Opponents to Fracking Disclosure Take Big Money From Energy Industry | Guest Writer | Energy | NewWest.Net

 

ProPublica Investigation

Opponents to Fracking Disclosure Take Big Money From Energy Industry

Congressional opponents of a proposal that would require drilling companies to disclose the substances they use in hydraulic fracturing received 19 times more campaign funding from the industry than politicians who support the proposal. A look at the totals.

By Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, Guest Writer, 1-18-11

Photo by Flickr user <a target=

Photo by Flickr user danielfoster437.

Congress isn’t going to regulate hydraulic fracturing any time soon. But the Department of Interior might.  For starters, Interior is mulling whether it should require drilling companies to disclose the chemicals they use to frack wells drilled on public lands, and already the suggestion has earned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar an earful.

On January 5, a bipartisan group of 32 members of Congress, who belong to the Natural Gas Caucus, sent Salazar a letter imploring him to resist a hasty decision because more regulations would “increase energy costs for consumers, suppress job creation in a promising energy sector, and hinder our nation’s ability to become more energy independent.”

A week later, 46 House Democrats followed up by signing a letter to Salazar urging him to at least adopt the disclosure requirement because, as Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., said, “communities across America have seen their water contaminated by the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process.”

“The public has a right to know what toxins might be going into the ground near their communities, and what might be leaking into their drinking water,” said the letter, which was sent by the three initial sponsors of now-stalled legislation to regulate fracturing, Hinchey, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

In the context of today’s roiling political and energy debates, it’s not at all clear who will win. But if money is an indicator, the anti-regulatory group has the upper hand.

A back-of-the-envelope analysis of campaign finance dollars contributed to the members of Congress who are speaking out on the issue shows that the Natural Gas Caucus received 19 times more money from the oil and gas industry between 2009 and 2010 than the group who signed Rep. Hinchey’s letter. According to data from Open Secrets, the 32 members against disclosure received $1,742,572. The average contribution from the oil and gas sector to individuals from that group was $54,455. Oklahoma Democrat Dan Boren, who co-chairs the caucus, personally received more than $202,000, including almost $15,000 from Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest natural gas producers in the United States.

By comparison, the Hinchey-DeGette-Polis group—which has 14 more people than the Natural Gas Caucus—received $91,212 from the industry. The average contribution to those members was $1,982, 1/27th the amount donated to members of the Natural Gas Caucus.

Requiring disclosure of the chemicals used to drill on federal lands would affect only a small proportion of gas wells drilled in the country each year—roughly 11 percent, by the Department of Interior’s estimates. In 2009, 19,000 new gas wells were drilled, adding to the 493,000 gas wells already producing in the United States. According to Hinchey’s office, disclosure on federal lands would set an important precedent, because that information would become part of the public record and, when combined with state-based disclosure rules, “would provide a great deal of useful information for those concerned with the risks these chemicals may pose.”

Traditionally, the exact recipes of chemicals used in the fracturing process have been kept secret by the companies to protect their competitive advantage, and the fracturing process itself is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The disclosure issue has become a rallying point against natural gas development in the United States because scientists have repeatedly said that they can’t thoroughly examine water contamination cases for links to drilling because they don’t know what to test for.

At least four states have already mandated some degree of disclosure of fracking chemicals: Wyoming, New York, Pennsylvania and Colorado. If federal lands are added to those states, then public disclosure of fracking chemicals would be required on roughly 40 percent of the gas wells in the United States. (It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact percentage because federal statistics don’t distinguish between oil and gas wells.)

The resistance to disclosure mandates on federal lands contradicts the public position of many of the oil and gas companies involved. Chesapeake Energy, the company that contributed so heavily to Rep. Boren, has repeatedly stated that it supports more transparency and believes the chemicals used in fracturing should be disclosed.

Opponents to Fracking Disclosure Take Big Money From Energy Industry | Guest Writer | Energy | NewWest.Net

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Study reveals nearly $1B annual impact of fishing in Southeast

 

Study reveals nearly $1B annual impact of fishing in SoutheastIndustry provides more than 10 percent of area jobs, Tongass should be a ‘salmon forest,’ research states

Trout Unlimited has just announced the results of a study it commissioned to generate numbers on the economic impact of Southeast Alaska’s salmon and trout fisheries. Those numbers add up, reaching toward the billion mark in local dollars and 10 percent of jobs.

The study was conducted by economist Thomas Wegge of TCW Economics, which is based in Sacramento, Calif. It used data from 2007 to serve as a “snapshot year.” Wegge calculated economic values and impacts of Tongass fisheries for salmon and trout. He explained “values” measure the monetary importance of fisheries to those who participate with them. “Economic impacts” refers to the fisheries’ contributions to the economic activities in a region, as measured in jobs and personal incomes.

An input-output model was specifically developed to allow Wegge to calculate these factors for Southeast Alaska. Wegge held a teleconference Monday with Trout Unlimited Director Tim Bristol and Southeast Alaska Project Director Mark Kaelke to go over the data. Bruce Wallace, a Southeast commercial fisherman, was also available to give his take on it.

Wegge found the total economic output from commercial, sport and subsistence salmon and tout fisheries was an estimated $986 million in Southeast Alaska. This includes hatchery productions. Wegge said this level of economic output occurs as purchasing related to the fishing industry ripples through the affected sectors in the region. He said the estimated salmon and trout value for those who fish them was $466 million that year.

With that large a business, the study found a significant amount of jobs are directly linked to salmon and trout. Wegge said 7,282 estimated jobs were directly or indirectly linked to the fisheries or hatchery operations. The study found the three fishing sectors — commercial, sport and subsistence/personal — accounted for an estimated 10.8 percent of regional employment.

The last number he gave from that year was the estimated personal incomes from salmon and trout, totaled at about $189 million.

“In short, we concluded that hatchery operations and fishing for salmon and trout are significant contributors to the Southeast Alaska regional economy,” Wegge said.

Bristol said the study shows salmon and trout remain important cornerstones of the Southeast economy.

He added the study was done to provide a tool to demonstrate the importance of salmon to the region’s economy. He said the study shows the fish resource makes for a valuable business resource and should encourage the push for the U.S. Forest Service to manage the Tongass as a “salmon forest” rather than for timber.

The Forest Service announced a shift on focus from timber to second-growth management and restoration projects in the Tongass last May.

Kaelke said the company didn’t realize how large the salmon and trout economic impact was when the study was commissioned, but the results made a strong case for managing the Tongass for the fish. He agreed with Bristol’s recommendation to develop a long-term plan to treat the Tongass as a “salmon forest.”

Kaelke said the study also provides a common ground for different groups who otherwise battle over allocation of the fish. He said it can help give them a unified voice in fish conservation.

Wallace called the study one of the most defining economic evaluations in how fish and money are linked here. He said that for fishermen like him, the figures show how critical the salmon resource is to the economy as a whole. He said protection of that resource is critical and hopes the land mangers will consult these numbers for maintaining Tongass watersheds.

“It is ultimately about economics,” he said.

A press release states this is the first such study done that examines the combined economic values of the three sectors plus hatchery production for the region’s fisheries rather than focusing on each area separately.