracking operation in Colorado[/caption] A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered close ties between a Colorado political couple and at least six oil and gas industry front groups that have been fighting  state regulations designed to protect the health of its citizens and the environment. The husband and wife team are ex-state senator and onetime Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Josh Penry and his wife, founder of republican PR and fundraising firm Starboard Group, Kristin Strohm. Colorado has emerged as a key battleground in the national debate over shale drilling and fracking. The state’s oil and gas industry has over 50,000 hydraulically fractured wells, and plans to drill many thousands more every year into the foreseeable future. These wells have caused severe water and air pollution problems, and have sparked a grassroots movement against drilling and fracking across the state. Concern over pollution from fracking culminated in a series of local laws to ban or regulate fracking, efforts that sent shockwaves through the shale industry. To combat the growing threat of local control over drilling practices, the shale industry began funding political strategies to undermine local action against drilling. Enter Penry and Strohm, who who helped develop the shale industry’s sophisticated astroturf campaign strategy that was created in concert with legal strategies to override popularly-supported local drilling restrictions. (Astroturf is a term used to describe fake “grassroots” groups that are conceived and paid for by corporations or public relations firms to advance a business or political interest.)

Penry photo

Josh Penry

Josh Penry has strong connections to both Colorado politics and the oil and gas industry. He became the youngest person ever elected to the state Senate in 2006. While a state senator, he sponsored and passed legislation designed to benefit the drilling industry by boosting the use of gas-fired electric power plants. His biggest achievement was HB 1365, a bill designed to help Xcel Energy build gas-fired power plants. The bill was called the ”Clean Air Clean Jobs Bill,” and sold as a boon for the environment because it eased the transition from coal fired power to gas fired power. However, Penry made the intentions behind the legislation clear by promising a 15% increase in gas drilling in the state if the bill was passed. Josh Penry is apparently unconcerned about the enormous contribution that gas extraction and combustion makes to climate change, explaining during a debate that it doesn’t "keep [him] up at night." However, studies of highly fracked areas in Colorado raise alarms for the climate. One recent study of the Front Range drilling area in Colorado found a methane leakage rate of 19.3 tons per hour. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, at least 86 times as powerful as CO2 at disrupting the climate. After surprising his staff and supporters by backing out of the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2009 and serving out his time as State Senator, Penry became Vice President of EIS Solutions, a public relations and political strategy consulting firm that specializes in “grassroots coalition building.” The group has been a key cog in the fracking industry’s pushback against community resistance and the state of Colorado’s gas regulations. EIS advertises their ability to create a “path to advocacy.” In practical terms, this means EIS will create non-profit and fake grassroots groups to give the illusion of widespread public support for oil and gas drilling. EIS has been criticized for repeatedly stepping outside of respectable practices, including one case in 2013 when they were caught faking signatures on an anti-regulation petition. EIS has long standing contracts with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the leading industry lobbying group in the state. A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered the following non-profit front groups tied to EIS solutions: Colorado Liberty Alliance - shares a phone number with EIS phone, and advocates against local control. Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale - shares an address with EIS solutions and promotes drilling. Grow Our Western Economy - has an EIS Solutions phone number and the chairman is former EIS Solutions employee, now president of the Koch Brothers front group Americans for Prosperity, Justin Zvonek. The group attacks people who promote local control over drilling. The groups listed above represents only those created by EIS employees that have registered as non-profits. EIS also creates groups that have not registered as tax-exempt non-profits, thereby avoiding reporting requirements.

 Vital for Colorado

One such group is Vital for Colorado, a well-funded and highly active pro-fracking front group. While the Vital for Colorado website makes no direct mention of Penry, he serves as spokesman and strategist for the group, and coordinates messaging with other anti-regulation groups through Vital for Colorado. In September, Penry attended a meeting in Denver where he spoke to an audience of State Policy Network groups from around the country about the industry’s strategy to fight oil and gas drilling restrictions in Colorado. Josh Penry’s ties to Vital for Colorado run deep. Both EIS employee Dan Haley and Penry’s wife Kristin Strohm sit on the Advisory board of Vital for Colorado. Vital for Colorado’s website is registered to Charity Meinhart, a web developer that works for both EIS Solutions and Starboard Group according to her LinkdIn account.

. Strohm photo

Kristin Strohm

Kristin Strohm is the managing partner at her own pubic relations firm, Starboard Group. Strohm, who is an advisor for Vital for Colorado, has also set up other front groups that work in concert with Vital for Colorado to oppose drilling regulations. The Western Colorado Jobs Alliance and The Common Sense Policy Roundtable Forum  were created by Starboard Group to oppose local control over shale drilling and fracking. Both groups also publicly support Vital for Colorado, creating a seemingly independent network of reinforcing voices that oppose fracking regulations, while being centrally coordinated by Strohm and Penry. Strohm worked for Penry in his run for State Senate in 2006. Penry and Strohm married in 2012, shortly after his divorce from his wife, whom he had married in 1999.

