Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.
Last year, a hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") chemical fluid disclosure "model bill" was passed by both the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It proceeded to pass in multiple states across the country soon thereafter, but as Bloomberg recently reported, the bill has been an abject failure with regards to "disclosure."
That was by design, thanks to the bill's chief author, ExxonMobil.
Originating as a Texas bill with disclosure standards drawn up under the auspices of the Obama Administration's Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee rife with oil and gas industry insiders, the model is now codified as law in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
Bloomberg reported that the public is being kept "clueless" as to what chemicals are injected into the ground during the fracking process by the oil and gas industry.
"Truck-Sized" Loopholes: Fracking Chemical Fluid Non-Disclosure by Design
"Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August," explained Bloomberg. "Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms."
For close observers of this issue, it's no surprise that the model bills contain "truck-sized" loopholes.
"A close reading of the bill...reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets," The New York Times explained back in April.
Disclosure Goes Through FracFocus, PR Front For Oil and Gas Industry
The model bill that's passed in four states so far mandates that fracking chemical fluid disclosure be conducted by FracFocus, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, claiming it has produced chemical data on over 15,000 fracked wells in a promotional video.
The reality is far more messy, as reported in an August investigation by Bloomberg.
"Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year," wrote Bloomberg. "The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy."
This moved U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) to say that FracFocus and the model bills it would soon be a part of make a mockery of the term "disclosure."
"FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure," she said.
"Fig leaf" is one way of putting it.
Another way of putting it is "public relations ploy." As Dory Hippauf of ShaleShock Media recently revealed in an article titled "FracUNfocusED," FracFocus is actually a PR front for the oil and gas industry.
Hippauf revealed that FracFocus' domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation - a front group for Chesapeake Energy.
Given the situation, it's not surprising then that "companies claimed trade secrets or otherwise failed to identify the chemicals they used about 22 percent of the time," according to Bloomberg's analysis of FracFocus data for 18 states.
Put another way, the ExxonMobil's bill has done exactly what it set out to do: business as usual for the oil and gas industry.
In the wake of a New York Times series that revealed a serious lack of oversight of the gas industry by state regulators, the Governor of Pennsylvania has taken decisive action. He ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection not to report violations by gas companies without approval from his hand picked environmental chief. That’s right - Tom Corbett, the republican governor of Pennsylvania, ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to stop issuing violations against drillers without prior approval from DEP Secretary Micheal Krancer, who he personally selected as chief of the agency.
John Hines, the DEP executive deputy secretary, sent an e-mail March 23 to other senior staff, including four regional directors and the head of the department's oil and gas division.
"Effective immediately," it said, all violations must first be sent to him and another DEP deputy secretary in Harrisburg - with "final clearance" from Michael Krancer, DEP secretary.
"Any waiver from this directive will not be acceptable," Hines wrote. Regional directors reinforced the stern message in their own e-mails to staff.
Considering that notices of violation are the inspectors' main tool for enforcing compliance with environmental rules, Governor Corbett has basically kneecapped the DEP’s ability to control wayward hydrofrackers. The new policy has been met with disbelief and anger by people familiar with regulating the industry.
"They are putting us on a leash," said the one inspector, who spoke to the Enquirer on condition of anonymity because of a fear of retaliation.
Even John Hanger, ex DEP chief and good friend of fracking was against the directive. In an interview with the Enquirer, he said:
"I could not believe it. It's extraordinarily unwise. It's going to cause the public in droves to lose confidence in the inspection process." According to Hanger, there has never been a similar directive in DEP.
Hanger said the "extraordinary" policy was akin to forcing a highway trooper to get approval from the head of the state police before writing a ticket.
"It is a complete intrusion into the independence of the inspection process," he said.
Why would Corbett pander so brazenly to the Natural Gas industry? The Enquirer points out that Corbett received more than $800,000 in campaign contributions from drilling interests last year. A good investment for the fracking industry, considering that since taking office in January, Corbett's administration has overturned a moratorium on drilling in state forests and has refused to consider any extraction tax on drillers. Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas-producing state without such a tax.
A hydrofracking well pad in Pennsylvania. Image source
In a ground breaking expose of the natural gas industry, Ian Urbina of the New York Times chronicles the dumping of radioactive watewater into the rivers and streams of Pennsylvania, among other abuses. The article describes how natural gas companies have taken advantage of lax regulation and unprepared regulators to thwart what few environmental safeguards exist to control gas extraction. Natural gas is extracted through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short. This process uses millions of gallons of water, which becomes contaminated with heavy metals, radioactive elements, and other toxins. This wastewater must then be disposed of. In Pennsylvania the waste has been dumped into waterways, upstream of freshwater intake for cities and towns.
Here is a video describing the fracking process. Keep in mind it was made by Chesapeake Energy, a company heavily invested in hydrofracking, so there is no mention of what happens to the toxic wastewater.
Natural gas has long courted a "green" image because gas is less carbon intense than coal and some other fossil fuels. Gas companies have even gone as far as calling the burning of gas an inexpensive form of clean energy. However, the cost of natural gas is enormous: polluted water, the release methane (a powerful green house gas), exploding houses and water wells, cancer, and waste of money and capital that should be going to real clean energy (i.e. solar and wind).