shale

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

Obama’s “New” Climate Initiative

Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace Blogs

It has become tiresome to rip on President Obama for failing America and the world on climate. We could not help but get excited in November 2008 when we realized Bush II and his oil lackeys were out of office in two months. But one could argue that President Obama led us on by saying things like “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all.” And, regarding White House leadership, “That will change when I take office.”

The bar for Obama administration action on climate has become so low that it doesn’t take much to get people excited. For example, the President used the words “climate change” during his recent state of the union address, having failed to mention this existential dilemma last year. Some people read a lot into that.

So, yesterday, it was unsurprising to see an over-excited reaction to a State Department announcement on a new climate initiative. President Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called a press conference to announce that the United States and several other countries would start a new, official collaboration to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane, black carbon and HFCs. However, it’s pretty clear that this is no announcement about US policy to reduce climate pollution. It’s great countries are talking, but also not new. The US contributed $12 million for this collaboration. This is is about what Mitt Romney would have earned after taxes if he paid the same tax rate my mother does. $12 million is lot of money for one person, but for an intergovernmental partnership to tackle global climate disruption, it’s laughable.

The best thing about Secretary Clinton’s announcement yesterday is that the Obama administration publicly professed to being active on climate, and reiterated actions they’ve been taking already to reduce climate pollution. The worst thing about yesterday’s announcement is that it reminded everyone of what the Obama administration has done to increase climate pollution. A large funder of Obama’s campaign in the past, who has contributed $35 million to campaigns and environmental causes, announced her support was gone because of Obama’s failures on climate.

Let’s put this in context.

A lot was achieved up front when the President pushed for passage of the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. The bill included grants and tax incentives for efficiency and renewables production and research, smart grid development, and low-emissions vehicles. The Obama administration has continued to press continuing incentives for renewables and efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet implemented any standards for large stationary sources of climate pollution that have any significant impact, but the new vehicle standards will have an impact. Expectations for EPA, however, remain much higher than for the rest of the Obama administration, and we still hold out hope for climate pollution standards to be strengthened on both vehicles and stationary sources.

So far, we can’t put a number on how much less climate pollution the world will see because of the Obama administration. We can say that the US goal of 17% under 2005 levels by 2020 is so unambitious that it was possibly imminent before the President announced it. We can also say that the Obama administration may be doing as much to increase climate pollution through other measures.

Although the President has continued to call for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, the reality is that his administration has been a great friend to coal, oil, and gas.

President Obama’s administration has decided to increase coal mining on public lands, for example in Wyoming where federal leases will allow mining of about 758 million tons of coal. Although some of this coal will definitely be burned in the US, the administration intends to use coal mining expansion to help meet its goal of doubling exports by 2014. So, although we will succeed at shutting down old coal-fired power plants in America, US coal can still contribute to as the largest global contributor to climate disruption.

In the first quarter of 2011, US exports of coal rose by 49% compared to the same quarter of 2010, amounting to 26.6 million short tons. This is the highest amount of coal exported since 1992 (when 27 million short tons were exported).

Similarly, if vehicles in America become more efficient, the plan seems to be to make sure the oil is burned anyway. 2011 was the first year in almost two decades when the US became a ‘net exporter of fuel’. In each day of February, the US exported 54,000 more barrels of petroleum than it imported. To add insult to injury, the Obama administration now appears bent on drilling in the Arctic which is more accessible to climate polluters because they’ve made the ice melt.

An irony about the State Department initiative to reduce emissions of methane is the Global Shale Gas Initiative, and other efforts by the Obama administration, to push US methane (natural gas) abroad. There is a likelihood using shale gas for electricity leads to emissions as high as with coal, or higher. Shale gas that is liquified, transported, thousands of miles, and re-gasified I argue certainly has a higher carbon footprint than local coal.

It seems the general attitude among climate advocates has gone from glum to numb. To be fair, our despair about climate policy is fueled by the undying Republican platform that environmental ignorance and scorn are praiseworthy. There are also Democrats who have donned ignorant and scornful attitudes about climate disruption, but mostly their problem is letting Republicans spearhead the debate on climate. Climate disruption for the Obama White House seems to be viewed not as a real problem but a political problem.

Rachael Robson was a co-author of this blog.

Halt Fracking! 68 Groups Say to Obama

The impact of fracking on clean water and health is questionable. Photo credit.

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.

Amid Reports of Lax Enforcement, PA Governor Puts a “Leash” on Hydrofracking Regulators

Tom Corbett, Governor of Pennsylvania

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.

The Philidelphia Inquirer reports:

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

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