Pinkwashing Fracking?


The Wizard of Oz was spot on when he said to “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” That’s good life advice if you fall into the “Ignorance is bliss” camp. For a journalist though, it’s doing the exact opposite that’s a sin qua non for the job.

Kevin Begos of the Associated Press took the Wizard’s advice to heart in his July 22 story titled, “Experts: Some fracking critics use bad science.”

Citing “Gasland” director Josh Fox’s viral video “The Sky is Pink” as an example, Begos wrote, “Opponents of fracking say breast cancer rates have spiked exactly where intensive drilling is taking place — and nowhere else in the state…But researchers haven’t seen a spike in breast cancer rates in the area.”

As his main source of expertise on the breast cancer issue, Begos turned to Chandini Portteus, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s Vice President of Research, Evaluation, and Scientific Programs. Of the connection between fracking and breast cancer she stated, “what we do know is a little bit, and what we don’t know is a lot.”

Sara Jerving of the Center for Media and Democracy came to diametrically different conclusions in her April 2012 probe for PR Watch, writing,

Benzene, which the U.S. EPA has classified as a Group A, human carcinogen, is released in the fracking process through air pollution and in the water contaminated by the drilling process. The Institute of Medicine released a report in December 2011 that links breast cancer to exposure to benzene.

Up to thirty-seven percent of chemicals in fracking fluids have been identified as endocrine-disruptors — chemicals that have potential adverse developmental and reproductive effects. According to the U.S. EPA, exposure to these types of chemicals has also been implicated in breast cancer.

Jerving also cites the piece of evidence that Fox used to tie fracking to breast cancer in “The Sky is Pink,” explaining, “In the six counties in Texas which have seen the most concentrated gas drilling, breast cancer rates have risen significantly, while over the same period the rates for this kind of cancer have declined elsewhere in the state.”

Who, then, are the “men behind Komen’s curtain”?

Many environmental activists are familiar with the “greenwashing” concept. Fewer, though, are familiar with “pinkwashing,” best documented by the book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy by Samantha King. It’s a concept fully on display with regards to the ties that bind Komen to the shale gas industry.

Komen’s Ties to the Halliburton Loophole

Behind curtain one is Jane Abraham, named to the Komen Board of Directors in May 2012. She’s the “wife of former [U.S.] Senator and U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham,” according to Komen’s website.

Upon leaving his posts as a Senator and Energy Secretary under the George W. Bush Administration, Spencer fled straight for the Board of Directors of Occidential Petroleum, where he still sits on the Board today. Occidential has fracking operations set up in both California– and North Dakota-based shale basins.

He also is one of the Principals of The Abraham Group, LLC, a consulting firm which, among other things, advises oil and gas industry clientele, headed by his wife Jane.

Spencer Abraham was the Bush Administration’s Secretary of Energy when Vice President Dick Cheney oversaw the Energy Task Force. The Task Force was composed of Cheney, as well as the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation and Energy. It was instrumental in facilitating private meetings between oil and gas executives and upper-level Bush Administration Cabinet members.

In the fracking sphere, one of the crucial outcomes of the Task Force’s meetings was the “Halliburton Loophole.” This clause located within the Energy Policy Act of 2005 allows chemicals found in “fracking fluid” to be deemed a “trade secret,” exempting the shale gas industries from both the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act when they perform hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.

Other Komen Oil and Gas Industry Ties that Bind

Komen also maintains what it calls its “Million Dollar Council,” which receives funding from Koch Industries’ subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific, as well as General Electric (GE). Koch Industries and its many subsidiaries have a major financial stake in shale gas drilling. So too does GE.

Georgia-Pacific “produces resins used for chemicals used to prop open micro-fractures, an important process for fracking to occur,” explained Lee Fang of the Republic Report. Other Koch subsidiaries — including Koch Pipeline, Flint Hills Resources, Koch Supply & Trading and Koch Chemical Technology Group — all have a fiscal future intricately tied to shale gas production, according to Fang’s reporting.

GE, meanwhile, also describes itself as a “massive player” in shale gas production. As I wrote for AlterNet in September 2011:

GE created a device for recycling the water used during the controversial and toxic hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process. Furthermore, it maintains natural gas fueled power plants, and manufactures natural gas-powered turbines, having sold more than $1 billion worth of them in 2011 in the United States, according to Reuters. GE also recently made a deal with Russia to sell between $10 and $15 billion worth of turbines.

The Komen “Million Dollar Council” list also includes a key investor backing oil and gas industry interests, Bank of America, a corporation which boasts on its website of its investments in commodities like coal, oil and natural gas.

Furthermore one of the members of Komen’s Board of Directors, John D. Raffaelli, has spent many years working as an oil and gas industry lobbyist. Described by Komen “as one of the most effective lobbyists in Washington,” Raffaelli served as a hired gun for the American Petroleum Institute, Atlas Energy (which has since been sold to Chevron), General Electric and Edison Electric respectively between 2008-present.

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

In response to a long email query from CounterPunch to Begos questioning numerous aspects of his story, CounterPunch received a short email response from AP’s Director of Media Relations, Paul Colford stating, “The AP stands by his story.”

Fox wasn’t too thrilled with the AP story.

“It is clear to me, as it was from the first moment, that Kevin Begos was not out to give fracking critics a fair shake or look objectively at the facts,” Fox said. “He was deliberately seeking ways to try to discredit the anti-fracking movement and he was willing to twist facts and quotes to serve that purpose while disguising his work as impartial. It is worse than bad journalism, it is highly unethical, dangerous and irresponsible”

It’s unlikely Begos had a vendetta, as Fox suggests. Alternatively, by not doing his homework, Begos was likely unaware that he was serving as a stenographer for the shale gas industry’s stealthy public relations apparatus via Komen.

“Komen has, since its inception, prioritized corporate partnerships over environmental health,” King told CounterPunch. “They do so by providing companies such as General Electric, whose products and practices are linked to cancer, with a platform from which to declare a commitment to ending the disease. At the same time, Komen refuses to prioritize research on the environmental causes of breast cancer and on primary prevention — an unsurprising stance given their dependence on pinkwashing sponsors.”

Steve Horn is a Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist based out of Madison, Wisconsin.

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Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

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