CLEVELAND – “Yesterday, newspapers coast-to-coast ran a story declaring the end of conflict over hydraulic fracturing operations by oil and gas drillers. One headline read, ‘Both sides agree on tough new fracking standards.’ Another read, ‘Fracking companies, environmentalists and philanthropies join forces.’ A third read, ‘Oil, gas companies and environmentalists agree on new fracking standards.’
“In truth, this deal in no way represents the interests or agreement of the people being harmed by fracking in Ohio.”
As described by the Associated Press,
“Some of the nation’s biggest oil and gas companies have made peace with environmentalists, agreeing to a voluntary set of tough new standards for fracking in the Northeast that could lead to a major expansion of drilling. . . . In this case, drilling and pipeline companies will be encouraged to submit to an independent review of their operations. If they are found to be abiding by a list of stringent measures to protect the air and water from pollution, they will receive the blessing of the new Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development, created by environmentalists and the energy industry. . . .The project will cover Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio — where a frenzy of drilling is under way in the huge, gas-rich Marcellus and Utica Shale formations — as well as New York and other states in the East that have put a hold on new drilling.”
The story behind the headlines collapses almost immediately:
- This is not a conflict between oil and gas companies and “environmentalists.” The drillers are up against landowners, neighbors, and taxpayers; people who drink municipal water, people who drink well-water; doctors, nurses, firefighters, EMS technicians,and so on. To portray this is just “environmentalists” makes it seem as though it is just two special interest groups at odds. It sets up a situation where one or more groups with the word “Environment” in their name think they can cut a deal with the drillers.
- As the statement noted, these standards are voluntary. By definition, voluntary standards are not “tough.” People who can be hurt by violations must have some recourse. If the honor system worked with Texas and Oklahoma drillers, we wouldn’t have the problems we do today.
- The statement says, “The project will cover Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio . . . as well as New York and other states in the East that have put a hold on new drilling.” We can’t speak for Pennsylvanians and West Virginians; as for Ohio, it is fair to say that it will only “cover” Ohio if Ohioans agree to it. We don’t intend to be covered by someone else’s deal. As for New York, there is no fracking allowed there. It makes no sense to declare a deal over standards for an industrial practice that is banned.
Who is in on this deal?
- From the oil and gas side, Shell, Chevron, EQT Corporation and Consol Energy. This list omits Chesapeake Energy, which is overwhelmingly dominant in Ohio’s shale industry. The announcement says the project will “cover” Ohio, but that is impossible since Chesapeake isn’t involved.
- The groups that claimed to represent the “environmentalist” side were led by the Environmental Defense Fund, and also included the Clean Air Task Force and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture), and the Group Against Smog and Pollution. Neither Environmental Defense Fund nor the others represents any of the many constituencies in Ohio involved in this issue. Last year, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, of the financial and media corporation Bloomberg Limited Partnership, gave the Environmental Defense Fund $6 million over three years to pursue and announce just such deals with oil and gas drillers. In the spring of 2012, when the oil and gas industry was pushing a new state law through the Ohio legislature, the Environmental Defense Fund flew a staff member from Washington, DC, to Columbus to praise the driller bill in testimony which wildly misstated the content of the bill.
- The board of the new Center will have twelve members, designated as four representatives of oil and gas drillers, four representatives of environmental groups, and four neutral members. The people chosen for the third category are anything but neutral.
Christine Todd Whitman, for example, was the U.S. EPA Administrator under President George Bush. In that role, she paved the way for the notorious 2005 “Halliburton loophole” by conducting a 2001-2004 study of hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. The report concluded that, while fracking fluids are toxic and some of these toxic fluids remain in the ground, ”injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coal bed methane wells poses little or no threat” to drinking water supplies and “does not justify additional study at this time.”Citing this study, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempting fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, called the “Halliburton loophole.”
Another purportedly neutral board member is Paul O’Neill, who was Secretary of the Treasury under President George Bush. Before arriving in Washington, however, O’Neill had a different job, Chief Executive Officer of ALCOA, a notorious extractive polluter.O’Neill is also on the board of the RAND Corporation think-tank in Santa Monica, California. Oil and gas drillers, working under the umbrella of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, paid the RAND Corporation to hold a conference on December 14, 2011, to promote the idea of injecting toxic coal mine waste water under pressure into hydraulic fracturing wells.”
— Sandy Buchanan, Executive Director, Ohio Citizen Action
— Bob Downing, Akron Beacon Journal
— Kevin Begos, Associated Press