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January 11 2012


Shale Gas Bubble: Bloomberg News Confirms NY Times Finding That Fracking Boom Is a Bust

As news outlets across America take a more rigorous look at shale gas and fracking issues, it’s encouraging to see how the media coverage is finally starting to cut through the oil industry’s misleading rhetoric to explore the realities of the myth of gas as a viable ‘bridge fuel.’

The gas industry’s loud-mouthed front group, Energy In Depth, repeatedly attacked The New York Times for their excellent Drilling Down series last year, focusing particular ire on journalist Ian Urbina. EID’s penchant for attacking the messenger shows no sign of letting up in 2012, but as other news outlets look more closely, they are not only confirming what the NY Times series found, but also adding additional evidence of the many problems with shale gas development.

The latest effort from Bloomberg News, “Shale Bubble Inflates on Near-Record Prices,” illustrates how the media’s grasp of the unconventional energy industry landscape has evolved and improved in recent months. 

This excellent reporting by Bloomberg confirms many of the facts that The New York Times reported last summer in “Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush” and “Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas.”

While many major outlets have covered the myriad environmental and public health risks of fracking and related drilling practices, the NY Times and now Bloomberg have both exposed the fact that the economics of risky and expensive unconventional gas recovery simply don’t match up with industry geologists’ claims of a “nearly limitless” supply.

Investors are increasingly taking notice of the unpredictable nature of this industry and questioning its risky behavior. Is there really as much gas down there as the industry claims? If so, how much is economically recoverable?

Remember that oil and gas companies have purchased or leased an enormous amount of land without any assurance that it will produce anything. Now they’re drilling multi-million dollar wells to explore, and often blanking or failing to meet expectations when they find recoverable gas.

Let’s look at the similarities in what both the Times and Bloomberg found in their investigations.

The Times reported that industry officials were quietly saying that shale gas has inherent risks, geology varies and the data is sparse. An excerpt from the Times article ‘Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush’:

…the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells. …
Company data for more than 10,000 wells in three major shale gas formations raise further questions about the industry’s prospects…The data show that while there are some very active wells, they are often surrounded by vast zones of less-productive wells that in some cases cost more to drill and operate than the gas they produce is worth. Also, the amount of gas produced by many of the successful wells is falling much faster than initially predicted by energy companies, making it more difficult for them to turn a profit over the long run. If the industry does not live up to expectations, the impact will be felt widely. Federal and state lawmakers are considering drastically increasing subsidies for the natural gas business in the hope that it will provide low-cost energy for decades to come…There is undoubtedly a vast amount of gas in the formations. The question remains how affordably it can be extracted.” (emphases mine)

Recall that the industry front group Energy In Depth and other industry outlets tried to smear Urbina and the Times for airing concerns from market and industry analysts about shale gas economics back in June. Energy In Depth accused Urbina of using “tricks” and EID’s Marcellus Initiative quoted Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon claiming he “sums up the fallacy in the NYT’s premise [on economically recoverable shale gas] quite succinctly.” 

But in Tuesday’s Bloomberg piece, industry folks are now stepping forward and making awfully similar points. For example, here is what Bloomberg reported:

The quirky nature of shale geology means the risks are high that an investment made in a sparsely drilled prospect will go bust, Nikhanj said. Rock density, porosity and pressure levels vary widely within each field, which means one parcel may hold enough fuel to justify prices of $30,000 or $50,000 an acre, while the adjacent land is almost worthless to drillers.”…
“Surging prices for oil and gas shales, in at least one case rising 10-fold in five weeks, are raising concern of a bubble as valuations of drilling acreage approach the peak set before the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.”…
“As competition among buyers intensifies, overseas investors are paying top dollar for fields where too few wells have been drilled to assess potential production, said Sven Del Pozzo, a senior equity analyst at IHS Inc. (IHS)”…
“I don’t feel confident that the prices being paid now are justified,” Del Pozzo said in a telephone interview from Norwalk, Connecticut. “I’m wary.”

The Times also published dozens of emails from industry and regulators confirming the risk of shale investment:

They discuss the uncertainties about how long the wells will be productive as well as the high prices some companies paid during the land rush to lease mineral rights. They also raise concerns about the unpredictability of shale gas drilling.” 

And now look at the Bloomberg piece. It also calls attention to the hazards of investing huge sums before the costs of developing the shale gas plays are understood:

Hunt, the closely held Dallas company founded by Texas tycoon H.L. Hunt in 1934, has only drilled ‘a handful’ of wells in its Eagle Ford shale acreage, which means it doesn’t yet know how extensive or rich those holdings are, Del Pozzo said. Similarly, because drilling in the Utica shale in the U.S. northeast still is in its infancy, the geological characteristics and potential bounty of the region are hard to assess, said Manuj Nikhanj, head of energy research at ITG Investment Research Inc.
‘The big risk is that people are jumping in with both feet too early,’ Nikhanj said in a telephone interview from Calgary. “‘Of course, the other side of that is that if they wait, they risk missing out on what could turn out to be a big deal.’”
U.S. gas explorers including Chesapeake and Devon Energy Corp. (DVN) are selling interests in shale fields to international energy companies such as Total and Sinopec to finance drilling on leases acquired during a “massive land grab” in 2007 and 2008 as oil and gas prices soared to record highs, O’Neill of Bloomberg Industries said.
The plunge in energy prices that followed Lehman’s bankruptcy and subsequent global financial crisis left operators like Chesapeake too poor to fulfill clauses that set deadlines for finishing wells on pain of forfeiting the leases, O’Neill said.

As of Tuesday night, the folks at Energy In Depth have not uttered a peep about the Bloomberg findings.

And there are plenty of other examples of media roundly debunking the previous defensive claims of industry and their captive regulators.

