halliburton loophole

Introducing IOGCC: The Most Powerful Oil and Gas Lobby You’ve Never Heard Of

The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) is far from a household name, but a new investigation published by InsideClimate News' Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Lisa Song may have just put what is likely the most powerful oil and gas lobbying node you've never heard of on the map.

Titled, “Is the IOGCC, Created by Congress in 1935, Now a Secret Oil and Gas Lobby?,” the article's origins lay in the hundreds of documents obtained from open records requests and historical archives by me and Jesse Coleman, a researcher at Greenpeace USA, that are part of an ongoing investigation into IOGCC.

Song's article for the award-winning InsideClimate News reveals documents that show for the first time that it was IOGCC at the front and center, and not just Halliburton, which created what many now know as the Halliburton Loophole.

Top Drillers Shut Down U.S. Fracking Operations as Oil Prices Continue to Tank

It was a tumultuous week in the world of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale oil and gas, with a few of the biggest companies in the U.S. announcing temporary shutdowns at their drilling operations in various areas until oil prices rise again from the ashes.

Among them: Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources and Whiting Petroleum. Chesapeake formerly sat as the second most prolific fracker in the U.S. behind ExxonMobil, while Continental has been hailed by many as the “King of the Bakken” shale basin located primarily in North Dakota.

Obama Opened Floodgates for Offshore Fracking in Recent Gulf of Mexico Lease

In little-noticed news arising out of a recent Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas lease held by the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the floodgates have opened for Gulf offshore hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

With 21.6 million acres auctioned off by the Obama Administration and 433,822 acres receiving bids, some press accounts have declared BP America — of 2010 Gulf of Mexico offshore oil spill infamy — a big winner of the auction. If true, fracking and the oil and gas services companies who perform it like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger came in a close second.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Lease Map August 2014
Map Credit: U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

On the day of the sale held at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, an Associated Press article explained that many of the purchased blocks sit in the Lower Tertiary basin, coined the “final frontier of oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico” by industry analysts.

“The Lower Tertiary is an ancient layer of the earth's crust made of dense rock,” explained APTo access the mineral resources trapped within it, hydraulic fracturing activity is projected to grow in the western Gulf of Mexico by more than 10 percent this year, according to Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc., which operates about a third of the world's offshore fracking rigs.”

Fine Print on Baker Hughes New Fracking Fluid Disclosure Policy Draws Skepticism

Back in 2008, Cathy Behr, a nurse who worked at a Durango, Colorado hospital was hospitalized after suffering a cascade of organ failures. Days earlier, Ms. Behr had treated an oil and gas field worker who arrived in the emergency room doused in a fracking chemical mix called Zeta-Flow, the fumes from which were so powerful that the emergency room had to be evacuated. All told, 130 gallons of the apparently noxious fluid had spilled onto the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, an EPA report later noted, although the spill was never reported to local officials.

So what's in Zeta-Flow? Because the formula for the chemical, marketed as increasing gas production by 30 percent, is considered a trade secret, oilfield services company Weatherford International was never required to make the full answer public.

This secrecy was one of the first issues to be raised by public health officials investigating fracking pollution claims, who pointed out that without knowing what chemicals are used by the industry, it’s difficult or impossible to know what toxins to test for.

So at first blush, it seems like a major development that Baker Hughes, a major oil field services company, has agreed to stop asserting that the ingredients in its fracking fluids are “trade secrets” when it voluntarily provides information on the website FracFocus.

Indeed, the Department of Energy recently lauded the move by Baker Hughes to voluntarily disclose the chemicals used in its fracking formulas without invoking the controversial exemption commonly claimed by drillers. Deputy Assistant Energy Secretary Paula Gant called Baker Hughes' move “an important step in building public confidence,” adding that the department “hopes others will follow their lead.”

But a look at the fine print on that promise — and the company’s track record on disclosures — suggests that Baker Hughes' new policy may not be enough to keep the public adequately informed about the chemicals used in its fracturing fluids.

ALEC's Fracking Chemical Disclosure Bill Moving Through Florida Legislature

The American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) model bill for disclosure of chemicals injected into the ground during the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process is back for a sequel in the Sunshine State legislature. 

ALEC's model bill was proposed by ExxonMobil at its December 2011 meeting and is modeled after a bill that passed in Texas' legislature in spring 2011, as revealed in an April 2012 New York Times investigative piece. ALEC critics refer to the pro-business organization as a “corporate bill mill” lending corporate lobbyists a “voice and a vote” on model legislation often becoming state law.

The bill currently up for debate at the subcommittee level in the Florida House of Representatives was originally proposed a year ago (as HB 743) in February 2013 and passed in a 92-19 vote, but never received a Senate vote. This time around the block (like last time except for the bill number), Florida's proposed legislation is titled the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 71), introduced by Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues. It is attached to a key companion bill: Public Records/Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 157).

