Environmental Working Group objects to Obama’s Blue Ribbon Panel to Greenwash Fracking

The Environmental Working Group has drafted a letter to US Energy Secretary Steven Chu objecting to “the lack of impartiality and balance on the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board.”

This special panel was created in early may, “to identify any immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of hydraulic fracturing”, according to its web page.

Here is the full text of Environmental Working Group’s letter:

June 27, 2010

The Honorable Steven Chu
Secretary of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are writing to ask you to address the lack of impartiality and balance on the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board. Our organizations are located in 13 different states and together have over 1.5 million supporters. Many of them are already directly affected by drilling and fracking. Many more want to understand the implications of expansion of natural gas and oil operations into their communities.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is increasingly important in natural gas and oil development. Yet it has been linked to water contamination and property damage across the nation. Understandably, people who live and work in places where fracking operations are planned are concerned about the consequences for their lives and livelihoods. New York City Councilman James Gennaro, chair of the city council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, has estimated that if drilling and fracturing for natural gas in upstate New York were to contaminate the city’s water supply, the city might have to spend as much as $20 billion dollars to build a water filtration plant – with no guarantee that the plant could purify the water.

Already thousands of people from Pennsylvania to Wyoming have reached out to the government to express their concerns about the environmental impacts of fracking. Yet your decision to appoint six subcommittee members, including the chair, John Deutch, with financial conflicts of interest sends a clear signal that the administration is listening to the top brass of the industry, not to real people at the grass roots who are concerned and affected by fracking.

The public deserves better. Specifically, we deserve a fair advisory panel, which means:

  1. People from communities affected by fracking and oil and gas drilling must be represented on the panel. Their quality of life, their health, their property values are at risk. Yet there is no one to speak for them. Why not?
  2. John Deutch must step down from the panel. Mr. Deutch, a director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Clinton, served for a decade on the board of Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world’s three largest hydraulic fracturing companies. Schlumberger paid Mr. Deutch about $563,000 in 2006 and 2007, according to Forbes Magazine Online. He is now on the board of Cheniere Energy, Inc., a Houston-based liquified natural gas company that, according to Forbes, paid him about $882,000 from 2006 through 2009.
  3. The panel must be chaired by an impartial person and must be expanded to include independent experts.

We share President Obama’s concern over rising energy prices. But Americans’ health and the safety of our drinking water are just as important. In light of the complexity and importance of the issue and EPA’s ongoing scientific study of fracturing, which is being conducted according to high ethical standards, we insist on a panel that can offer constructive and credible advice.

In addition to Mr. Deutch, other panel members have these industry connections:

  • Stephen Holditch became a leader of hydraulic fracturing designs at Shell Oil and later headed his own firm, acquired by Schlumberger in 1997. Today, he is the engineering committee chairman at Matador Resources, a Dallas oil and gas exploration company, and is on the board of directors of Triangle Petroleum Corporation, a Denver-based oil and gas exploration and production company which has paid him more than $1.7 million between 2006 and 2010 according to Forbes.
  • Kathleen McGinty, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration and former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is senior vice president of Weston Solutions, Inc., which consults for the oil and gas industry, including a leading natural gas driller, Chesapeake Energy. She is also a director for NRG Energy, a wholesale power generation company whose assets include more than two dozen natural gas power companies. Forbes reported that NRG Energy paid her more than $500,000 from 2008 to 2010.
  • Susan Tierney, assistant secretary of the Energy department under President Clinton, now managing principal at Analysis Group, which consults for utilities that use natural gas and for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the natural gas pipeline industry association.
  • Daniel Yergin is co-founder, chairman and executive vice president of IHS CERA, an international consulting firm whose clients include the oil, natural gas, coal, power and clean energy communities. He earned $12.7 million from IHS in 2010 alone, according to Forbes.
  • Mark Zoback is a geophysics professor at Stanford and senior advisor to Baker Hughes, Inc., a Houston-based oilfield services company engaged in hydraulic fracturing. Zoback is chair of GeoMechanics International, a consulting firm that advises on various oil and gas drilling problems and that was acquired by Baker Hughes in 2008.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.


Kenneth A. Cook, President
Environmental Working Group

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