Frack You, Hillary!

fracking grill

How can any environmentalist support Hillary Clinton? How can any environmentalist NOT support Bernie Sanders?

Sanders opposes hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” which is a technique employed by the fossil fuel to extract natural gas. The process frequently contaminates ground water, poisons rivers, lakes, and streams. Fracking causes seismic activity, can trigger earthquakes, and is highly destructive of the environment.

Clinton has no comprehensive, modest, or even discernible, plan to contain and reverse global warming. She collects campaign money from Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Coal, in addition to the millions she raises from her cohorts on Wall Street. She is a bought and paid for mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industries,

Sanders, on the other hand, is leading the fight against destruction of the environment and is no friend of Big Oil or Wall Street.

This is not rocket science.

Below is an article originally published in Mother Jones, describing Clinton’s role in shoving fracking down the throats of American allies in furtherance of profits for Big Oil and Big Gas.

How Hillary Clinton’s State Department Sold Fracking to the World

A trove of secret documents details the US government’s global push for shale gas.

by Mariah Blake    September/October 2014

Map by Karen Minot

As part of its expanded energy mandate, the State Department hosted conferences on fracking from Thailand to Botswana. It sent US experts to work alongside foreign officials as they developed shale gas programs. And it arranged for dozens of foreign delegations to visit the United States to attend workshops and meet with industry consultants—as well as with environmental groups, in some cases.

US oil giants, meanwhile, were snapping up natural gas leases in far-flung places. By 2012, Chevron had large shale concessions in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, and South Africa, as well as in Eastern Europe, which was in the midst of a claim-staking spree; Poland alone had granted more than 100 shale concessions covering nearly a third of its territory. When the nation lit its first shale gas flare atop a Halliburton-drilled well that fall, the state-owned gas company ran full-page ads in the country’s largest newspapers showing a spindly rig rising above the hills in the tiny village of Lubocino, alongside the tagline: “Don’t put out the flame of hope.” Politicians promised that Poland would soon break free of its nemesis, Russia, which supplies the lion’s share of its gas. “After years of dependence on our large neighbor, today we can say that my generation will see the day when we will be independent in the area of natural gas,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk declared. “And we will be setting terms.”

But shale was not the godsend that industry leaders and foreign governments had hoped it would be. For one, new research from the US Geological Survey suggested that the EIA assessments had grossly overestimated shale deposits: The recoverable shale gas estimate for Poland shrank from 187 trillion cubic feet to 1.3 trillion cubic feet, a 99 percent drop. Geological conditions and other factors in Europe and Asia also made fracking more arduous and expensive; one industry study estimated that drilling shale gas in Poland would cost three times what it does in the United States.

By 2013, US oil giants were abandoning their Polish shale plays. “The expectations for global shale gas were extremely high,” says the State Department’s Hueper. “But the geological limitations and aboveground challenges are immense. A handful of countries have the potential for a boom, but there may never be a global shale gas revolution.”

“They’re desperate,” says Antoine Simon of Friends of the Earth Europe. “It’s the last push to continue their fossil fuel development.”

The politics of fracking overseas were also fraught. According to Susan Sakmar, a visiting law professor at the University of Houston who has studied fracking regulation, the United States is one of the only nations where individual landowners own the mineral rights. “In most, perhaps all, other countries of the world, the underground resources belong to the crown or the government,” she explains. The fact that property owners didn’t stand to profit from drilling on their land ignited public outrage in some parts of the world, especially Eastern Europe. US officials speculate that Russia also had a hand in fomenting protests there. “The perception among diplomats in the region was that Russia was protecting its interests,” says Mark Gitenstein, the former US ambassador to Romania. “It didn’t want shale gas for obvious reasons.”

Faced with these obstacles, US and European energy companies launched a lobbying blitz targeting the European Union. They formed faux grassroots organizations, plied lawmakers with industry-funded studies, and hosted lavish dinners and conferences for regulators. The website for one industry confab—which, according to Friends of the Earth Europe, featured presentations from Exxon Mobil, Total, and Halliburton—warned that failure to develop shale gas “will have damaging consequences on European energy security and prosperity” and urged European governments to “allow shale gas exploration to advance” so they could “fully understand the scale of the opportunity.”

US lobbying shops also jumped into the fray. Covington & Burling, a major Washington firm, hired several former senior EU policymakers—including a top energy official who, according to the New York Times, arrived with a not-yet-public draft of the European Commission’s fracking regulations.

