By Dusty Horwitt and Leeann Brown
Energy secretary Stephen Chu claims that his panel studying the safety and environmental dangers of natural gas hydraulic fracturing is "diverse" and "respected."
Respected, yes. Diverse, hardly. Six of the seven panelists have financial ties to the oil and gas industry. It looks as if the Obama administration has already concluded the fracking is safe and won't endanger the environment -- and is looking for a few prominent people who'll say so.
Let's take a closer look:
Panel chair John Deutch is on the board of Cheniere Energy, Inc., a liquefied natural gas drilling company that paid him $882,000 from 2006 through 2009. Schlumberger, Ltd., one of the world's three largest hydraulic fracturing companies, paid Deutch $563,000 in 2006 and 2007. Deutch is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served as a director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Stephen Holditch is an engineering committee chairman at Matador Resources, an oil and gas exploration company, and heads the petroleum engineering department at Texas A&M.
Mark Zolack is senior advisor to Baker Hughes, Inc., an oilfield services company engaged in fracking and chair of GeoMechanics International, a consulting firm for various oil and gas drilling problems. He is a professor, at Standford University.
Kathleen McGinty is senior vice president of Weston Solutions, Inc., an oil and gas industry consulting firm, and a director of NRG Engery, a Princeton, N.J. wholesale power generation compan whose assets include more than two dozen natural gas companies. She has served at the Clinton White House and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Susan Tierney is a managing principal of Analysis Group, which consults for utilities that use natural gas and for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the natural gas pipeline industry association. She was an assistant Energy secretary under Clinton.
Daniel Yergin is co-founder, chairman and executive vice president of IHS CERA, an international consulting firm whose clients include the oil, natural gas, coal, power and clean energy communities. He wrote the book The Prize about the oil industry.
The panel's sole environmental representative is Fred Krupp, president of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. The group's senior policy advisor for energy and spokesman on hydraulic fracturing Scott Anderson, a member of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which opposes extending the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to hydraulic fracturing. The commission website asserts that fracking "needs no further study." Anderson is a former executive vice president and general counsel for the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association.
Lets see some panel changes!
The priority has to be giving seat on the panel to residents and property owners in communities affected by drilling. Decisions about fracking, or any form of oil and gas drilling, should not be dictated by an inside-the-Beltway elite. The voices of citizens are vital in understanding the problem and getting regulations right.
Deutch is the wrong choice for chair. That post should be held by a truly independent person. In fact, we'd like to see the some balance. Let's add some experts who are not beholden to oil and gas interests.
In fact, why do we need an Energy department panel anyway?
Obama administration fielding rival teams
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in March 2010 that it would undertake a two-year study on the human health and environmental dangers of hydraulic fracturing's impact on groundwater, to publish initial findings by the end of 2012.
Battling panels? Why? Maybe the Energy department's deadline is a clue: its recommendations are due within six months. The Energy department and the interests that revolve around it could try to preempt whatever the EPA wants to do.
But it may not succeed -- IF everyone who thinks people have a right to know what's going on in their backyards are watching -- and choose to speak up.