Connecting the dots between gas industry tycoons and the NAT GAS Act requires ink by the barrel load.

A recent investigation by DeSmogBlog and PRWatch exposes just who stands to benefit from the NAT GAS Act and the expensive tactics being used to ensure it flies through congress. The most recent tactic is a public relations campaign by Chesapeake Energy, which included the gas giant’s “Declaration of Energy Independence.”

Chesapeake Energy’s CEO, Aubrey McClendon, is joined by T. Boone Pickens, when it comes to who will benefit from NAT GAS Act. The legislation calls for the government to cut checks to any company that transfers its fleet of vehicles to methane gas and to have citizens shell out their taxes so that methane gas fueling stations can be constructed throughout the country.

According to the DeSmog report, Chesapeake, “will pour $150 million into Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (CEF). Energy tycoon and hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens sits on CEF’s Board of Directors and owns a 41 percent stake, according to the company’s March, 2011 10-Q filing. That money will go toward funding methane gas fueling stations along federal highways spanning the country.

The timing of Chesapeake’s launch of the “Declaration of Energy Dependence” is no coincidence. The NAT GAS Act is at a critical stage. It currently has 183 co-sponsors, but it is also being considered at a time when the United States is trying to reduce handouts from America’s taxpayers. But with the help a public relations army that even includes a methane gas funded television network, McClendon and Pickens are betting they can buy another handout for the fossil fuel industry.

The Hanger Rule: How many times can one plug pro-industry talking points?

Isaac Newton taught us that for every action there is an equal or opposite reaction, and in John Hanger’s case that means answering in pro-industry talking points anytime something bad is said about the gas industry. We call it  ‘The Hanger Rule.’

Hanger is the former head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection and now works in Harrisburg as a lawyer with Eckert Seamans law firm as an advisor on energy and environmental issues. While he is mostly out of public life, Hanger emerges with blog posts within hours of almost any negative report about hydraulic fracturing that hits the mainstream media.

In February, Hanger responded to Ian Urbina’s piece in The New York Times that identified concerns about lax regulation of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania with a series of posts to his blog, These concerns included such facts as: The Pennsylvania waste treatment facilities were ill- equipped to remove radioactive material from fracking wastewater before it was discharged into rivers and waterways throughout the Keystone State. This rapid reaction led Checks and Balances Project Director, Andrew Schenkel, to pay a visit to Hanger’s Harrisburg office to gain a better understanding of his perspective.

Hanger is a proud man who touts the numerous regulations he helped to impose on the gas industry while in office. It was perhaps natural that a man who dedicated so much of his life to improving regulations in Pennsylvania may be a bit defensive about allegations that his work was ineffective or simply did not go far enough. However, what was perhaps most striking was Hanger’s tone throughout the interview. He wasn’t combative. He wasn’t defensive. Instead, he maintained a friendly nature while talking in sound bites. Almost all of his answers mimicked the familiar rhetoric of the gas industry. In fact, Hanger touched upon almost 30 industry talking points.

As you can see in the video, Hanger uses key gas industry messaging, that gas is a cleaner alternative to oil and coal, 15 times.

Hanger’s comments are in line with the words of energy tycoons T. Boone Pickens and Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy.

-“Natural gas is about 30 percent cleaner than petroleum and produces no particulate emissions.” -Pickens

-“Natural gas has already achieved significant market share gains in the electrical generation market at the expense of coal largely on the basis of price, but also because of environmental issues.” –McClendon

Weeks after the first Urbina story, Hanger reemerged during the release of a new study that suggested that gas may not be a cleaner alternative to coal. The study, which was conducted by scientists at Cornell University, simply suggested that more research should be devoted to finding out if gas is as clean as many in the industry suggests. Following the release of that study, the gas industry embarked on a campaign to discredit the study’s authors including lead scientist Robert Howarth. A Google search of Howarth’s name generates a top search result as a link (paid for by the America’s Natural Gas Alliance [ANGA]), which casts doubt on his study. The link takes readers to quotes from John Hanger who says, “Professor Howarth does want the result to which he gets. He is a committed opponent of gas drilling and fracking, a position to which he is entitled in this free country.”

Following ANGA’s ad campaign, the Checks and Balances Project caught up with the Howarth. The scientist had no problem explaining that his conclusion, that more data is needed to find out if gas is on par with coal in terms of emissions, was not out of line. What was out of line, according to Howarth, was the lengths to which pro-gas advocates had gone to ruin his reputation. “It used to be that if you Googled my name… my boring lab site at Cornell University was the top pick up. Now there’s an ad from the gas industry, which has a critique of why my science is wrong. They are trying hard to push back,” said Howarth.

The latest news about gas broke in late June when Urbina filed another report for the Times that quotes an industry insider saying that rhetoric about the supply of gas is comparable to a “Ponzi scheme.” Since this story focused more on economic concerns rather than environmental ones it seemed unlikely Hanger would weigh in. But he did. “Would anyone imagine more sensationalistic narratives than radiation, Ponzi, and Enron?” asked Hanger. He continued, “Consistent with this reporter’s method, today’s article uses often anonymous statements to paint a sensational narrative and leaves out or underplays critical information that is inconvenient to establishing the credibility of the dominant anti-gas narrative.”

These comments led the Checks and Balances Project to go back and review its interview with Hanger from earlier this year. The point was to see if Hanger had weighed in on the economics of drilling for gas in Pennsylvania. It turns out Hanger did – using pro-industry talking points 13 times throughout the conversation.