For example, an article this week on Seeking Alpha took a close look at Cabot Oil and Gas’s prospects for 2012, and concluded that the company could not maintain its growth, and share prices would stabilize or drop despite the fact that Cabot drilled 16 of the 20 best Marcellus wells last year.

In sum, COG is a fast grower, but it is heading down an unsustainable path. It cannot sustain its current growth without incurring a lot of new debts by buying new land, etc. Such debts in themselves would tend to make investors more wary of the stock,” wrote the analyst. “Showing good results now to the detriment of a better longer term plan is a losing long term strategy in this market.”

For the past year, Pennsylvania has been arguing that it has everything under control.

Remember the vitriolic reaction to this NY Times story on PA wastewater problems?  Well, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story this Monday revealing that the Department of Environmental Protection lost track of nearly 500 wells in Pennsylvania. Wells were drilled, but DEP records are missing or wrong — meaning that state regulators do not even know how many Marcellus wells are in Pennsylvania. See "DEP's Marcellus Shale drilling numbers do not add up."

On the same day, the Associated Press reported that Cabot Oil and Gas polluted three water wells in Susquehanna County with methane gas. 

Though there is still a long way to go, there is no denying that media analysis of the unconventional gas industry has improved over the past year. More journalists are asking tough questions and challenging the industry’s talking points. When news outlets make such an informed attempt, they are able to cut through the industry’s smoke screens.

This level of scrutiny should be standard practice everywhere instead of the bogus “balance” frame that many outlets embrace, allowing industry PR pollution to contaminate the public conversation. It’s promising to see that some journalists and news outlets are waking up to this.

Kudos to Bloomberg and other outlets that are exposing the shale gas bubble and the other dangerous distractions inherent in the “gas as bridge fuel” myth that is putting off the truly transformative switch to a clean energy economy.


Image credit: Complot | Shutterstock

December 02 2011


Smeared But Still Fighting, Cornell's Tony Ingraffea Debunks Gas Industry Myths

Cornell University Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea made waves in April 2011 when they unveiled what is now known simply as the "Cornell Study."

Published in a peer-reviewed letter in the academic journal Climatic Change Letters, the study revealed that, contrary to the never-ending mythology promulgated by the gas industry, unconventional ("natural") gas, procured via the infamous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, likely emits more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere during its life cycle than does coal. DeSmogBlog documented the in-depth details of the Cornell Study in our report, "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate."

Since the report was published, the Cornell Study has receieved serioius backlash from the gas industry, in particular from Energy in Depth, the industry's go-to front defensive linebackers on all things fracking related. DeSmogBlog revealed earlier this year that Energy in Depth is an industry front group created by many of the largest oil and gas companies, contrary to its preferred "mom and pop" image. 

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea wrote a must-read piece this week for CBC News, "Does the natural gas industry need a new messenger?

In his article, Dr. Ingraffea discusses and debunks many key gas industry myths, which he explained "always have at least a kernel of truth, but you have to listen to the whole story, carefully, not just the kernel."

"With decades of geopolitical influence and billions of dollars on the table, it is not surprising that the gas industry has perpetuated…myths to keep the public in the dark, regulators at bay, and the wells flowing," Ingraffea writes.

Let's review four of the myths exploded by Dr. Ingraffea:

Myth One: "Fracking is a 60-year-old, safe, well proven technology"

Dr. Ingraffea writes:

Yes, fracking is 60 years old. But using this shorthand obscures the truth that what’s at issue here isn’t really just fracking. It's the entire process of coaxing gas from shale using high-volume, slickwater fracking with long laterals from clustered, multi-well pads.

Myth Two: "Fluid migration from faulty wells is rare"

Ingraffea dismantles this one:

Fluid migration is not rare. For example, industry researchers Watson and Bachu, in a Society of Petroleum Engineers paper in 2009, examined 352,000 Canadian wells and found sustained casing pressure and gas migration…Most recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene, methane and chemicals in water-monitoring wells in Pavilion, Wyoming…

Myth Three: "The use of clustered, multi-well drilling pads reduces surface impacts"


Such pad sites are large and growing, up to 10 acres or more. Newer sites, in Canada, are bigger than 50 acres, and each will leave behind clusters of wellheads and holding tanks for decades.

Cluster drilling facilitates and prolongs intense industrialization and leaves a larger, more concentrated, and very long-term footprint, not a smaller and shorter one.

Myth Four: "Natural gas is a 'clean' fossil fuel"

This one would be laughable if so many people did not believe it. As the old adage goes, "A lie can travel halfway 'round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Ingraffea on this whopper:

NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell’s work, published in the prestigious journal, Science, shows that methane – natural gas – is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor over a 20-year time horizon, and 33 times more powerful over a century.

He proceeds to explain that methane gas is prone to leakage, which is not taken into account when proponents tout gas as a "clean" source of energy:

Leaks happen routinely during regular drilling, fracking and flowback operations, liquid unloading, processing, and along pipelines and at storage facilities.

The rate of leakage is anywhere from 3.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent of the lifetime of production of a shale gas well, which means from three to 200 per cent greater leakage rate than from conventional gas wells.

Exposing Other Mythology, Making a Plea For Truth 

Dr. Ingraffea also discusses other myths the gas industry relies upon on a daily basis, including "jobs created," "gas for energy independence," gas as a "bridge fuel" toward renewable energy, among others. All of these lies and misdirections have been debunked on multiple occasions, by numerous sources.

Concluding where he began his article, Ingraffea makes a plea to his readers: "keep asking questions, dig for the truth, and you’ll get the whole story."

