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August 10 2012

13:56

April 17 2012

11:00

Q. & A.: Campaigning in an Age of Deadlock

Michael Brune, the Sierra Club's executive director, talks about the Obama administration's record on environmental issues, his group's priorities and the political landscape.

April 03 2012

12:59

The Farce Of The "Golden Age Of Gas"

Oil and gas industry insiders revealed earlier this year the high probability that we're headed into a shale gas bubble. But that's not what the industry's CEOs and PR departments want you to hear.

"The reality of at least 100 years’ worth of shale gas abundance has been supported by virtually every credible third-party expert…The collective market cap of these energy leaders approaches $2 trillion – ask yourself: do I believe Rolling Stone and Arthur Berman or the world’s biggest and most successful energy companies?"

So spouts off Chesapeake Energy in a press release earlier this month responding to a Rolling Stone article which likened fracking to a huge industry Ponzi scheme. Arthur Berman is an energy consultant based in Houston, and not swayed by the industry's vibrant plumage they are putting on display to the nation.

The energy companies want the public to believe in the "Golden Age of Gas"- as it has been dubbed- where the supplies are bountiful and the profits are high. While it's true that there have been economic booms in some areas that have gas reserves, the numbers are showing that these booms will not be long lived. Meanwhile, the falling price of gas along with the inherent public health risks and environmental devastation that comes along with it makes the gas rush less profitable in the long run. But the gas industry wouldn't have you believe that.

read more

February 03 2012

18:13

Report: Sierra Club Accepted Gas Industry Money

An article raises the issue of whether the Sierra Club's support of natural gas as a "bridge fuel" was influenced by donations from the gas industry.

January 24 2012

16:01

January 20 2012

05:24

72 Percent of Ohioans Want A Fracking Moratorium, Citing Need For More Study

The unconventional gas industry's latest rush in the United States will land it in the state of Ohio, but a recent poll shows that the state's residents are not rolling out the red carpet for an industry famous for threatening drinking water supplies, causing earthquakes, noise and air pollution and trying to proliferate global addiction to fossil fuels.

Results from a Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that 59 percent of those polled have heard of or read about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," the complex and risky process that enables unconventional gas drilling. A whopping 72 percent of Ohioans familiar with fracking support a moratorium on the process until it is studied further.

The other 41-percent of citizens are likely to follow suit once they discover what is headed their way, and how little this industry will help them from a financial point of view in the long run.

Ohio recently found itself with the fracking shakes, as magnitude 4.0-level earthquakes struck near Youngstown on New Year's Eve. Scientists suspect the earthquakes resulted from a wastewater injection well disposing of fracking brine from Pennsylvania. The Christian Science Monitor explained in a story that the "quake triggered shaking reportedly felt as as far away as Buffalo, N.Y., and Toronto." 

These fracking-related earthquakes are not an aberation, but rather a repeated occurence linked to fracking in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, as well as abroad in the U.K., in the city BlackpoolAl Jazeera English recently ran a story on the Ohio fracking-induced earthquakes. Watch:

  

Fears 'fracking' causes Ohio Quakes

Multinational Gas Corporations Head to Ohio

On the financial side of things, the gas industry's rush to drill the Utica Shale is led by the nation's largest unconventional gas corporation, Chesapeake Energy. Chesapeake has a huge joint ownership stake in the Utica Shale with Total SA, the French oil and gas conglomerate. As DeSmogBlog wrote a bit over a month ago, "Total S.A. is positioning itself to acquire 25 percent of Chesapeake Energy’s stake in Ohio's Utica Shale, valued at $2.14 Billion." 

Also in on the hunt for gas in the Utica are industry giants Royal Dutch ShellChevronExxonMobil, Anadarko Petroleum, and Range Resources, a corporation now infamous for its use of psychological warfare tactics to "win the hearts and minds" of U.S. citizens in the neighboring Marcellus Shale basin.

So much for "energy independence," "boosting the local economy," and small, independent "mom and pop" gas industry start-ups.

Thankfully, Ohioans aren't drinking the kool-aid and have chosen, like the citizens of Bulgaria</a> recently did, to <a href=" https:="">fight back against the industry's destructive deceit. They are wise to demand a moratorium on fracking, which DeSmogBlog called for in Fracking The Future.

Time will tell if they succeed.

December 11 2011

23:32

"Raising Elijah": An Interview With Ecologist and Author Sandra Steingraber

Q: In light of your new book Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, which raises the specter of raising children in troubled times, both environmentally and ecologically, are you surprised that natural gas corporations have been producing public relations and propaganda materials like coloring books (recall Talisman Energy's Terry the Fracasaurus, and Chesapeake Energy's coloring books), going into schools and giving scholarships, etc.? 

