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NY Fracking Scandal: 7 Groups Demand Conflict of Interest Investigation of Cuomo Administration

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

New York could soon become the newest state in the union to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the controversial technique used to enable shale oil and gas extraction. The green light from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could transpire in as little as “a couple of weeks,” according to journalist and author Tom Wilber.  

That timeline, of course, assumes things don’t take any crazy twists or turns.

Enter a press conference today in Albany, where seven groups, including Public Citizen, Food and Water WatchFrack Action, United for ActionCatskill Citizens for Safe Energy, and Capital District Against Fracking, called for an Albany County District Attorney General investigation of the Cuomo Administration.

They are asking “whether Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has a conflict of interest between his stock investments and his involvement in the state’s decision on whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.”

Schwartz – dubbed “the ringleader” of Governor Cuomo’s administration – potentially has what these groups describe as a legal conflict-of-interest. A months-long DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Cuomo’s chief-of-staff actually has a direct financial interest in fracking going forward in New York state, potentially falling under the sphere of insider trading.  

Above and beyond Schwartz’s annual oil and gas industry stock holdings in corporations ranging from Occidental Petroleum, Williams Companies, ExxonMobil/XTO, and General Electric (GE) for the past decade, the Cuomo Administration has also held numerous meetings with lobbyists representing some of these same corporations dating back to when Cuomo assumed office in Jan. 2011, records obtained under New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) by DeSmogBlog reveal.

Dirty Details: Oil/Gas Industry Stock Holdings, Meetings with Lobbyists from Same Corporations

The details are dirty, both figuratively and literally.

A September 2012 investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) examined Schwartz’s past three financial disclosure forms. That probe revealed that he had stock holdings of $1,000+ each in Occidental, Williams, Exxon/XTO, and GE in both 2010 and 2011, respectively. All four of these corporations possess a financial stake in Cuomo approving fracking in New York.

2009 saw much of the same, a year in which Schwartz had $1,000+ in his stock portfolio invested in GE, Williams, and Burlington Resources (purchasd as a subsidiary by ConocoPhillips in 2005).

DeSmogBlog followed in the footsteps of the EWG investigation by filing both an Executive Chamber FOIL request, as well a FOIL request to Schwartz’s former employer, the Westchester County Executive Office, asking for his financial disclosure forms dating back to 2002.

That latter request revealed that Schwartz has had stock holdings in the oil and gas industry dating back to 2002. At that time he was working as chief-of-staff to then-Westchester County Executive, Andrew J. Spano.

In 2002 and 2003, Schwartz had over $1,000 in stock holdings in Chevron and GE. Until 2001, Texaco – purchased in 2000 as a subsidiary by Chevron – was headquarted in Westchester. The Westchester County Executive Chamber did not possess Schwartz’s forms for 2004 or 2005.

His 2006 filings reveal $1,000 or more in his stock portfolio invested in Burlington Resources, GE, and Williams Companies.

Records obtained from Cuomo’s Executive Chamber also revealed that lobbyists from the very corporations Schwartz has thousands of dollars of stock holdings in have earned the ear of Cuomo in the form of exclusive meetings with his high-level aides.  

One case in point: Both in April 2012 and in Sept. 2012, Williams Companies lobbyists had meetings with Cuomo aides on the status of its proposed Constitution Pipeline, a joint venture between Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and Williams Companies. That 120-mile long, 30-inch prospective pipeline, if approved, will carry gas produced in NY’s section of the Marcellus Shale to markets throughout the northeastern U.S.

The latter meeting was held between two Williams’ lobbyists – Tonio Burgos and John Charlson – and upper level Cuomo aides.

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New Gas Industry Astroturf: Landowner Advocates of NY Buses Activists to Albany Pro-Fracking Rally

6:54 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A pro-fracking rally held on Oct. 15 in Albany, NY was described by about a dozen local media outlets as a gathering of roughly 1,000 grassroots activists from all walks of life.

All came out to add their voice to the conversation regarding the extraction of unconventional gas from the Marcellus Shale basin in New York state. But the marchers weren’t concerned landowners worried about losing their water supplies or property values. Their demand: to lift the current moratorium on fracking, which was prolonged by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 30.

One rally attendee, Doug Lee, described the ongoing fracking moratorium as a “communist act” to the Albany Times-Union. Another described anti-fracking activists as “well-funded and organized activists masquerading as environmentalists, who often do not need to make a living in our communities.” Republican Sen. Tom Libous, observed that Hollywood stars Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger weren’t on the scene, telling them to ”Stay in Hollywood. We don’t want you here.”

