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 neighbour, 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 187tn cubic feet to 1.3tn cubic feet, a 99%. 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.”
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 organisations, 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 organised 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.
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.