A: Not at all. This is an attempt at deflection and drawing attention away from the bad public relations problems the industry has. It is hypocritical and cynical to go into communities, do fracking (see DeSmogBlog's Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate), and then do these types of things.

For example, there are increased rates of crime, drug abuse, and motor vehicle accidents in areas in which fracking takes place. Roads in areas in which fracking is taking place are full of 18-wheelers hauling around toxic chemicals. It is a stunning move, based on all of these things.

For the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and Chesapeake Energy’s corporate sponsorship of it, it is the ultimate case of cynicism, based on what they do on a daily basis. For them to get involved shows that they’re trying to deflect attention away from what they’re actually doing to cause these things in the first place.

The idea that they’re aligning themselves with the breast cancer movement is creepy and is like cigarette companies getting involved in fighting against cancer, while they are the ones also causing it.

Q: Why do you think these corporations are stooping so low, and why now? What type of reputation do these natural gas corporations have, at-large, in an area like the Marcellus Shale, for example?

A: Public opinion is deeply opposed to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in upper state New York and the anti-fracking resistance movement is solidifying and growing there. Therefore, partnerships with chartiable organizations are an attempt to alter public opinion.

That said, doing this is expensive for corporations, so it is a sign of desparation on their side of things to make fracking look like a warm and fuzzy and friendly thing. They want a different kind of association. When you hear name of their company, they hope you have warm, fuzzy feelings about them, when, in actuality, they’re actually going to come in and destroy the community.

Q: Can you explain a bit more about your book, Raising Elijah, and in particular, what role you see your new book playing in combating this benevolent role the gas industry ruthlessly tries to portray for itself? Also, can you explain what personally motivated you to write such a book?

A: Benevolent is the perfect adjective. These new partnerships are like an abusive spouse who’s trying to deflect attention away from his actual crime by funding a home for people who’ve suffered domestic abuse. The best way to solve the problem of carcinogens in the air is not to put them in the air in the first place. The best way to prevent children from being abused is to create an actual sustainable community and healthy ecosystem.

My book has been in the works for 8 years and I wanted to continue where I left off in the last book. This one takes a look at how exposure to environmental toxics impacts childhood development.

Fracking was not originally on my radar, but it was hard to ignore come 2007 and 2008. I learned more and more about it and was eventually asked to speak on panels on the topic. It is the biggest threat to childrens’ health that I’d ever encountered. The final chapter in book is entirely devoted to fracking.

Beating fracking is the environmental cause of our time. We are standing at a cross-roads — easy fuels are gone, and energy extremism is all that’s left. Mountain top removal is one, tar sands crude is another, offshore drilling is the third, and fracking is the fourth.

Fracking hits home the closest. It is occurring in 34 states, often in densely populated areas. The possibility of it exposing people to these toxins is immediate and the possibility that we’ll contaminate water, air, and food are also great.

Air contamination is also a guarantee, via compressors. Chances are, we’ll blanket the northeast in smoggy air, which already was dirty air to begin with, with regular ozone alerts. Surface and ground water and food resources are now also all at risk. The dairy industry is huge in New York, but now that is also at risk.

The Marcellus Shale basin is now a radioactive place, and thus, all of this stuff is now in peril. There needs to be a public conversation about this, if only because of the costs of helping children from cradle to grave. Asthma, for example, is a very expensive problem and leading cause of absenteeism in schools. It will become more common with fracking - much more common.

The Environmental Impact Statement done by the New York Department of Environmental Protection was also a sham, with public health impacts not even discussed. There was nothing in it on any of the scores of environmental and ecological costs associated with fracking that will arise in the future.

All of this is the explanation for why I wrote the book. The secrecy the industry enjoys makes it hard for researchers to go as deep as they possibly could if there were no veil of secrecy. It is hard to say exactly what kind of chemicals people are inhaling and consuming.

Q: You recently won the Heinz Award, given for significant achievements benefiting the environment, which earned you a $100,000 award and afterward, you wrote that you would devote that money to fighting fracking in upstate New York.

Bearing that in mind, can you explain, based your own experiences and personal convictions, as well as the lessons taught in your book, what type of activism is best geared toward defeating fracking?

Put another way, what form of activism gets the movement to ban fracking the best bang for its buck and do you see more nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience in the anti-fracking movement’s future?

A: $100,000 is NOTHING to the big boys in the corporate natural gas world. The only way money will work if it will also embolden others to do big things. The only reason I’m even going public with the fact that I’m investing money in the fight against fracking is to inspire other people to start fighting back.

