In an under-reported move on May 5th, the Obama administration announced the members of a government panel created to study the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and determine if there are ways, or even a necessity, to make it safer for the environment and public health. Unfortunately, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the administration stacked the panel with oil and gas industry insiders.
As DeSmogBlog reports have detailed, the practice of fracking has been linked to numerous environmental dangers, including the release of methane into drinking water supplies as well as releasing carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. In spite of these findings, the energy industry continues to insist that fracking is safe, and with industry insiders packing the Administration’s new safety panel, their findings will likely mirror those of the industry.
The EWG lists the following members of the administration’s panel, as well as their ties to industry:
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 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 only consists of seven members, and six of them have direct ties to the industry they will be evaluating. The EWG was successful last October in blocking the nomination of Michael Economides to the panel. Economides is a petroleum engineering professor at the University of Houston who is on record as claiming that the dangers from fracking are “few, if any.”
The EWG’s efforts to block Economides were then countered by the oil industry, who successfully blocked the nominations of two fracking critics that the Administration had put up. And with the vast majority of the panel representing the oil and gas industries, any favorable rulings for the people being harmed by fracking – including the numerous spills that have taken place over the last few months – will more than likely be nonexistent.