Category Archives: Fracking

Industry-tied Department of Energy study finds gas exports will drive fracking, makes no mention of climate

On December 28, Bloomberg reported on a US Department of Energy analysis that found that increasing exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States would result in a 5% decrease in natural gas prices in Asia along with a 1% increase in US prices. The contracted researchers concluded that this would be a net benefit for the US economy as higher gas prices would result in larger profits for US gas companies and more spending on increasing gas drilling.

The study, conducted by researchers at the consulting firm Oxford Economics and the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, does not appear to contemplate the climate effects of increased natural gas drilling and burning, despite the fact that experts have identified climate change as a significant threat to US security interests and the economy. In fact, the word climate only appears once in the entire report (in a passing reference to the COP21 climate negotiations), and the researchers built the assumption that there would be no change in environmental policies into their models.

The researchers found that increasing LNG exports would expand natural gas drilling in the United States. In the first of the key points in the report’s executive summary, the authors write: “The majority of the increase in LNG exports is accommodated by expanded domestic production rather than reductions in domestic demand.”

The authors’ second key point is that the increased LNG exports advocated will result in higher energy prices in the United States. From the executive summary: “In every case, greater LNG exports raise domestic prices and lower prices internationally.” Higher prices with no reduction in demand, as well as access to international markets, would entail bigger profits for US drillers.

The increase in GDP from gas producers’ higher profits would offset the negative impact of higher prices on the US economy, according to the report.

As mentioned above, the study was conducted on contract by economists at Oxford Economics, a UK-based consulting firm, and by Kenneth Medlock III, the James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow in Energy and Resource Economics at Rice University. On its website, Oxford Economics touts its work for multinational corporate clients, including a number of oil and gas firms. Oxford’s clients include supermajor oil producers BP, Chevron, Eni, and Shell as well as the mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

The James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy, where report author Medlock is a fellow, is an oil-and-gas-industry-funded unit at Rice University. Its members, which fund the institute at levels between $25,000 and $75,000 per year, include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell as well as LNG export company Cheniere Energy. FTI Consulting, a public relations firm that runs the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s Energy in Depth campaign, is a “Director’s Circle” member of the Baker Institute, paying $75,000 per year for access to the institute’s advisory meetings and conferences and private briefings at their headquarters. In 2012, the Baker Institute, in conjunction with Harvard’s industry-funded Belfer Center, published “The Geopolitics of Natural Gas,” a project steered by a Shell employee and funded by ConocoPhillips, that also endorsed increasing LNG exports.

The Department of Energy study, dated October 29, 2015, seems to be another iteration of the Obama administration’s climate ambivalence. As the President publicly describes climate change as a major threat that can’t be dealt with “through pouring money at it,” his administration has relied on analyses by oil and gas industry consulting firms to justify policies that promise to increase the production and consumption of fossil fuels. Since Obama has taken office, his administration has issued permits to liquefy and export natural gas, approved oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, and, most recently, approved a budget deal lifting the ban on crude oil exports.

PAI has covered the industry-tied science used to advance the oil and gas industry’s agenda in great depth since 2012. This study, and others, can be found in our database of “frackademic” studies here. We have also created a guide to the “frackademia” phenomenon, with profiles of its major players, which is available here.

Update (January 11, 2016):
Itai Vardi published an examination of Rice University’s Baker Institute at DeSmogBlog that goes into the institute’s oil and gas ties in greater depth than the discussion above.

The Baker Institute’s oil and gas backing and its experts’ connections to the industry are mapped below using the LittleSis oligrapher tool:

Oil-financed Senate banking committee poised to greenlight oil exports

Despite signaling earlier this year that President Obama would veto bills repealing the current ban on exporting crude oil produced in the United States, the administration has since walked back that position. Yesterday, Politico reported (subscription required) that White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to rule out lifting the ban in exchange for other administration priorities in negotiations over a spending bill due Friday.