We’re at the 11th hour now. The moratorium was here before, but now that’s over. Now is the time if you don’t want to be fracked. As a cancer survivor, whatever money I have ends up going into paying medical bills. When you live in an area surrounded by frackers, what point is it to even try to do that if the water, air, community, etc., will be gone and destroyed and the area becomes a toxic wasteland?

So, what better use of money than to defend and protect this place? I couldn’t think of better thing to do, with even more of a public platform, to highlight lunacy of fracking. I want others to feel that they shouldn’t give up before they start the fight. Self-defeatism is what’s beating us — learned helplessness — beats us even more than the formidable power of natural gas industry.

Whatever I can do to get people out of that place — if you want to be the hero, now’s your chance. I hope to use the money to open up space for speech, and not silence.

One suggestion is to put all eggs in one basket, but it is probably better to spread it around. The fight of townships to ban fracking locally — see Dryden case study — is one option. There’s also fight at state level with regards to Cuomo. 

The international human rights movement is also against dependence on fossil fuels. There is also the example of the civil disobedience that was used to stop the tar sands pipeline. There are fights everywhere, which go from the global level all the down to village level.

I am, in short, still in the thinking stage about funding and where it’ll all end up.

November 23 2011

15:00

Battle For Wetzel County: Short Documentary Chronicles Impacts of Fracking In West Virginia

This short documentary, “Battle for Wetzel County,” chronicles the impacts of the gas fracking rush in West Virginia, focusing on the damages caused by Chesapeake Energy’s drilling activity in the mountains of this rural county.

The film features interviews with Wetzel County residents, including Marty Whiteman and his daughter Sarah Wood - family farmers who explain how surface owners like them are powerless to stop Chesapeake Energy from drilling because they don’t own the minerals beneath their properties.

Whiteman has sued Chesapeake Energy, claiming the drilling activities pose a direct threat to their livelihood. But he knows that the company could still destroy his ability to farm forever, thanks in large part to lax state oversight of the industry.

The film also contains footage from a public hearing in Morgantown, WV where angry residents share their concerns about fracking. One man fights back tears as he shows a photo of a fracking tanker truck dumping contaminated post-drilling wastewater on a road that schoolchildren walk on every day. “This industry is out of control in the state of West Virginia. I say we pass a moratorium now,” he says to loud applause from the audience.

Julia Archer of West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Association talks about the effort to get lawmakers to support a Surface Owners’ Bill of Rights, seeking a rigorous review of the rules and disclosure of impacts from fracking and other subsurface activities.

Battle for Wetzel County’ is the third installment of an 8-park documentary series called Journey On Earth, produced by SnagFilms in association with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Watch it below:

August 03 2011

19:15

Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission Bans Fracking Disposal Wells Due to Earthquakes

The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission has voted unanimously to ban disposal wells for unconventional gas drilling wastes in a region that has been inundated with earthquakes. The decision requires the immediate closure of one disposal well and prohibits the construction of new wells in a 1,150 square-mile radius. Operators have also closed an additional three disposal wells on their own initiative, the Associated Press reports.

Earthquakes have become unusually common in some areas of Arkansas where increased unconventional gas related drilling is taking place. Residents insist that there is a correlation between the quakes and the area’s wastewater disposal wells. After monitoring hundreds of earthquakes, the largest a magnitude-4.7 in February, investigators began confirming the connection.

The Oil and Gas Commission discovered that four disposal wells were situated on a fault line responsible for dozens of earthquakes this year alone. As reported by the Associated Press, “after two of the four stopped operating in March, there was a sharp decline in the number of earthquakes. In the 18 days before the shutdown, there were 85 quakes with a magnitude 2.5 or greater, but there were only 20 in the 18 days following the shutdown, according to the state Geological Survey.”

For Commission director Larry Bengal, the dramatic reduction in seismic events was enough evidence to justify the ban. “We have to side with that public safety concern and address that in a way that maybe science does not totally support,” he said.

In April, gas industry giant Chesapeake Energy spokesman said the company disagreed with the alleged relation. “We believe there is a lot of natural seismicity in this area and there’s a lot more sub-surface data, and science and facts that need to be brought to bear.”

However, when a scourge of more than 800 earthquakes occurred in Guy, Arkansas over a span of six months, Chesapeake and another operator, Clarita, temporarily suspended their use of injection wells.

The gas industry has widely advertised their use of underground disposal of fracking wastes with the hope that it will alleviate concerns of wastewater reentering the public water supply without adequate treatment

Some fracking critics, like Dr. Theo Colborn of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, suggest that wastewater injection in disposal wells reintroduces the risk to groundwater, “creating yet another source of extremely toxic chemical contamination.”

