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Broad Coalition Condemns Unbalanced Gas Drilling Panel

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, June 27, 2011

Community leaders, environmental organizations, faith-based groups and health advocates are calling on Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to reform the industry-dominated Natural Gas Subcommittee he set up to investigate safety issues raised by hydraulic fracturing.

Leaders of more than 90 organizations representing nearly 1.5 million supporters have signed a petition to Chu expressing deep concern about the impact of fracking and related aspects natural gas development and objecting to the federal panel's close financial ties to the industry.

"Already thousands of people from Pennsylvania to Wyoming have reached out to the government to express their concerns about the environmental impacts of fracking," these leaders wrote in the letter sent today (Monday, June 27). "Yet your decision to appoint six of seven panel members, including the chair, John Deutch, who have financial conflicts of interest, sends a clear signal that the administration is listening to the top brass of the industry, not to real people at the grass roots who are concerned and affected by fracking."

"Cooperstown works hard for its reputation of being one of the best places to visit, live and invest," said James R. Dean, trustee of the Village of Cooperstown, N.Y. "But drilling poses serious threats to our long term health and economic future in New York state. Without representation from citizens whose communities are affected by hydrofracking, this panel cannot possibly live up to its task of making comprehensive and balanced recommendations."

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, requires injecting a potent mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into underground rock formations to release pockets of natural gas and oil. Congress has granted the technology major exemptions from important federal environmental and health protection laws, including the Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water acts.

The organizations signing the petition are asking for three changes to the panel:

  1. Addition of representatives from communities affected by hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas drilling.
  2. Replacement of chair John Deutch by an individual free of financial ties to the industry. Deutch serves on the board of directors of Cheniere Energy, Inc., a liquefied natural gas company that paid him $882,000 from 2006 through 2009. Cheniere recently obtained a permit from the Department of Energy to export U.S. natural gas overseas.
  3. Expansion to include independent experts.

"President Obama said he wanted to end the culture in Washington where industry insiders make policy and everyone else gets left out," said EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt. "To make good on that promise, the administration must change this panel to include community representation and impartial experts."

Environmental Working Group documented the panel members' extensive industry ties soon after the body was created in May. On June 8, EWG submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the department to learn how the Obama administration decided upon the makeup of the panel.

"It seems that, given the appointments to the panel, the Department of Energy is looking out for the natural gas industry as opposed to looking out for the public," said Vanessa Pesec, president of Ohio-based Network for Oil & Gas Accountability & Protection.

Numerous reports of drinking water contamination, air pollution and plummeting property values in the vicinity of gas drilling operations have made many communities, large and small, increasingly resistant to fracking and natural gas drilling.

The Department of Energy has scheduled public meetings with the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board for Tuesday, June 28, and Wednesday, July 13, at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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