Big Oil PR Pros, Lobbyists Dominate EDF Fracking Climate Study Steering Committee

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Alongside releasing its controversial findings on fugitive methane emissions caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on September 16, University of Texas-Austin also unveiled an industry-stacked Steering Committee roster for the study it conducted in concert with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Stacked with former and current oil industry lobbyists, policy professionals and business executives, the Steering Committee is proof positive of the conflicts of interest evident in the roster of people and funding behind the “frackademia” study.

Only two out of the 11 members of the Steering Committee besides lead author and UT-Austin Professor David Allen have a science background relevant to onshore fracking. 

That study found fugitive methane emissions at the well pad to be 2%-4% lower than discovered by the non-industry funded groundbreaking April 2011 Cornell University study co-authored by Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth.

The Cornell study concluded fracking is worse for the climate than coal combustion when measured over its entire lifecycle. 

Webster's Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as “a committee, especially of a deliberative or legislative body, that prepares the agenda of a session.”

In the case of the EDF study - based on the oddly rosy findings - it seems plausible the industry-stacked Committee drove the report in a direction beneficial to oil industry profits rather than science.  

Steering Committee: PR Pros, Lobbyists, Policy Wonks

The following is a list of Steering Committee members working for Big Oil. 

1.) Ted Wurfel, Health, Safety, Environment and Operational Integrity Manager for Talisman Energy: Wurfel is one of two Steering Committee members besides lead author Allen with a science degree relevant to onshore drilling, with an engineering academic background, according to LinkedIn.

Ted Wurfel; Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Lobbying Disclosure website

He's also a registered lobbyist in Pennsylvania - a state located in the heart of the Marcellus Shale basin - and formerly lobbied for Chief Oil and Gas

2.) Paul KrishnaManager of Environmental, Health & Safety Issues at ExxonMobil/XTO Energy: Krishna is the other Steering Committee member with a science degree relevant to onshore drilling, with an undergraduate degree in geology and a masters in geosciences. 

3.) David McBride, Vice President of Environmental and Human Services at Anadarko Petroleum: McBride earned a degree in Marine Biology before going to law school and pursuing his career in the oil industry.

 Photo Credit: LinkedIn

4.) Jeffrey Kupfer works as a non-registered lobbyist for Chevron - officially titled a “Senior Advisor for Government Affairs.” Kupfer sits on the Executive Board of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the industry's lobbying arm in Pennsylvania.

Jeffrey Kupfer; Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Energy 

He sits on Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's industry-stacked Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission alongside one of the industry's first “frackademics,” Terry Engelder of Penn State University.

Kupfer also sits on Maryland's Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission.

Prior to working for Chevron, Kupfer passed through the government-industry revolving door and worked as Deputy U.S. Secretary of State for President George W. Bush from 2006-2009 under former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also spent time as the State Department's Chief Operating Officer under Rice.

Chevron is one of the dues-paying members of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development - described as the “Big Green Fracking Machine” by Public Accountability Initiative - alongside EDF.

5.) Dick Francis serves as Manager of Regulatory Policy for Shell Oil, another dues-paying member of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

6.) James Bolander serves as Senior Vice President Resource Development for Southwestern Energy.

7.) Susan Spratlen serves as head of Communications at Pioneer Resources and has an accounting undergraduate academic background.

8.) David Keane is BG Group's Vice President of Policy and Corporate Affairs and has a business school academic background.

Keane testified on behalf of the Alaska Gas Pipeline (now known as the South Central LNG project) - co-owned by Transcanada, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips - in front of the Alaska state legislature in February 2008.

He also serves on the Board of Directors of Center for Liquefied Natural Gas. 

9.) Jill Cooper serves as Group Lead for the US Division of the Environment for Encana. Her academic background is in environmental law and she also has a masters in business.

Steering Off the Climate Cliff?

EDF's study has already won praise from the American Petroleum Institute, Energy in Depth, industry-funded propaganda film “FrackNation,” and the right-wing news website founded by Glenn Beck, The Blaze.

Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford's worst case scenario has come true.

“At worst, [the study] will be used as PR by the natural gas industry to promote their pollution,” Radford wrote soon after the study's release.

“In fact, methane is 105 times more powerful than carbon pollution as a global warming pollutant [during its first 20 years in the atmosphere], so figuring out its real climate impacts has very real consequences for us going forward.”

This raises the key question: could the Steering Committee's agenda steer us all off the climate cliff? 

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Great job. Full disclosure: I'm very much aware we live in an industrial society and truly believe a balance can be made between industry, commerce and the environment. What upsets me is when environmentalism - or its more mundane stepchildren environmental protection and remediation practices (from waste management to air pollution control) - is used for sales and marketing. And what really upsets me is when environmental groups allow themselves either accidentally or on purpose to be used as sales and marketing tools.

If one should go to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) website and click on natural gas production tallies, it will show that about 4 percent of the produced gas (at the well) doesn't make it to market. This doesn't seem to include gas that is burned via flaring, used to repressurize the formation or used at the facilities. I'd like to get feedback on this issue if anyone knows more. More importantly, if anyone can correct me if I'm wrong. Here's the link to gas production in the United States taking into account conventional, unconventional (shale), coal seam methane, etc.

FYI, for a quick review of what the monitoring effort entails is basically summarized in Table S6.1 of the PNAS report supplemental information (SI).

I work in the industry, wells leak.  Only question is how much and how often. Oh and why do we have to gag farmers are treat them like crap when it goes wrong.

Been on some rigs myself there An Oil Man,

Not only do the wells leak, but the aquifers get punctured during the lowering of the drill bit. AND when you call your boss to say per OSHA we need to shut the site down, the boss yells back, do you want a job? I'm paying those drillers 130.00 an hour to be there. Stay out there. 

If Steve had given EDF a chance to respond, we would have explained the difference between a Steering Committee (which is composed of one member from each participating organization), a Technical Workgroup, and Scientific Advisory Panel. 

This is a peer-reviewed study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, using the first direct measurements taken at natural gas well sites. That could only happen if natural gas companies gave the scientists access to their well sites. So to facilitate that, of course there was a steering committee with someone on it from each company. Meanwhile, the Technical Workgroup had technical and scientific experts, and the Science Advisory Panel was made up of independent, external experts who helped ensure the scientific integrity of the project. In short, Steve was looking in the wrong place for scientific expertise so his criticism misses the mark.

By the way, what Steve thinks is a scoop had already been fully disclosed on the University of Texas web site. All committee members and advisors are listed there. So is all the study data, open to review by any and all. The lead author, Dr. Dave Allen, retained total control and had ultimate authority over the content of the PNAS paper and the supporting information, how the results were reported, how to publicly release the full dataset and how to communicate the results. And the paper was peer-reviewed and published in one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals.

The study does not say everything is fine when it comes to methane from fracking. Far from it. Some measurements, such as leaks from equipment, were much higher than previous EPA estimates. In one area, well completions, the results came in lower than previous estimates because new EPA regulations requiring 'green completions' are starting to kick in. EPA got the rule right. It's a step in the right direction. 

But just one step. Some kinds of wells are not subject to the new rules. That has to change. And this study only looks at production, not the whole natural gas system. There are 15 more studies to go. But we already know that methane emissions are a serious problem, and we know emissions can be contained if we get strong regulations in place. So that's what EDF is fighting for. We need to go after every opportunity we can to reduce climate impacts. Stopping methane leakage is just one. Our work to accelerate the transition to truly clean, renewable energy is another. More on that at

I don't doubt EDF's intentions, I'm sure they're good, as much as I'm confused as to the position EDF is putting itself into. Fugitive emissions monitoring is a difficult nut to crack given the number of possible sources. Under voluntary reporting and healthy (meaning funded) federal and state environmental agents, the system should work if regulated and if all parties believe in each other's role.

