New york times
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.
According to a statement released shortly afterward by Peabody, "The site is in fact a hoax, making inaccurate claims about Peabody and coal."
Sadly, Peabody's reputation doesn't reflect a willingness to own up to its ongoing peddling of coal, which causes death and illness from extraction to combustion. However, they are known for being Newsweek's most environmentally destructive company, their massive Black Mesa strip mining operation and persistent global warming science denial through mouthpieces like Fred Palmer and fronts like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
Peabody's statement continues [emphasis added], "Peabody is proud to help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity," except of course for at least 13,000 people in the U.S. coal prematurely kills each year from air pollution alone, let alone the impacts of strip mining, rail transport, mercury contamination, and other phases of coal's life cycle. Check out the conclusions of Dr. Paul Epstein, director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, for the True Cost of Coal.
While Peabody's statement pledges to be a "global leader" in scrubbing its inherently dirty operations, their money does not appear to be where their mouth is. Since the beginning of 2011, Peabody has already spent almost $2,000,000 on federal lobbying on numerous dirty legislative deeds, such as attacking the Clean Air Act, preventing pollution regulation of coal operations, promoting false Carbon Capture and Storage solutions, which the American Physical Society just declared to be prohibitively costly. Prior to 2011, Peabody spent over $20 million on similar efforts from 2008-2010, on top of almost $400,000 to federal politicians and their leadership PACs in the same time frame.
More about the Peabody prank can be found on the website of the Yes Men, who have taken credit for the actions that Peabody should actually commit to. Too bad for the asthmatic children whose parents do have to take economic responsibility for the coal industry.
In the wake of a New York Times series that revealed a serious lack of oversight of the gas industry by state regulators, the Governor of Pennsylvania has taken decisive action. He ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection not to report violations by gas companies without approval from his hand picked environmental chief. That’s right - Tom Corbett, the republican governor of Pennsylvania, ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to stop issuing violations against drillers without prior approval from DEP Secretary Micheal Krancer, who he personally selected as chief of the agency.
John Hines, the DEP executive deputy secretary, sent an e-mail March 23 to other senior staff, including four regional directors and the head of the department's oil and gas division.
"Effective immediately," it said, all violations must first be sent to him and another DEP deputy secretary in Harrisburg - with "final clearance" from Michael Krancer, DEP secretary.
"Any waiver from this directive will not be acceptable," Hines wrote. Regional directors reinforced the stern message in their own e-mails to staff.
Considering that notices of violation are the inspectors' main tool for enforcing compliance with environmental rules, Governor Corbett has basically kneecapped the DEP’s ability to control wayward hydrofrackers. The new policy has been met with disbelief and anger by people familiar with regulating the industry.
"They are putting us on a leash," said the one inspector, who spoke to the Enquirer on condition of anonymity because of a fear of retaliation.
Even John Hanger, ex DEP chief and good friend of fracking was against the directive. In an interview with the Enquirer, he said:
"I could not believe it. It's extraordinarily unwise. It's going to cause the public in droves to lose confidence in the inspection process." According to Hanger, there has never been a similar directive in DEP.
Hanger said the "extraordinary" policy was akin to forcing a highway trooper to get approval from the head of the state police before writing a ticket.
"It is a complete intrusion into the independence of the inspection process," he said.
Why would Corbett pander so brazenly to the Natural Gas industry? The Enquirer points out that Corbett received more than $800,000 in campaign contributions from drilling interests last year. A good investment for the fracking industry, considering that since taking office in January, Corbett's administration has overturned a moratorium on drilling in state forests and has refused to consider any extraction tax on drillers. Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas-producing state without such a tax.
A hydrofracking well pad in Pennsylvania. Image source
Andrew Langer is a man who knows how to brew a Tea Party, or so he would have you believe. He is the president of the Institute for Liberty, a right-wing think tank which published a guide on the subject. Yet Langer’s real expertise isn’t in the brewing of the tea; it’s in the selling of the movement. A recent New York Times article has revealed that Mr. Langer is far from a folksy tea party organizer who sticks up for the average American consumer. In fact he is a professional bloviator with a history of work with corporate funded anti-regulatory front groups.
One of his most recent projects, and the one that earned him attention from the Times, is called the Consumers Alliance for Global Prosperity.
Begun in August of 2010, the Consumers Alliance for Global Prosperity is an attempt to use the tea party movement to derail sustainable forestry in one of the world’s most endangered rainforest - for the benefit of an Asian paper corporation. Here is an example of the destructive practices the Consumers Alliance supports:
Langer's pro-deforestation campaign, called “Pulp Wars,” attacks environmental groups, labor unions, and American businesses, accusing them of conspiring to keep Indonesians poor and American retail prices high. The mission of Pulp Wars, according to a facebook page for the group, is to fight the “Empires of Collusion,” defined as “greedy corporations, scheming union bosses and radical environmentalists -- that are working hard to restrict free trade in an effort to make countless everyday products more expensive for consumers.” According to CAGP, the empire includes such unlikely colluders as Greenpeace, WWF, and Staples.
In spite of the absurdity of the claims, Pulp Wars is not the only place they are made. Asia Pulp & Paper, a massive corporation responsible for clear cutting the Paradise Rainforest, made the exact same claims about in a report called “Green Protectionism.” Tellingly, APP’s report came out three days before Langer released the Pulp Wars version. The Times writes:
“Three days later, Mr. Langer came out with his own detailed report that hewed to these same themes, and put up a Web site, pulpwars.com, to promote it. Titled “Empires of Collusion,” it reads like a brief for Asia Pulp & Paper and has been followed by reports on subjects like palm oil and American paper industry subsidies that are important to Asia Pulp & Paper and its parent company, Sinar Mas. He has worked these issues into podcasts, Facebook postings and opinion columns, often with a folksy Tea Party-friendly twist... Although some of his material cites Asia Pulp & Paper, Mr. Langer insists that he had not even heard of the company.”
In addition to suspiciously similar reports, Langer is linked to other people and groups who have run public relations campaigns for Asia Pulp and Paper, as this graphic by the New York Times shows.
Langer and his institute are a perfect example of how professional apologists masquerade as tea party populists, couching pro-corporate propaganda in democratic language. But he is not the biggest or the baddest in the corporate shill industry. Groups like the Koch funded American’s for Prosperity and Dick Armey’s Freedomworks (both of whom Langer has worked closely with), are much better funded, yet their funding and motives are equally obscure. As Greenpeace’s Scott Paul says: “If you can spend as much money as you want and remain anonymous, then it doesn’t matter if you’re an overseas company or the Koch brothers, you pay the same network of anti-regulatory front groups.”
In another explosive exposition of the natural gas industry, Ian Urbina of the New York Times documents how industry and elected officials kept EPA findings on the dangers of fracking from becoming public. One EPA scientist said "The industry was going to get what it wanted, and we were not supposed to stand in the way.”