The risk in seismically sensitive areas like those in Arkansas are much higher, according to biochemist Dr. Ronald Bishop of State University of New York, Oneonta. Regions which are “seismically active or intensively fissured pose greater risks for contamination than regions which are geologically sensitive,” he told DeSmogBlog.

Arkansas’ increase in quakes shows the kind of geological sensitivity Dr. Bishop is concerned about. Yet, the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission has not banned unconventional gas drilling in the area, only the use of disposal wells.

Earthquakes pose an enormous threat to the integrity of unconventional gas and disposal wells, potentially damaging cement casings, the sole barrier protecting underground aquifers from contamination. 

Concerns about this issue have sparked several research projects. The Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin is initiating a comprehensive study of fracking technology, including its effects on seismic activity. The National Academies has also assigned a committee from the National Research Council to investigate the connection between injection technologies, like carbon capture and storage and fracking, and induced seismic activity. 

But according to a geology professor at Marshall University, geologists have known for 50 years that underground fluid injection can cause quakes.

Another expert, Jack Century of J.R. Century Petroleum Consultants Ltd., says that high-pressure injection can have powerful effects underground. “When we start perturbing the system by changing fluid pressure, we have the potential for activating faults.” And “once local seismicity starts, it can’t be turned off.”

The decision by the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission may have come too late. It remains to be seen whether the disposal well ban will lead to a reduction of quakes.

Image Credit: Arkansans for Gas Drilling Accountability

July 26 2011

06:51

Chesapeake "Declaration of Energy Independence": NAT GAS Act Embodied

This article has been cross-posted with permission of the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch.

On July 11, Chesapeake Energy, the second largest methane gas corporation in the United States, announced its  "bold new plan": a "Declaration of Energy Independence" for America's energy future. ("Natural gas" is the public relations term the industry uses for methane gas, because it sounds so much more appealing than the real name.)

The plan is double-pronged and will no doubt lead to increased levels of fracking, the process drilling companies use to extract methane gas in areas like the Marcellus Shale and other shale deposits throughout the country. Fracking is a dirty process, as covered in-depth by DeSmogBlog in an April 2011 report titled, "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate."

First, Chesapeake will pour $150 million into Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (CEF). Energy tycoon and hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens sits on CEF's Board of Directors and owns a 41 percent stake, according to the company's March, 2011 10-Q filing. That money will go toward funding methane gas fueling stations along federal highways spanning the country.

Second, Chesapeake has purchased a $155 million, 50 percent stake in Sundrop Fuels, Inc.  Chesapeake's CEO, Aubrey McClendon, is also the CEO of Sundrop Fuels.

While superficially a "bold new plan," the reality is that the plan serves merely as the embodiment of the vision outlined in House Resolution 1380, the NAT GAS Act of 2011 (New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011), with all of the same key players still in the fold.

Through the introduction of major federal-level legislation, the foundation of the plan has already been laid and now the vision is slowly but surely becoming a reality.

NAT GAS Act Rejoinder: Written By and For Methane Gas Industry Insiders

The NAT GAS Act currently has p">183 co-sponsors representing both major political parties and d&summ2=m&">calls for the creation of a new national liquefied and compressed methane gas infrastructure, while offering tax credits  -- also known as corporate welfare -- to both methane gas fueling stations, and owners of vehicles that utilize methane gas, through 2016. 

The most important parallel between the bill and the Chesapeake announcement is the fact that the money Chesapeake poured into Clean Energy Fuels (CEF) will go toward the building of fueling stations along national highways for trucks, and under the dictates of the bill, the larger the vehicle, the more tax credits it receives.

“This is a prime example of industry in cahoots with government for personal gain to a few,” says Maura Stephens, a co-founder of the Coalition to Protect New York, which is currently fighting for a statewide ban on fracking. “By crafting this ‘NAT GAS’ Act –- also known as the ‘Pickens Plan,’ Pickens and his allies are manufacturing a ‘need’ where there was none. They stand to gain billions at a time when the dangers to water, air, soil, food supplies, and people’s health of ‘fracking’ for ‘natural’ gas are being exposed daily. It would be imprudent, at best, to push for such a practice to become even more widespread. But Pickens seems to have Congress wrapped around his little finger and the media don’t question him.”

Though publicly unveiled in April, the x">bill still sits in various Congressional Committees and has been stalled since April 6, according to the Library of Congress' website. This makes Chesapeake's announcement even more timely and crucial, particularly since Pickens, McClendon, and the entities with which both men are affiliated, served as key behind-the-scenes lobbyists (and likely bill writers), as well as public spokespeople, for the NAT GAS Act.

