Energy

Republicans Blame Hollywood Elite For Fracking Misconceptions

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Some Senate Republicans have issued what they are calling a “report” on the virtues, righteousness and basic overall goodness of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

Fracking, according to the political manifesto, i.e. report, is not only one of the most wonderful things to ever happen for the economy but has also strengthened our country’s geopolitical position in the world. What’s more, so it goes, fracking is also extremely safe and not harmful to the environment. Don’t listen to those Hollywood elites, people. All is well.

Here’s some language from the document just to show how serious it is:

This report highlights the incontrovertible benefits derived from the domestic production of oil and natural gas through the use of hydraulic fracturing. At the same time, it thoroughly discredits the leading claims made by the Obama Administration and their far-left allies who are rooted firmly in the fight against accessing America’s abundant domestic energy. It subsequently undermines the credibility of those who are seeking to devastate America’s energy security, economic opportunity and the livelihoods of families across the country through a coordinated war on hydraulic fracturing and domestic oil and natural gas.

Real scientific stuff, right? Note “far-left allies” and the hyperbolic “coordinated war.” The idea that there’s a real war of any type of oil and gas production in the country is utter fabrication. The frackers here in Oklahoma, for example, frack with impunity. If there IS a figurative war, then it’s a war against the environment, and the frackers are winning it hands down.

The report, titled “Setting The Record Straight: Hydraulic Fracturing and America’s Energy Revolution,” was prepared by the Republicans on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Oklahoma’s own U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a senior member of the EPW Committee, lauded the report, arguing “. . . this report dispels the falsehoods perpetuated by the Obama Administration and environmental extremists about hydraulic fracturing.”

Who is the extremist? Someone like Inhofe, who has long argued that the science of climate change is a worldwide leftist conspiracy or someone in Oklahoma concerned injection wells used in the fracking process are causing nerve-rattling earthquakes every other day where they live?

The report itself is such a political statement that one wonders why the Republicans even bothered to dress it up in a “study” format. Here’s another sentence from the report: “Far-left environmental groups have teamed up with President Obama’s federal bureaucrats and the Hollywood elite in a coordinated effort to distort the truth about hydraulic fracturing and try to sway public opinion against it. “ How can anyone possibly take the “report” seriously after reading that? Movie stars are ruining America’s energy independence? That’s just nonsense.

Let’s be clear that fracking is a highly intensive industrial process that needs constant monitoring and heavy regulation. In the fracking process, water and chemicals are injected by high pressure into rock formations to release oil and gas. The wastewater is then injected into underground disposal wells. Scientists and environmentalists, have argued that the fracking process can lead to ground and surface water contamination. They have also linked wastewater disposal wells to a surge in earthquakes, especially in Oklahoma. On a larger level, the carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have contributed to global warming that threatens the planet.

To simply argue that the environmental impact of fracking is non-existent or negligible is, in itself, a sort of extremism that panders to rich oil and gas industry executives. Since 1989, Inhofe has received more than $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The larger question, then, is how to release oil and gas from the ground with the least amount of impact to the environment, not whether Hollywood elites and President Barack Obama are meeting in secret lairs plotting the demise of the diabolical fossil fuel cabal. It should be noted on a more serious level that the fracking boom has continued while Obama has been in office.

This country and the entire world needs to invest more in the development of renewable energy sources that have the least amount of impact on the environment. No report or, to be more accurate in this case, no amount of clichéd political sloganeering can dispel that argument.

Selective Reporting

Image of Harold Hamm

It’s hypocritical and telling that The Oklahoman isn’t demanding the release of the divorce trial records of billionaire energy tycoon Harold Hamm, the chief executive officer of Oklahoma City’s Continental Resources.

As you will recall, The Oklahoman several months ago launched a full-fledged legal and political attack on Oklahoma City former mayoral candidate and current Ward 2 Councilor Ed Shadid to get him to release his old divorce records. He eventually capitulated after the newspaper hounded him relentlessly in an act of obvious support for Shadid’s opponent Mick Cornett in the mayoral election. The records essentially revealed information about Shadid’s long ago drug use that he had already discussed publicly. The newspaper then sensationalized the information in order to sway the election in Cornett’s favor.

