Fracking companies had extensive influence over a critical study of the groundwater impacts from fracking, according to insider documents released by Greenpeace. In 2010, amidst growing worries about the environmental impacts from fracking, Congress compelled the EPA to conduct a study. The study was supposed to be a definitive look at the issue, exploring if and how fracking contaminates groundwater supplies. That study was supposed to be released in 2012, but has been delayed until 2016. Documents released as part of Greenpeace investigation have found that the EPA was forced to rely on shale companies like Chesapeake Energy for data, funding, and access to fracking sites. The shale industry in turn constrained the study, limiting what could be studied and when. These constraints led to the eventual cancellation of perhaps the most important part of the study - the "prospective" section.
Industry Actions leads to the Cancellation of Science
When the EPA's study was first conceptualized, it was supposed to include retrospective and prospective portions. The retrospective pieces would examine data collected by the industry in the past. The prospective section was where new scientific study would be done. The prospective studies were supposed to take baseline data from groundwater in areas that had not yet been drilled, and compare them to samples taken after drilling and fracking occurred. This type of prospective study, which starts pre-fracking, has never been done before and represented a major advance in the scientific study of fracking's impacts. The prospective portions would be the most reliable way to determine whether oil and gas development contaminates surface water and nearby aquifers. One EPA scientist told Inside Climate News "The single most important thing you could do is prospective studies.” However, the EPA was reliant on two shale companies for access to areas that had not yet been fracked, an arrangement that led to the full cancellation of the entire prospective section of the EPA's study. Documents obtained by Greenpeace show that Chesapeake Energy, one of the companies that initially agreed to cooperate with the EPA on the prospective portions of the study, actually drilled wells at their prospective study site, before the EPA was able to collect baseline data. This effectively torpedoed the entire project, and attempts at replacing the location, originally in Louisiana, with one in Oklahoma, also ended in failure. The correspondence between Chesapeake and EPA includes a draft press release announcing the cancellation of the prospective study in Louisiana conducted with Chesapeake. The release blames the cancellation on "scheduling conflicts, " resulting in Chesapeake drilling the well before baseline data could be collected. The press release was jointly edited by EPA and Chesapeake, but never released to the public. The EPA would never publicly announce the cancellation of the prospective studies, and only after increased pressure from Greenpeace did they reference it's cancellation deep on the study's website. The second prospective study, to be conducted with Range Resources, has also been cancelled. The cancellation of the prospective pieces has had a major impact on the usefulness of the study. "We won’t know anything more in terms of real data than we did five years ago," said Geoffrey Thyne, a geochemist and a member of the EPA's 2011 Science Advisory Board, a group of independent scientists who reviewed the draft plan of the study. (from Inside Climate News)
Kids in Pennsylvania hold tap water contaminated by nearby shale drilling
Delay and Obstruct - Study attacked on all sides by Industry
The documents reveal a number of instances where the fracking industry delayed and obstructed the EPA’s attempts to study fracking. The industry waged an attack from every side, political, scientific, and procedural. As Sharon Kelly writes for Desmog, "Watered-down federal research weakens the possibility for future regulations. It also has been used to justify loopholes in federal environmental laws for the oil and gas industry." Kelly points out the 3 step process that various industries have employed to impact unwanted studies:
Step one: using a rhetoric of collaboration and “non-adversarial” relationships, the industry effectively establishes inside access to what otherwise should be an independent research process. This allows the industry to meddle with study methodologies, pick and chose its own favored experts, and distort findings. Step two: through inside access, the industry affords itself the authority to contest, after the fact, any findings that it is not able to water down on the front end. Step three: this access also allows industry the ability to impose infeasible methodological demands on the agency, slowing the process to a crawl and at times forcing the agency to give up trying to get answers to certain key questions.
This Pennsylvania resident's water changed color and taste after a fracked well was placed near her property.
Here is a list of findings from the documents:
- Chesapeake only allowed for baseline sampling after the fracking wells had initially been drilled, rather than beforehand, as EPA scientists preferred. Without having baseline data pre-drilling, the industry can claim that contaminates existed there before their drills pierced the aquifer. The Industry has claimed this in multiple cases where groundwater impacts from fracking have occurred.