As written on PRWatch back in April:

The first...entities to break the story (about the NAT GAS ACT) are all, as will be seen, in some way, shape and form, well-connected to Pickens:...Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVA),...the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA),...[and] Clean Energy Fuels (CEF). All...originally broke the story before the bill was publicly available.

ANGA [is an industry lobbying firm that] consists of all of methane's key players, including Cabot Oil and Gas, Chesapeake Energy, Seneca Resources, and EQT, among others...

NGVA, on the other hand, is called a "peer group partner" of the so-called "American Clean Skies Foundation." NGVA has a programming agreement through the Foundation's public relations channel, Clean Skies TV Network, and the Foundation is funded by...McClendon...

CEF is another "peer group partner" of the American Clean Skies Foundation that has a programming agreement with Clean Skies TV Network...The President and CEO of CEF, Andrew J. Littlefair, according to his biography on their website, is also the President of NGVA (He is now Immediate Past Chair, according to the NGVA website). According to that same biography, he formerly served as President of Pickens Fuel Corporation (which was formerly Mesa Petroleum). A glance at the American Clean Skies Foundation webpage shows that he also sits on the Board of Directors with McClendon.

Pickens Fuel Corporation is the predecessor of CEF, which Littlefair co-founded in 1997 with Pickens. It was reincorporated as CEF in 2001. CEF dedicated its first Liquefied Natural Gas plant to Pickens in May 2006, according to its website. The plant is called the "Pickens Plant."...

An e-mail exchange with the Editorial Director of School Transporation News (STN) and the author of STN's article on the House' introduction of the NAT GAS Act, John Gray, confirms that he had not yet seen a copy of the legislation when he wrote his article, but was first flagged about it via a direct contact from a representative from the NGVA. Gray predicts that NGVA "were likely key authors of the legislation. My hunch is that they helped write it. Standard procedure in DC. They are a lobby."

In addition to the information gathered in April, Chesapeake is also listed as a member company on the NGVA website, and its Senior Vice President, Tom Price, sits on the Board of Directors of the NGVA and the Clean Skies Foundation.

Furthermore, Pickens was the original head of NGVA, which formerly publicly went by the name Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, the name it still registers under for lobbying purposes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets lobbying database.

Pickens and Littlefair are also both on the Board of Directors of the T. Boone Pickens Foundation.

Pickens, McClendon, Littlefair, the Self-Enriching Trifecta, Make the "Declaration of Independence" Media Rounds -- Legislative Push Next?

NAT GAS Act Profiteers

Unsurprisingly, these same intertwined key players have again made the media rounds for the "Declaration of Independence" announcement, which would fatten their wallets at the expense of the environment. 

On the day of the announcement, for example, Pickens made appearances on MSNBC's "Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough and on Bloomberg TV, McClendon and Chesapeake sponsored an "Energy Breakfast Briefing" that was co-hosted by Politico, and also was a guest on CNBC and Bloomberg TV, and Littlefair was also a guest on CNBC's Mad Money with Jim Cramer.

With the vital public relations, legislative, economic, and physical groundwork now in place, the next thing to ponder is when the next step in the legislative push will occur on Capitol Hill.

A phone interview with a staff member of the bill's sponsor, U.S. Rep. John Sullivan (R-Oklahoma), suggested that it could come sometime this fall, perhaps after the summer recess, as debt ceiling talks have stalled other items on the legislative agenda. A phone conversation with the head lobbyist for NGVA, Paul Kerkhoven, confirmed this plan.

All signs, then, point to sooner, rather than later.

July 07 2011

18:07

Gas Industry Spent "Staggering" Amount Lobbying in Pennsylvania Last Year

The gas industry spent $3.5 million last year attempting to convince Pennsylvania lawmakers of the benefits of drilling the state’s deposits of unconventional gas. According to lobbying disclosure reports filed with the Department of State, the lobbying blitz to influence public policy was orchestrated by a collection of 22 companies, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA).

Rep. Greg Vitali of Havertown described the disclosed amounts as “staggering,” adding that, “it isn’t the type of spending you would find from fledgling companies.”