HB 71 passed on a party-line 8-4 vote in the Florida House's Agriculture and Environment Subcommittee on January 14, as did HB 157. The next hurdle the bills have to clear: HB 71 awaits a hearing in the Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and HB 157 awaits one in the Government Operations Subcommittee.

Taken together, the two bills are clones of ALEC's ExxonMobil-endorsed Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act. That model — like HB 71 — creates a centralized database for fracking chemical fluid disclosure. There's a kicker, though. Actually, two.

First kicker: the industry-created and industry-owned disclosure database itself — FracFocus — has been deemed a failure by multiple legislators and by an April 2013 Harvard University Law School studySecond kicker: ALEC's model bill, like HB 157, has a trade secrets exemption for chemicals deemed proprietary. 

"Frackademia" By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

With the school year starting for many this week, it's another year of academia for professors across the United States - and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law. 

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”). 

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.” 

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding - $100 million per year - between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling. 

The Energy Policy Act of 2005's ”Halliburton Loophole” - which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” - is by far the bill's most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush's cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Delaware Tax Haven: The Other Shale Gas Industry Loophole

Most people think of downtown Houston, Texas as ground zero for the oil and gas industry. Houston, after all, serves as home base for corporate headquarters of oil and gas giants, including the likes of BP America, ConocoPhillips, and Shell Oil Company, to name a few.

Comparably speaking, few would think of Wilmington, Delaware in a similar vein. But perhaps they should, according to a recent New York Times investigative report by Leslie Wayne.

Wayne's story revealed that Delaware serves as what journalist Nicholas Shaxson calls a “Treasure Island” in his recent book by that namesake. It's an “onshore tax haven” and an even more robust one than the Caymen Islands, to boot.

The Delaware “Island” is heavily utilized by oil and gas majors, all of which are part of the “two-thirds of the Fortune 500” corporations parking their money in The First State.

Delaware is an outlier in the way it does business,” David Brunori, a professor at George Washington Law School told The Times. “What it offers is an opportunity to game the system and do it legally.”

The numbers are astounding. “Over the last decade, the Delaware loophole has enabled corporations to reduce the taxes paid to other states by an estimated $9.5 billion,” Wayne wrote

“More than 900,000 business entities choose Delaware as a location to incorporate,” explained another report. “The number…exceeds Delaware's human population of 850,000.”

A Best Practice a Day Keeps the Feds Away: API Workshop on Fracking "Excellence"

The ongoing American Petroleum Institute (API) workshop “Commitment to Excellence in Hydraulic Fracturing” could be more simply titled “Commitment to Hydraulic Fracturing.” The API poses as an industry leader, working to develop best practices and strengthen operating procedures. But these days the sheep’s-clothing is starting to wear thin. After all, the “Commitment to Excellence” workshop has little to do with improving industry standards and everything to do with keeping the feds at bay.

The gas industry enjoys a number of exemptions from environmental statutes at the federal level. These exemptions, from laws like the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, mean that oversight of the industry occurs at the state level, an arrangement that some feel facilitates rather than regulates gas drilling. So understandably, federal involvement is something the industry wants to avoid – and keynote speaker and former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan was at the workshop to tell them just how to do that.

Former Bush EPA Official Confirms 2004 EPA Fracking Study Was Misused

Ben Grumbles, former assistant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator and head of the agency’s Office of Water, revealed last week that the conclusions from a 2004 EPA report [pdf] discussing the safety of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) have been exaggerated for years.

FRACKING HELL: The True Cost of America's Gas Rush (Video)

I recently re-watched this 18-minute video produced by Britain’s Ecologist Film Unit profiling the threats posed by hydraulic fracturing for gas in the Marcellus Shale in the eastern U.S.  It’s an excellent primer for anyone who wants to get up to speed on this issue. And, as this piece makes clear, the fracking threat and shale gas boom are not confined to the eastern U.S. by a long shot. 

In addition to the huge gas rush in the U.S. West, as well as in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada, there is a growing industry effort to bring all the pollution and contamination risks of fracking to Europe too - just beginning in the UK, Poland, France and Germany.

The piece outlines the major threats - many recently profiled by the New York Times in its Drilling Down series - from radioactive wastewater, fracking chemicals and other risks to drinking water and public health posed by shale gas development. It explains the devestating toll that gas drilling has had on families and communities across the eastern U.S. region where the shale gas boom is underway, and the consequences of letting this practice gain acceptance throughout the world.

As the LinkTV narrator asks in her preface to their re-run of the video, “The gas business may be booming, but at what price for people?”

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