- Chesapeake demanded the EPA reduce the depth of their study from 300 to 150 feet, and demanded that the EPA focus solely on the fracking stage, not drilling, completion, or other stages where contamination can occur.
- API and ANGA tried to have their own consultants shadow the EPA's scientists during the study. This proved to be distracting to the scientists conducting the study.
- At the same time, Chesapeake and Range, the two companies that were supposed to cooperating with EPA on the prospective study, were attacking other EPA studies of water contamination cases. While initially finding evidence of contamination from Chesapeake Energy wells in Pennsylvania and Range Resources wells in Texas, The EPA never pursued any regulatory action.
- Chesapeake was, as one EPA email put it “part of the team here” when it came to the water study.
- The Inspector General of the EPA tried to investigate “the EPA’s and states’ ability to manage potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing.” In response, pro-fracking Congressional representatives demanded the investigation “immediately end.”
As Neela Banerjee writes in Inside Climate News: "The industry balked at the scope of the study and sowed doubts about the EPA's ability to deliver definitive findings. In addition, concerns about the safety of drinking water conflicted with the Obama administration's need to spur the economy out of recession while expanding domestic energy production."
A Chesapeake drilling site warns of water contamination
Does Fracking Contaminate Water Supplies?
Studies conducted since the EPA’s study began have found evidence that fracking affects groundwater supplies. A 2013 Duke University study found that within a kilometer of fracking wells, methane concentration in drinking-water wells was 6 times higher than the surrounding area. A University of Texas-Arlington study from 2013 found elevated levels of arsenic and heavy metals in groundwater near fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale. See Greenpeace's fracking page for a list of groundwater contamination incidents.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
A 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 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.
“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 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.
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.
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:
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."
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.
Wake up and smell the frack fluid! But don't ask what's in it, at least not in Ohio, cause it's still not your right to know.
Ohio is in the final stages of making an Exxon trojan horse on hydrofracking into state law, and it appears that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) connected Exxon's lawyers with co-sponsors of Ohio Senate Bill 315: at least 33 of the 45 Ohio legislators who co-sponsored SB 315 are ALEC members, and language from portions of the state Senate bill is similar to ALEC's "Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act."
...disclosure of fracking fluids? On behalf of ExxonMobil?!
Frack fluids include unknown chemicals that gas drillers mix with sand and large amounts of water. The mixture is pumped underground at high pressure in order to retrieve gas and oil by fracturing shale formations. These are the chemicals that have caused widespread concern among residents near gas fracking operations, concerns echoed by doctors who don't know how to treat patients harmed by exposure to chemicals that oil companies keep secret. Oil companies like XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, the first company lined up to drill in Ohio's Utica shale.
Concern over unconventional energy like gas fracking may be the reason by Ohio SB 315 also addresses clean energy standards and drilling regulations. While the new law will allow doctors to obtain disclosure of fracking chemicals, it places a gag order on them...meaning some chemicals aren't disclosed to the public at all (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Instead, chemicals that subsidiaries of Big Oil use during fracking can remain exempt from public disclosure as "trade secrets," mirroring language of ALEC's model law.
What's most suspicious is that seven of the ten Ohio Senators co-sponsoring SB 315 are ALEC members, as are 26 of the 35 co-sponsoring Representatives.*
Among the co-sponsors are Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus and state Senator Troy Balderson. Senators Niehaus and Balderson are members of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which approved the fracking "disclosure" bill internally sponsored by ExxonMobil, modeled after a Texas bill (see New York Times and ProPublica).**
Four of the co-sponsors of SB 315 attended ALEC's meeting in Scottsdale, AZ, although it is unclear which (if any) of them may have been inside the EEA task force meeting the day that the fracking chemical loophole bill was discussed and approved:***
- Rep. Cheryl Grossman
- Rep. Casey Kozlowski
- Rep. Louis Terhar
- Rep. Andrew Thompson
Some co-sponsors became ALEC members in the lead up to ALEC's late 2011 meeting in Scottsdale, AZ, where the fracking disclosure loophole model bill was finalized by ALEC's Energy, Environmental and Agriculture task force. Emails between representatives of ALEC, the Ohio state government and Time Warner Cable's Ed Kozelek show that last-minute recruitment of new ALEC members before the Scottsdale meeting brought in three state legislators who ended out co-sponsoring SB 315 (PDF pp. 71-76): Rep. Lou Terhar, Rep. Brian Hill and Sen. Bob Peterson (who was appointed to the Ohio Senate in 2012).