The Times-Tribune reports the figures as follows:

- Marcellus Shale Coalition: $1.1 million

 

- Range Resources Appalachia: $392,000

- Chesapeake Energy: $382,000

- Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association: $247,000

- East Resources Management: $225,000

- Chief Oil and Gas: $186,000

- Alpha Natural Resources: $160,000

- Dominion Transmission: $146,000

- Exco Resources: $130,000

- BG North America: $124,000

- EQT Corp.: $105,000

- Talisman Energy: $85,000

- Equitable Gas Co.: $78,000

- Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania: $75,000

- Consol Energy: $75,000

- CNX Gas Corp.: $59,000

- Exxon Mobil: $55,000

- Cabot Oil and Gas: $50,000

- Pennsylvania General Energy: $48,000

- XTO Energy: $41,000

- National Fuel Gas: $36,000

- NiSource: $36,000

The dramatic rise of the gas industry in Pennsylvania along with its increasing lobbying presence has put tremendous pressure on state lawmakers, who are charged with both facilitating the drilling boom and protecting the public from the health and environmental threats associated with drilling. Pennsylvania is home to some of the worst unconventional gas production disasters in the country, many stemming from the industry's use of the controversial hydraulic fracturing (fracking) method. 

On paper, 2010 was full of promise for those who felt oversight of the gas industry was inadequate. Throughout the year, numerous bills were proposed to tighten accountability of gas drilling activities, ranging from water protection issues, pipeline safety standards and drilling bans in state forests. Both the House and State voiced the need for industry severance taxes and the Department of Environmental Protection introduced more thorough standards regarding drilling pollutants, well construction and frack fluid chemical disclosure.

But despite the flurry of legislative proposals, very little was actually accomplished. Only two of the weaker proposed bills were passed into law, one designed to increase access to well production data and the other regarding roll-back taxes for landowners. The proposed severance tax was overshadowed by a less strict impact fee, which was further deferred until this fall.

The increasing lobbying activity in Pennsylvania demonstrates the industry’s continued efforts to expand unconventional drilling, despite growing public concern over the inherent risks of dirty fracked gas. The oil and gas industry is focusing its efforts primarily on confusing the public and influencing politicians, not on making their operations safe for public health and the environment.

“The legislative and regulatory issues facing our industry are countless,” says Marcellus Shale Coalition Vice President David Callahan. “While Marcellus development is still in its relative infancy, we recognize that common-sense policies – at all levels of government – are imperative.”

Coalition groups like the Marcellus Shale Coalition represent a variety of industry players, from continental drillers and national pipeline operators to multinationals such as ExxonMobil. 

Doubling up on efforts to influence policy, coalition members also exercise their own lobbying muscle. Range Resources, Chesapeake Energy and ExxonMobil each fund a private lobbying arm and, in the case of the latter two, full-scale public relations campaigns designed to influence public opinion regarding the benefits of unconventional gas

Gas industry lobbying in Pennsylvania has already created some troubling political alliances, like that between Gov. Tom Corbett and former energy executive C. Alan Walker, blurring the lines between public and private interests. 

At this stage there is little end to the spending spree in sight. Lobbying in the state is set to increase throughout 2011, with the MSC, Range Resources and PIOGA already spending a combined $557,000 between January and March of this year. Shell Oil Co., which only registering to lobby in Pennsylvania on January 3rd, spent $92,000 in the same period.

Image Credit: MarcellusMoney.org

June 25 2011

11:45

Fossil Fuel Propaganda In Education: Connecting the Dots

Get ‘em while their young!

It’s a widely know fact that children, whose immune systems are weaker than adults and still developing, are especially susceptible to getting sick from the chemicals and toxins found in fossil fuel pollution. They are also susceptible to another kind of fossil fuel pollution: educational propaganda.

Scientists have even discovered that brains don’t fully develop and mature until the age of 25. That’s why kids continually shove unidentified objects up their nose, light random things on fire, eat worms, and think licking the light socket might be the best ideas of their short-lived little lives. It’s also why they won’t be able to tell the difference between well-rounded educational materials and industry propaganda.

That’s also why it’s disturbing to see the array of news reports showcasing coloring books, cartoons, and lovable characters that the fossil fuel industry has come up with to entice little tykes. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill energy education. The reason these materials are so exploitative is because none of them explore any of the pitfalls of dirty energy.  There’s nothing about public health concerns, water pollution, or the decimation of local ecosystems. And there's definitely nothing about climate change, which surely belongs on the top 10 list of things kids should be peeing their pants about (after the closet monster of course).

Here’s a litany of examples:

A few days ago, we reported on a natural gas company's new mascot, Talisman Terry the Fracosaurus and the coloring book Talisman Energy has released without explaining to kids that Talisman Terry would probably be losing his scales if he drank the water contaminated by the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Chesapeake Energy, another gas company, came up with Chesapeake Charlie, the beagle who loves natural gas, who also has his own coloring book.