Sponsored post

June 23 2011


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 15 2011


President Obama’s Fracking Panel Unmoved By Pennsylvanians’ Water Concerns

On Monday, the Natural Gas Subcommittee, from Energy Department Secretary Stephen Chu’s Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), held its second public meeting.  Around 400 people packed a cramped auditorium at Washington Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania to discuss the effects of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) on water supplies, air quality and other threats from the controversial practice.

The crowd split into two camps, those opposing and those supporting the highly contentious drilling method which has spread across Pennsylvania. Fracking opponents argued that fracking is a dangerous and destructive process that must be banned immediately, while those in favour yelled out “drill, baby, drill.”

Given the circumstances it was not surprising that the pro-frackers won the evening. This was due, in large part, to the work of gas industry front-group Energy in Depth who sent out emails to Pennsylvania and New York residents supportive of fracking, offering them airfare, hotels and meals to attend. Tickets to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the New York Mets were even offered, although later retracted. <!--break-->

The mandate of the SEAB Natural Gas Subcommittee focuses on supporting the President’s “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” and will make recommendations within the next months on how to “improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas extraction processes” [pdf]. A fracking ban, or even a slowdown in gas development will not be considered.

The pro-oil and gas biases of the Subcommittee members have been heavily scrutinized since their appointment earlier this year. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes that six of seven members have a considerable financial interest in the oil and gas industry. For instance, Subcommittee Chairman John Deutch, sits on the board of Houston-based Cheniere Energy Inc., and was paid some $882,000 for his services between 2006 and 2009. He also earned around $563,000 in 2006 and 2007 for serving on the board of Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world’s three largest fracking companies.

Nadia Steinzor, who is a Marcellus Shale representative for EARTHWORKS Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), believes that it is unconventional gas profits, and not the interests of affected residents, that will be best represented on the panel. Josh Fox, who made the fracking documentary Gasland, called last night’s events a sham.

EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt has gone even further in demanding wholesale changes to the panel and its purposes, given the heavy representation of oil and gas interests on the Subcommittee:

“John Deutch must step down from the panel.”

“…The panel must be chaired by an impartial person and must also be expanded to include independent experts.”

Trusting the oil and gas industry to police themselves poses tremendous risks to public health and safety as well as effective environmental protections.

Time and again, drillers have acted carelessly placing the lives of residents at risk.

In this instance, the oil and gas industry is being handed the proverbial keys to the city since running such an important committee will help to determine drilling and environmental policies for years to come.

The President and the DoE have also undermined the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by convening this industry focus group to study unconventional gas fracking. Something Rep. Fred Upton and his fellow Republicans have been trying so hard to do, though largely unsuccessfully

In fact, the EPA initiated a four year study of fracking’s impacts to freshwater last year, with preliminary results expected late in 2012. The existence of a separate fracking panel will probably have little effect on the discussions within the EPA’ Science Advisory Board Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan Review Panel, which meets again on June 21st. But when it comes time to produce an initial report in 2012, the possibility that the Natural Gas Subcommittee has ruled that fracking is not a danger will definitely have an effect. Policy will already be set.

EWG’s Dusty Horwitt also questions the Natural Gas Subcommittee’s impacts on the EPA for similar reasons:

"We were surprised that this panel was created at all, especially with the EPA study already going on."

"So we're concerned that this panel will come out with findings in 90 days -- that's essentially early August at this point -- that some people could hold up as the Obama administration's definitive view on the issue."

The next SEAB, Natural Gas Subcommittee public meetings will take place on June 28th and July 13th, at the main office for the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, DC.

May 06 2011


Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health and Climate - Report

The United States is at the center of a high profile controversy over the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling, particularly surrounding the industry’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling techniques. Amidst the dirty energy industry’s rush to drill the last of America’s dwindling fossil fuel reserves, a growing number of independent scientists, politicians, environmental organizations and impacted citizens are urging the nation’s lawmakers to adopt a more cautious and informed approach to the fracked gas boom.

The oil and gas industry, however, is fighting back against calls for caution, suggesting that it has everything under control – much like it did prior to BP’s offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a new report released today, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate,” DeSmogBlog details the concerns that scientists, cancer specialists, ecologists, investigative journalists and others have raised about the unconventional gas boom. Featuring original interviews and unpublicized reports, “Fracking The Future” delves into many of the key issues in the unconventional gas debate.

DeSmogBlog is calling for a nationwide moratorium on fracking, citing the fact that the potential impacts on water, health, and climate appear greater than previously understood. A moratorium is necessary to protect the public while fracking is studied much more thoroughly in order to determine if the risks of this practice outweigh the benefits.  <!--break-->

Additionally, since state regulators have failed to safeguard the public from the ill effects of gas fracking, federal health and safety officials must be empowered to hold the gas industry accountable for damage to public health, drinking water and the environment.

The report traces the massive industry lobbying efforts to confuse the public and stifle long-overdue federal oversight of the unconventional gas drilling bonanza. We review the sordid history of industry favoritism by the Bush administration, typified by the infamous Halliburton Loophole, which created a recipe for recklessness that has led to air and water contamination and drilling-related accidents.  But the prioritization of industry greed above public health and safety didn’t start there.

Since the Reagan era, those charged with protecting health and the environment have instead worked with the gas industry to minimize public awareness of its practices, and to hide the early warning signs regarding the inherent dangers of drilling deeper into the Earth for fossil fuels. State agencies have been pressured to accommodate the industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling techniques, and have largely enabled the poor, unmonitored practices common in the industry today.

The gas industry is investing millions of dollars each year to restrict oversight to the state level and thwart all federal involvement. The number of gas industry lobbyists has increased seven-fold in recent years, exhibiting the dangerous political sway the dirty energy industry exercises in Washington and at the local level across the nation.