Head spinning yet? Let's summarize:
- Exxon pushed the fracking loophole bill through ALEC's [anti]environment task force,
- A couple of key Ohio legislators directly involved in that task force brought the bill back home...
- ...and then a pile of Ohio legislators used ALEC's model to mold Exxon's Ohio fracking disclosure loopholes into state law!
Beyond their involvement in these ALEC task force meetings, Exxon and API were involved in the creation of a similar fracking bill through the Council of State Governments before the ALEC model even existed. As if being a Private Empire isn't enough...
ALEC, CSG, OMG!
ALEC isn't the only group that peddles corporate-written state laws, as DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn pointed out in a blog on state fracking bills and the "Council of State Governments." With direct financial support from Exxon, API, TransCanada and others, the Council of State Governments (CSG) drafted a similar fracking chemical "disclosure" bill two months before ALEC's was internally approved, although they both appear to be modeled off of a Texas law.
While one of the co-sponsoring Senators of Ohio SB 315, Troy Balderson, is a member of CSG Midwest's Energy Committee, Ohio politicians aren't part of the Suggested State Legislature (SSL) committee that vetted the Council's version of the fracking bill. Because of that disconnect and the overwhelming influence of ALEC politicians sponsoring SB 315, ALEC appears to be the keeper of Exxon's fracking secrets in Ohio.
Regardless of the varying influence of groups like ALEC and CSG forging Big Business state laws, ExxonMobil is getting what it wants. According to Don't Frack Ohio!--a project of 350:
- Fracking companies can hide which chemicals they use in the fracking process by calling them ‘trade secrets’. That means they are exempt from telling you what they put in your water. What little they do disclose is 60 days after drilling takes place, too late for communities to test to show what was in their water before drilling, rendering the disclosure meaningless.
- The gas industry pays nothing for the mess they create. Gov. Kasich’s minor tax on individual wells is offset by new tax breaks on property taxes and other giveaways, which means the gas industry will pay less in Ohio taxes than they do in any other state in the country.
- No citizen notification or input will be allowed on any part of the fracking industry. There is no public notice, no public comment, and no right to appeal for drill sites, pipelines, or compressor stations.
Ohio Governor John Kasich has numerous ties to ALEC and was "involved with ALEC in its formative years," but he called for SB 315 to include full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Senators replaced true disclosure requirements with Exxon's loopholes and ALEC Representatives decided to leave them.
ALEC secrecy in Ohio
ALEC legislators have found ways to make their moves harder to track in light of repeated exposure of ALEC's pollution of democracy in the United States over the last year, and sometimes existing state laws don't help. Ohio's financial disclosure forms for legislators specifically mention that expenses or reimbursements from ALEC conferences do not need to be publicly disclosed. In Ohio and other states, ALEC dodges lobby laws through corporate-funded "scholarship" programs that are thoroughly documented by the Center for Media and Democracy through open records requests.
People for the American Way and Progress Ohio report that ALEC's scholarship fund in Ohio is financed donations from the American Petroleum Institute, Duke Energy, Reynolds Tobacco, and other major corporations interested in buying the loyalty of Ohio lawmakers.
I'm sure you'd understand if you were in the same position. Sometimes steak and cigars are more important than energy that doesn't poison us.
*Cross-referenced between a list of ALEC legislators listed in an Aug. 9, 2011 email from the legislative aid of ALEC's Ohio State Chairman, Rep. John Adams, obtained through a public records request (see PDF pp. 82-84 and PFAW p.12).
