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EWG Seeks Energy Department Records About Fracking Panel Composition
WASHINGTON - June 8 - Environmental Working Group (EWG) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Energy today to uncover why the Obama Administration stacked a panel investigating oil and gas drilling and fracking safety with industry representatives while denying membership to citizens in affected communities.
On May 5, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the creation of the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board to make independent recommendations on how to improve fracking safety. Secretary Chu also said that the subcommittee needed to “solicit public input” when developing its findings.
Yet, as reported by EWG, six of seven members have a substantial financial interest in the oil and gas industry, compromising the subcommittee’s ability to review objectively fracking’s effects on public health and the environment. Industry representatives include John Deutch, the subcommittee chair, who currently serves on the board of Cheniere Energy, Inc., a Houston-based liquefied natural gas company that paid him about $882,000 from 2006 through 2009. Deutch also received about $563,000 in 2006 and 2007 for his service on the board of Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world’s three largest hydraulic fracturing companies.
As a consumer watchdog, EWG is exploring whether the oil and gas industry influenced the Energy Department to select members who would produce a report favorable to the industry position that oil and gas drilling and fracking can be conducted with minimal threat to nearby communities and wilderness. EWG advocates that the panel be expanded to include grassroots representatives from areas directly affected by drilling and fracking and also independent experts.
“The geographic footprint of the nation’s fracking boom encompasses thousands of communities, in states as diverse as Colorado, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia,” EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt and Staff Attorney Thomas Cluderay have written to DOE. “The stakes for public health are high, should the Obama administration reach the wrong conclusion about fracking safety.”
A 2010 EWG investigation reviewed records filed by oil and gas companies found that fracking fluids, injected into natural gas wells by the millions of gallons, often contain highly toxic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Short- and long-term exposure to these chemicals can cause serious adverse health effects, even at low concentrations.