Industry front groups like Energy in Depth (EID) play a pivotal role in the dissemination of misinformation and efforts to attack and silence those who attempt to call polluters to account.

Despite EID’s claims to represent small, independent “mom and pop” gas producers, internal industry documents uncovered by DeSmogBlog reveal that the group was created with seed funding from Big Oil multinationals. When communicating with its industry friends, EID continues to repeatedly tout the funding it receives from BP, Halliburton, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and other oil giants that certainly don’t fit the “mom and pop shop” characterization. 

With international attention focused on the U.S. experience with unconventional gas, “Fracking the Future” urges a cautious approach and much greater industry transparency.  The public deserves to know the true costs of fracked unconventional gas before allowing the oil and gas industry to carry on with its pursuit of this fossil fuel.

Read more: Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health and Climate

April 12 2011


Fugitive Methane Stirs Debate on Natural Gas

A new study suggesting that unconventional natural gas development is worse than coal for the climate brought a quick response from the gas industry.

March 21 2011


Gas Industry Working Overtime to Smother Revived FRAC Act Efforts To Rein In Hydraulic Fracturing

Last week, US Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) reintroduced legislation to the Senate that would close the oversight gap that the gas industry has taken full advantage of since 2005. The “Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,” commonly known as the FRAC Act, would close the Halliburton Loophole in Dick Cheney’s infamous 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted hydraulic fracturing from the auspices of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

Hydraulic fracturing is used in 90% of all unconventional natural gas wells in the U.S. and involves the injection of millions of gallons of water, sand and dangerous chemicals into the ground. The bill would also require that the natural gas industry publicly disclose the chemicals they use to drill for unconventional gas. These chemicals, including potent cancer-causing agents, are protected as industry trade secrets.

The FRAC Act was originally introduced as a set of twin bills to the House and Senate in 2009 but died in the last session of Congress. According to new supporter Senator Frank Lautenberg, the FRAC Act will give the EPA the necessary backing to, at the very least, properly investigate and assess the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.

The industry’s aggressive lobbying campaign against the FRAC Act is part of a larger agenda to limit federal oversight of gas drilling. The legal void created by the Energy Policy Act in 2005 essentially crippled the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to properly monitor the boom in gas fracking activity, especially the potentially serious threat to drinking water supplies. A long history of industry pressure on EPA scientists is also present on this issue, leading to the narrowing of scope in the EPA’s investigations and the elimination of critical findings when it comes to certain fracking threats. <!--break-->

As a result of the Halliburton Loophole, the states are left to monitor the gas industry's rapidly evolving drilling practices themselves, with few federal standards in place to safeguard public health and water supplies.  A growing number of communities impacted by the gas industry’s fracking practices consider this reliance on state agencies a risky gamble.  In many states, the state oil and gas commission handles both the oversight and promotion of the industry, and as one recent report noted, “the primary mission of these agencies has been to facilitate natural gas extraction and increase revenues for the states.”  

The gas industry has responded to the proposed legislation with a misleading advertising and lobbying campaign, attempting to pressure lawmakers to keep oversight at the state level and limit federal participation. 

Industry-sponsored reports have praised the regulatory oversight of state commissions, and lobby groups have suggested that federal engagement would be bad for the environment.

Among the favorite scare tactics employed by the gas industry is the suggestion that federal involvement would mean millions in lost state revenue, further unemployment and compromised energy security. Industry lobbying efforts have so far succeeded in stalling any momentum towards the implementation of much-needed federal standards for fracking.

But as the recent New York Times’ “Drilling Down” series on gas drilling shows, the industry is in serious need of more thorough federal oversight.  According to these reports, the states are failing to monitor radioactive drilling wastes, much less ensure their proper disposal. As a result, the Times notes how the wastes can end up back in streams and rivers that source the drinking water supply. A single gas well can produce over a million gallons of radioactive waste water contaminated with cancer-causing agents, posing a threat to drinking water and health if not properly handled and disposed. 

The FRAC Act is one crucial step in the long journey to proper accountability for all risky practices in the gas industry. But powerful gas industry lobbying forces will work to derail it. In fact, they already are. 

Lee Fuller, executive director of Energy in Depth, the most vocal industry front group, was quick to attack the reintroduction of the FRAC Act, saying the bill is based on “fundamentally incorrect information.” EID insists that hydraulic fracturing was never regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), so the legislative attempt to “restore” this regulation is misguided. Yet the process was always regulated by the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program of the SDWA until language inserted into the 2005 Energy Policy Act excluded the underground injection of fluids for the sake of oil and gas extraction.  

This isn’t the only EID claim intended to confuse the public, as DeSmogBlog recently revealed

While Energy In Depth suggests that hydraulic fracturing has “become a victim of its own success,” the citizens whose water supplies and health have been put in jeopardy would beg to differ. 

The industry is still parroting the same refrain: that ‘no proven instances of water contamination have been directly linked to hydraulic fracturing.’ Yet with mounting instances of water contamination occurring across America, all this statement reflects is the near impossibility of bringing this cavalier industry to account. 

Congress must work quickly to pass the FRAC Act and to safeguard the public from the gas industry’s fracking mess.


February 25 2011


Natural Gas Industry Rhetoric Versus Reality

As the recent natural gas industry attacks on the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland demonstrate, the gas industry is mounting a powerful PR assault against journalists, academics and anyone else who speaks out against the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and other threats to public health and the environment from shale gas development. DeSmogBlog has analyzed some of the common talking points the industry and gas proponents use to try to convince the public and lawmakers that fracking is safe despite real concerns raised by residents living near gas drilling sites, whose experiences reveal a much more controversial situation.