**ALEC documents published by Common Cause show that Sen. Balderson was a member of ALEC's EEA task force throughout 2011, although Sen. Balderson did not attend the ALEC task force meeting last December in Pheonix, AZ, according to a staffer at his office over the phone, nor is he listed in emails obtained through a public records request as attending the previous meetings in New Orleans (Aug. 2011) or Cincinnati (Apr. 2011). Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus was a consistent member of ALEC's [anti]environment task force from August 2010-August 2011, the time period for which ALEC's EEA task force rosters are available. SB 315 co-sponsoring Representatives Carey, Damschroder and Derickson were all listed as members of ALEC's EEA task force as of August, 2011.
***Co-sponsors cross referenced with an email from ALEC Ohio State Chairman John Adams' legislative aid to Emily Petrovich of US Steel, dated 11/22/2011--eight days before the Scottsdale meeting (see PDF p. 138).
The annual State of the Union address is political theater at its best--millions of Americans tune in to watch the big wigs schmooze, applaud the President in partisan waves and reveal the administration's platform for the rest of the year. Entertaining as it can be, the State of the Union also gives frustrating examples of who is successfully framing the national debates in our country. This year it was obvious that Big Oil, particularly the American Petroleum Institute (API), is forcing the U.S. to adopt it's narrow idea of America's "energy future."
In fact, the President of the United States sounded a lot like the self-appointed President of U.S. Energy--API president and CEO Jack Gerard. Compare one of Jack Gerard's key talking points from his recent "State of American Energy" address with a line from Obama's State of the Union speech last night (emphasis added):
GERARD: "We need all of our resources—oil and natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuels and more."
OBAMA: "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy - a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs."
It appears that, after repeated circulation among oil lobbyists and their apologists in Congress, President Obama has bought into this "all of the above" nonsense, an empty rhetorical gesture designed to keep our country dependent upon dirty energy like synthetic tar sands crude oil and gas obtained through controversial hydraulic fracturing. The "all of the above" line has been promoted on the websites of the American Petroleum Institute as well as API's "Energy Tomorrow" blog, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers website and among members of Congress.
What Big Oil really means is that they'll continue to wave the carrot of clean energy in our faces as they push aggressively for increased oil and gas projects, subsidies and profits. This agenda infiltrates our government through the millions spent on Congressional campaign contributions and millions more on federal lobbying, and infiltrates the American public through expensive advertising campaigns like API's new "Vote 4 Energy" commercials. See Greenpeace's mock Vote 4 Energy commercial at the bottom of the blog.
While I'm sure Gerard and other oil lobbyists are thrilled with the results of their mass media campaigns and federal influence peddling, you can be their public response to the President's speech will be less appreciative.
Dirty energy lobbyists like Jack Gerard aren't going to stop harassing President Obama even if his administration "opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration." It will never be enough for Big Oil, which is why it's alarming that the President just bowed to two of the American Petroleum Institute's three major demands: opening up "75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," which spells inevitable doom for our coastlines, and pushing dangerous gas fracking forward despite the inability for state regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency to keep up with the industry's voracious appetite. API and it's Big Oil members aren't going to stop griping over the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because of these concessions--they will continue to demonize Obama's cabinet as a perpetual obstruction to "freedom" and "prosperity" and bombard us all with inflated jobs claims cooked up by their own reports. Congressional Republicans are already demanding more in response to Obama's energy plan despite it's destructive concessions, repeating the "all of the above" line in the process.
These criticisms are not to say that the President got it all wrong on his energy ambitions. His statements on prioritizing clean energy development and investing in widespread energy efficiency are crucial to the reduction of greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere as well as securing our energy infrastructure, creating space for newer, safer jobs while reducing unnecessary risks like deadly air pollution from refineries and unstoppable oil spills started by foreign companies like BP.
Without making the connection to the oil industry (and every other large industry meddling in federal policies), President Obama mentioned the "corrosive influence of money in politics." The oil industry has spent over $55.7 million on federal politicians in the last five years and an additional $651 million on federal lobbying in the same timeframe. Activist leader and scholar Bill McKibben notes that the 234 House Representatives who voted last December to fast track the Keystone XL pipeline took $42 million from the fossil fuel industry, while the 193 opposing members took a cumulative $8 million.