In May, Scholastic Inc. cancelled the distribution of a fourth-grade educational package entitled “United States of Energy” that was contracted by the American Coal Foundation. They ended up dropping the client because of outrage from the community over one-sided learning materials that conveniently left out the negative impacts that coal has on the environment and human health.

Also in May, a group released a parody website, Coal Cares, that satirized coal pollution’s link to childhood asthma. The website offered novelty inhalers to children within 200 miles of a coal plant. But fiction turned out to be not far from the truth.

It turns out that the coal industry has been creating children’s material for years, even some eerily similar to the farcical Coal Cares website. For example, the pro-coal group, Friends of Coal, put out a “Let’s Learn About Coal” coloring book two years ago.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity put out a website cartoon with singing lumps of coal for Christmas a couple years ago. The outrageous part is that if the coal industry were to do something like market a “coal ash sandbox” as a new environmental initiative to "recycle" the toxic byproducts of coal combustion, the public has been so desensitized to these type of tactics that it’s probably not out of the realm of possibility.

Even the biomass industry is trying to tap into this resource with their own coloring book. Burning biomass for energy is a process that’s only 24% efficient, which is even less than other fossil fuels. Not to mention it takes trees, which help fix that burgeoning carbon problem the world is having, and burns them, which ends up releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instead of taking it out.

It's likely that these dirty industries are taking a page out of Big Tobacco’s play book. The tobacco industry has been under fire for decades for trying to get youth addicted to cigarettes. The younger kids start to smoke, that ultimately turns into more profits for the companies per lifetime. Joe Camel is the most familiar, and although the companies at present claim they don’t target youth anymore, insider reports show otherwise.

While oil, coal, and gas don’t have a particular chemical like nicotine that is addictive, the American affinity for fossil fuels has often been compared to being a dangerous addiction the US doesn’t seem to want to go to rehab for.

It seems like the only thing that could be worse would be coloring book propaganda from the Tea Party for kids. Oh wait, there already is one.

June 23 2011

22:58

Economic Benefits of Unconventional Gas Drilling Overblown by Industry PR

A new poll suggests that Pennsylvanians are supportive of unconventional gas drilling in their state. Not because it is safe, but because they are convinced the economic benefits outweigh the risks to public health, water supplies and the environment. This kind of reasoning indicates that gas industry rhetoric is having an impact: advertise the benefits, downplay the risks, convince people that you know what you’re doing and there’s nothing to worry about.

And this is just what the industry has done. 

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pennsylvanians are a receptive audience to the extensive public relations campaigns waged by gas interests to confuse the public on the contentious issue of unconventional gas drilling. Between Exxon Mobil’s commercials, Chesapeake Energy’s first-person testimonials from “true Pennsylvanians,” and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association’s billboards lining the highway, industry is leaving no public opinion stone unturned.

Pennsylvania is at the forefront of the gas drilling bonanza since it sits atop the coveted Marcellus Shale, so the oil and gas industry sees every reason to invest in winning public confidence. 

The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), an industry group with over 200 member companies, is dedicated to improving the reputation of the industry and influencing public policy to cater to gas interests. With companies paying membership dues between $15,000 and $50,000, the Coalition can afford to buy the opinion of respectable public figures like Pennsylvania’s former Governor turned-lobbyist Tom Ridge, who receives $75,000 a month from MSC to give speeches and guided tours of gas drilling sites.  He recently tried to convince Stephen Colbert that he’s “not a lobbyist” but DeSmogBlog quickly revealed that Ridge is definitely registered as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania.  

The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and its industry funded offspring, Energy in Depth (EID), tag team with the MSC to construct a portrait of energy security dependent on unconventional gas drilling, while attempting to keep fracking - the industry’s Achilles heel right now - out of the spotlight.

The industry’s large PR expenditures and advertising outlays are about more than achieving popularity; these efforts are ultimately designed to influence public policy. “They need to distract the public from the problems,” according to Pennsylvania’s Sierra Club director, Jeff Schmidt.

Energy in Depth’s recent report on the ’shale revolution’ highlights the economic benefits of unconventional gas production in Pennsylvania, including the hiring spree created by the dirty gas boom. The Marcellus Shale Coalition makes the same boast, reporting accelerated hiring rates across the state. The Coalition’s president, Kathryn Klaber, embraced the figures, saying “people who were out of work and now have jobs thanks to Marcellus development are more than statistics.”

But industry critics point out that the June report from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is misleading, intended to equate ‘hiring’ increases as job creation. But new hires do not equal new jobs and are often account for job replacements after workers have quit or been fired.