Ties to the Koch Brothers

The Penry and Strohm team both have connections to the national effort to reduce regulation on the oil industry through the creation of front groups, bottom-lined by oil and gas billionaires Charles and David Koch. Kristin Strohm has successfully solicited major funding from the Kochs. While Strohm was the finance director for Mike Coffman’s congressional campaign, Coffman benefited from ads run by Americans for Prosperity supporting his campaign. Through Strohm, he also received the maximum possible donation allowed by law from David Koch. Starboard Group’s website boasts of working for the Koch Brothers' flagship front group, Americans for Prosperity. Strohm has also hired former Koch Interns to the Starboard Group. A former director of the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a front group created by Strohm, attended the secretive 2010 Koch strategy meeting in Aspen. Penry’s EIS Solutions also has close ties to the Koch network. The director for Colorado’s Americans For Prosperity chapter is a former EIS Solutions employee, Dustin Zvonek. Like the other front groups in Penry’s orbit, Zvonek and AFP have been consistently working against local control of drilling regulations.

Martin O'Malley's Dark Money Group has Secret Meeting with Fracking Lobbyists

Martin O'Malley at a newDEAL meeting

Last week in Washington DC, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s political dark money group met with corporate funders at the DC headquarters of the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). ANGA is the lead lobby group for the fracking and shale industry, with a budget of $69 million in 2012. O’Malley’s group is called newDEAL, which describes itself as a “national network searching the country for state and local elected leaders who are pro-growth progressives to help them share their innovative ideas.” I found out about the meeting when I was forwarded an invitation. When I replied to a RSVP, I was initially sent a welcoming “see ya there” from Lauren Wessler, the organizer for the event. Wessler works for Helen Milby, who runs HM&CO, a fundraising group that connects corporations with legislators. Her work has been described as “To communicate behind the scenes with power brokers in government and in the corporate world, and create events so that they can come together to make exchanges of money and influence.” O’Malley created newDEAL with Alaska Senator Mark Begich, and the group is co-chaired by democratic politicians Cory Booker, and CO Governor John Hickenlooper. They bill themselves as “pro-growth” democrats, but an expose by Lee Fang in Vice revealed that newDEAL was funded by some of the largest corporations in the US, the same corporations that provide the majority of funding to republican politicians. newDEAL funders include Comcast, Fluor, Merck, Microsoft, New York Life, Pfizer, Qualcomm, Verizon, Wal-Mart, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, among others, including, of course, the host of Tuesday's event, ANGA. Given the corporate connection, the newDEAL is an attempt to grow O’Malley and company’s political war chests with corporate dollars, more “deal” than “new.” A few hours after receiving confirmation of my RSVP, another email buzzed into my inbox from Lauren. Apparently she had made a mistake. “The room seats less people than I originally thought…So sorry,” read her retraction of my RSVP. Sounds fishy, but OK. Maybe there just isn’t enough space at the largest fracking lobbyists’ headquarters for a researcher from Greenpeace. But there are always those people who RSVP and don’t show, so I went to ANGA the day of the event, just in case they could squeeze me in. The O’Malley connection to ANGA is particularly interesting given the battle the gas industry is waging in his state. Fracking is still being studied in Maryland, and drillers have not yet started exploiting the shale that lies under parts of the state. Maryland is also home to Cove Point, a proposed Liquified Natural Gas export plant. The plant will be the 3rd LNG export plant fully permitted in the US according to most analysis. Cove Point was just conditionally approved by FERC, which just released an Environmental Impact Statement. FERC’s statement has been roundly criticized for missing key elements, such as climate impacts, community safety, marine impacts, and fracking.

Cove Point LNG

Cove Point has been particularly controversial because it would be located in a populated, residential area on the coast of Maryland. Assistant fire chief for the area Mickey Shymansky resigned after calling attention to the fire department’s inability to control a disaster at the plant. So, what does O’Malley’s financial relationship with ANGA change about the future of fracking and gas exports in Maryland? Alas, we were unable to find out. When I arrived at ANGA’s headquarters I told them my name and showed them my RSVP. The front desk person gave me a leery eye, and within minutes a large man named Pablo came out of an elevator bank and walked up to me. “You have to leave the premises.” he said. Why? I asked “They said that if you come in we aren’t allowed to let you up” He said. “Who is they?” I asked. “You know who” he said. “America’s Natural Gas Alliance?” “Yes” Pablo said “But I have an RSVP, did they say my name specifically” “yes” he said. O’Malley and company plan on using newDEAL to fund campaigns of like minded politicians, basically creating a money laundering dark money pipeline from corporate interests to campaign coffers. As Ruth Marcus said in her Washington Post editorial last week:

Big money is troubling; secret money is toxic. Having millions of dollars from outside groups pumped into elections distorts the democratic process. Not knowing what interests are behind those millions magnifies that distortion.

The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the 2012 election saw more than $250 million in political spending by nonprofit groups organized under 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, up from $86 million in 2008 and $3 million in 2004. Wonder how many of those millions was from the shale industry, looking to open Maryland for drilling? Or Wal-Mart, trying to erode minimum wage? Or Wall Street making sure limits on risky banking will not be enforced?

Halliburton/Koch Brothers lobbyist has cozy ties with North Carolina’s fracking commission

 

Fracking North Carolina:

In North Carolina, Halliburton and other fracking industry interests helped write a fracking chemical disclosure bill.  But when that bill ended up requiring disclosure of harmful chemicals to the state environmental agency, the bill was killed and replaced with one that further limited disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking.

cache of emails obtained by Greenpeace has revealed the cozy relationship between the hydraulic fracturing industry and North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission.

The Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) was set up after an errant vote by a state senator legalized fracking in North Carolina. Because the state had not seen oil and gas drilling in recent history, the Mining and Energy Commission was tasked with writing oil and gas regulations, specifically for fracking. The 15 members of the MEC propose regulations for fracking, which are then passed on to the North Carolina legislature to be turned into law.

Emails and meeting schedules from members of the North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission reveal how various fracking companies and national lobby groups, including America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), Energy in Depth (EID), Halliburton, and Koch Industries, influenced the Mining and Energy Commissioners, in regards to disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.

Halliburton’s Hand

Halliburton has played a significant role in shaping potential fracking regulations in North Carolina. In March of 2013, the Commissioners approved a chemical disclosure bill in committee which would have required fracking companies to disclose to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) the chemical ingredients in fracking fluid, many of which are extremely toxic. However, Halliburton, a major fracking services company, raised some reservations which killed the bill, as AP reporter Michael Biesecker confirmed:

In an interview with AP, Mining and Energy Commission Chairman Jim Womack acknowledged that before deciding to delay the vote, he spoke with a senior Halliburton executive.

Jim Womack
Jim Womack

“They indicated to me in a phone conversation that there may be other options than what was written in that rule,” Womack said.

The bill was taken off the agenda by Womack, and sent back to be rewritten by the chemical disclosure committee.
Commissioner Womack himself is not worried about water contamination from fracking. He once said:

“You’re more likely to have a meteorite fall from the sky and hit you on the head than you are to contaminate groundwater with fracking fluid percolating up from under the ground.”

Halliburton has always cast a long shadow over the MEC. Commissioner Vikram Rao was at Halliburton for over 30 years, ultimately as the company’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer.  He maintains a significant financial stake in Halliburton, and also has over $10,000 invested in BioLargo, a company involved in disposal of fracking wastewater.

Rao has also called the idea of disclosing the contents of frackfluid “a joke.”

Documents obtained by Greenpeace also reveal that the shale industry was close with one commissioner in particular.

George Howard, the pro-fracking conservationist

George Howard
George Howard

George Howard serves as vice chairman of the MEC, and as the chairman of the chemical disclosure committee, which is tasked with creating regulations for frack fluid and other fracking chemicals. He was appointed by North Carolina’s Senate President Pro-Tem Philip E. Berger to serve in one of two “conservation” slots on the MEC. Berger received $46,700 in campaign contributions from fracking interests between 2009 and 2011.

In his tenure as Mining and Energy Commissioner, George Howard has been a strong proponent of hydraulic fracturing. He has said that public fears around fracking are exaggerated and that responding to public pressure is “pandering.” He has also claimed “it is physically impossible for hydraulic fracturing – the full industry term for fracking – to contaminate underground aquifers.”

In addition to serving as commissioner for the MEC, Howard is the founder and CEO of Restoration Systems, an environmental remediation company. Through Restoration Systems, Howard has a significant financial stake in the fracking industry, including a multi-million dollar shale play project in Pennsylvania. Howard has also invested in the area of North Carolina most likely to be leased by fracking companies.

Howard is connected to other top regulators, especially John Skvarla, the Head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR), who was president of Restoration Systems before becoming an environmental regulator. DENR would be the agency responsible for enforcing fracking laws recommended by the MEC.

Halliburton/Koch Industries Lobbyist Pushed ALEC fracking bill

Documents obtained by Greenpeace include correspondence between George Howard and various representatives of the oil and gas industry during the creation of the first chemical disclosure bill. Howard had multiple meetings with the American Petroleum Institute (API) and spoke with high-ranking members of the American Natural Gas Association (ANGA). Howard specifically requested help from Energy In Depth (EID), an oil and gas front group run by the PR firm FTI Consulting and funded by the fracking industry. Howard asked Steve Everley, the spokesman for EID and an FTI Consulting operative, to help him prepare for a MEC meeting on chemical disclosure.

Bo Heath
Bowen Heath

Although George Howard met with and solicited information from multiple shale industry groups, one lobbyist was particularly influential.  Bowen Heath, who represents Halliburton, Koch Industries, and various other oil and gas interests for the lobbying firm McGuireWoods, had unparalleled access to the Commission. Emails reveal a chummy relationship between George Howard and Heath, who spent evenings together and went for beers in the afternoons.

Heath used that access to advocate for a fracking chemical disclosure system that allows generous exemptions for chemicals that companies deem “trade secrets.”

Heath provided a fracking chemical disclosure bill  to Howard that the shale industry and its political allies previously passed in Colorado. The Colorado bill was based on a model bill from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded group dedicated to passing legislation approved by ALEC’s corporate funders, including fracking companies like Chesapeake Energy. Bo Heath has longstanding ties to ALEC, and has attended ALEC annual meetings.

A New York Times investigation found that the Colorado chemical disclosure bill was the handiwork of one ALEC funder in particular, ExxonMobil.

As part of the push for the ALEC fracking bill passed in Colorado, Bo Heath arranged for Colorado ex-governor Bill Ritter to fly down to North Carolina to meet with George Howard and the MEC. The AP confirmed that Ritter’s fees and expenses were not paid by the MEC, and Bo Heath’s lobbying group refused to comment on Ritter’s funding.

