David Blackmon plays both sides on fracking regulations

Inside Climate News has revealed that a key leader of oil and gas industry front groups that oppose new fracking regulations may have been playing both sides of the issue. In an investigation into the funding of the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) work on oil and gas regulation, Inside Climate News discovered that a key EDF funder had hired FTI Consulting's David Blackmon to promote fracking regulations. Unbeknownst to his employer, Blackmon is a longtime oil industry consultant who is paid to oppose regulation of the fracking industry. 

The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation 

The funder in question is the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, established by the late George Mitchell, known as the "father of fracking." George Mitchell owned and operated Mitchell Energy, the first company to combine horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett shale, which sparked the "shale revolution." Mitchell created the foundation with part of the $3.5 billion sale of Mitchell Energy to Devon Energy. The Mitchell Foundation describes itself as "a grantmaking foundation that seeks innovative, sustainable solutions for human and environmental problems." While its goals seem noble, the fortunes of the foundation and the people who run it continue to be inexorably linked to the success of the oil and gas industry. The foundation itself has more than $38 million in stock in Devon Energy. Three of George Mitchell's beneficiaries own over $21 million of Devon Energy apiece. Altogether the Mitchell Foundation and the Mitchell heirs own over one fifth of Devon Energy. One such heir is Todd Mitchell, who sat on the foundation's board for years and worked for Devon Energy for a decade. He currently runs oil and gas production companies and an investment business built on the assumption that gas will provide the baseload for electricity generation around the globe. The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation has funded a series of greenwashing efforts that have portrayed the shale and fracking industry as safe, clean, and reliable. These efforts include an online-based "virtual reality" well pad that makes no mention of water or air quality concerns. In fact, the "virtual well pad" does not mention any of the environmental or social impacts that communities near shale drilling experience. However, the Mitchell Foundation has also dedicated millions of dollars to groups that are trying to "green" the shale industry, like the Environmental Defense Fund. Since 2012 the foundation has given over $1 million to EDF. The funding was for studies of methane emissions from the fracking industry. These studies, which have been criticized as incomplete, are built on a base assumption that the drilling can be done "right." They have also led to some of the first federal regulations on the shale industry, including the methane regulations announced by the Obama administration in early 2015. The foundation also gives to a range of environmental groups, some of which are strongly opposed to fracking and oil and gas development, like the Tides Foundation and the Sierra Club. 

David Blackmon and FTI Consulting's Conflicts of Interest


David Blackmon
David Blackmon


While the Mitchell family's finances are tied to the success of the gas industry in general, the foundation's funding of efforts to limit pollution from fracking appears genuine. That is what makes the Mitchell Foundation's hiring of David Blackmon and FTI Consulting so peculiar. In 2012 the Mitchell Foundation selected Blackmon of FTI Consulting to run the foundation's gas strategy. FTI Consulting is a PR firm that has worked with the shale and fracking industry to limit shale regulations by attacking journalists and community groups. FTI Consulting runs Energy in Depth, an oil and gas industry front group that maintains a hard line of attack against those who would regulate or criticize its corporate funders. The Mitchell Foundation paid FTI Consulting $120,000 to "start a dialogue between fossil fuel concerns and environmentalists around natural gas." Blackmon himself has long been a power player in the world of pro-fracking PR. Blackmon started his career as an oil industry flack, doing communications work and lobbying for Shell, Tesoro, and various other oil and gas companies. More recently, he has had top positions with nearly every major pro-fracking front group, including the Consumer Energy Alliance, Energy in Depth, and the industry's biggest lobbying arm, America's Natural Gas Alliance. That Blackmon was in charge of the Mitchell Foundation's gas strategy is troubling. His career has been dedicated to obstructing and delaying regulation on the oil and gas industry, especially in regard to fracking. While working for Mitchell, he led industry-funded groups that opposed the very methane regulations he was hired by Mitchell to promote. It is also troubling because of Blackmon's personal denial of the science of climate change, and his aggressive denial of the environmental and health impacts of fracking, which he called an "attention-grabbing boogeyman for all manner of nutcases, chicken littles and radicalized environmental organizations." Tweets from Blackmon's Twitter account reinforce the fact that he denies some of the basic pieces of climate-change science:



Fracking has been shown to pose a serious threat to the climate, given that methane, natural gas' primary component, traps 86 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 does. Blackmon and FTI Consulting's anti-regulatory and pro-fracking work constitute a potentially major undisclosed conflict of interest. Marilou Hastings, the communications manager for the Mitchell Foundation, admitted to Inside Climate that before settling on FTI, she approached and was turned down by "more than a dozen consulting firms" due to conflicts of interest. When she approached FTI Consulting and Blackmon, they not only accepted the job but failed to reveal their anti-regulatory work to Hastings. Inside Climate News writes that Hastings "didn't know of FTI Consulting's ties to anti-regulatory efforts." Furthermore, at the same time that Blackmon was being paid by the Mitchell Foundation, Energy in Depth, which is run by FTI Consulting and boasts Blackmon as a "field director," attacked the very studies Blackmon was paid to promote. All the while, Blackmon was using his position as a contributor to Forbes to promote the Mitchell Foundation's work without disclosing his financial incentives. This potentially violated Forbesconflicts of interest clause. This raises the question: Did David Blackmon use his position with the Mitchell Foundation, in which he was tasked with promoting regulation, to feed information to his colleagues at FTI Consulting, which is paid to oppose regulation?

EPA's National Study of Fracking Crippled by Industry Pressure

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)

Water Supply Problems

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.

Fracking for natural gas in Pennsylvania.

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

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.

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 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 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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