These industry groups, eager to downplay the environmental risks associated with gas drilling, tend to exaggerate the related economic benefits without telling the public about issues like out-of-state workers landing the jobs and taking their pay home, and expenses incurred by local governments related to damage to infrastructure such as roads, not to mention the high cost of responding to contamination incidents, blowouts and other industry mistakes. 

And it’s worth remembering the historical lesson that the economic effects of a temporary industry ‘boom’ are almost always followed by the bust, a fact the gas pushers don’t bother to discuss. 

Numerous reports highlight the cavalier optimism of gas production projections, the problems of dwindling returns in aging wells and, importantly, the irretrievable environmental damage associated with unconventional gas drilling.

These reports, while intending to make a long-term contribution to public policy, are often hard pressed to compete with industry-funded PR. 

Gas interests have a remarkable financial advantage over independent experts, environmental organizations and citizen led initiatives. In 2009, the MSC spent a total of $1.8 million on its PR initiatives while the IPAA has an $8 million budget, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The battles currently being fought over unconventional gas drilling legislation leave the future of government oversight of gas fracking uncertain.  Uncertainty is never a good feeling for dirty energy’s Wall Street financiers, so the stakes are high for the industry to protect its cash cow (even if the real cows are dying from reckless industry practice). 

Tom Hoffman, executive of Carbon Communications Consultants, suggests that gas companies have to strike while the iron is hot. “It is important for them to continue to tell their side of the story because there are still decisions being made by policymakers.”

Strike they will, but a growing chorus of public opposition will continue to counter the rush towards another fossil fuel disaster.

 

 

June 01 2011

18:10

New York Attorney General Sues Over Lack Of Fracking Studies

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to properly study the effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) before granting permits to gas drillers. The lawsuit seeks to stop fracking in the Delaware River Basin until a comprehensive analysis of the dangers is performed by the government.

Schneiderman warned Washington last month that he would file suit if the government didn’t take immediate action to study the effects of fracking. Schneiderman says that federal officials have failed to assess the fracking process properly, and that the environmental protections for the Delaware River Basin have not been evaluated by government officials to determine if they are adequate to address the fracking boom. Independent studies have shown that fracking fluids contain numerous toxic chemicals, and that the potential to contaminate water supplies is enormous.

Currently, standards for the Delaware River Basin would allow as many as 18,000 new gas wells in the coming years, and the majority of these will employ the controversial fracking method. These rules allow companies to create new gas wells without having to adhere to any environmental standards that other industries follow in the area.
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Chesapeake Energy
holds most of these leases, and has claimed that their fracking fluid is 99% sand and water, with “chemical additives” that are virtually harmless because they are also found in “everyday consumer products and cleaners.”

In April of this year, a fracking well operated by Chesapeake Energy in Pennsylvania blew, leaking contaminated water into nearby aquifers.

DeSmogBlog has put together a comprehensive report detailing the dangers of fracking, which includes exclusive interviews, analysis, and data.

April 21 2011

18:12

Cue the 'Junk Shot': Chesapeake Ready to Cram Plastic and Tires Into Fracking Blowout in PA

Reuters has more details on Chesapeake's just-announced suspension of fracking at its unconventional gas operations throughout Pennsylvania due to an ongoing blowout.

Apparently, since their emergency response efforts have so far not worked to stop the well blowout, Chesapeake is getting ready to - you might want to sit down for this - launch a 'top kill' junk shot of "a mix of plastic, ground up tires and heavy mud to plug the well." 

What, no golf balls? 

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17:33

Chesapeake Energy Suspends ALL Fracking in Pennsylvania After Blowout On Eve of BP Anniversary

Chesapeake Energy announced today the total suspension of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at its Pennsylvania unconventional gas drilling operations, citing the still out-of-control blowout at one of its Bradford County wells as the reason to cease the controversial practice.

According to the brief Associated Press piece about this development, Chesapeake has slowed down the flow rate of the chemical-laced water at the Canton-area disaster site, but the company has not been able to get the well completely under control.

As DeSmogBlog reported yesterday, this unconventional gas well blowout - which occured almost exactly a year after the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico - is an eery reminder of the lax oversight of the oil and gas industry's increasingly dangerous drilling practices as it reaches for dwindling fossil fuel reserves beneath the Earth's surface to feed our dirty energy addiction.

Chesapeake's suspension of fracking operations in Pennsylvania is a wise and welcomed step, and it should raise the question about the safety of the fracking boom taking place nationwide and around the globe.

*UPDATE: Reuters has more details on the fracking suspension and blowout response, including Chesapeake's preparations for a 'top kill' junk shot. Now where have we heard that strategy before?

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