DeSmogBlog extensively reviewed government, academic, industry and public health reports and interviewed the leading hydraulic fracturing experts who challenge the industry claims that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate drinking water, that the industrial fracking fluids pose no human health risk, that states adequately regulate the industry and that natural gas has a lighter carbon footprint than other fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Below are ten of the most commonly repeated claims by the industry about the 'safety' of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional natural gas development, along with extensive evidence showing their claims are pure rhetoric, and not reality. <!--break-->
Natural Gas Rhetoric Vs. Reality

1.    RHETORIC: There has never been a proven instance of drinking water contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing.

REALITY: This statement, repeatedly used by industry and pro-drilling groups, is highly misleading. 

There is no doubt that water contamination has resulted from natural gas drilling practices. The actual cause of contamination can vary from case to case, and it is often difficult to conclusively determine the exact cause. Therefore, no natural gas drilling practice, including hydraulic fracturing, can be ruled out categorically.

This is an example of a typical PR trick, where industry uses highly specific language to deliberately mislead the public and to discredit the citizens whose drinking water has been ruined by contamination.
By crafting its argument around hydraulic fracturing specifically and not natural gas drilling more generally, industry is hiding behind technicalities to obscure its documented role in contaminating drinking water supplies.  It is referring only to a precise moment that occurs within a much larger industrial process.

Attributing groundwater contamination to the specific moment of hydraulic fracture is difficult to conclusively ‘prove’ because the process occurs thousands of feet underground, where it is difficult to track the exact migration of the chemicals and gasses involved. 

The Houston Chronicle has noted industry’s use of this tactic, reporting that, “industry officials say few such incidents have been tied conclusively to hydraulic fracturing and that they are more likely isolated accidents involving other parts of drilling operations.” [emphasis added]

In fact, natural gas operations, especially hydraulic fracturing projects in unconventional gas deposits, have been linked to numerous instances of water contamination. For example, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission confirmed that natural gas drilling directly caused the methane contamination of drinking water in Colorado, but could not definitively confirm the contamination was the direct result of hydraulic fracturing. 

There are numerous aspects of drilling which may contribute to drinking water contamination, including spills, accidents, well blowouts, faulty cement jobs, and the improper transport, processing and storage of wastewater and drilling muds. Hydraulic fracturing in unconventional gas deposits requires vast amounts of water, and entails intensive drilling methods, and high-pressure injections – risky processes that increase the probability of accidents that could affect water supplies.

For numerous examples of water contamination related to natural gas drilling see reports from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Working Group, ProPublica, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, and the New York Riverkeeper.

2.    RHETORIC: Hydraulic fracturing is a proven method successfully applied in millions of gas wells for over 60 years.

REALITY: Again, this assertion leaves a false impression that industry has used the same fracking technique for six decades, when in fact the current hydraulic fracturing practices used in unconventional gas recovery have evolved greatly from the original methods employed 60 years ago. The reality is that the industry has less than ten years’ experience with high-volume slick water hydraulic fracturing.

According to recent testimony by Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, a hydraulic fracturing expert from Cornell University, the current fracturing technology is “surprisingly, relatively new. There are four elements of that new technology, and they did not come together in the United States until about eight years ago. So this is not the hydraulic fracturing of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. It’s not conventional gas development of that era. It’s a relatively new combined technology. … When industry says that they’ve had vast experience, 60 years of experience, with hydraulic fracturing, what they fail to say is that they’ve had fewer than 10 years of experience on a large scale using these unconventional methods to develop gas from shale.” [emphasis added]

The scope and scale of modern hydraulic fracturing operations in unconventional plays are much greater than the way the technology was used decades ago.

These drastic differences include:

•    Significantly higher amounts of water (and water pressure) used in each fracture, up to 7.8 million gallons per well. This represents 50 to 100 times the amount needed in conventional gas wells. Each well is capable of being fractured multiple times, in some cases, as many as 20 times. Post extraction procedures, such as refining and transport, can use an additional 400 million gallons of water each day.
•    Horizontal drilling is employed in about 90% of unconventional gas wells in the U.S. Horizontal drilling techniques allow lateral access to deposits thousands of feet underground. This recent technological advancement is what has made harvesting unconventional deposits profitable, and accounts for the increase in drilling pressure, up to 13,500 psi.
•   The chemical components of fracturing fluids are constantly evolving and research has shown a number of them to be extremely toxic to human and environmental health. Given the high volumes of water necessary for each fracture job, enormous amounts of chemicals are required, up to 20 tons per 1 million gallons of water used.

3.    RHETORIC: The water contamination featured in Gasland and investigated by journalists from ProPublica are instances of preexisting methane contamination from other sources. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas occurs thousands of feet below water bearing aquifers and could not possibly be their source of contamination.

REALITY: The natural gas industry commonly raises this point to delegitimize concerns of water contamination due to drilling operations. Without baseline testing prior to the commencement of drilling – a critical protection not yet mandatory in any state – industry can continue to claim that contaminants subsequently identified in nearby water wells are “naturally occurring.”
Drilling operations can enable methane to contaminate water through “disturbances of previously blocked migration paths through joint sets or faults, or by puncturing pressurized biogenic gas pockets and allowing migration through an as-yet un-cemented annulus, or through a faulty cement job.” Faulty cement jobs can allow natural gas, fracturing fluids and contaminated flowback water to travel alongside the wellbore to nearby drinking water aquifers.  

EPA scientists confirmed methane and other contaminants were responsible in a Fort Worth, Texas water contamination incident linked to gas drilling operations. Based on contamination incidents in Garfield County, a report by hydrogeologist Geoffrey Thyne gives an account of how methane migration can and has occurred.