Unmentioned by any of the news outlets that covered the event was a crucial fact: these weren’t actual “grassroots” activists, but rather astroturf out-of-towners bused in from counties all across the state. Their journey was paid for by the legitimately “well-funded” oil and gas industry, which raked in profits of $1 trillion in the past decade.

According to the Associated Press, the pro-fracking rally and march were organized by a brand new front group called the Landowner Advocates of New York formed in the immediate aftermath of the recent Cuomo decision to stall on opening the fracking floodgates.

The well-known industry front group, Energy in Depth (EID), announced the launch of the Landowner Advocates of New York in an Oct. 3 blog post, mere days after the Cuomo announcement. Lee (the same man who accused Cuomo of partaking in a “communist act” by extending the fracking moratorium) wrote about the rationale behind the group’s genesis – which he is the head of and which he registered the website for – in the EID post announcing the Landowner Advocates’ launch:

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Frackademia: Controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Institute’s Reputation Unraveling

9:31 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Don't Frack NY signs at protest

Photo: CREDO.Fracking / Flickr

A storm is brewing in Buffalo and it’s not the record snow storm typically associated with upstate New York. Rather, it’s taking place in the ivory tower of academia and revolves around hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for unconventional gas in the Marcellus Shale basin.

Public funding has been cut to the tune of over $1.4 billion over the past five years in the State University of New York (SUNY) public university system under the watch of current Democratic Party governor and 2016 presidential hopeful Andrew Cuomo and his predecessor, David Paterson.

These cuts have created new opportunities for the shale gas industry to fill a funding vacuum, with the SUNY system’s coffers hollowed out and starved for cash.

“It’s a growing problem across academia,” Mark Partridge, a professor of rural-urban policy at the Ohio State University, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Universities are so short of money, professors are under a lot of pressure to raise research funding in any manner possible.”

The oil industry’s eagerness to fill the void for its personal gain can be seen through the case study of what we at DeSmog have coined the ongoing “Shill Gas” study scandal at the State University at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo).

Among other findings, a DeSmog investigation reveals that one of the lesser-known offshoots of the Scaife family foundations, key bankrollers of the climate change denial machine, may potentially soothe SUNY Buffalo’s budget woes with funding for the university-connected Shale Resources and Society Institute.

The Prelude to the Storm

A prelude for what’s now transpiring occurred in Spring 2011, when SUNY Buffalo played host to the Marcellus Shale Lecture Series. Throughout the eight-part series, not a single speaker was a university-based scholar and all speakers but one were employed by some element of the oil and gas industry. The Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) arose out of the series, as Daniel Robison of WBFO in Buffalo wrote in a recent article:

The decision to greenlight SRSI came after SUNY Buffalo hosted the Marcellus Shale Lecture Series in mid-2011…Last fall, enthusiasm stemming from the lecture series grew into informal discussions among the speakers, natural gas industry representatives and members of SUNY Buffalo’s geology department.

On Sept. 21, almost a year and a half after the completion of the Lecture Series, the UB Spectrum revealed the Series was also funded in large part by the gas industry, which gave SUNY Buffalo over $12,900 to host it. $5,000 of that cash came from the coffers of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA).

“If the talk series is not part of the institute – if it’s just an independent talk series – then it is unlike any such series I have ever organized or attended in that it fails to acknowledge the moneys that paid for it,” Jim Holstun, Professor of English at SUNY Buffalo and the Chair of SUNY Buffalo Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research, told the UB Spectrum.

Speaking at a gas industry public relations conference thought to be exclusively “among friends” in Houston on Oct 31-Nov. 1, 2011 – the same conference where it was revealed the gas industry is employing psychological warfare tactics on U.S. citizens – S. Dennis Holbrook of IOGA of NY confirmed the SUNY Buffalo relationship. Holbrook stated that it’s crucial for industry to “seek out academic studies and champion with universities—because that again provides tremendous credibility to the overall process.”

Explaining that the gas industry is viewed “very skeptically” by the public, Holbrook said that to gain credibility, IOGA of NY has “aligned with the University at Buffalo (aka SUNY Buffalo)—we’ve done a variety of other activities where we’ve gotten the academics to sponsor programs and bring in people for public sessions to educate them on a variety of different topics.”

Shady SUNY Buffalo Study Opens Backlash Floodgates