Historicall, standard operating procedures for monitoring and analysis were developed by industry via groups like the American Petroleum Institute (API), independent organizations like the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or promulgated through federal agents such as National Institute for Safety and Health (NIOSH) and US EPA specially.  US EPA has many methods for sampling and analysis of the atmosphere, liquids, vapors and solids. Is EDF circumventing these methods? Promoting the use? Trying to improve methods? 

Where I'm truly confused is how EDF seems to be acting as an extraordinary agent. To whom and for what? Is it the citizens of the United States? Industry? Wealthy families concerned about the possibility of ever becoming potentially responsible party? Or is it promotion of environmental capitalism, where a balance can be reached between development and environment protection?

If EDF is taking on the role of an agent, then they should be ready to accept criticism and push back. It goes with the territory. All state and federal agencies know this, put up with it as best as they can and work for a lot less money.

Michael, thanks for your probing comment. You say, “EDF seems to be acting as an extraordinary agent. To whom and for what?” We’re not trying to supplant other methods or other agents, but when it comes to fugitive methane emissions we saw a huge knowledge gap. The data consisted of estimates based on almost 20-year-old data. Industry practices were changing fast and production was increasing rapidly — and no one had a handle on emissions rates. Neither industry nor government were collecting and making public direct measurements of emissions. 

That knowledge gap was the only reason EDF decided to take on this science project. To do it, we needed to enlist the help of more than 90 other partners — universities, institutions, scientists, and, yes, energy companies (because you can't take direct measurements at well sites without them). We're backing up those direct measurements with overflights and other kinds of sampling. There’s no hidden agenda. We just want to find out, as best we can, how much methane is seeping into the atmosphere and where it is seeping from.

We hope this will lead to tough rules and strong enforcement to plug the leaks. We'd love to see reliable methane emissions monitoring, leak detection and reduction built into the law — then we can move on to other issues. As mentioned, EDF has always tried to take a fact-based approach to finding policy solutions, and that requires having actual data. The UT study is not the answer on methane emission — it is one step toward getting the data we need to find and fix leaks. For us it is one down and 15 to go. But the science won’t end there, of course it will continue to evolve, as it should — with plenty of other scientific teams questioning and building on our work (we welcome all of that, that's why all the data is public) and contributing to the larger body of work needed to ensure that methane is understood, controlled and reduced. And, I agree, state and federal agencies will in the end need to be the main players here.

Will one of your future studies attempt to tie this study of 190 privately selected wells to actual fugitive emmisions at all natural Gas Wells?

Your study does not explain how the 190 wells selected correlate to all natural gas wells drilled in the United States.  If I wanted to hide real data I'd ask the drillers which areas they have noticed the least completion flowbacks, and select those for this study.

I think that Ingraffea's comments about Westinghouse Effect are also quite valid.  Its best if you don't interfere with the normal operation of a site, otherwise everyone will be on their best behavior. This has a profound effect on any sort of measurement. (Just ask any epidemiologist who works with hospital safety.)

No, we don't claim that the emissions from well completions in this study are representative of all natural gas wells in the country. There is no data on how many operators are using green completions today. But EPA will require green completions beginning Jan 2015, so the study does show where emissions from completions are headed. They are headed down. That's good. But it's just one part of the story.

Other kinds of wells aren't covered by the regs. Other emissions sources are well above estimates. And lots of work needs to be done measuring leakage from the rest of the natural gas system – that's what the other studies are for. We have more questions to answer on production, but production is just the first link in the chain. There are pipelines, storage tanks, distribution networks, etc, etc. Here's a link to our FAQ on the subject for those who want to find out more:

Why does your report say this on page 2?

These data provide extensive measurements on methane emissions
from well completions that can be used in national emission

And you personally say, “No, we don't claim that the emissions from well completions in this study are representative of all natural gas wells in the country.”

I still can't quite get there from here, but I will endeavor to take your word for this.  Discussion of Green Completions from EDF and this stuff appears to be a very very new thing, and stands in contrast with has been said in the past by EDF and UT and your associated web pages.