The presence of methane in drinking water is a serious danger.  Methane will evaporate quickly from drinking water and is explosive when trapped in confined structures such as homes. Immediate effects of inhalation are dizziness and headaches. At high enough levels methane can act as an asphyxiant causing suffocation by displacing available oxygen. Instances of oxygen depravity can lead to hypoxia, where there is a lack of oxygen to sustain life, and can lead to nausea, brain damage and eventually death.

The presence of methane does not account for the issue of toxic chemicals from fracturing fluids in drinking water. Baseline testing, which is not yet mandatory in any state, would establish the quality of drinking water before drilling and would prevent operators from falsely claiming that ‘contamination occurred prior to drilling’ in instances where that is not the case.

4.    RHETORIC: The natural gas industry and its use of hydraulic fracturing are - and have always been – “aggressively regulated” by the states.

REALITY: State public health and safety agencies have failed to keep pace with the industry’s aggressive experimentation with new drilling technologies and the rapid expansion of unconventional gas development. 

Existing standards and protections for public health and the environment vary widely from state to state, and have not been reconciled with the rapidly evolving technology. According to Earthworks, reporting requirements are often scant in gas producing states, and companies do not have to report detailed information on drilling chemicals, the amount of fluids remaining in the ground after injection, or whether fractures remain within targeted areas. In some states, companies do not have to monitor water quality when drilling near sources of drinking water.

An Environmental Working Group report describes state officials as largely ‘oblivious’ to what companies are injecting into the ground during hydraulic fracturing operations and at times appearing to misinterpret the Safe Drinking Water Act, particularly concerning the use of diesel.

In fact, a recent congressional investigation into the illegal use of diesel in hydraulic fracturing operations found that state agencies had little knowledge that companies were using diesel without permits (and in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act). Between 2005 and 2009, over 32 million gallons of diesel and fracturing fluids containing diesel were used illegally in hydraulic fracturing operations, according to the investigation.

In 2010, the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) demonstrated that:
•    baseline testing is not always mandatory prior to drilling activities;
•    cement job logs are not always maintained by operators;
•    potential underground migration pathways which could act as a conduit for fluid migration into groundwater, such as abandoned wells, do not have to be identified before drilling in all states;
•    the depth of surface casings when drilling near groundwater do not have to be included in drilling permit applications to ensure groundwater protection;
•    not all states have adequately addressed how information on fracturing chemicals will be made available to medical responders in the event of an emergency;
•    not all operators are required to notify state officials when drilling operations will commence;
•    waste storage and pits do not always undergo inspection or certification.

EPA investigations have faulted state officials for inadequate response to concerns over drinking water contamination due to gas drilling. Public health and safety protections, whether state or federal, are only truly effective with comprehensive monitoring and enforcement before, during, and after drilling operations.

The Council of Scientific Society Presidents has also warned that natural gas derived from hydrofracking shales is “another area where policy has preceeded adequate scientific study.”

A geological engineering expert interviewed by DeSmogBlog cautioned that “it is important to make sure that regulatory agencies can do their jobs independently and are not ‘captured’ by industry or placed under undue political pressure by our elected representatives.”

5.    RHETORIC: Hydraulic fracturing has not been made exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act because it was never regulated under it in the first place.

REALITY: Energy In Depth’s suggestion that hydraulic fracturing has not been made exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act is erroneous. The exemption of hydraulic fracturing from EPA authority via the “Halliburton Loophole” in the 2005 energy bill is well documented.

The Safe Drinking Water Act has always covered the “subsurface emplacement of fluid” within the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program in order to protect underground sources of drinking water (USDWs). UIC included the processes associated with hydraulic fracturing until language was inserted into the 2005 Energy Policy Act in order to alter the definition of underground injection to mean “the subsurface emplacement of fluids by well injection” but to exclude “the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.”

The Center for American Progress released a report in 2004 accusing the Bush Administration of “altering scientific information to advance an oil and gas development practice known as ‘hydraulic fracturing.’” The report, entitled “Special Interest Takeover: The Bush Administration and the Dismantling of Public Safeguards,” details how in 2002 the EPA briefed congressional staff about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, especially concerning benzene contamination in drinking water. The EPA, however, soon revised their position, saying fracturing would not contaminate drinking water with levels of benzene above federal standards.  EPA claimed the change in position was due to information from an ‘industry source.’ As a result, Cheney’s Energy Task Force removed any mention of these concerns from its energy plan.

The oil and gas industry also enjoys numerous other exemptions from federal oversight including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund Act), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Release Inventory and the National Environmental Policy Act.

6.    RHETORIC: The chemicals used in the fracturing process are as common as household cleaning products, cosmetics and processed food ingredients. Companies are voluntarily reporting fracturing chemicals on their websites so the legal disclosure required by the FRAC Act is unnecessary.

REALITY: While natural gas companies have begun to ‘voluntarily’ report some chemicals used in fracturing on their websites, there is a lack of complete disclosure, which leaves the public and health officials in the dark about the potential health risks involved. 

These website "fact sheets" do not reveal all of the chemicals used in the fracturing process, nor do they include Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) identifier numbers which are necessary to identify the toxicity of each chemical component.

Industry only “volunteered” the partial information in an effort to deter the legally binding disclosure proposed in the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act), a measure introduced in 2009 that stalled in congressional committee after intense industry lobbying.

The lack of information regarding the chemicals used in the drilling process seriously inhibits the efficacy of contamination investigations because investigators do not know what to test for. In addition, these “fact sheets” often present the few disclosed chemicals in misleading ways, suggesting them as harmless household products, or even as ice cream ingredients.