Meanwhile, another bill that would repeal the export ban, already passed in the House, is under consideration by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Members of that committee from both major political parties are long-time allies of the oil and gas industry, and data from the Center for Responsive Politics show that current committee members have received $2.9 million in campaign contributions from individuals and PACs affiliated with oil and gas companies since 2011.

Tom Cotton, Republican Senator from Arkansas, received the most oil and gas money of anyone on the committee. Cotton has brought in $467,055 from the industry since 2011, according to CRP’s OpenSecrets database. The oil industry is Cotton’s 4th largest donor, and though the senator does not explicitly deny the existence of climate change, he did claim in 2014 that the Earth’s temperature had not risen in the past 16 years. (The top 10 hottest years on record have come since 1998, with 2014 taking the top spot, though 2015 will in all likelihood displace it.)

North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp received the most oil and gas industry money of all the Democrats on the Banking Committee, garnering $233,574 in industry contributions since 2011. Oil and gas donors comprise the senator’s third largest industry donor group according to OpenSecrets. Senator Heitkamp’s state is home to one of the largest shale oil fields in the country, the Bakken Shale, which has seen explosive growth from the oil and gas industry since the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Heitkamp has been a staunch proponent of the petroleum industry’s agenda in Washington; in 2013 she co-sponsored a bill to expedite permits to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States, pitched as a measure to undermine Russia’s near monopoly on the European gas market, but long a priority of oil and gas producers facing depressed prices due to overproduction from the fracking boom.

A third senator allied with the oil and gas industry on the committee considering the export ban is David Vitter of Louisiana, who this year lost his bid for Governor of that state. As we wrote in a 2014 post on efforts to expand LNG exports, Vitter is the son of a Chevron executive and owns a considerable portion of Chevron stock. The oil and gas industry has been Vitter’s top donor since 2011, contributing $189,400 to his campaigns.

As policymakers consider lifting the crude oil export ban, which the Center for American Progress estimates would result in an addition 515 million metric tons of carbon pollution every year, government officials are being targeted by a multifaceted campaign by the oil industry advocating the same. As PAI reported this week, several prominent US think tanks with deep financial and governance ties to the industry have been pushing to repeal the ban. Like the senators on the banking committee, the think tanks advocating the ban cross the mainstream political spectrum – from the Brookings Institution and the Center for Foreign Relations to the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

That Democrats appear willing to consider acceding to lifting the ban, even as President Obama recognized America’s role in driving climate change at the COP21 negotiations in Paris, indicates that the oil industry’s campaign is working.

Astroturf kingpin deploys front groups to support drilling, aided by frackademic Considine

Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune ran an op-ed entitled “‘Bean-counting bureaucrats’ at BLM are locking up Utah’s future,” advocating the opening of federally owned lands to oil and gas drilling. The column, essentially the same as an op-ed that ran a week earlier in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, relies on a report by Timothy Considine, a University of Wyoming economics professor whose work we have profiled in depth in our reporting on the “frackademia” phenomenon. That report was funded by the Interstate Policy Alliance, a project of the corporate PR firm Berman and Company which has created myriad front groups to advocate the interests of the tobacco, food, and alcohol industries and to attack unions, animal rights, and environmental regulations. The Salt Lake Tribune and Las Vegas Review-Journal columns were penned by Anastasia Swearingen, who is identified as a research analyst at the Environmental Policy Alliance, a project of another Berman front group, the Center for Organizational Research and Education.

In their foray into the fracking debate, Berman and Company seems to have deployed a vertically integrated astroturf campaign wherein the firm funded research from a notorious pro-fracking academic through one of its fronts and then deployed another front to cite the research in various newspapers in the Rocky Mountain region.

Continue reading Astroturf kingpin deploys front groups to support drilling, aided by frackademic Considine

EIA Monterey Shale write-down invalidates frackademic Considine’s predictions

A little more than a week ago the Orange County Register ran a column by Timothy Considine, the director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming arguing against a ban on hydraulic fracturing in California. Considine claims that fracking in the Monterey Shale could add 557,000 jobs per year and increase the state domestic product by $63 billion. While Considine’s numbers look compelling, they are based on a wild overestimate of the recoverable oil from the Monterey formation. Five days after Considine’s column ran, the Energy Information Administration reduced its estimate of recoverable oil from the Monterey Shale by 96%.

