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.

BREAKING: Checks and Balances Project Video Star Running for Office

Dana Dolney, the woman many in Pennsylvania know for standing up for her right to be heard at a public meeting, says she is going to run for the Democratic nomination for County Executive in Alleghany County. The Checks and Balances Project posted an interview Dolney gave in April, at a fracking information meeting in Harrisburg. Dolney says after that video was replayed on a local news station and various websites, several of her neighbors encouraged her to join the primary race.

“I think that the citizens of Alleghany County have the right to a candidate who is not in the back pocket of the natural gas industry,” said Dolney during an interview with Checks and Balances Project Director Andrew Schenkel. Mark Patrick Flaherty and Richard Fitzgerald are the two other candidates in the Democratic primary, which will be held Tuesday.

Dolney, a breast cancer survivor and community organizer, says she became interested in the fracking issue because of her own health problems.

“After beating breast cancer, I became obsessed with prevention. Then I see that Pennsylvania allows potentially damaging chemicals to just be dumped in our waterways. Anyone who is about preventing health problems would be against this,” said Dolney.

Now, after more than 18,000 people saw her video, Dolney says she sees this as an opportunity to raise awareness about the health risks caused by hydraulic fracturing. While she doesn’t expect to win the primary with so little time before the polls open, Dolney says she may try to run in November as a third party candidate or just inspire someone else to take up her cause.

The video of Dolney explaining to a member of the Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor’s staff exactly how citizens were being shut out of a fracking public hearing in Harrisburg can be seen below.

Gas patch scientists explain how hydraulic fracturing can permanently contaminate public water supplies

Accounts from two experts show there are plenty of opportunities for toxic chemicals to enter drinking water supplies

As gas industry leaders prepare to discuss hydraulic fracturing at a congressional field meeting in California and at a Representatives’ briefing in DC, it will be interesting to hear what is said about the possibility of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

As recently as a week ago one contamination expert went on the record explaining exactly how the hydraulic fracturing process could contaminate water supplies.  The expert is Dr. Conrad ‘Dan’ Volz, former director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, who has testified on hydraulic fracturing before Congress and appeared as an expert as part of water contamination investigations on ABC news.

Volz spoke with Checks and Balances Project director Andrew Schenkel last week at a public hearing on fracking in Pennsylvania.

“[Wells] are going to leak and they are going to leak when the cement shrinks and when the cement shrinks it pulls away from the geological layer that it is sealed from and then it serves as a conduit as straight into ground water aquifers,” Volz said. When asked if the chemicals could travel miles upward towards aquifers that lie well above the bottom of hydraulically fracked wells, Volz replied, “of course” (see video below).

Volz’s comments reveal how fracking, like all industrial processes, is an imperfect process. While many in the industry, like Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy and T.Boone Pickens have repeatedly said that water contamination from fracking simply doesn’t happen, Volz’s remarks point out that not only has contamination occured, but that there is plenty of potential for contamination because of the very nature of what is involved with fracking. The imperfect integrity of the concrete casings that frack wells are lined with is one obvious part of the fracking process that could lead to contamination. There are also complicated pressure dynamics to deal with at the extreme subterranean depths that fracking wells are drilled into.

These complicated processes don’t even take into account the transporting of chemical-laced fracking fluids above ground and the millions of gallons of toxic wastewater that result from a produced well. The diagram below shows several different points of the fracking process where water contamination could occur.

How Natural Gas Drilling Contaminates Drinking Water Sources

During a visit to Colorado in early 2011, Dr. Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist who studies drilling at the Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute at the University of Wyoming, explained to the Checks and Balances Project that the fracking process is most vulnerable to accidental water contamination at the surface. Like Volz, Thyne did agree that there’s certainly possibility of aquifer contamination based on flaws in the concrete casings of fracking wells as well as the other uncertainties that lie underground. But it is above ground that Thyne is most concerned about.

“You are handling millions of gallons of fluid at the surface. It is easy to spill. It happens all the time. Valves jam up, pipes break, this is not without hazard,” Thyne said.

Thyne is well known for his West Divide Creek Study in Colorado, which is widely considered one of the first studies that conclusively linked fracking chemicals to water contamination in Garfield County, Colorado. When talking about the possibility of handling chemicals without causing any contamination, Thyne pointed out that even the most careful handlers of high amounts of chemicals make mistakes. He points to the United States military, which he says conducts the largest scale industrial processes in the world.

“It has an incredibly good safety record, but still things break, things go wrong, somebody doesn’t do a careful enough inspection, sometimes it’s also an act of nature. It is impossible to assure one hundred percent safety in any of these processes.”