Some of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process are known to cause cancer and organ damage, and to be disruptive to reproductive, neurological and endocrine systems

A recent investigation revealed the unpermitted injection of more than 32 million gallons of diesel for hydraulic fracturing by numerous natural gas operators between 2004 and 2009. The use of diesel, which contains benzene (a known carcinogen), in hydraulic fracturing is illegal and in direct violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. A report by the Environmental Working Group identifies other unregulated petroleum distillates used in hydraulic fracturing which resemble diesel that were found to have 93 times more benzene than diesel.

7.    RHETORIC: The majority of fracture fluids remain underground in the hydraulic fracturing process.

REALITY: Again, this is industry “spin” that fails to account for widespread uncertainty about the true fate of these industrial fluids.

According to Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, “The industry is fond of saying that most of what they pump down stays down. What they fail to talk about is the timeframe in which they’re counting. Typically, the returned fluid, after the fracturing process, is counted as returned fracturing fluid only during about the first week or two of flowback operations. However, all shale gas wells continue to produce fracturing fluid and brine containing heavy metals for the entire life of the well. One has to be very careful. One cannot say that on average, 50% of the fluid comes back. One has to say under what timeframe one is making that measurement. Typically, almost all of the fracturing fluid comes back during the life of the well.”

The returned fluid, once resurfaced, poses unique risks: “once the fluid comes back…it contains not only the chemicals that were put in on the way down but the material that was picked up from the shale…notably, in black shales, shales containing gas, the most dangerous of those are the heavy metals – strontium, barium, uranium, and radium – some of which are also naturally occurring radioactive materials.”

Dr. Theo Colborn of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) reports that once drilling is complete, produced water continues to surface for the life of the well for 20 to 30 years.

A 2009 Department of Energy report suggested that between 30 and 70 percent of fracking fluids remain underground, however the DOE noted the uncertainty of determining the exact fate of the fluids: “it is not possible to unequivocally state that 100% of the fracturing fluids have been recovered or to differentiate flow back water from natural formation water.”

8.    RHETORIC: In 2004 the EPA’s study on hydraulic fracturing concluded that the process posed no real threat to drinking water. The current EPA studies, the first regarding human health and drinking water due in 2012 and the second considering the lifecycle of natural gas drilling operations due in 2014, are redundant.

REALITY: The 2004 EPA study has been widely discredited by scientists and independent experts (and EPA’s own scientists) for failing to test water in contaminated areas.  The study’s objectivity was compromised by direct industry pressure throughout the course of the study, presenting a clear conflict of interest.

In 2000, the EPA began a study to determine the risks posed to drinking water by hydraulic fracturing.  This controversial study, completed in 2004, concluded that hydraulic fracturing in coalbed methane “poses little or no threat to drinking water.” This study was largely used to justify the “Halliburton Loophole” exemption and is still currently cited by the gas industry to assert the safety of hydraulic fracturing and to deny allegations of water contamination

The study has since been discredited after widespread criticism from independent exerts, as well as internal criticism among EPA scientists who noted the faulty study neglected to test water samples in contaminated areas. Both EPA and independent experts noted the study was compromised due to the involvement of industry groups who were consulted throughout the process, posing a clear conflict of interest. 

The study was also extremely limited in scope, focusing solely on coalbed methane fracturing and the potential for the underground migration of chemicals through rock layers. After the report was released, EPA scientist Weston Wilson cautioned Colorado representatives that "based on available science and literature, EPA’s conclusions are unsupportable."

In late 2009, the EPA was congressionally mandated to launch a new investigation into hydraulic fracturing. In March 2010, the EPA announced that the report was to address more extensively the threats posed by hydraulic fracturing to drinking water and human health.

In June 2010, the EPA Science Advisory Board endorsed additional research into the lifecycle of hydraulic fracturing and the potential impacts on drinking water.  This study will include a focused review of the potential impacts on drinking water, ten in-depth case studies conducted across the U.S., and will include stakeholder participation throughout the research. The proposed research includes an increased scope of study including water acquisition, frac fluid mixing, hydraulic fracturing, post-fracturing, and flowback and wastewater management. The initial results of the study are due in 2012 and the full report is due in 2014.

9.    RHETORIC: Natural gas has a lighter carbon footprint than other fossil fuels such as oil or coal.

REALITY: Although gas burns cleaner than coal and oil, the extraction, the processing and transport of natural gas emit large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG). Methane has a global warming potential 21 times greater than carbon dioxide on a 100-year scale, and 72 times greater than carbon dioxide on a 20-year scale. A recent, ongoing Cornell analysis suggests the footprint of shale gas may be 1.2 to 2.1-fold greater than coal’s on a 20-year timeframe.

Recently the EPA drastically increased estimates of methane leakage from the natural gas industry.  The revised figures estimate emissions from unconventional natural gas operations at 9,000 times higher than previous estimates. Yet, due to inadequate data regarding unconventional natural gas extraction from resources such as shale gas, the EPA maintains that these revised figures likely underestimate the total amounts.

Professor Robert Howarth and colleagues from Cornell University, using EPA estimates of methane leakage from natural gas operations, puts natural gas ahead of coal in terms of GHG emissions. The EPA recently estimated that fugitive methane from the petroleum and natural gas sector equals the annual equivalent of 40 million passenger cars. 

10.     RHETORIC: In some states like Pennsylvania, much of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing is recycled. Where wastewater is not recycled, it is safely injected into underground wells.

REALITY: Wastewater recycling in the U.S. is still in its infancy, and has been plagued with problems. A Halliburton manager Ron Hyden put it succinctly in a newspaper interview: “We're still in the infancy of trying to figure out how to recycle the water."
Standards for “recycling” wastewater vary according to operations and in some states recycling is not practiced at all. Recycling of wastewater usually involves either the reuse of flowback water for additional hydraulic fracturing operations, or treatment where water is separated from contaminants. In the latter case, the remainder is a highly concentrated mixture of hazardous chemicals, salts and in some cases, radioactive materials, which must be disposed of properly.

