17 May 2011

Last week we talked with Dave Garcia of the Sierra Club, Yahi Group about the dangers of fracking–the hydraulic fracturing of underground shale to release natural gas. Dave told us of the environmentally dangerous side effects to ground water, the rock formations themselves, and drinking water and the air. (You’ll recall his stories about tap water that catches on fire due to dissolved methane.)

 As a follow up, tonight we have on the phone Dusty Horwitt, an attorney with Environmental Work Group in Washington, D.C. He is the lead researcher on natural gas issues for EWG, which has just released an alarming paper concerning a newly formed government study group on fracking.

Listen to the Program

 Our Conversation with Dusty Horwitt

–Please tell us about the new panel formed by the Obama administration on fracking. What’s the purpose of the panel? What authority does it have?

–Your news release says, “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.” Who is on the panel? Who has been left off?

–Please tell us a little about several of the big oil members, perhaps Panel Chair John Deutch and/or some of the university professors (whom one would think would have a degree of academic objectivity here: e.g. Stephen Holditch of Texas A&M, Mark Zoback of Stanford). Please also tell us about the panel’s outside interests with the oil industry.

–We have interviewed Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund on this program. EWG identifies him as the only environmental representative on the panel. What role will it be possible for him to play? Why do you have some doubts about EDF on the fracking issue?

–Your press release mentions a new study by Duke University that confirms suspicions in Pennsylvania and New York “that gas extraction was leaking methane into their drinking water.” What other major studies will the panel consider? Are there any studies that actually identify fracking as a safe process?

–More broadly: On our show last week we cited an Exxon/Mobil commercial that brags that there’s 100 years’ worth of natural gas “trapped” underground but that human ingenuity (presumably fracking and other technologies) will free that gas. What’s EWG’s position on 100 more years of fossil fuel consumption? Are there alternatives? Do we need to extract all that natural gas? (If EWG has a position on expanding nuclear energy, we’d love to hear about that, too, and, of course, about solar, wind, and other alternatives to carbon and plutonium.)

–What can interested listeners do to make their voices heard on the fracking panel, in particular, and fracking and other energy sources in general?

Thank you, Dusty Horwitt, of the Environmental Working Group. You can learn more about their work online at http://www.ewg.org. Their California Office is at  2201 Broadway, Suite 308 | Oakland, CA 94612.

And here’s the report that was the subject of tonight’s discussion:

News Release – Administration Stacks Panel With Big Oil and Gas
Published May 10, 2011

The Obama administration panel named May 5 [1] 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 [2]
and deteriorating health in communities near drilling sites.

A study by Duke University researchers [3], 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 oil and gas drilling company that, according to Forbes
Magazine online [4], 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 [5], a Dallas oil and gas exploration company.
•Mark Zoback, a geophysics professor at Stanford and senior advisor to
Baker Hughes [6], Inc., a Houston-based oilfield services company
engaged in hydraulic fracturing [7]. Zoback is chair of GeoMechanics
International [8], 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 [9], Inc., which consults for the
oil and gas industry, and a director of NRG Energy [10], a Princeton,
N.J., wholesale power generation company whose assets [11] 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 [12],
which consults for utilities that use natural gas and for the
Interstate Natural Gas Association of America [13], 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 [14], acquired in 2004 by IHS [15], 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 [16].

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 [17] 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 [18]


Source URL:
[1] http://www.energy.gov/news/10309.htm
[2] http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/methane-contamination-of-drinking-water-accompanying-gas-well-drilling
[3] http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-05/du-ml1050411.php
[4] http://people.forbes.com/profile/john-m-deutch/18048
[5] http://www.matadorresources.com/board.html
[6] http://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/committeeview.aspx?key=49246
[7] http://www.bakerhughes.com/products-and-services/reservoir-development-services/software/hydraulic-fracturing
[8] http://www.geomi.com/AboutUs/ExecBios.php
[9] http://www.westonsolutions.com/about/officers.htm
[10] http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=121544&p=irol-govBio&ID=184475
[11] http://www.nrgenergy.com/pdf/Projectlist.pdf
[12] http://www.analysisgroup.com/susan_tierney.aspx
[13] http://www.ingaa.org/
[14] http://www.ihs.com/about/executives.aspx
[15] http://press.ihs.com/press-release/corporate-financial/ihs-energy-acquires-cambridge-energy-research-associates-cera
[16] http://tipro.org/UserFiles/Frequently asked Natural Gas Questions(1).pdf
[17] http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/d0cf6618525a9efb85257359003fb69d/26195e235a35cb3885257831005fd9cd!OpenDocument
[18] http://www.ewg.org