From a blog post by Adam Federman at Earth Island Institute:
The NYT Tells Only Half The Story
An article published last week in the New York Times (“Estimate Places Natural Gas Reserves 35% Higher”) extols the potential virtues of a natural gas boom and, in particular, new technologies that have made it possible to profitably extract that gas from shale formations in the United States. The article reads like an industry power point presentation and, though it mentions environmental concerns (“Some environmental groups fear that hydraulic fracturing will pollute drinking water”), does not quote a single critic of the industry, glosses over the details of hydraulic fracturing, and trumpets the line that natural gas is a clean alternative to fossil fuels. While natural gas is relatively clean burning compared to coal and oil, the process of removing it from the earth is far from what most would consider clean or environmentally sound. Moreover, the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment remains highly controversial.
. . . . .
The New York Times, rather than present the arguments of those who are opposed to opening up certain areas to natural gas drilling, relies almost entirely on industry insiders and those connected with the Potential Gas Committee (PGC), a group of “academics and industry experts” supported by the Potential Gas Agency at the Colorado School of Mines. Created in the 1960s, the Potential Gas Committee issues a review of the nation’s gas reserves every two years. This year they’ve made headlines with the estimate that the United States has 35 percent more natural gas reserves than previously thought. The Times article ran the day before the Committee’s report was released and fails to explore its connections to the gas industry, identifying it simply as “the authority on gas supplies.”
According to their website, the Committee currently has 105 members who contribute their time pro bono (“typically after work and on weekends”). They are primarily geologists and engineers “engaged in exploration for and development of natural gas.”
Though sales from the Committee’s reports cover some internal costs, the rest of the group’s funding comes in the form of “strings-free” contributions from a “diverse array of companies, organizations, and individuals that for whatever reason are interested in the Nation’s future supply of natural gas.” Given the actual makeup of the Committee’s sponsors, the phrase “for whatever reason” is rather telling.
Here are a few of the organizations that provide “strings-free” funding: Chesapeake Energy Corporation (one of the big players drilling in the Marcellus Shale), The Houston Exploration Company, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation (also involved in Marcellus Shale drilling), Wolverine Gas and Oil Corporation, The American Gas Association, Duke Energy Field Services, GASCO Energy, Black Diamond Energy, White Eagle Exploration Inc., among others. Committee volunteers are affiliated (or have been affiliated) with many of the big industry players such as Halliburton, Schlumberger, Chevron, Shell, and Cabot Oil & Gas. Other organizations represented include the American Gas Association, The American Association of Professional Landmen, the World Petroleum Congress, and the World Energy Council.
Not surprisingly, on the day the report was released, the American Petroleum Institute issued its own statement arguing that the Committee’s work, “underscores the vital role of hydraulic fracturing, a production technology needed to develop shale gas,” even though the report has little to say on the issue of hydraulic fracturing. “Without hydraulic fracturing,” the API continues, “these crucial American-owned natural gas resources would likely remain in the ground.
Although the API is listed as a member affiliated with the Committee on the Committee’s website (http://geology.mines.edu/pgc/members.html), API Media Relations Manager Karen Matusic said in an email that they are “not a member of the Potential Gas Committee.” According to the PGC the API has been affiliated in the past but is not currently a member. In their statement, the API goes on to note that access to closed federal lands and offshore federal waters could help address global warming.
Times reporter Jad Mouawad echoes that argument, writing that, “The finding raises the possibility that natural gas could emerge as a critical transition fuel that could help to battle global warming.” He then briefly mentions the role hydraulic fracturing has played in opening up shale formations and describes the process as one in which “water is injected at high pressure into wells to shatter rocks deep underground, helping to release trapped gas [italics added].” Of course, that is only part of the story.
Hydraulic fracturing involves not only injecting millions of gallons of water into wells but sand and hundreds of chemicals, many of which have not been made public. The industry’s insistence that the chemicals used remain a trade secret has only contributed to skepticism among critics and environmentalists. If the process is clean and does not pose a threat to drinking water supplies, then what does the industry have to hide? If, as the industry claims, contamination of ground water and wells has not occurred why not release the list of chemicals it uses in fracking for public review?
Beyond the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing there are many other environmental issues that often go unmentioned. The massive wells required for hydraulic fracturing can stretch for over a half-mile in every direction. In the Catskills (where part of the Marcellus Shale is located) this is of particular concern because forests and farmland stand in the way of gas extraction. The region, much of which is designated forever wild, is mountainous and prone to flooding. Wetlands, the New York City Watershed (the largest unfiltered drinking water supply in the country), and the Upper Delaware Scenic area and Recreational River are also at risk.