In June 2013, Covington staffer Jean De Ruyt, a former Belgian diplomat and adviser to the European Commission, hosted an event at the firm’s Brussels office. Executives from Chevron and other oil and gas behemoths attended, as did Kurt Vandenberghe, then one of the commission’s top environmental regulators. These strategies appeared to pay off: The commission’s recently released framework for regulating fracking includes recommendations for governments but not firm requirements. “They chose the weakest option they had,” says Simon of Friends of the Earth Europe. “People at the highest level of the commission are in the industry’s pocket.”

Goldwyn was also busy promoting fracking overseas—this time on behalf of industry. Between January and October 2012, his firm organized a series of workshops on fracking for officials in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine, all of them funded by Chevron. The events were closed to the public—when Romanian journalist Vlad Ursulean tried to attend the Romanian gathering, he says Goldwyn personally saw to it that he was escorted out.

David Goldwyn

David Goldwyn at a 2006 NATO conference NATO photos

Goldwyn told Mother Jones that the workshops featured presentations on technical aspects of fracking by academics from the Colorado School of Mines and Penn State University. Chevron, he maintains, had “no editorial input.” But all of these countries—except Bulgaria, which was in the midst of anti-fracking protests—would later grant Chevron major shale concessions.

In some cases, the State Department had a direct hand in negotiating the deals. Gitenstein, then the ambassador to Romania, met with Chevron executives and Romanian officials and pressed them to hand over millions of acres of shale concessions. “The Romanians were just sitting on the leases, and Chevron was upset. So I intervened,” says Gitenstein, whose State Department tenure has been bookended by stints at Mayer Brown, a law and lobbying firm that has represented Chevron. “This is traditionally what ambassadors do on behalf of American companies.” In the end, Romania signed a 30-year deal with Chevron, which helped set off massive, nationwide protests.

When the government began weighing a fracking ban, it didn’t sit well with Gitenstein, who went on Romanian television and warned that, without fracking, the nation could be stuck paying five times what America does for natural gas. He added that US shale prospectors had “obtained great successes—without consequences for the environment, I dare say.” The proposed moratorium soon died.
A few weeks later, Chevron was preparing to build its first fracking rig near Pungesti, a tiny farming village in northeastern Romania. According to a memo from the prime minister’s office, a Romanian official met with Chevron executives and an embassy-based US Commerce Department employee to craft a PR strategy for the project. They agreed to organize a kickoff event at Victoria Palace in Bucharest. As a spokesman, they would tap Damian Draghici, a charismatic Romanian lawmaker who was a “recognized personality among the Roma minority,” which had a “considerable presence” around Chevron’s planned drilling sites. “It was really extraordinary—the level of collaboration between these players,” says Ursulean, who has written extensively about Chevron’s activities in Romania. “It was as if they were all branches of the same company.”

“The Romanians were just sitting on the leases, and Chevron was upset,” says former US ambassador to Romania Mark Gitenstein. “So I intervened.”

The strategy did little to soothe the public’s ire. When Chevron finally did attempt to install the rig in late 2013, residents—including elderly villagers who arrived in horse-drawn carts—blockaded the planned drilling sites. The Romanian Orthodox Church rallied behind them, with one local priest likening Chevron to enemy “invaders.” Soon, anti-fracking protests were cropping up from Poland to the United Kingdom. But Chevron didn’t back down. Along with other American energy firms, it lobbied to insert language in a proposed US-EU trade agreement allowing US companies to haul European governments before international arbitration panels for any actions threatening their investments. Chevron argued this was necessary to protect shareholders against “arbitrary” and “unfair” treatment by local authorities. But environmental groups say it would stymie fracking regulation and point to a $250 million lawsuit Delaware-based Lone Pine Resources has filed against the Canadian province of Quebec for temporarily banning fracking near a key source of drinking water. The case hinges on a similar trade provision.

Despite the public outcry in Europe, the State Department has stayed the course. Clinton’s successor as secretary of state, John Kerry, views natural gas as a key part of his push against climate change. Under Kerry, State has ramped up investment in its shale gas initiative and is planning to expand it to 30 more countries, from Cambodia to Papua New Guinea.

Following the Crimea crisis, the Obama administration has also been pressing Eastern European countries to fast-track their fracking initiatives so as to be less dependent on Russia. During an April visit to Ukraine, which has granted concessions to Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the United States would bring in technical experts to speed up its shale gas development. “We stand ready to assist you,” promised Biden, whose son Hunter has since joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company. “Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: ‘Keep your gas.’ It would be a very different world.”

This story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

 

 

Author’s Notes:

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