Continue reading EIA Monterey Shale write-down invalidates frackademic Considine’s predictions

Los Angeles Times interviews fracking expert, fails to disclose industry ties

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times published an interview with Stanford professor of geophysics Mark Zoback in which he argued against a moratorium on fracking in California and lauded the oil and gas regulatory regimes in Pennsylvania and Texas. At the beginning of the article, Zoback is identified as “Stanford geophysicist since 1984, member of the National Academy of Engineering’s Deepwater Horizon investigation committee, personal ‘decarbonizer,’ [and] fracking expert.”

What the LA Times left off of Zoback’s CV is his role as an oil and gas industry insider. In addition to his position at Stanford and role on President Obama’s industry-stacked Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Energy Advisory Board, Zoback is a senior executive advisor to the oilfield services company Baker Hughes, the former chair the oil and gas consulting firm GeoMechanics International (purchased by Baker Hughes in 2008), and a director of the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, a federally funded think tank dedicated to “exploring, producing and transporting-to-market energy or other derivative products from ultra-deepwater and unconventional natural gas and other petroleum resources.”

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Senators speak out for LNG exports, bring in big bucks from oil and gas industry

As the west scrambles for a geopolitical response to Russia’s play for the Crimean peninsula, advocates for the oil and gas industry have used the situation to redouble the push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG). Framing the issue as a matter of protecting a fledgling democracy and ensuring security for United States allies, oil- and gas-affiliated pundits, lobbyists, and politicians have begun banging the drum to increase gas exports as a way for the United States to win this standoff with its Cold War rival. However, approving more LNG export facilities is unlikely to have any effect on the current crisis as construction of terminals will take years and billions of dollars and there is no way to ensure that gas will go to Ukraine or any European country when it fetches a higher price in Asia.

Though increased gas exports would not likely score the US a geopolitical win in Crimea, it would help the oil and gas industry to increase their bottom line by selling natural gas, which is currently barely profitable to drill for, to high-priced Asian markets.

As Republic Report’s Lee Fang showed, many in the commentariat calling for exports as a solution have ties to oil and gas lobbying groups and Koch-funded think tanks. We wrote last week on former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who penned an op-ed arguing to use LNG to “[secure] regional independence from Russia,” without disclosing that his employer had been employed as recently as December as a consultant to Ukraine on an LNG project.

Members of Congress have also been speaking out on the issue and have introduced several bills in the House and Senate to expedite Department of Energy approval of LNG export permits. We found that some of the legislators most vocal about LNG and Ukraine have been the recipients of large amounts of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry – the five profiled below have brought in more than $1.5 million since 2009.

Continue reading Senators speak out for LNG exports, bring in big bucks from oil and gas industry

“Sustainable” shale center appoints new director

Last week, the Center for Sustainable Shale Development announced it had hired Susan Packard LeGros, a Philadelphia-area environmental attorney, as its executive director. LeGros is replacing interim director Andrew Place, who is also the head of public policy research for Pittsburgh gas driller EQT Corporation.

As we discussed in our report “Big Green Fracking Machine,” though CSSD bills itself as an “unprecedented collaboration” between the drilling industry and environmental groups “to support continuous improvement and innovative practices through performance standards and third-party certification,” the group is dominated by oil and gas interests and appears to be less an independent certifier than a greenwash effort to improve the natural gas industry’s public image. LeGros is an apt complement to CSSD’s model. She comes to the Center from Stevens & Lee, a law firm with several offices in the Mid-Atlantic region that lists her as a contact for its oil and gas practice. LeGros is also a former director of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, an environmental group whose friendly ties to the gas industry we detailed on this blog last year.