Once again Hanger sounds a lot like McClendon, except with no soft background music as you can observe in this video.

-“CNG costs about 40& less than gasoline. Natural gas is abundant, American shale basins contain an ocean of natural gas”

During the initial interview, Hanger was asked if he was currently working for the gas industry or if Eckert Seamans was planning to assign Hanger any gas industry clients. At the time Hanger said he had no gas clients but added he wouldn’t rule out working for them. While the industry is not currently paying Hanger, what you hear in his interviews  certainly sounds like he is.

State regulator admits, but not to Congress, that gas production led to water contamination in Colorado

Neslin’s narrow definition of hydraulic fracturing misleads Committee members

**As Pennsylvanians deal with the breaking news that wastewater from a Chesapeake hydraulic fracturing well blowout has entered their drinking supplies, similar stories continue to unfold in Colorado.**

Within minutes after his testimony about the safety of hydraulic fracturing in front of the United States Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works Committee last week, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director David Neslin said that gas production in Colorado has indeed led to groundwater contamination throughout the state. But when testifying, Neslin repeatedly told members of the committee that he had no “verifiable evidence” that fracking had contaminated groundwater supplies or aquifers in Colorado.

Yes, literally moments after the committee hearing ended, Neslin validated what many Coloradans already know: gas development in the state has contaminated Colorado ground water. In an interview with the Checks and Balances Project, Neslin divulged a few details he left out of his testimony. “We have not found a verifiable instance of hydraulic fracturing contaminating ground water, but oil and gas development has contaminated ground water in other ways. Sometimes a pit leaks, sometimes a pit overflows” (emphasis added).

Neslin justifies the contradiction by adopting a blinkered, compartmentalized definition of hydraulic fracturing. By his definition, pit leaks, overflows and even cracks in concrete pipe casings are not considered part of the fracking process, despite being essential components to gas development in Colorado.

Like Neslin, industry also defines hydraulic fracturing using rhetorical tactics. Speaking in April at a journalism lecture, Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon told his audience that, “We can tear up a road, we can be noisy, we can create dust, we can hurt somebody, and sometimes there is a lack of transparency about operations. All those are legitimate concerns, but fracking is not the story” (emphasis added).

This type of messaging has even penetrated national politics. On Thursday morning, the day after a the Chesapeake gas well blew out, spilling thousands of gallons of toxic fracking fluid, the same senator Neslin addressed during his meeting, James Inhofe (R-OK) said, on record, that, “[There’s] never been one case — documented case — of groundwater contamination in the history of the thousands and thousands of hydraulic fracturing” (emphasis added).

It’s true that states vary in how they deal with waste fracking fluid. The state of Pennsylvania, for example, has tried and failed to process its fracking wastewater safely in public water treatment facilities. The failure of treatment plants to remove carcinogens from wastewater and the admission by industry that those toxins had entered drinking supplies has led the state’s governor to order a stoppage to treating the wastewater at public works facilities immediately.

Meanwhile, Colorado stores its waste frack fluid in concrete containment casings and storage pits. Neslin does not consider the disposal of waste produced by fracking a part of the fracking process.

Neslin’s comments raise two questions. First, there is the obvious question of whether or not he was being completely forthright with the Senate committee when he characterized fracking as having never contaminated water supplies. Even if he honestly believes that fracking is not contaminating groundwater supplies, why didn’t the officer tasked with overseeing oil and gas production in Colorado tell the Environment and Public Works Committee that contamination had happened, even if it was, as he suggested, tangentially related to the process.

The second question surrounds his frequent use of the term “verifiable evidence,” when saying that groundwater contamination has not been caused by hydraulic fracturing. Just like his statements about groundwater contamination, Neslin’s use of “verifiable evidence” seems to fall well short of telling the whole truth about gas production in his state.

Dr. Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist tasked with studying contamination in the West Divide Creek in heavily fracked Garfield County, Colorado understands verifiable evidence very well. The geologist is often credited with conducting one of the most conclusive studies connecting ground water contamination with fracking. In fact, Thyne’s West Divide Creek study was deemed so conclusive, and therefore so damning to the gas industry, that many say it led to the loss of his job as a professor at the Colorado School of Mines. Thyne says that gas interests at the university had allegedly pressured Thyne to stop the study. Thyne didn’t stop the study, and he lost his job. But, as Thyne explains in the video below, the verifiable evidence he found while conducting his study suggests that fracking fluids seeped into the West Divide Creek as recently as 2004.

How was Thyne so sure? Just like the situation in Pennsylvania it comes down to salt, which is also found in fracking fluids. When asked about fracking and water contamination during the congressional committee meeting, Neslin did not once bring up the Thyne study.

Despite the contradiction pointed out by the Thyne situation, there still remains the issue of Neslin separating failures in the process associated with fracking from fracking in general. This tactic has become known as compartmentalizing. Community organizer Frank Smith, who advocates for safe drilling procedures in western Colorado happened to be in Washington, D.C. at the same time as Neslin. Smith said Neslin’s selectivity when talking about hydraulic fracking before the Senate committee was a tactic Smith has gotten used to seeing out west. “Too often they don’t want to look holistically at all of it. It’s all one and the same. It’s all part of the same system. If in fact there is a faulty casing, or those fracking chemicals or fluids do in fact end up where they shouldn’t end up that’s all part of the problem,” said Smith.

It should be pointed out that Neslin and all those who answered questions before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee were speaking of their own accord and therefore didn’t have to take an oath before talking. Neslin has returned to Denver where he has been asked to reapply to continue serving as the Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.