Both Volz and Thyne’s comments and research directly refute much of the rhetoric of the oil and gas industry, and even some regulators, who claim with certainty that the hydraulic fracturing process does not contaminate water supplies. This raises many questions, one of which is what happens once contamination occurs. When asked if contamination to something like aquifers could be completely undone, Volz said, “No, you cannot ‘uncontaminate’ it. Not in the way that we think you can uncontaminate it. If it is a confined aquifer there is no ‘uncontaminating’ it.”

The scientists’ comments suggest that there is plenty to be concerned about when it comes to the large-scale hydraulic fracturing taking place in the states like Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. In all the fracking states there are different regulations, different ways of dealing with fracking fluids and fracking wastewater. And in all of these states, according to the words of these scientists, there is plenty of potential for water contamination from fracking both above and below the ground.

Shut out and bought out

Pennsylvania citizens are unable to be heard during a public gas advisory board meeting, while those on the board get cozy in the Governor’s back pocket.

A week after toxic fluids from a hydraulic fracturing gas well spilled into waterways and onto farmlands in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, the state’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission met in Harrisburg. The hearing seemed to frustrate citizens more than it provided them an opportunity to voice their concerns.

Before the meeting began more than a hundred landowners from across the state expressed their frustration with the Commission.  One man, carrying a giant rubber stamp and using a bullhorn seemed particularly fed up. “What’s going on in the room behind us is Governor Corbett’s bought and paid for Marcellus Shale Commission. This is the group of people that will rubber stamp all the policies that Governor Corbett wants to enact,” said Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action Pennsylvania.

This message was a constant theme from the frustrated attendees, many of whom drove several hours to be heard at the public hearing. The morning’s analysis of the role the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission plays in Pennsylvania politics didn’t help matters either.

Of the thirty Commission members, more than a quarter of them have donated to Governor Tom Corbett’s campaign. In 2010, Corbett received $790,950 from eight of the corporations represented on the Commission and each reported between five and 174 violations that year. Chief Oil and Gas, responsible for 174 violations, donated $100,000 to Corbett’s campaign. The largest donation, $411,000, was made by East Resources, with 74 violations in 2010. Clean Water Action has the complete list.

Company 2010 Violations Corbett Conation
Atlas/Chevron

16

$54,500

Chesapeake

132

$11,000

Chief Oil and Gas

174

$100,000

CNX/Consol Energy

5

$56,750

East Resources

74

$411,000

EQT

15

$56,900

Range Resources

32

$80,000

XTO Energy/Exxon Mobile

66

$20,000

Source: Clean Water Action

With the donations report out just a week after the Bradford County spill, the frustrated crowd was eager to be heard at the commission meeting. Unfortunately, the room the 30-member commission held its hearing in was too small to accommodate many of the attendees and was closed off by police officers before the meeting and immediately after the hearing began because of fire code restrictions. When the landowners asked one police officer why a bigger room wasn’t provided for such a high profile meeting, an officer revealed that his staff had alerted the Department of Environmental Quality and the Lieutenant Governor’s office that they should have had a larger room well before the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission meeting. Members from the crowd also said they had personally made calls to the Department of Environmental Protection days ahead of the meeting.

After being shut out of attending the public hearing in person, the landowners headed up stairs at the Rachel Carson Office Building to watch a video cast of the public hearing in an overflow room. Sensing a growing level of frustration in the building, the Commission decided to move as quickly as possible to the public comment section part of the hearing. Yet, the frustration level of the landowners only grew as the first several names called spoke with high praise for both the commission and fracking in Pennsylvania, just days after the spill in Bradford County. According to several in attendance, the order that the speakers were called in did not match the order in which people signed up to speak.  “I signed on at number five. We were directed up here on the second floor where we were told to sign in. I was number five, no other sheet had signatures on it,” said Jet Miskis who traveled several hours to be at the meeting. Dr. Conrad Volz, of the University of Pittsburgh verified this. “Certainly none of these gentleman that were testifying on this list was on the list that I signed.”

As the meeting continued the Commission did begin to call the names of individuals with concerns about fracking in their back yards and near their water supplies. Outside of the overflow room upstairs Chad Sailor, the Communications Director for the Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor’s office, addressed the concerns surrounding both the small venue for this hearing and the order of speakers. Lt. Governor Cawley chairs the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.

“It was recommended that this be the space. It was recommended; we took a look at it and we decided that it was adequate space for what we needed.” Sailor said this after being asked if alternative venues could have been arranged. Sailor replied defensively saying, “what do you mean do you want a laundry list of all rooms available?” Sailor was then asked about the disputed speaking order. He first said that the list was determined by a first come first serve basis. It wasn’t until a woman corrected Sailor saying that, “what they did was they read the list that they had down stairs which were the supporters of the gas industry that they allowed in and the protesters that were outside protesting had to sign this sheet here which is why we were given second dibbs.” When Sailor sarcastically replied, “yes, everything is a big conspiracy,” the woman told the communications director that, “I didn’t say that was a conspiracy. It was the absolute truth, I was here, I signed it. I am speaking from fact.”