UT David Allen:

EDF Ramon Alvarez:

(2:32 seconds in, he says that this study is trying to quantify what is happening in the field today. Which you say you are not doing.)

I see a lot of language that is inappropriate for a technical study, and more indicative of PR spin doctoring.  “We wanted to use the best possible science..” This language is usually used to claim other science is bad by insulting and degrading it.  Why?

UT: Advisory Panel:

He claims fundamental data is lacking.  Huh? How did he conclude that?  (I don't think NOAA and the EPA are measuring the fart fairy.)

From what I can tell, EDF is (now) claiming that new upgraded Green Completions equipment and processes (including flaring) dramatically reduce methane emissions. (Although we may now have larger carbon emmissions from flaring.)  You have not verified your measurements without your special measurement apparatus, rigs and drillers.

I would think that the next step is to select a field and bring it up to Green Completions code to verify your findings with NOAAs and the EPA I can see why this is problematic, since there aren't exactly empty regions to do these measurements in old wells may be emitting and that would be hard to track down.

NOAAs and EPAs data would be indicative of current industry practices and not Green Completions.

Does this seem like I got it now?

I'm sort of familiar with the process of environmental monitoring and regulatory affairs. I'm not at all familar with a group like EDF taking on or facilitating a national monitoring effort like this. This explains why my comments are full of questions. I'm not trying to be a jerk (as best as I can, since that tends to be my default position). I'm truly trying to figure this out.

I've followed this issue about emissions from a spectator perspective. Fugitive emissions tallying (specifically methane) seemed to become a concern as natural gas was being promoted as an alternative electricity generating source to coal by anyone from T. Boone Pickens to Michael Bloomberg. My understanding is that this emissions study is to demonstrate that natural gas does truly have a lower carbon footprint than coal. Therefore, it may make sense to switch over to a natural gas economy for electricity generation, transportation and manufacting. Based on my reading of the report and SI this study does not evaluate potential human health and non-climate change environmental impacts from fugitive emissions throughout oil and gas production, processing and end use lifecycle. 

Why couldn't this have been done through regulation or lead by US EPA? At the end of the 16 part study series and when rules and procedures are drafted by governmental agents assigned to environmental monitoring, will there be any domestic shale oil and gas left to worry about monitoring?

Here's the paper;

Peer reviewed doesn't make it true. Its merely the first step. I'd be keen to see this data replicated by other researchers from other organizations that are preferably not oil and gas related.  Good science stands the test of time.  Maybe you guys should partner up with the EPAGet them to pick the sites, that you measure.  That would be a very reasonable solution.

Stop resting on someone else's credentials.  The study linking vaccines to autism was also peer reviewed.  It was flawed.. notably it was very similar to EDF's study. It had a very very small sample size, and it had ties to a man who who's make a lot of money from it. 

This isn't a scoop.  Steve gathers up data from public sources.  He always has. Collating it, and making easily understood is what Desmogblog does.  If anything this looks like a repeat of his previous work, but you'd have had to read his article fully to know that.

The method of study for the wells selectively chosen looked suitable and correct to me.  There is no explanation for why the methodology was chosen or a description of the alternatives, or what the particular strengths and weaknesses of the methods were, or even what the goals were for the measurement.

How come there is no statistical breakdown demonstrating that those 190 wells are representative of anything that is in any way meaningful?  Most scientists would mark that as a serious flaw.  Are they representative because it was Lobster Tuesday for the steering committee?  Let me be very clear, I cannot conclude that the authors have measured methane emmisions representative of natural gas wells in the United States using the paper they wrote.  There is no way I can make that leap of faith.

I'd like to know why those 190 wells were chosen from among 13000+ wells.  I would like to see statistical inferences that those 190 wells correlate to and are in any way representative the 13000+ wells drilled.

So far, It sounds like we have a perfect precedent for your quality of work.  Its very precedented, and there is nothing new about it;

How to spot bad science (he gets into numeric cherry picking later in the video starting at about 8 minutes);