Hallmarks of the ALEC fracking bill include generous exemptions from disclosure for “trade secrets,” and reliance on the FracFocus website for disclosing chemicals to the public. FracFocus’s operational costs are paid for by the oil and gas industry lobbying groups American Petroleum Institute (API) and America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). FracFocus was found to be “severely lacking” as a regulatory tool by a recent Harvard study.

Heath continued to advocate for the industry/ALEC approach to chemical disclosure, and even brought in a key member of FracFocus, Mike Paque. Paque is the executive director of the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC). The GWPC has long been an ally of the oil and gas industry, receiving funding from the American Petroleum Institute and other industry affiliates. Reports produced by GWPC are the backbone of the oil and gas industry’s claims about the safety of fracking. The GWPC also runs  the FracFocus website, and advocates for its use.

Taking up his drinking buddy's suggestion, George Howard selected Paque as an expert witness for the MEC. Paque presented the industry-funded FracFocus website in an unrecorded meeting on December 18, 2012.

The New Bill Further Limits Disclosure

In the end, even though the bill that George Howard passed through committee was shot down by Jim Womack and Halliburton, it contained most of what Bo Heath and other industry lobbyists wanted. It used the API, ANGA funded website FracFocus for disclosure of chemicals, and exempted chemicals deemed trade secrets from being disclosed to the public on that website. However, Halliburton killed the bill because it required disclosure of all chemicals to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The new bill, which has passed through the MEC committee and is headed for ratification in the State House of North Carolina, included a requirement to use the FracFocus website, following the ALEC fracking model legislation passed in multiple states. And like those states, trade secrets are not disclosed the state, or the public.

Obama's State of the Union speech riddled with oil industry talking points

Test your BS meter with this one question quiz:

 

Which part of Obama's State of the Union was written by the oil industry?

 

a) “America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades”
b) “natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
c) fracking for oil and gas can be "sustainable"
d) all of the above

 

The answer is literally, "all of the above."

 

During his State of The Union speech, President Obama said:

"The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades."

The phrase “all of the above,” which the president used in his 2012 State of the Union address as well, is the creation of the oil industry’s most powerful lobbying and public relations arm, the American Petroleum Institute (API). According to the New York Times, the phrase was introduced in 2000 by API to advocate for oil drilling. API’s position at the time was “that an effective national energy policy must, at a minimum, allow for all of the above.” API, proud of the hegemony of their ideas, actually predicted the president would champion the pro-fossil fuel message in this most recent State of the Union address, the day before the speech was given.

After The American Petroleum Institute debuted the phrase in 2000, it was quickly picked up by republicans with wells to drill. John Mccain made it a central part of his 2008 campaign for president. Republicans in the house and senate used it to promote offshore drilling. The former governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, now under federal indictment for corruption, listed the phrase on his campaign website.

ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in world history, continues to use the phrase in advertisements today.

XOM-ALL-OF-THE-ABOVE1
ExxonMobil advertisement touting "all of the above"

 

This isn't just etymological trivia. The use of oil industry talking points by the president indicates how ingrained and powerful the fossil fuel industry is in the U.S’s energy conversation.

It also casts a revealing light on other pro-fossil energy comments made by President Obama in the speech, like promoting “Energy Independence.” The idea is, if we allow oil and gas corporations to exploit our land and water to extract fossil fuels, it will benefit the average citizen by lowering energy prices and reducing dependence of “foreign” energy supplies. This is completely false, as Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil will tell you. The oil industry wants to sell it's product on an open market, to the highest bidder, no matter who that is. Currently there are plans for 25 Liquified Natural Gas export terminals in the US, and the American Petroleum Institute is spending millions of dollars to undo a decades old law that prohibits the export of crude oil. As more oil and gas is drilled from American soil and water, more gas and oil will be exported. We will continue to import oil and other goods from around the world, regardless of how much drilling happens in the U.S.

Another energy myth promoted by the Obama administration and the fossil fuel industry is natural gas as a bridge fuel to renewable energy.

The truth is that gas is primarily comprised of methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Some scientists believe that methane could be up to 105 times as destabilizing to the global climate as carbon dioxide. When fully burned, gas releases less CO2 than coal or oil, but currently huge amounts of methane are escaping unburned into the atmosphere. An increase in spending on gas infrastructure, like pipelines, Liquified Natural Gas export terminals, or vehicle refueling stations, is not a bridge to renewable energy. It is the same old fossil fuel infrastructure that poses serious threats to the earth’s climate and local environments. The U.S doesn’t need more spending on fossil fuels, it needs a real commitment to renewable energy, efficiency, and cutting carbon pollution.

Gas Pipeline Construction in Bradford
Gas Pipeline Construction in Bradford County, Pennsylvania

 

Dubious LNG exports study was conducted in secret by contractor with ties to coal and oil industries

A study on the economic effects of exporting gas fracked in the US has opened the door for what Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) have called “a transfer of wealth from consumers to oil and gas companies.”

The study was conducted in secret by NERA, a consulting company that has a history of producing industry funded studies that obscured the health effects of tobacco and coal.

This particular study, which focuses on the economic impacts of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG), was commissioned by the US Department of Energy, and will heavily influence the DOE’s decisions on the permitting of 15 proposed LNG export facilities.

Because of the way that exports of natural gas are regulated, the oil industry must convince the US Department of Energy that exporting America’s fracked gas is in the best interest of the country, in order for the DOE to approve any LNG export projects.

