Administration Stacks Panel With Big Oil and Gas
The Obama administration panel named May 5 to study hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas drilling technique that injects thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water into the ground, is dominated by oil and gas industry professionals.
Notably, the panel does not include citizens from communities concerned about the damage to health, water and private property posed by the surge in natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
“An industry insider like John Deutch is completely unacceptable to lead this panel,” Environmental Working Group Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt said. “It looks as if the Obama Administration has already reached the conclusion that fracking is safe.”
Fracking involves injecting a mix of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure in order to fracture underground rock formations and unlock trapped gas and oil. The technology has been linked to water contamination, air pollution, release of methane and deteriorating health in communities near drilling sites.
A study by Duke University researchers, made public yesterday, found high concentrations of methane in 68 wells near shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking sites in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York, confirming property owners’ suspicions that gas extraction was leaking methane into their drinking water.
The new panel’s seven members include:
- Panel chair John Deutch, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, now on the board of Cheniere Energy, Inc., a Houston-based liquified natural gas company that, according to Forbes Magazine online, paid Deutch about $882,000 from 2006 through 2009. During a stint on the board of Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world’s three largest hydraulic fracturing companies, Deutch received about $563,000 in 2006 and 2007, according to Forbes.
- Stephen Holditch, head of the petroleum engineering department at Texas A&M University and a leader in the field of hydraulic fracturing designs, first at Shell Oil, later as head of his own firm, acquired by Schlumberger in 1997. Today, he is engineering committee chairman at Matador Resources, a Dallas oil and gas exploration company.
- Mark Zoback, a geophysics professor at Stanford and senior advisor to Baker Hughes, Inc., a Houston-based oilfield services company engaged in hydraulic fracturing. Zoback is chair of GeoMechanics International, a consulting firm that advises on various oil and gas drilling problems and that was acquired by Baker Hughes in 2008.
- Kathleen McGinty, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration and a former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, now senior vice president of Weston Solutions, Inc., which consults for the oil and gas industry, including leading natural gas driller Chesapeake Energy, and a director of NRG Energy, a Princeton, N.J., wholesale power generation company whose assets include more than two dozen natural gas power companies.
- Susan Tierney, assistant secretary of the Energy department under President Clinton, now 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.
- Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Prize, a 1991 book about the oil industry, and co-founder, chairman and executive vice president of IHS CERA, originally called Cambridge Energy Research Associates, acquired in 2004 by IHS, an international consulting firm whose clients include the oil, natural gas, coal, power and clean energy communities.
The panel’s environmental representative is Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based nonprofit that focuses on environmental issues. Scott Anderson, EDF’s senior policy advisor for energy and spokesman on hydraulic fracturing is 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.
WILL PANEL UNDERMINE EPA STUDY?
The new panel, named by Energy secretary Steven Chu, is part of the President Obama's recently announced energy plan that aims to reduce dependence on foreign oil. The energy industry contends that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” is critical to expanding the nation’s natural gas supplies by tapping gas trapped in shale formations.
The energy panel will focus, Chu said, on “harnessing a vital domestic energy resource while ensuring the safety of our drinking water and the health of the environment.” That mandate appears to duplicate an initiative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which 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 next year.
The energy panel is working on a faster track, with recommendations due within six months.
“The new administration panel appears to be an effort to undercut the EPA’s study by assigning an elitist group of industry insiders to take a cursory look at fracking,” Horwitt said. “The EPA is trying to conduct a comprehensive study and to listen to the people directly affected by drilling. It’s hard to see how the Energy department-driven panel can have any credibility.”
EWG urges the administration to replace John Deutch as chairman of the panel with a neutral expert without direct financial ties to the industry being investigated. EWG also calls on the administration to balance the panel with citizens who have been affected by hydraulic fracturing and with other independent experts.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org