Each time a well is fracked, between two and nine million gallons of water are needed. Each well may be fracked up to 6 or more times. The question of where the water will come from and where the wastewater (or produced water) will be stored is also an issue that must be addressed. There have been several cases of water contamination from poorly stored wastewater, which contains not only the chemicals injected into the well but also radioactive materials and heavy metals.
The New York Times article also leaves out what may be the most important development surrounding natural gas exploration in recent weeks: the possibility that the EPA will review its policy on hydraulic fracturing. EPA head Lisa Jackson recently told NY Rep. Maurice Hinchey that she thinks it would be a good idea for the agency to review environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. Colorado Representatives Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, along with Hinchey, have recently introduced a bill (the FRAC Act) that would close a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005 (the Halliburton Loophole) that exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulatory oversight. A matching Senate version has been supported by Bob Casey and Chuck Schumer.
“When it comes to protecting the public’s health, it’s not unreasonable to require these companies to disclose the chemicals they are using in our communities – especially near our water sources,” said DeGette in a June 9 statement. “Our bill simply closes an unconscionable Bush-Cheney loophole by requiring the oil and gas industry to follow the same rules as everyone else.”
. . . . .
Even as public awareness grows, however, the gas industry is pushing hard to convince Americans that natural gas is the solution to our energy problems and that closing the Halliburton Loophole will have potentially devastating consequences. It’s clean, they say, and it’s ours. We reduce our dependence on foreign oil and at the same time “battle global warming,” as the NYT puts it in rather grandiose fashion.
Rather than explain to its readers why the Potential Gas Committee (or its member volunteers) might have a vested interested in encouraging hydraulic fracturing as a new energy policy is hashed out in congress, the paper of record simply states that for “advocates of the gas industry, the report vindicates the potential of natural gas in the economy.” Then they close by quoting the managing director for policy analysis at the American Gas Association, Chris McGill, failing to mention that it is one of the institutions listed among the Committee’s volunteer members. Not only that but McGill himself, according to Committee program assistant Linda D’Epagnier is an observer with the PGC and, in his role (he’s been involved for several years), handles all press releases and acts more or less as a PR official for the organization. He’s also a Director on the board of the Potential Gas Agency. That’s a fact the Times should have pointed out.
The Daily Review, a Towanda, Pennsylvania newspaper, printed a truly regrettable editorial in their April 12 edition. It was titled, astonishingly, “Give gas firms a decent chance to do right thing.” I didn’t know such naivete was still possible. And I can’t say I can remember ever seeing such smarmy pathos in an editorial.
The people of Bradford County, fortunately, are way smarter than their newspaper’s editorial board. You can read their comments, as well as the editorial, here: http://www.thedailyreview.com/articles/2009/04/12/editorial/tw_review.20090412.a.pg4.tw12edit_s1.2440910_edi.txt
This comment stood out:
“Finally, this editorial has opened up a topic of interest to me. Trust. I do not trust Chesapeake Energy. Its less than stellar corporate reputation is reported on regularly by local and national news media, and CHK has done several things to reinforce this reputation since they’ve been in Bradford County. CHK, as a company, is a warrior which uses its well-honed public relations as a shield, and lawyers as its legal gun-wielding army. Every contract presented has legal wording which are the equivalent of burdocks and oil. The burdocks are there so that the contract sticks to you if they want it to, but the oil is there so that CHK can slip out at their discretion. How many people last year thought they had a lease with CHK, just to find that they didn’t? In how many cases did independent landmen (not CHK, of course) lie, evade, or misrepresent facts in order to get a signed lease for CHK’s benefit?
“I went to the March 5th CHK presentation in Athens and was impressed by the people I met.
One of the reasons that I was impressed by the CHK people was that from my corporate training of many years, I recognize consummate professionals upon sight, and the group fit the bill perfectly.
“When I came home I did a little research, and found out why the image had been so impressive. Two of the individuals were media professionals, having worked until just a few years ago for the prestigious Charles Ryan Associates in Charleston. One of these individuals plus another who will be coming to Towanda as the Central Bradford Progress Authority dinner speaker on April 16th are registered lobbyists in the state of West Virginia representing Chesapeake. These are people who are both media and law savvy. Nothing wrong with this, but the average resident in Bradford County needs to know the level of skill and experience of the persons he is working with.