Alarmingly, the DOE kept the identity of NERA a secret from the public, and refused to answer Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by Greenpeace, as well as requests from senators’ offices.  The DOE’s excuse? According the DOE FOIA officer I spoke with, they didn’t want outside groups to “influence” the study.

It was Reuters that eventually revealed the identity of NERA, weeks before the DOE publicly released the the details of the contract.  Reuter’s credited “industry sources” for the information.

So to recap, the DOE refused to tell the public the identity of group conducting an extremely important study on natural gas exports, citing a desire to protect the contractor from “influence,” a tacit admission that these studies are somehow corruptible. Then we find out that the notoriously unscrupulous gas industry knew the identity of the contractor before the DOE announced it publicly - the same gas industry willing to use psychological warfare techniques on rural Pennsylvanians - and it was the industry that leaked the contractor’s identity to the press.

Now the study has come out, and surprise, surprise, it says everything the gas industry wanted to hear.  The NERA study supports the unlimited export of natural gas, which opens the door for the gas industry to sell fracked gas in foreign markets. Not only will that lead to higher gas prices here in the US, making fracking more profitable and therefore assuring the drilling of many more wells, but it also means more natural gas infrastructure, more methane leaks, and another blow to our already fragile climate. All the while increasing the profits of oil and gas corporations, like ExxonMobil.

According to NERA’s study:

"Across all these scenarios, the U.S. was projected to gain net economic benefits from allowing LNG exports. Moreover, for every one of the market scenarios examined, net economic benefits increased as the level of LNG exports increased. In particular, scenarios with unlimited exports always had higher net economic benefits than corresponding cases with limited exports."

Considering the DOE considers NERA to be vulnerable to outside influence, and we know the gas industry knew of NERA’s study before the public did, the NERA study and its results must be questioned.

When Frackers Write the Laws, Everyone Loses

Andrew Cuomo

When the oil and gas industry gets to write the rules supposed to govern them, public health and the public good are left by the wayside. Unfortunately that is exactly what is happening with the regulation of hydraulic fracturing in New York and other states.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has been accused of conspiring with the fracking industry to develop regulations that limit the states ability to oversee fracking.

Documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group show that industry representatives were given drafts of the state’s proposed regulations before they were released to the public.  Industry representatives then used the privileged information to lobby against commonsense rules, like testing for radioactivity in waste-water.

In other states, like Ohio, fracking laws written by corporate front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have already been passed.

Currently, the major federal environmental laws regulating hazardous waste, air pollution and water pollution all have significant loopholes and exemptions for fracking. This is because the fracking industry has fought hard to keep regulation at the state level, where it is easier to influence and harder to enforce. As a recent report by the OMB Watch illustrates, state laws, many of which may have been written by the fracking industry, have failed to protect public health.

For more on the environmental, public health, and community impacts of fracking, see Greenpeace’s recently updated fracking page.

We don’t want the oil and gas industry writing the laws that are supposed to regulate them.

Here's why:

The fracking industry does not have the health of the public in mind. As Josh Fox’s latest video discusses, the oil and gas industry continues to publicly deny that fracking leads to poisoned water wells, though internal industry documents show that they have acknowledged and attempted to address the problem (unsuccessfully). The industry has even deployed military personnel and tactics against Pennsylvanians, which one company executive referred to as “insurgents.” Frackers want cheap access to the hydrocarbons in the shale, which means externalizing environmental, public health, and community impacts.

The frackers don’t care about American jobs, the economy, or “energy independence.” One of the most popular talking points used by the oil and gas industry is summed up by the bumper sticker “drill here, drill now, pay less.” The idea being if we allow oil and gas corporations to exploit our land and water to extract fossil fuels, it will benefit the average citizen by lowering energy prices, reducing independence of “foreign” energy supplies, etc.  This is completely false, as Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil will tell you. Companies involved in fracking want to increase the price of natural gas by exporting it out of the country.  They want to sell it on an open market, to the highest bidder, no matter who that is.

The fracking industry’s short-sightedness hurts everyone involved, including themselves. When the fracking boom took off a few years ago, the oil and gas industry treated it like a gold rush. Companies like Chesapeake Energy put every dime they had into acquiring land and drilling wells, while taking out massive loans to finance the expansion. The frackers produced so much gas that gas prices dropped through the floor, to historically low prices. Right now, these companies are losing money and can’t even afford complete the wells they have already drilled. In Pennsylvania there are 5,000 wells awaiting completion, sitting idle, as their well casings deteriorate. Like the bankers responsible for the financial collapse, the fracking industry’s ravenous approach to drilling created a bubble, which the public will pay for with toxic water and a landscape ravaged by heavy industry.

How ALEC and Exxon Secretly Fracked North Carolina

Former EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt speaks at an ALEC event sponsored by ExxonMobil, among other dirty energy interests and Fortune 500 companies. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson through Bill Moyers.com)

Remember that controversial law last year, legalizing fracking in North Carolina after being vetoed by the state's governor? The law bears tell-tale signs of being written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group with ties to the fracking industry.

Like the Exxon-backed fracking loopholes in Ohio and numerous other states, the new North Carolina law contains the same "trade secrets" provisions that ensure the public will not have the right to know which chemicals gas frackers are pumping underground to retrieve shale oil and gas. The "trade secrets" provisions are key to ALEC's model bill in order to allow Exxon, Shell, Duke Energy and other ALEC member companies to more quickly extract, pipe and burn gas without having to bother with pesky transparency laws.

