Before the U.S. oil industry’s hydraulic fracturing process made headlines and sparked protests throughout the nation, its executives were hard at work, winning the hearts and minds of lawmakers key to the success of its lucrative journey into the nation’s subsurface rock.
Through the use of trained military psychological warfare experts, and with the help of corporate-sponsored lobby organizations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), large oil companies have convinced American lawmakers to join their team.
As residents in the early days of fracking published footage of flammable drinking water, contaminated through fracking wells near their homes, the industry released statements promising the safety of its business. Through the promise of jobs and ALEC ready-to-go legislation, available to all member lawmakers, politicians bought the bait.
Yet the concern among residents continues to grow, prompting the industry to act through public persuasion campaigns and lobbying efforts.
“The industry has expanded into a lot of places where they weren’t before,” Amy Mall, senior analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council who has monitored the fracking industry for nearly a decade, told Mint Press News. “A lot more communities have been impacted in the last five or so years because exploration of the shale oil and gas formations. There were a lot of communities that were not the target of that industry that are now.”
Colorado and Pennsylvania have become battlegrounds in the oil-fueled debates pitting state and local governments against one another. In February, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said he has “an obligation” to sue Fort Collins, Colo., over a recent move to ban fracking within its city limits, claiming it restricted the state’s mineral rights.
The same scenario has played out in Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011 appointed the CEO of the state’s largest energy company to lead the Department of Community and Economic Development, including in his list of authorities to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted,” which includes oil.
His state also took on local governments for issuing bans on fracking, arguing under the same rationale used by Colorado’s Hickenlooper.
Yet as Mall sees it, it’s nothing new. Having monitored the industry for nearly a decade, she says they’re seemingly just up to their old tricks of staying one step ahead of the push for regulation, assuring lawmakers take action in a way optimal to oil companies.
“They (the oil industry) has been influencing our state rules and federal laws for the last 30 years,” Mall said.
Pennsylvania is a hotbed for the fracking industry, and a state where oil executives proved the measures they’re willing to take to assure the natural resources it holds are accessible for their needs, as was seen with Corbett’s unusual appointments.
Concerned with possible water contamination and a burgeoning industry developing in secret, communities throughout the state began enacting their own moratoriums, creating a tit-for-tat between the state government and local municipalities.
“It was becoming more of the trend for local governments to enact their own individual and often overly burdensome regulation on shale development,” Drew Compton, chief of staff for the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sen. Joe Scarnati, told American Public Media’s Marketplace.
The state is expected to hear any day now on a State Supreme Court decision that will decide who has the authority to issue moratoriums on fracking.
It heated up when Pittsburgh, Penn. issued a ban on fracking in 2010, causing the state to move into action.
In an interview with Democracy Now, Pittsburgh’s former city councilman, Doug Shields, said prior to the ban the oil industry was purchasing land within city limits, without the city’s knowledge.
“There was a study by the University of Pittsburgh where they combed through the deeds office and low-and-behold, 642 acres are leased — a Catholic cemetery in the middle of the council district, 200 acres was the biggest lease. Constituents came to me and said, ‘What’s going on,’” Shields said.
Range Resources, a major fracking company in the United States, declared at a national industry gathering in 2011 that its psychological warfare experts were working in Pennsylvania. Having seemingly failed with public perception, it claimed to be moving on to politicians.
DeSmogBlog, a leading environmental publication, captured Range Resources Director of Corporate Communications Matt Pitzarella addressing a crowd at the industry’s 2011 annual conference in Houston about his company’s use of psychological warfare experts.
“They’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments,” Pitzarella said. “Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of the PSYOPs in the Army and in the Middle East applies very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.”
Considering the current court case at hand, their efforts worked — at least to some degree.
As the fracking industry rolled into their state, Colorado residents from across the political spectrum took action to stop the process from happening in their communities.
It hit a turning point in March when Fort Collins, Colo., voted to ban fracking within city limits. It was done so in the face of threats made by Gov. Hickenlooper, who vowed to sue the city if it went ahead with its plans.
Hickenlooper argues that his actions are motivated by the need for a central system of controlling the state’s natural resources.
Yet, based on his reputation with the oil industry, it’s questionable whether his actions are based on centrality. Hickenlooper appeared as a spokesperson for the fracking industry in a radio advertisement, claiming the state has the “toughest and fairest hydraulic fracturing disclosure rule in the nation,” a claim that has been disputed by the Environmental Defense Fund.
In 2012, Colorado lawmakers proposed rules that would increase monitoring of residents’ drinking water supplies — yet the bill fell short of satisfactory standards for most residents, as it only subjected 25 percent of the state’s wells to monitoring, leaving out large wells operations of most concern to residents.
In Hickenlooper’s pro-fracking ad, he also claimed the state had not suffered groundwater contamination caused by the industry since 2008. However, the Denver Post reports that from 2008 to 2010, the oil and gas industry reported almost 1,000 spills to Colorado regulators, equating to 5.2 million gallons of drilling liquids, which include carcinogenic chemicals.
Of the spills reported over that two-year period, 182 spills infiltrated the groundwater, and 82 percent affected surface water. Over that period, only two fines were implemented to the oil companies responsible.
A bill (HB 1269) recently introduced in Colorado’s House, seeks to eliminate the conflict of interest between the oil and gas industry and the state’s regulators and lawmakers. One provision seeks to restrict those employed by the industry from serving on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGG), which provides fracking permits in the state. As of now, its compiled of industry leaders.
The bill is unlikely to pass. In Colorado, 19 state lawmakers have ties to ALEC.
ALEC bills written by oil companies, sponsored by politicians
Recent reports have indicated that ALEC is up to its same old tricks when it comes to fracking legislation. Having been made a household name through its sponsorship of model ‘stand your ground’ bills, it’s now emerged the lobby organization has met with energy companies to draft legislation packaged as ‘environmental’ bills aimed to increasing transparency in the fracking process.
“I don’t think it’s wrong for the industry to meet with our government, but that’s not what’s happening through ALEC,” Greenpeace Researcher Connor Gibson said in an interview with Mint Press News.
The bill, titled as the “Fracking Chemical Usage Disclosure Act,” is one that seemingly works to fill the gap created through the Halliburton Loophole, which allowed oil companies to operate outside the legislation of the nation’s Clean Air and Water Act.
The disclosure act seemingly aims to mandate oil companies to disclose the (carcinogenic) chemicals they use in the fracking process. It sounds great on the surface, yet there’s one hook — a major hook. Under the Act, oil companies are allowed to withhold the use of any chemical they deem to be a “trade secret.”
The public is not able to learn what such chemicals are, or the reasoning behind their “trade secret” title. It does nothing for families demanding they know the chemicals that could potentially make its way into their water supply.
So, how did this legislation come to be?
Gibson monitors the energy industry’s ties to ALEC and revealed that the lobby organization’s 2012 States and Nations Policy Summit was intended to eliminate environmental obstacles to oil and coal related companies, the very same businesses sponsoring the event.
The schedule and description of the event, leaked to Greenpeace and provided to Mint Press News, indicates that the “Energy Subcommittee” discussed methods of domestic oil companies moving forward.
“Also, there will be a presentation regarding the natural gas industry and manufacturing and how it relates to jobs and infrastructure,” the description read.
As Gibson sees it, ALEC excludes the public from the process, creating what is essentially a lobby organization that not only advocates for its causes, but provides cooperating lawmakers with model legislation written by corporations.
In that light, it’s difficult to assume participating lawmakers are working in the best interest of their constituents, who in the case of fracking, are fighting for their right to protect their neighbors and families from environmental disasters and tainted drinking water leaked to fracking.