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Obama EPA Censored Key Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Study

8:05 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A must-read Los Angeles Times story by Neela Banerjee demonstrates that – once again – the Obama administration put the kibosh on a key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) groundwater contamination, this time in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Though EPA said Dimock’s water wasn’t contaminated by fracking in a 2012 election year desk statement, internal documents obtained by LA Times reporter Neela Banerjee show regional EPA staff members saying the exact opposite among friends.

“In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation…staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production,” writes Banerjee.

“The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that ‘methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.’ The presentation also concluded that ‘methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work,” Banerjee further explained.

It’s essentially a repeat of Steve Lipsky’s water contamination by Range Resources in late-2010 in Weatherford, Texas. In that case, EPA conducted a taxpayer funded study, determined Range had contaminated his water, sued Range – and then proceeded to drop the suit and censor the study in March 2012.

EPA also recently kicked the can down the road on a high-profile fracking groundwater contamination study in Pavillion, Wyoming, originally set to come out in 2014. That release is now expected in 2016, another election year. Just days after EPA’s decision, a Duke University study again linked fracking to groundwater contamination in the Marcellus Shale.

“We don’t know what’s going on, but certainly the fact that there’s been such a distinct withdrawal from three high-profile cases raises questions about whether the EPA is caving to pressure from industry or antagonistic members of Congress,” Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told the LA Times.

Ed Rendell and Friends At Work Again?

Located in the heart of the Marcellus Shale basin, Dimock was featured prominently in both Gasland documentaries, as well as in FrackNation, the industry-funded film created to counter Josh Fox’s films, produced and directed by climate change deniers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney.

In the case of FrackNation, McAleer used EPA’s desk statement for propaganda purposes. He portrayed Craig and Julie Sautner – whose water was contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas – as “crying wolf” for expressing anger that EPA privately told them their water was contaminated, then publicly stated that it wasn’t.

The Sautners aren’t alone in their frustration, however, and they’re in good company.

“What’s surprising is to see this data set and then to see EPA walk away from Dimock,” Robert Jackson, co-author of the June 2013 Duke study that included Dimock water samples, told the LA Times. “The issue here is, why wasn’t EPA interested in following up on this to understand it better?”

Jackson raises the million dollar question: Who from the industry pressured USEPA to censor the actual results of the Dimock study? In Steve Lipsky’s case it was former head of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell.

Rendell – tied to the shale gas industry via Ballard Spahr LLP law firm and venture capital firms Element Partners and Greenhill & Co. - privately lobbied EPA to shut down its study and lawsuit centered on Lipsky’s groundwater contaminated by the Pennsylvania-headquartered Range Resources. His lobbying proved successful, likely in part due to three of his former aides now working as industry lobbyists.

One of those lobbyists is K. Scott Roy, Rendell’s former “top advisor.” Roy not only lobbies for Range Resources, but also sits on the Executive Board of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Prior to serving in the Rendell administration and becoming a fracking lobbyist, Roy worked in the office of former PA Republican Governor Tom Ridge, who went on to serve as “strategic advisor” to the Marcellus Shale Coalition in 2012.

Did Roy contact his old boss Ed Rendell and request the Obama Administration step away from the Dimock study? That’s a question for a follow-up investigation.

Dereliction of Duty, or Par For The Course?

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BuyPartisan Consensus: ExxonMobil Donates $260,000 to Obama Inauguration

7:21 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

"Why do Big Oil, Gas and Coal have so much support on both sides of the aisle? Because they BuyPartisan."

The Other 98% and Oil Change International consider the inauguration.

President Barack Obama will be publicly sworn in today – on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – to serve his second term as the 44th President of the United States.

Today is also the three-year anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that – in a 5-4 decision – deemed that corporations are “people” under the law. Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) – who now runs Progressives United (a rhetorical spin-off of Citizens United) - said in Feb. 2012 that the decision “opened floodgates of corruption” in the U.S. political system.

Unlike for his first Inauguration, Obama has chosen to allow unlimited corporate contributions to fill the fund-raising coffers of the entity legally known as the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Last time around the block, Obama refused corporate contributions for the Inauguration Ceremony as “a commitment to change business as usual in Washington.”

But not this time. With a fundraising goal of $50 million in its sights, the Obama Administration has “opened floodgates” itself for corporate influence-peddling at the 57th Inaugural Ceremony.

A case in point: the Obama Administration’s corporate backers for the Inaurguation have spent over $283 million on lobbying since 2009, the Center for Public Integrity explained in a recent report.

This has perturbed some.

“It’s a deeply disturbing move, and a reversal from the positive steps they took in 2009,” Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen told Roll Call. “Corporations make donations to events like the inaugural festivities because they get something back in return.”

One of the biggest givers so far is none other than what Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Steve Coll calls a “Private Empire” – ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil: Over $260,000 to Obama’s Inauguration Committee

According to a scoop by The Hill, ExxonMobil contributed $250,000 to the Inaugural Committee. Additionally, ExxonMobil attorney Judith Batty has given the Committee $10,750, according to the Center for Responsive Politics‘ OpenSecrets.org. Thus, ExxonMobil has given the Committee a grand total of over $260,000.

ExxonMobil earned a profit of $41.1 billion in 2011 and in the first three quarters of 2012 earned a profit of $34.92 billion, well on pace to surpass its 2011 profit margin.

Some mathematical context is warranted. This means ExxonMobil earned $9,935 per minute in the first three quarters of 2012, $596,107 per hour and $14.3 million per day in profits.