Here's a list of NC ALEC legislators who co-sponsored the bill legalizing fracking: S820 or HB1052 -- the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act"

  • Sen. Tom Apodaca
  • Sen. David Rouzer -- member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which created the frack fluid disclosure loophole bill with internal sponsorship by ExxonMobil.
  • Rep. Mike Hager
  • Rep. Tim Moffitt
  • Rep. Fred Steen -- ALEC's State Chairman in NC

Rep. Fred Steen co-sponsored the House version of the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act." Steen was ALEC's State Chair in North Carolina, and his job is to ensure ALEC models are introduced and, ideally for ALEC, passed. Rep. Steen was the only state legislator serving as State Chair in North Carolina (other states often have multiple legislators serving as co-chairs), and according to ALEC's tax forms, his position implies the following responsibilities (emphasis mine):

State Chairmen duties shall include recruiting new members, working to ensure introduction of model legislation, suggesting task force membership, establishing state steering committees, planning issue events, and working with the Private Enterprise State Chairman to raise and oversee expenditures of legislative 'scholarship' funds.

As ALEC's state chairman in NC at the time of this vote, Rep. Steen appointed a "Private Sector Co-Chairman" to help oversee ALEC activity in NC. In this case, Rep. Steen worked with North Dakota lobbyist Joel Gilbertson, who represents clients like AIG, PhRMA, and Crop Life America (a front group for pesticide and chemical fertilizer interests). Rep. Steen was listed on ALEC's website as its State Chairman since at least late 2008, suggesting that he has been re-appointed to that position at least once--a term lasts two years.

Ironically, co-sponsoring Rep. Mike Hager has been asked about his role in ALEC before, telling the Charlotte Business Journal that, "I'm not a big fan of model legislation." Apparently, keeping toxic chemicals secret from constituents is something Rep. Hager is a big fan of, in which case ALEC models are pretty useful. Rep. Hager has received $15,500 from oil, gas and electric utility interests in this election cycle, on top of $3,250 from his first successful election bid in 2010. One of the utilities donating to Rep. Hager is Duke Energy, his former employer, which operates natural gas pipelines that deliver to over 500,000 customers and is expanding gas generation at its power plants.

North Carolina's fracking loophole law has drawn attention from around the country, including a statement of support from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The new NC law barely overturned a veto by former Gov. Beverly Perdue, in a heartbreaking twist involving one Democratic legislator being bought out at the last minute and another accidentally voting in favor of the bill and refused the opportunity to correct her vote, something that is commonly acceptable when such a mistake is made. The Charlotte Observer explains:

Rep. Becky Carney, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County who opposes fracking, pushed the wrong button and accidentally voted with Republicans to override the veto. A maneuver by Wake County Republican Paul “Skip” Stam prevented her from changing her vote, giving the GOP a historic one-vote margin of victory. "It was a huge mistake,” Carney said afterward. “I take full responsibility.” Democrats denounced Stam’s quick parliamentary maneuver as a dirty trick that resulted in the passage of a landmark energy overhaul that could create a natural gas production industry in the state. [...] Carney said it was the first time in her 10-year legislative career that she pushed the wrong button on a vote. Mistaken votes are not uncommon and letting lawmakers change their votes is routine practice in the state legislature.

This local news clip posted by the Voter's Legislative Transparency Project, which tracks ALEC activity in North Carolina, includes more on Rep. Carney's error:

DeSmogBlog: Obama EPA Shut Down Weatherford, TX Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

Originally posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog.

The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX.

That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.

It was authored by Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist formerly on the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wyoming before departing from the latter for a job in the private sector working for Interralogic Inc. in Ft Collins, CO. 

This isn't the first time Thyne's scientific research has been shoved aside, either. Thyne wrote two landmark studies on groundwater contamination in Garfield County, CO, the first showing that it existed, the second confirming that the contamination was directly linked to fracking in the area.

It's the second study that got him in trouble.

"Thyne says he was told to cease his research by higher-ups. He didn’t," The Checks and Balances Project explained. "And when it came to renew his contract, Thyne was cut loose."

 

From Smoking Gun to Censorship: Range Resources Link

The Obama EPA's Weatherford, TX study was long-in-the-making, with its orgins actually dating back to a case of water contamination in 2010. The victim: Steve Lipsky. 

"At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane," the AP wrote

AP proceeded to explain that Lipsky had "reported his family's drinking water had begun 'bubbling' like champagne" and that his "well...contains so much methane that the...water [is] pouring out of a garden hose [that] can be ignited."

The driller in this case was a corporation notorious for intimidating local communities and governmental officials at all levels of governance: Range Resources. Range, in this case, set up shop for shale gas production in a "wooded area about a mile from Lipsky's home," according to the AP

As DeSmogBlog revealed in November 2011, Range Resources utilizes psychological warfare techniques as part of its overarching public relations strategy.

Due to the grave health concerns associated with the presence of methane and benzene in drinking water, the Obama EPA "ordered Range...to take steps to clean their water wells and provide affected homeowners with safe water," wrote the AP

Range's response? It "threatened not to cooperate" with the Obama EPA's study on fracking's link to water contamination. The non-cooperation lead to the Obama EPA suing Range Resources. 

