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.
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%.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Unshackle Upstate’s LNG coalition
By Rob Galbraith • Dec 02, 2013 at 16:10 EST
Last week the Buffalo Niagara Partnership announced its 2014 policy agenda for the Western New York region, with support for liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueling stations as a top priority. Currently, New York environmental law does not allow LNG facilities in residential areas or “in dangerous proximity to contiguous populations.” Bills now under consideration in the state legislature would change this, exempting LNG storage and transportation facilities with a capacity less than 40,000 gallons from the siting law and allowing LNG stations to be constructed outside of any city with a population of 1 million or more (i.e. outside New York City).
Using natural gas as automobile fuel would be a boon to a natural gas industry that is struggling to turn a profit on the glut of gas produced in the fracking age. In addition to LNG for automobiles, gas producers are promoting compressed natural gas (CNG) as vehicular fuel as well as LNG exports to increase demand for their product.
As we have pointed out before, BNP is a powerful business lobby in the region with strong ties to both the natural gas industry and New York State government. To push its LNG plans, BNP has co-founded a coalition called LNG for NY.
Today Grist released an article on the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) extensive ties to Walmart and the Walton family. $66 million ties to be exact. According to the article these high-dollar contributions from the Walton Family Foundation bought Walmart some serious green cred as EDF, a prominent environmental group with a names that suggests a strong commitment to the environment, promoted the company’s sustainability campaign in press releases and articles and backed the company’s claims about its renewable energy efforts. From Grist:
A recent Fast Company article touting Walmart’s impact on renewable power, for example, relied on just three sources: Walmart, a company contracting with Walmart, and EDF. Perhaps not surprisingly, the article is riddled with half-truths and one critical factual error. It says that Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions have declined by 20 percent since 2005, when in fact they have risen by 14 percent, according to the company’s own disclosures.
EDF not only failed to disclose their financial ties to the Waltons but misled journalists and the public by continually claiming that they do not receive financial support from Walmart or other corporate entities. They are technically correct. The money comes from the Walton Family Foundation, which is directed by the Waltons, the children and grandchildren of Sam Walton (Founder of Walmart), who sit on Walmart’s board, hold the chairmanship of Walmart’s board, and own over half of Walmart’s stock. Spin on, EDF.
Last week the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported that New York Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy had applied for a job with the Rochester Business Alliance (RBA), a local chamber of commerce and business lobbying group. Duffy confirmed in an interview with the Democrat & Chronicle that on October 5th he had interviewed for the group’s executive director position, which is currently held by Sandra Parker, co-founder of Unshackle Upstate, a business organization that has lobbied heavily for fracking in addition to pushing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic agenda, and former owner of the lake house that Duffy purchased below market value in May.
Duffy’s interview came less than two weeks after we reported on ties between the Cuomo administration and Unshackle Upstate: Both Parker and the group’s other co-founder, Andrew Rudnick, served on the board of Cuomo-coordinated Committee to Save New York; both co-founders are appointees to Cuomo’s regional economic development councils; and other three other Unshackle Upstate leaders have been appointed by the Governor to various economic development positions.
Harvard University announced this week that Gen. David Petraeus, former director of the CIA and current chair of private equity giant KKR’s global institute, has been appointed as a non-resident senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a unit of the university’s Kennedy School of Government. According to the school’s press release, Petraeus will be jointly leading a Belfer Center project on “The Coming North America Decades,” which shares the name with the course he is currently teaching at the City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College. As DeSmogBlog revealed this summer, Petraeus’s imminent “North American decades” will be partially attributable to the embrace of hydraulic fracturing and the exportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG); among the required readings for his course at Macaulay are two industry-funded studies endorsing natural gas as safe for the environment.
Petraeus’s enthusiasm for natural gas gels nicely with his position at KKR, which was the subject of a Forbes article titled “Guess Who’s Fueling the Fracking Boom?” last year thanks to its massive investments in shale gas companies over the past several years. His voice also is a natural fit at the Belfer Center, which has extensive ties to the oil and gas industry and is home to the BP-funded Geopolitics of Energy Project.