y Peter Moskowitz @ptrmsk
In 2012, when Ohio’s Senate passed a controversial hydraulic fracturing bill that was supported by the oil and gas industry, environmental groups lined up against it, saying it would endanger public health. But during hearings on the bill, it gained one seemingly unlikely supporter: the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the nation’s largest green groups.
The bill supported renewable energy development but it also contained several items other environmental groups said were giveaways to the industry: It allowed fracking companies to keep private the chemicals they used in fracking, changed the required distance for contamination testing around a well from 300 feet to 1,500 feet, and prevented doctors from sharing information that might be considered trade secrets, even if it was in the interest of public health.
Matt Watson, one of EDF’s policy analysts, said at the hearing, “We would like to commend the General Assembly and the governor for the thoughtful approach that has been put forward.”
The group’s support for the bill highlighted a growing divide in the environmental movement, especially when it comes to natural gas. As fracking has expanded to dozens of states across the country, environmentalists have essentially been split into two camps: those who believe the process must be stopped at all costs, and those who believe drilling is inevitable, and so it’s better to work with industry on making it safer for the environment. But a new report critical of that latter group suggests that at least in some cases, environmental organizations’ work with the industry may cross ethical lines, and at worst become tacit support of industry-backed positions.
The new report, released by Buffalo-based non-profit Public Accountability Initiative, focuses on one group called the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, which is a partnership between gas drilling companies, environmental groups and other nonprofits.
CSSD’s mission is to promote safe drilling of shale — the kind of rock that fracking breaks up — in the Appalachian Basin. The group doesn’t try to hide its industry connections, and the names of the environmental groups that support it are clearly listed on the center’s website.
But PAI’s report posits that the group is less a way for environmentalists to influence the oil and gas industry than it is a way for the industry to promote its agenda with the stamp of approval of green groups like EDF.
Among the report’s findings: the group’s executive director, Susan Packard LeGros, is a former oil industry lawyer who worked with oil, gas and chemical companies. One of the group’s board members, Jared Cohon, also worked at a similar group called the Center for Indoor Air Research, which was found to have strong ties to tobacco companies. And one of the group’s new supporters, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, was started by a titan of the oil and gas industry.
“[Environmental groups] are pouring money into calming fears and calming objections,” said Vera Scroggins, a prominent anti-fracking activist in Pennsylvania. “They’re basically promoting something that’s been created by the industry.”
The new report comes a year after PAI originally looked into CSSD. That report found similar evidence of other CSSD members and supporters being linked to the oil and gas industry in ways not disclosed by CSSD.