It was during this phase of the struggle where things got interesting. As the AP explained,

Believing the case was headed for a lengthy legal battle, the Obama EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water wells. In the report obtained by the AP, Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources' nearby drilling operation.

Despite this smoking gun, everything was soon shut down, with the Obama EPA reversing its emergency order, terminating the court battle and censoring Thyne's report. The AP explained that the Obama EPA has "refused to answer questions about the decision."

"I just can't believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn't use it," Lipsky, who now pays $1,000 a month to have water hauled to his family's house, told the AP.

"Duke Study" Co-Author Confirms Veracity of Thyne's Study 

Robert Jackson, a Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke University and co-author of the "Duke Study" linking fracking to groundwater contamination did an independent peer review of Thyne's censored findings. He found that it is probable that the methane in Lipsky's well water likely ended up there thanks to the fracking process. 

Range predictably dismissed Thyne and Jackson as "anti-industry."

Americans Against Fracking: An "Unconscionable" Decision

Americans Against Fracking summed up the situation best in a scathing press release:

It is unconscionable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is tasked with safeguarding our nation’s vital natural resources, would fold under pressure to the oil and gas industry...It is again abundantly clear that the deep pocketed oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to protect its own interests, even when mounting scientific evidence shows that drilling and fracking pose a direct threat to vital drinking water supplies.

There's also a tragic human side to this tale. 

"This has been total hell," Lipsky told the AP. "It's been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life."

Photo CreditShutterStock | Aaron Amat

ALEC, CSG, ExxonMobil Fracking Fluid "Disclosure" Model Bill Failing By Design

Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.

Last year, a hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") chemical fluid disclosure "model bill" was passed by both the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It proceeded to pass in multiple states across the country soon thereafter, but as Bloomberg recently reported, the bill has been an abject failure with regards to "disclosure."

That was by design, thanks to the bill's chief author, ExxonMobil

Originating as a Texas bill with disclosure standards drawn up under the auspices of the Obama Administration's Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee rife with oil and gas industry insiders, the model is now codified as law in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Bloomberg reported that the public is being kept "clueless" as to what chemicals are injected into the ground during the fracking process by the oil and gas industry.

"Truck-Sized" Loopholes: Fracking Chemical Fluid Non-Disclosure by Design 

"Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August," explained Bloomberg. "Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms."

For close observers of this issue, it's no surprise that the model bills contain "truck-sized" loopholes

"A close reading of the bill...reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets," The New York Times explained back in April.

Disclosure Goes Through FracFocus, PR Front For Oil and Gas Industry

The model bill that's passed in four states so far mandates that fracking chemical fluid disclosure be conducted by FracFocus, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, claiming it has produced chemical data on over 15,000 fracked wells in a promotional video

The reality is far more messy, as reported in an August investigation by Bloomberg

"Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year," wrote Bloomberg. "The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy."

This moved U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) to say that FracFocus and the model bills it would soon be a part of make a mockery of the term "disclosure."

"FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure," she said.

"Fig leaf" is one way of putting it.

Another way of putting it is "public relations ploy." As Dory Hippauf of ShaleShock Media recently revealed in an article titled "FracUNfocusED," FracFocus is actually a PR front for the oil and gas industry.

Hippauf revealed that FracFocus' domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation - a front group for Chesapeake Energy. 

Given the situation, it's not surprising then that "companies claimed trade secrets or otherwise failed to identify the chemicals they used about 22 percent of the time," according to Bloomberg's analysis of FracFocus data for 18 states.

Put another way, the ExxonMobil's bill has done exactly what it set out to do: business as usual for the oil and gas industry.

Image Credit: ShutterStockbillyhoiler

Petroleum Broadcasting System's "Newshour" and the Merchants of Climate Doubt

Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog

There's an old German proverb that goes, "Whose bread I eat his song I sing."

Enter a recent spate of reportage by the Public Broadcasting System's (PBS) "Newshour." In a September 17 story titled, "Climate Change Skeptic Says Global Warming Crowd Oversells Its Message" (with a URL titled, "Why the Global Warming Crowd Oversells its Message") the Newshour "provided an unchecked platform for Anthony Watts, a virulent climate change denier funded by the Heartland Institute," as described by Forecast the Facts.

Forecast the Facts created a petition demanding that the "PBS ombudsman...immediately investigate how this segment came to be aired," stating that, "This is the kind of reporting we expect from Fox News, not PBS."

Very true, this is exactly the type of reporting we've come to expect out of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, a cable "news" network that provides a voice for right-wing propagandists on all policy issues, including climate change denial. But perhaps expectations are too high for PBS' "Newshour" and we should've expected exactly what we got: a friendly platform for the climate change denying merchants of doubt

What's at play here goes above and beyond a single bad story by "Newshour." Rather, it's a small piece and the result of an aggressive campaign that's been going on for nearly two decades to destroy public television in the public interest.

Based on the shift in how the "Newshour" has funded itself over the years, it's evident that the once-esteemed "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" streamed on the Public Broadcasting System has transformed PBS into what investigative reporter Greg Palast calls the "Petroleum Broadcasting System."

"Petroleum Broadcasting System" Sponsored by Chevron, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Et Al 

In an October 2010 story, Palast pointed out that the "Newshour" is funded by Chevron in critiquing its softball coverage of the BP oil disaster. This led him to refer to PBS as the "Petroleum Broadcasting System."

