Ecology & Environment: IOGA-tied DEC contractor

Ecology & Environment (E & E), the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) contractor whose membership in the lobbying group Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) of New York set off alarm bells, “clarified” its relationship with the organization last week.

In a letter released April 24, E & E asserted that it was never a member of IOGA, though it had previously paid an employee’s membership fees “in order to attend IOGANY’s Conferences and receive its newsletter to be kept apprised of new technical developments in the industry and develop industry contacts.” The environmental consultant castigated IOGA for not obtaining authorization to name Ecology & Environment in its letter to Andrew Cuomo pushing to move forward with fracking in New York State. E & E also declared that it had directed its employee to terminate his IOGA membership.

According to the April 24 letter, “E & E’s nationwide policy has been to not take any position on fracking and only provide objective environmental consulting;” however, the company has a financial interest in New York’s approving the practice evinced in corporate financial reports and past work for oil and gas companies. E & E has also been criticized for its overly optimistic prediction of fracking’s economic effects written on contract for the DEC and further has ties to a now-defunct fracking research institute at the University at Buffalo that incorrectly reported that the incidence of major environmental citations had declined in Pennsylvania.

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New York DEC contractor is a member of gas industry lobbying group

In a letter dated April 22, 2013, Brad Gill, the director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) of New York urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to “embrace the expansion of responsible natural gas development” on behalf of IOGA of New York’s members. Appended to the letter was a list of these members. Among these members was Ecology & Environment, Inc., a global environmental and engineering consulting firm headquartered in Western New York.

In 2011, Ecology & Environment (E&E) was at the center of one of the many controversies surrounding New York’s still unissued Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), upon which the decision whether to allow fracking in New York is to be based. Ecology & Environment was the recipient of a $223,000 contract from the Department of Environmental Conservation to study the potential effects of hydrofracking on New York’s economy and quality of life. That study, which made rosy predictions about fracking’s economic impacts, came under scrutiny due to E&E’s other contract work for oil and gas companies. At the time, the DEC defended their choice, saying that E&E had “demonstrated it has the needed expertise and capabilities to perform services D.E.C. required” and that “E&E’s client list played no role in D.E.C.’s decision to engage them.”

Now appears that, in addition to doing contract work for gas industry clients, E&E is also a member of a group that lobbies for fracking to be legalized. IOGA of New York, which describes itself as a trade organization whose membership is open to “producers, operators, engineers, consultants, landowners, and allied businesses and individuals,” has spent over $600,000 on lobbying since 2008, most of which has been around the fracking issue. The organization does not list its membership on its website, and until now E&E’s affiliation with the group was not known.

Depending on when Ecology & Environment joined the group (an IOGA spokesman told Gannett’s Jon Campbell that E&E was indeed a member), their contribution to the government study upon which New York’s fracking decision will be made is a profound conflict of interest. If the company was paying dues to a group that describes its mission on tax filings as “promot[ing] the common interests of oil and gas producers” at the same time it was studying the effect fracking would have on New York communities for state regulators, Ecology & Environment’s objectivity on the issue is highly suspect.

Though the DEC stood by their choice to hire E&E during the initial controversy around the company, the Department has so far not commented on E&E’s affiliation with IOGA. Governor Cuomo’s refrain has been that his decision on fracking will be dictated by science, but has the science itself been dictated by the industry?