The reuse of flowback water in hydraulic fracturing operations poses a threat to underground sources of drinking water, in much the same way that injection of waste fluids in disposal wells poses such a threat and is therefore regulated by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (UIC program). In Ohio, for example, wastewater cannot be reinjected for use in hydraulic fracturing due to water contamination concerns.

There are public health concerns that disposal by means of underground injection will result in “creating yet another potential source of extremely toxic chemical contamination.” Some states require companies to demonstrate that the disposal injection will not escape target zones or contaminate fresh water aquifers (e.g. New York). 

A recent report by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel notes that the underground injection of waste can threaten drinking water sources through:
•    the injection of waste above aquifers;
•    leakage between unconfined beds;
•    leakage due to hydraulic fracturing or faults;
•    upward migration of waste along well casings;
•    migration due to cement failures;
•    migration through preexisting pathways such as abandoned wells;
•    migration due to injection pressures or geologic shifts.

Geologists suspect that a recent scourge of earthquakes in Guy, Arkansas may be connected to underground injection of fracking wastewater for disposal.

Additional research and reporting by DeSmogBlog contributors Carol Linnitt and Emma Pullman.
Stay tuned for more of DeSmogBlog's research on fracking and gas industry distortions.

February 17 2011


‘Energy In Depth’ Was Created By Major Oil and Gas Companies According to Industry Memo

DeSmogBlog has uncovered an industry memo revealing that ‘Energy In Depth’ is hardly comprised of the mom-and-pop “small, independent oil and natural gas producers” it claims to represent.  In fact, the industry memo we found, entitled “Hydraulic Fracturing Under Attack,” shows that Energy In Depth “would not be possible without the early financial commitments” of major oil and gas interests including BP, Halliburton, Chevron, Shell, XTO Energy (now owned by ExxonMobil), and several other huge oil and gas companies that provided significant funding early on and presumably still fund the group's efforts.

According to the 2009 memo, Energy In Depth was orchestrated as a “major initiative to respond to…attacks” and to devise and circulate “coordinated messages” using “new communications tools that are becoming the pathway of choice in national political campaigns.”

Energy In Depth (EID) is featured in the news a lot these days, chiefly for attacking the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, but also for its extensive efforts to malign the excellent reporting done by ProPublica, the Associated Press and other outlets. EID seems to attack everyone who attempts to investigate the significant problems posed by hydraulic fracturing and other natural gas industry practices that have been shown to threaten public health and water quality across America.
Here is how Energy In Depth describes itself on its ‘Contact Us’ page:

"Energy In Depth is a project of America’s small, independent oil and natural gas producers...”

While EID prefers to project this ‘mom and pop shop’ image, the June 2009 memo authored by Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), reveals the seed funding provided by many of the world's largest oil and gas companies for the creation of Energy In Depth.<!--break-->

The memo states:

“The "Energy In Depth" project would not be possible without the early financial commitments of: El Paso Corporation, XTO Energy, Occidental Petroleum, BP, Anadarko, Marathon, EnCana, Chevron, Talisman, Shell, API, IPAA, Halliburton, Schlumberger and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.”

However, none of these major oil and gas companies, or the industry’s largest trade association - the American Petroleum Institute - are acknowledged on the ‘About Us’ page of Energy In Depth’s website.

Instead, Energy In Depth portrays modest origins, suggesting that its “website and affiliated educational programs were created by" a coalition of state-based oil and gas associations, whose logos are featured on the ‘About Us’ page.  This all seems designed to leave the impression that the EID was launched by small, “independent petroleum producers” rather than by the largest oil and gas companies on the planet.

Additionally, Enegy In Depth fails to acknowledge openly that its website URL was created by Dittus Communications, a Washington DC public relations firm best known for its work for major tobacco and nuclear industry interests. (Dittus is now part of Financial Dynamics, an international communications conglomerate.)

For a group that has accused Gasland director Josh Fox of creating an “alternate history,” and claims to want to “set the record straight” about the motives of anyone who dares to question the natural gas industry’s highly controversial hydrofracking practices, EID seems awfully disingenuous about its own ‘humble’ beginnings and ultimate interests.

The memo reveals the key role that the Independent Petroleum Association of America played in launching Energy In Depth:

“For months, IPAA's government relations and communications teams have been working around-the-clock on a new industry-wide campaign – known as "Energy In Depth" (www.energyindepth.org) – to combat new environmental regulations, especially with regard to hydraulic fracturing.”

Two IPAA staffers, Lee Fuller and Jeff Eshelman, spearheaded the launch. Chris Tucker is also listed as staff on the current ‘Contact Us’ page.  Tucker did double duty in 2009 handling communications for Energy In Depth and the Institute for Energy Research, using the same phone number for both. (IER has received over $300,000 from ExxonMobil and an untold amount from other oil and coal interests to confuse the public about climate change and to attack clean energy sources. For example, IER was busted last year by Danish journalists for financing an infamous anti-wind study.)

Why would Energy In Depth want to hide its high-profile sources of funding? 

Perhaps because these same companies are responsible for some of the worst environmental disasters in history, including last year's BP/Halliburton/Anadarko blowout in the Gulf of Mexico; Shell’s multiple atrocities in Nigeria; Chevron’s court-affirmed destruction of the Amazon rainforest; El Paso Corp’s deadly pipeline explosion in Carlsbad, New Mexico; Occidental’s Piper Alpha explosion - the deadliest oil rig disaster in history; to name just a few incidents among this group. 

Perhaps Energy In Depth thinks it might lose credibility with the media and the public if it revealed such key support from these notoriously reckless companies.

Perhaps it should?

January 25 2011

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