Along with its announcement of LeGros’s hiring, CSSD announced that it will begin certifying gas drillers as “sustainable” this year, though the third party auditor will be Bureau Veritas rather than the previously reported ICF International. After the controversy surrounding CSSD board member and now former Heinz Endowments President Bobby Vagt‘s failure to disclose his board position on pipeline company Kinder Morgan, the involvement of one of CSSD’s main fiscal sponsors became questionable. This week’s announcements signal that, with or without the involvement of the Heinz Endowments, the show will go on at the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

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Pa. DEP and PUC heads keynote gas industry events

This fall, Blank Rome LLP, a Pennsylvania-based law and lobbying firm, held two events titled “Environmental Issues Affecting Midstream & Downstream Oil & Gas Development.” The events, one in Philadelphia and one in Harrisburg, were co-hosted by Hull & Associates, a shale oil and gas project management and consulting firm, and featured a slew of presenters from variety of industry affiliates, including Blank Rome energy chair (and former Pennsylvania DEP Secretary) Michael Krancer; Stephanie Catarino-Wissman, the executive director of the American Petroleum Institute‘s Pennsylvania office; and Chris Tucker, the leader of Energy in Depth, the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s public relations campaign.

Also among the presenters were E Christopher Abruzzo, Krancer’s replacement as DEP Secretary, and Robert F Powelson, the chairman of Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission (PUC).

While it is important for industries to be kept abreast of the issues regulators are looking at, the Blank Rome program, which included presentations on how midstream and downstream companies can mitigate public relations fallout from an environmental crisis, is another illustration of the cozy relationship in Pennsylvania between the oil and gas industry and the governmental bodies tasked with overseeing it.

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Keystone pols have a gas in Manhattan over the Pennsylvania Society weekend

While we have been giving a lot of blog attention to New York State over the past few weeks, highlighting Governor Cuomo’s ties to the business lobbies pushing for natural gas in New York, Pennsylvania’s titans of business and politics paid their respects to the Empire State this past weekend, making their annual pilgrimage to New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria for the Pennsylvania Society Weekend.

Alternately called a “weekend-long marathon of dinners and cocktails” that “brings together political, civic and business leaders from across Pennsylvania and across the aisle” and an “orgy of eating, drinking and, needless to say, politicking by the state’s most powerful and influential people,” the Pennsylvania Society weekend is a 114-year-old tradition wherein Pennsylvania elites, “[p]oliticians from the governor down, lobbyists and lawyers seeking their favor, corporate chiefs from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia inclined to write campaign checks,” gather in New York for what has expanded to more than 60 events sponsored by candidates, law firms, and interest groups.

Former Governor Ed Rendell told the New York Times that the weekend of schmoozing is a compulsion: “For politicians, it’s like salmon swimming upstream to give birth. We do it by instinct.”

Like all things political in Pennsylvania, the natural gas industry has a pervasive presence at the Pennsylvania Society, where revolving door lobbyists tipple with policymakers and hopefuls at thousand dollar a head receptions and break bread at invitation-only dinners all in the twinkly, gilded grandeur of midtown Manhattan in December.

Continue reading Keystone pols have a gas in Manhattan over the Pennsylvania Society weekend

IOGA of New York reducing its lobbying profile

Last week, Capital New York reported on “belt-tightening” at the Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) of New York that included downsizing its staff and severing its relations with the lobbying firm Hinman Straub and its affiliate Corning Place Communications. Brad Gill, director of IOGA of NY, told Capital New York that his group “doesn’t have the resources to push back against” anti-fracking groups in the state. According to the story, IOGA of NY has lost 20% of its members with the big players all but giving up on the state. “Right now, Shell could care less about New York,” Gill told Capital New York.

One of the ads from IOGA of NY’s $2 million campaign last year

While IOGA of NY’s membership may indeed be dwindling, their claim that the gas industry is short on resources compared to the anti-fracking movement seems somewhat disingenuous. In 2012, the group spent $2 million from ExxonMobil on an ad campaign supporting fracking in New York.

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