I did an interview with RT discussing the growing problems that chemicals used in fracking oil & natural gas pose to the environment and public safety. First, the Associated Press reports that there have been hundreds of complaints of water pollution from fracking, most from methane but some from the chemicals used in fracking. But this AP report only tells half the story, as it simply documents the different ways in which states handle and record complaints when folks call in to a hotline or send an email. That’s good info, but not nearly as important as sending scientists to investigate the complaint. And there’s the rub: when confirmed fracking pollution occurs, oil & gas companies quickly settle with the affected landowners, and, in return for providing cash and drinking water supplies, force families to sign non-disclosure agreements, forbidding them from even acknowledging that fracking pollution ocurred, or in some cases, requiring families to sign statements proclaiming that pollution didn’t occur. We challenged Jack Gerard on this point when he spoke at our offices earlier this year, and he denied knowing anything about these common non-disclosure agreements. In one famous case, the natural gas company forced parents to guarantee that their two young children would never speak about fracking pollution on their farm for the rest of their lives. The proliferation of these non-disclosure agreements distorts the policy debate because they interfere with the collection of data needed to draw conclusions about the saftety of fracking. It is unacceptable for the industry to continue to say “Fracking is safe, evidenced by the lack of water contamination proof!” at the same time they’re forcing familes to give up their right to talk about pollution (or in same cases, forcing the families to lie in order to qualify for the financial compensation). A simple solution is to disallow non-disclosure agreements that mask information on drilling contamination.
A second issue involves transportation hazards posed by fracking chemicals. On December 30, Warren Buffet’s BNSF line was hauling 78,000 barrels of oil on 104 rail cars from the Bakken Shale to a refinery in Missouri when it was hit by another BNSF train carrying soybeans headed in the opposite direction, derailed, and started a massive fire. I spoke to ABC World News Tonight about this tragedy, and, as my friend Steve Horn reports, the crude oil was more volatile and dangerous because it was laced with fracking chemicals absorbed by the oil during the production process. Indeed, the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration just issued a warning that fracked oil is more chemically explosive. And corrosive agents used in fracking that are then absorbed by the oil, such as hydrochloric acid, “which federal investigators suspect could be corroding the inside of rail tank cars, weakening them.” This means that moving fracked oil by pipelines won’t be safer, since the caustic oil could corrode pipelines as well. Big oil is opposing federal efforts to retrofit the safety of rail cars hauling crude oil.
As I’ve written before, the fracking boom is failing to deliver affordable, safe or sustainable energy for America.
Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum
By Scott Michelman, Public Citizen Litigation Group.
Cross-posted from Consumer Law & Policy Blog.
In September, a group of auto safety advocates and parents represented by Public Citizen sued the Department of Transportation over its failure to issue a congressionally-mandated regulation to address the problem of backover crashes, that is, collisions in which a vehicle moving backwards strikes a person (or object) behind the vehicle. Each year on average, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT), backovers kill 292 people and injure 18,000 more — most of whom are children under the age of five, senior citizens over the age of seventy-five, or persons with disabilities.
In November, the court ordered DOT to respond to our petition, which it did two weeks ago. DOT also did something else that the court had not ordered: as the Detroit News reported yesterday, DOT sent a proposed final rule back to the Office of Management and Budget for final review (a step required by executive order before a rule is issued). This means that the regulatory process is moving again, and sooner than expected — six months after DOT withdrew the rule from OMB, now it’s back, and that’s not a very long time to overhaul the proposal (but, to be clear, we don’t know what rule the agency is now proposing). We’re pleased the administration appears to be moving forward in response to our lawsuit.
But before getting too excited, remember that we’ve reached this stage before — DOT sent a proposed rule to OMB back in November 2011, only to have it languish for 19 months before being withdrawn. So progress is not enough: we need the administration to finish the job.
Meanwhile, our lawsuit is still pending. If the administration doesn’t follow through and issue the final rule this time, hopefully the court will order it to do so.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting a workshop today on “native advertising” – the practice of blending ads with news and other content in such a way to make it difficult to distinguish paid and unpaid content. The agency will tackle issues concerning the popular marketing tool’s blurred lines between advertising and editorial content. Public Citizen’s President Robert Weissman, alongside industry representatives from Buzzfeed, The Wall Street Journal and others, will speak on the panel addressing best practices in transparency and disclosure.
The use of native advertising and sponsored content – content created by or on behalf of the advertiser that “runs within the editorial stream [and] integrates into the design of the publisher’s site” – has become increasingly pervasive, as companies seek online marketing tools that are not obvious attempts to sell goods and services. A marketing research firm predicted that spending on sponsored content would rise by 22 percent between 2012 and 2013, up to $1.88 billion.
Because marketers pay for, and often create, sponsored content, and the end goal is commercial, it should be clearly labeled as advertising, pursuant to FTC disclosure rules. (Marketing industry leaders claim that sponsored content is not always advertising, so it should not be labeled as such.)
Politico promotes a blurb about a new white paper trashing Dodd-Frank rules regulating energy derivatives, identifying the author as “former [George W Bush Administration] Energy Secretary Abraham Spencer.” What Politico fails to mention is Abraham’s role as a lobbyist for the energy industry that has much to gain from relaxing Dodd-Frank’s derivative rules. Politico neglects to cite his role as head of The Abraham Group LLC, with its non-public list of consulting contracts; his role as the head of Abraham & Roetzel, which is paid by firms such as Cheniere Energy; or his vocation as Vice-Chairman of the Board at Occidental Petroleum. In the latter capacity, Mr. Abraham was paid over $700,000 in 2012 alone, and currently holds over $3 million worth of Occidental stock. Occidental is relevant because it operates a major energy trading subsidiary, Phibro, which Occidental purchased from Citigroup in 2009 for a steal. Phibro is a major player in energy derivatives markets, and stands to financially gain if Congress follows Abraham’s advice in the white paper and relaxes rules for such energy traders under Dodd Frank. Reporters have done this before, as when former Senators Lott and Dorgan advocate on energy policy and reporters fail to mention their lobbying on behalf of energy corporations. For Spencer Abraham, his cachet as former Energy Secretary provides credibility as he advocates deregulation on behalf of his energy trading clients and employers. Opinions for hire is what corporate lobbying interests rely on to gain influence, and journalists have to do a better job mandating full disclosure of former public official’s current lobbying ties.
Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum
The wreckage caused by regulations may be even worse than previously thought, according to analyses by industry experts and think tank scholars chronicled in a shocking new report published today by the government-watchdog group Public Citizen.
Just eight prominent regulations issued since the 1970s jeopardized more than 55 million jobs, according to the report. This means that just these few regulations may have quietly exacted a toll of lost jobs six times worse than the Great Recession, and several times greater than the number of Americans who are currently unemployed.
Stunning as that conclusion is, it may significantly understate the harms because it regards only regulations that were prominent enough to warrant job-loss analyses. In separate inquires, think tank experts have applied sophisticated econometric models to get a handle on the overall toll of regulations.
The results these experts have generated are truly mind-boggling. For instance, if the government’s regulatory oversight efforts had been just one-sixth smaller over the past five years, 18.8 million additional jobs would have been created, according to findings published in 2011 by the Washington, D.C.-based Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies. That’s two Great Recessions worth of lost jobs during the Great Recession. All told, federal regulations have prevented the creation of a stunning 160 million jobs since 2006, the Phoenix Center’s methodology suggests. To put the depth of that damage in perspective, there are only about 144 million jobs in the United States right now.