Despite these oligarchic-type bottom lines, ExxonMobil doesn’t even pay its fair share in taxes, as ThinkProgress explained in a March 2012 article:

Citizens for Tax Justice reported Exxon paid only 17.6 percent taxes in 2010, lower than the average American, and a Reuters analysis using the same criteria estimates that Exxon will pay only 13 percent in effective taxes for 2011. Exxon paid zero taxes to the federal government in 2009.

In practice, this means that ExxonMobil actually pays less in taxes by percentage than an average Middle Class American family.

For a corporation with financial wealth of this magitude and one that, to boot, evades paying taxes, $260,000 is truly a “drop in the bucket.” And yet in a political system favoring those who can “pay to play,” it’s a true game-changer in terms of gaining direct access to the Administration.

Obama Administration Responds…Sort Of

Critics say it’s more of the same out of an Obama Administration that in the first term had a cozy relationship with corporate patrons.

“It fits into a pattern of not treating this campaign-finance issue with concern when in fact it is of great concern to the integrity of the political process and our democratic system,” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, told The Hill.

The Obama team’s response? According to them, they are champions of campaign-finance reform and anti-corruption measures.

“This president has done more to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington than any administration in history,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told The Hill.

It looks as if Oil Change International has hit the nail on the head in framing this one, asking and answering the following question with an accompanying graphic co-created with The Other 98%.

Keystone XL Contractor and SUNY Buffalo Shale Institute Conduct LA County’s Fracking Study

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A huge report was published on Oct. 10 by Los Angeles County that’ll likely open the floodgates for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for unconventional oil and gas in the Monterey Shale basin. The report, as it turns out, was done by LA County in name only.

As the Los Angeles Times explained, the study found “no harm from the method” of fracking as it pertains to extracting shale gas and oil from the Inglewood Oil Field, which the Times explains is “the largest urban oil field in the country.”

In the opening paragraphs of his article, Ruben Vives of the Times wrote,

A long-awaited study released Wednesday says the controversial oil extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would not harm the environment if used at the Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills area.

The yearlong study included several issues raised by residents living around the field, such as the potential risks for groundwater contamination, air pollution and increased seismic activity.

It’s not until the middle of the story that Vives says the study wasn’t done by LA County itself, but rather what he describes as a “consulting firm that conducted the study” by the name of Cardno Entrix.

Cardno Entrix isn’t any ordinary “consulting firm.”

It’s the third party contractor that conducted the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), ran the public hearings and made the website all on behalf of the Obama State Department’s review process for the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Cardno Entrix, in turn, was hired by TransCanada to do the EIS, a conflict-of-interest blatant enough that it’s yielded an ongoing Office of the Inspector General investigation of State’s entire review process.

Study By and For Gas Industry, Connected to SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute

Though published under the auspices of LA County, the study wasn’t even paid for by the County at all. Rather, as Vives explained in his Times article, the oil and gas industry paid for the entire enchilada:

Plains Exploration and Production Co., the owner and operator of the oil field, paid for the review as part of a settlement agreement with Culver City and environmental and community groups. The report was reviewed by two independent firms selected by the company and Los Angeles County.

Vives never identified the “independent firms” serving as the peer reviewers, but the study itself, which contains the five-page peer review paper, reveals two reviewers: JP Martin Energy Strategy LLC and Peter Muller.

JP Martin Energy Strategy is a consulting firm run by John Martin. Martin also serves as Director of the increasingly controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). He is credited with publishing “the initial research on the natural gas potential of New York’s Utica Shale that helped stimulate significant industry investment in this resource,” according to the biographical sketch on his consulting firm’s website.

Muller formerly served as a Senior Geologist for Alpha Geoscience, where from Jan. 2010-March 2012, he researched “shale gas development issues” including “flowback treatment, stray gas, [and] permitting,” according to his LinkedIn page. He now serves in a consulting capacity for various hydraulic fracturing projects for the shale gas industry.

Miller and Muller closed their five-page peer review paper by writing, “Upon review, we both feel, based on information provided us and our own experience, that the report is adequate, complete and accurate and reflected thoughtful consideration for our comments and suggestions.”

This situation parallels what DeSmog wrote about in our first ever article on the SRSI, as the “peer review” panel for its first ever study had four out of five members on the payroll of the oil and gas industry.

Stars Aligning for Shale Gas Industry’s California Dreamin’

Concerned that the Inglewood study was conducted by and for the shale gas industry, Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote, “we need additional review from independent experts who have no financial stake in the study’s outcome.” But the recent history of the Keystone XL pipeline review process shows that’s highly unlikely.

The stars, it seems, are aligning quickly in the City of Angels for the oil and gas industry, with “this area…quietly becoming the hottest potential investment in the West,” according to an August 2011 story in San Luis Obispo’s New Times, which reported that the Monterey Shale has upwards of 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

It’s “California Dreamin‘” for the oil and gas industry in the Monterey Shale. Will that mean a “California Nightmare” for everyone else?

Update: In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Paul Ferrazzi, Co-Founder of Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, stated the following:

“Unfortunately, given the Settlement Agreement terms acceptable to all parties involved and the history of the implementation of the agreement by both the County and PXP one could only assume the results would be favorable to the oil operator and industry. We wish we could have some confidence in this study but given the study preparing company’s as well as the peer reviewer’s direct advocacy for the industry we do not feel it was adequately conducted, properly reviewed, or that the public should take comfort in the conclusions of the study.

If anything, this study raises more questions than it answers. The public should be able to ask for clarification and further support for the authors’ contentions. CCSC urges the County to use the study as a starting point for further discussion, and allow public participation and informative responses to test the validity, assumptions and conclusions of the study.”