If that's not corrosive influence, then I don't know what is.
Vote 4 Energy mock commercial:
Two days ago, President Obama denied the permit for the destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, much to the dismay of Big Oil's top lobbyist and propagandist. Speaking at the National Press Club to an audience dominated by oil, coal and nuclear representatives and lobbyists, American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard continued to lash out at President Obama over the pipeline decision. However, activists attending their event fact checked Jack's big oil talking points.
Shortly after asking the president, "what are you thinking?!" a group of activists stood and delivered a call-and-response "fact check" over Gerard's speech -- see the full Fact Check video. After the event, PolluterWatch's Connor Gibson approached Jack Gerard on camera and repeatedly asked him how much the American Petroleum Institute (API) is spending on its new "Vote 4 Energy" advertising campaign (which, as Mr. Gerard has absurdly claimed, is "not an advertising campaign"). Jack refused to answer:
Vote 4 Energy, which was mocked by a parody commercial during its public release, is the American Petroleum Institute's newest money dump to pretend that most Americans support politicians who represent Big Oil more than their own constituents. Wrapping its talking points in patriotic rhetoric, API's real intent is to continue getting billions of taxpayer dollars each year to corporations like ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron, which rank among the most profitable companies in the world.
Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
This morning, CEOs, founders, and other leaders of 68 organizations sent a letter to President Obama, urging that he do what he can to stop the dangerous extraction of shale gas that is occurring across the country without any federal public safeguards. Often called 'fracking,' communities from Pennsylvania to Texas to Minnesota are already suffering from the numerous environmental problems connected with this process to force “natural” gas from shale several thousand feet below ground.
The letter states,
'Fracking involves shooting millions of gallons of water laced with carcinogenic chemicals deep underground to break apart rock to release trapped gas. Despite its obvious hazards, regulation necessary to ensure that fracking does not endanger our nation’s water supply has not kept pace with its rapid and increasing use by the oil and gas industry.
To date, fracking has resulted in over 1,000 documented cases of groundwater contamination across the county, either through the leaking of fracking fluids and methane into groundwater, or by above ground spills of contaminated and often radioactive wastewater from fracking operations. Rivers and lakes are also being contaminated with the release of insufficiently treated waste water recovered from fracking operations. In addition, fracking typically results in the release of significant quantities of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere despite the availability of cost-effective containment measures.'
Fracked gas may be no 'bridge fuel,' and it certainly is not 'clean energy.' Burning natural gas releases about half the greenhouse gas as burning coal, but fracked gas may produce so much more methane during extraction and processing that it could be as bad or worse than coal for the climate.
The oil and gas industry have good lobbyists, and have achieved years ago exemptions under virtually every federal environmental law, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. Companies like Conoco Phillips, Chesapeake Energy and Talisman Energy are not even required to disclose the more than 900 different chemicals used in the fracking process, which contaminate aquifers. Talisman has even targeted children in its lobbying, with 'Terry the Fracosaurus' who promotes an industry that is polluting drinking water with toxic chemicals.
Oil and gas companies have spent over three hundred million dollars in the last two years lobbying against federal protections from their pollution, so it is not too surprising that the federal government has decided to 'shoot now, ask questions later.' There are few efforts by Congress and the administration to mitigate the public health impacts of fracking.
In the next week or two we should see some results fom a panel of experts set up by the Department of Energy, which is supposed to reach conclusions on how to frack safely. However, the panel is stocked with only frack-friendly experts. EPA is studying impacts on water quality, but that study will take years to complete and is limited in its scope.
While further knowledge about impacts is a certainly a good thing, in this case 'more research' means political procrastination. EPA found 24 years ago that fracking contaminates water supplies. So far the only legislation to get much traction is the 'FRAC Act,' spearheaded by Democracts from Pennsylvania, New York, and Colorado. This bill is an important step to closing one legal loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act, and would require that industry disclose which chemicals they're using.