“I found the third individual truly humorous and likeable. He explained that he had previously worked for Columbia Natural Resources and was absorbed into Chesapeake along with the office furniture. After my research, I learned that he, along with Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon, spoke at the glitzy, WV governor-attended 8/23/07 Chesapeake announcement of its planned Charleston WV Eastern Regional HQ building which was an investment of 40 million dollars in Charleston WV. But something bad happened. On May 22nd, 2008, the full verdict including financial damages were announced for Chesapeake’s loss of a WV Supreme Court Case over cheating landowners out of royalties (which it took liability for when it bought out CNR). On May 29th, only seven days later, the true nature of CHK was apparent when its CEO Aubrey McClendon announced that CHK axed the plans for the eastern regional headquarters as a result of the outcome of the state Supreme Court case. Vindictive behavior, no apologies, true reason revealed. CHK knows that the money it has can buy justice, and if it doesn’t, it will retaliate. No big surprise, then, that on 3/2/09, just a few days before the Athens CHK public meeting, CHK announced cutting out 215 jobs in Charleston and demoting the Charleston regional corporate headquarters to a regional field office. Further retaliation against a state government that was clearly not influenced by money.
“On 3/5/09 in Athens, the professional faces of the CHK trio showed no hint of emotion at the CHK Charleston job cuts which must have been troubling them. Even the humorous fellow, a Charleston native who had been inherited by CHK along with the CNR landowner royalty-cheating liability and the office furniture, who had been involved in proudly announcing the Eastern Regional HQ building in his hometown, who had lived through the axing of the building and now was surviving the axing of the jobs, kept his mask on securely. Only 3 days after the public announcement, any pain he or the others must have felt masked by professionalism, the CHK media show at Athens went on flawlessly. Good corporate soldiers doing battle on the front line for a flawed Napoleonic leader.
“Just axing the building plans and jobs isn’t enough for a vindictive CHK CEO. In 2007, a CHK cheap shot against WV had been made in the early days of the lawsuit, this one against hopeful royalty owners. Here’s a quote I picked up from the net.
“’We’re just finishing up the first large three-dimension seismic survey ever shot in West Virginia which, ironically is in Roane County (the county where the lawsuit was filed originally),’ McClendon said. ‘So we’re kind of scratching our heads about what to do with it. We own most of this acreage already — it’s called ‘held by production by shallower wells,’ he said. ‘So in terms of timing, if we want to sit on this for the next 20 or 30 years, we can certainly do that. I’m not willing at this point to commit to a big new exploration program in the state of West Virginia when I don’t know how the leases that I’ve inherited are going to be interpreted by judges across the state.’
“A comment on a fourth fellow at the 3/5/09 meeting, who presented himself as the new CHK local Tunkhannock recruit. A former Chief of Staff to Lisa Baker, he has a long resume of PA state government experiences. CHK has a desire to manage its relationship with state governments productively. I am sure his contacts will be useful to CHK. The only PA lobbyist I could find listed for Chesapeake in PA is a Robert J. Wilson of the Sandstone Group out of Kansas. I have to wonder whether Chesapeake has some new local lobbyists in mind? Now that same local fellow is recommending that we don’t post and bond. I am left wondering why. What is in it for CHK? I only know, I cannot recognize the burdocks and oil in a legal document. The army of CHK lawyers, armed with their legal guns, will insure that you don’t win. I’ve come to the conclusion that it almost doesn’t matter what the document you sign with CHK says. Their army of lawyers can twist and spin words and meanings, and CHK will win in any case brought against them. And if they don’t, they’ll be hell to pay.
“The plans for the prestigious Charleston Eastern Regional Headquarters are probably still available on their award winning architect’s shelf. If Bradford County cozies up to CHK enough, and the state of PA does likewise, maybe someone can convince CHK to plunk the building down in Towanda on Main Street in the borough-owned lot next to C&N. What a feather in our cap that would be! Maybe that’s what the Central Bradford Progress Authority has in mind as it cozies up to CHK at Thursday night’s annual dinner. Only time will tell.
“Chesapeake’s ethical position is self-expressed in great detail on its website. CHK gives money to good community causes and uses lots of media savvy and more money to shore up its reputation. It’s true reputation, however, leaves much to be desired. And I will not be so trusting as to lower my guard.”