The Commission did end up listening to comments from all people who signed up on the various lists around the Rachel Connors Office Building. The comments expressed concerns ranging from aquifer and surface water contamination to concerns about toxic emissions released into the air. But almost all of those worried about fracking at the meeting expressed strong feelings of frustration relating to literally being shut out of the dialogue on Wednesday as well as being bought out by industry interests who control both the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission and the governor’s office in Pennsylvania.

THE BALANCE SHEET: APRIL 26, 2011

Our weekly update to unravel the industry and political spin around the energy debate


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

WE’RE IN THE WRONG LINE OF WORK

While Americans are suffering from pain at the pump, Halliburton reported last week that its first quarter revenue set a company record at $5.3 billion, which is up from $3.8 billion in the first quarter of 2010. First quarter profits were up 148 percent from $206 million in 2010 to $511 million in 2011.

Halliburton cited increased U.S. onshore drilling activity as the reason for its success, with Chairman Dave Lesar stating, “North America delivered strong performance as margins progressed due to increased activity while Eastern Hemisphere operating income was significantly impacted by geopolitical events in North Africa, delays in Iraq, and typical seasonality.”

ANOTHER EARTH DAY, ANOTHER SPILL

A Chesapeake Energy Corp. well blowout occurred in Northern Pennsylvania Tuesday, spilling up to tens of thousands of gallons of toxic, chemical-laden fluid onto area residential land and contaminating a tributary of the Susquehanna River. The incident may be the most serious fracking accident in the history of the commonwealth’s Marcellus Shale development. DeSmogBlog has the story.

WORD GAMES

Last week, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director David Neslin testified before a Senate committee looking into hydraulic fracturing’s less than spotless track record on safety. Contrary to his testimony, where he asserted that groundwater contamination from fracking has never occurred, Neslin told The Checks and Balances Project immediately following the hearing that oil and gas production in Colorado had indeed led to contamination. Most drilling is fracking, so to say fracking does not cause groundwater contamination is disingenuous at best. Watch how Neslin and industry representatives use rhetorical tactics to excuse corporate responsibility for toxic fracking fluid casing leaks and pit overflows.

PRICE, NOT POLICY, DETERMINES HEALTH OF WESTERN ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

Headwater Economics on Tuesday released a report analyzing the relative success of states and communities to maximize energy development’s benefits and minimize its costs. The report concludes with a series of policy recommendations for communities trying to achieve that goal. In five Rocky Mountain, energy-producing states – Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – Headwater Economics discovered that common sense standards and protections did not hamper energy production. Price was the ultimate factor in determining whether energy development occurs. Read the full report.

DID WE LEARN OUR LESSON FROM THE GULF OIL SPILL DISASTER?

Checks and Balances Deputy Director Matt Garrington asks that question in his guest-commentary piece for Sunday’s Denver Post. Give it a read and let us know what you think.


DID YOU KNOW?

OIL & GAS NY LOBBY FUNDS UP 400 PERCENT IN TWO YEARS
In New York State last year, the oil and gas industry spent $1.6 million on lobbying to fight common sense protections from oil & gas fracking impacts, up from $400,000 in 2008.


COMING UP THIS WEEK

BLM TO REVIEW COMMERCIAL OIL SHALE LEASING PROGRAM

The Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management will host public hearings in three Western states – Colorado, Utah and Wyoming – beginning today to gather input from residents and experts as they review the federal oil shale leasing program. Find out more about the hearings.

Now that gas prices are hovering around $4 per gallon, risky schemes like oil shale are back in the national debate. Oil shale is pure science fiction, as companies have failed to produce commercial oil from oil shale despite a hundred years of experimentation.

Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), Subcommittee Chairman Lamborn (R-CO), Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) have all been throwing about this fantastic tale. Compare what politicians are saying to those in the oil and gas industry, who believe viable oil shale is a decade out or more.

Furthermore, oil shale today is being conflated with shale gas and shale oil, giving the false impression that oil shale is ready for prime time. This has led to inaccurate rhetoric, and it has the potential to mislead investors, policymakers and other Americans interested in real energy solutions.

Compare what politicians are saying to those in the oil and gas industry, who believe viable oil shale is a decade out or more: Oil Shale Quotes – Congress v Industry


CONTACT US

Twitter: @checksandbals | Email: tips@checksandbalances.org

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.