The Reuters news agency—not The Oklahoman—has filed a motion to unseal the Oklahoma County divorce trial records of Hamm, 68, pictured right, and Sue Ann Hamm, 58. The trial recently ended. Oklahoma County Special Judge Howard Haralson earlier sealed most of the trial records, according to media reports, in a supposed effort to protect the business interests of Continental Resources, an energy company with a major stake in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation.

Let’s be clear: Hamm controls a large and important publicly held energy company. The dividing of assets in his divorce could potentially have a deep impact on the Oklahoma economy. He has also served as a top energy advisor for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He has lobbied openly for tax breaks for oil and gas companies on a state and national level. He is every bit as much of a public figure as Shadid.

For the record, I was opposed to the unsealing of Shadid’s divorce records because I sincerely believed they only contained older salacious personal accusations that have since been retracted. I was correct on the content of the records. I believe in open government records and overall government transparency, but The Oklahoman crusade against Shadid was unethical and unfair. The fact the newspaper won’t demand the release of Hamm’s divorce records as well proves this point further.

According to a Reuters spokesperson:

Continental Resources is one of the most important publicly traded companies in the U.S. oil industry.

The public has a right to know how its chief executive officer explains his role in the company's growth over the past two decades and whether, as a result of the Hamms' divorce, there may be a change in the shareholding structure of the company.

Sue Ann Hamm, an attorney, has worked at Continental. She and Hamm married in 1988. Hamm’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion, according to the Reuters’ motion, which makes him one of the richest people on the planet. It’s obvious that the division of assets in the divorce could affect the company and the local and state economy. The divorce, then, has important public implications. So where’s The Oklahoman?

The Oklahoman, it should be noted, is owned by yet another billionaire energy tycoon, Philip Anschutz.

To its credit, FOI Oklahoma, a state journalist group dedicated to the concept of freedom of information, has applauded Reuters’ action. The organization also supported The Oklahoman in its quest to unseal Shadid’s divorce records. A post on the FOI Oklahoma web site proclaims, “Kudos to Reuters for fighting to protect our right to public trials. Shame on Oklahoma’s news media for not doing so.”

Shame on The Oklahoman, in particular, for its latest act of blatant hypocrisy.

Inspect, Government, Inspect

Image of Oklahoma State Capitol

The fact a Republican legislator in an extremely conservative state is pointing out the lack of government oversight of oil and gas wells exposes the dirty business of extracting fossil fuels.

Here’s the larger, local philosophical question right now: Can one acknowledge the positive impact of the energy industry on the Oklahoma economy while also arguing for stricter regulations and oversight protecting the environment?

State Rep. Steve Vaughan, a Republican from Ponca City, held an interim study last week on the issue of water contamination related to oil and gas wells. According to a media release, here’s what Vaughan had to say on the topic:

There are more than 22,000 producing as well as disposal wells in my area. Less than 50 percent have been tested for their mechanical integrity in the last four years, according to DEQ. I think we learned in today’s study that we could give some of our fish and wildlife guys and other agencies some power to report and shut down problematic wells. We could also give the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and Oklahoma Corporation Commission more resources to look into these wells.

There’s not a lot of GOP “drill, baby, drill” rhetoric in that extremely specific statement. Here’s the media release issued by Vaughan. Here’s a news story about the interim study.

The concern is whether oil and gas pollution is contributing to fish kills in the Salt Fork River and water well contamination in north central Oklahoma in Vaughan’s District 37.

Another pressing issue is that scientists claim wastewater disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process are responsible for the state’s earthquake emergency. The state is now experiencing more 3.0-magnitude earthquakes than California. There have been so many earthquakes that it’s literally difficult to keep track of them. As I write this, the number could change. As of July, there were 258 3.0-magnitude quakes. I use that low number only because it’s cited in this excellent National Geographic story about Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm.

The larger issue is that all this points to the need to develop cleaner, renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power and hydropower. Even those energy sources don’t come without their own negative environmental impact, but there’s no doubt the extraction of fossil fuels, along with carbon emissions, continues to critically damage our planet.

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