Above and beyond funding from Chevron, "Newshour" also lists Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), owned by Warren Buffett under the auspices of Berkshire Hathaway, as a sponsor. As previously reported here on DeSmog, BNSF - the second largest freight rail company in the U.S. behind Union Pacific - is a major transporter of tar sands infrastucture to the Alberta tar sands. It's also a major mover of coal being sent to coastal terminals and exported to Asia.

BNSF also inked a deal in June 2012 with U.S. Silica Holdings Inc. to "build and run a major warehousing operation...to store sand destined for the Eagle Ford Shale." The Texas-based Eagle Ford Shale basin, like all shale basins, requires vast amounts of fracking sand (aka sillica sand) in order to tap into the gas located deep within the shale reservoir. This sand predominantly comes from western Wisconsin's "sand land," as we explained in a recent short documentary.

The San Antonio Business Journal explained the situation in-depth:

The proposed facility, scheduled to open in early 2013, will be constructed on 290 acres of land the railroad purchased late last year. It will be able to store up to 15,000 tons of sand used by drillers during the hydraulic fracturing process to release oil and gas from dense shale rock.

The Fort Worth-based railway will haul up to 40,000 tons of silica sand and other products per month to San Antonio from U.S. Silica operations in Ottawa, Ill., and Rochelle, Ill.

To top it off, Buffett himself has major personal investments in Big Oil, as we've written about on DeSmog. As of August 2011, he owned 29.1 million shares of stock in ConocoPhillips, 421,800 shares of stock in ExxonMobil, and 7.777 million shares of stock in General Electric, all three of which are involved in various aspects of the tar sands extraction industry and the shale gas extraction industry.

In sum, BNSF is cashing in big time from the shale gas boom, the tar sands boom, and the coal export boom. 

Koch Industries - a major Heartland Institute funder and key behind its founding - has also funded PBS' "Nova" to the tune of $7 million. ExxonMobil has also provided funds to PBS' "Nova," "Nightly Business Report" and "Masterpiece Theatre." Both ExxonMobil and Koch Industries are among the top funders of the climate change denial machine.

The Plan: Cut Public Funding, Make PBS Rely on Fossil Fuel Industry Money

Looking at the situation more broadly, it's important to understand that PBS didn't always rely on fossil fuel industry largesse to keep itself afloat.

Rather, over the past two decades, PBS has been under attack by the Republican Party, with constant threats and a coordinated campaign to defund a network originally set up to be a public educational service via the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

As explained in a February 2011 ABC News story,

One of Newt Gingrich's first acts as speaker of the House in 1995 was to call for the elimination of federal funding for CPB, and for the privatization of public broadcasting. Neither attempt was successful, though it did keep the hot-button issue in the limelight for years. 

During the early 2011 budget debates, ABC explained that "The House Republicans' budget would rescind any funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which partially supports these two organizations -- for the remainder of the year, and zero out millions in funds after that."

President Barack Obama joined in on the attack on public television with his "bipartisan deficit commission" -- referred to as the "Catfood Commission" by FireDogLake -- calling for "eliminating funding for the CPB, estimating that it would save the government $500 million in 2015," ABC explained. His Republican Party opponent for the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney, has also called for the defunding of PBS.

Private funding of what was originally supposed to be a publicly-funded television station comes with its own agenda. This agenda departs from the mission set out by the 1967 Act, which deemed it "in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public...television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes" and said it "should be created...to afford maximum protection from extraneous interference and control."

The New York Times said it best in a May 2008 story: benevolent corporate underwriting of public television is "increasingly out of step with the...needs of corporations" as they don't "sponsor public television programs for purely philanthropic reasons."

Plenty of Money for PSYOPs Campaigns Abroad

Even PBS President Paula Kerger has internalized the message that the U.S. government is "broke," stating after the latest attempt to defund NPR by House Republicans, "While we understand the many difficult decisions appropriators must make and that the nation is facing challenging economic times, if enacted, such drastic cuts in federal funding could have a devastating effect on public television stations."

Far from being strapped for cash, though, the U.S. government has plenty of money to spend on overseas psychological operations (PSYOPs) campaigns around the world of the sort covered by DeSmog during the shale gas industry's PSYOPs revelation of November 2011.

Media scholar Bob McChesney explained this phenomenon in a March 2011 Democracy Now! appearance, during the middle of the previous round of PBS funding cuts debate in the U.S. House of Representatives:

You know, currently the United States spends roughly twice as much money bankrolling international broadcasting — Voice of America and the various Radio Martís and things like that — than it does paying for domestic public broadcasting and community broadcasting, roughly twice as much — $750 million, roughly, last year. And the idea of raising that and putting more propaganda out to sort of enhance the view of the United States vis-à-vis other nations of the world is entirely the wrong way to go. 

That $750 million is more than the $500 President Obama said the U.S. could save by slashing publicly-funded media. In leiu of public funding, American citizens are being shafted with fossil fuel-funded disinformation here at home, while subsidizing it with their tax dollars abroad. 

Unless we see big changes in funding for public television, it'll continue to be a standard operating procedure for outlets like PBS to transform into iterations of the newfangled "Petroleum Broadcasting System" - and to end where we began - play the game of "Whose bread I eat his song I sing."

Image Credit: Forecast the Facts

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