FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fracking, the Failure of Mainstream Greens and the Corporate Control of U.S. Energy Policy

The name of her new book is Frackopoly, but author Wenonah Hauter tackles issues beyond hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking. She writes about energy spats past and present, explaining why she believes the energy industry won most of these fights and succeeded in monopolizing U.S. energy policy-making over the past 100 years. But momentum, she notes, has shifted slightly toward the people over the past half-dozen years.

Hauter believes the deregulation of segments of the U.S. energy industry was a bad idea. But no one in power in Washington, D.C., from Capitol Hill to the regulatory agencies, agrees with Hauter. Random Democrats may question whether individual policy decisions are good for the public and the environment. But, unlike Hauter, none dares question the preeminence of energy commodity trading or the reliance on a market-based approach to approving the construction of new energy pipelines through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Hauter, like many other people concerned about the ease in which FERC approves natural gas infrastructure projects, labels FERC “a rogue agency” that needs to be replaced with an agency that is more in tune with the needs of communities and will lead a transition to a clean energy economy. “We need a Marshall Plan for the transition to clean energy,” Hauter said at a “Frackopoly” book launch event in Washington, D.C.

Nearly 40 years ago, progressive forces lost a long fight over the pricing of natural gas and the oversight of pipelines, beginning with the passage of the Natural Gas Act of 1978. By 1990, “a highly speculative wholesale market in natural gas developed, with Wall Street gambling determining the prices that consumers paid for natural gas and incentivizing future natural gas development,” Hauther laments, pointing to the rise of natural gas trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Hauter, a long-time environmental and civic activist in the tradition of Ralph Nader, currently heads Food & Water Watch, an increasingly influential nonprofit environmental group that made reversing the shale gas revolution one of its top priorities. In sections of the book, whose full title is Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment, she admonishes Big Green groups that have collaborated with the energy industry to push for the construction of new natural gas-fired power plants, which require an ever-increasing amount of natural gas production.

Food & Water Watch and other environmental groups have pushed hard in recent years to reverse the pro-corporate trend in energy policy. Most efforts have fallen on deaf ears among legislators and regulators. But occasional victories are giving people optimism that their efforts may not automatically result in defeat.

The most prominent victory was the defeat of the northern leg of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. Activists and environmental groups invested huge frackopolyamounts of money and time into defeating the pipeline’s construction. In the end, local and national groups applied enough pressure to convince President Barack Obama to reject the permit needed for the pipeline to cross from Canada into the United States. The anti-Keystone XL campaign ultimately helped to stop the construction of a pipeline that would have transported large amounts of oil from the tar sands region of Alberta to U.S. markets and export facilities along the Gulf Coast. But perhaps even more important was the campaign’s ability to inspire dozens of campaigns that sprung up against energy projects across the country.

Another notable people’s victory occurred in New York, where numerous grass roots organizations — without the help of large environmental groups — worked both individually and in coordination with each other to fight fracking in their communities. New York officials were prepared to allow natural gas producers to use hydraulic fracturing to tap into the state portion of the Marcellus Shale. But the stubbornness of the anti-fracking groups forced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo into a corner where he finally emerged with a decision to ban fracking in the state.

Market-Based Environmentalism

Hauter criticizes environmental groups that have pushed for pollution credit trading schemes and advocated for greater use of natural gas to fight the negative effects of climate change.

In the book, she devotes a chapter to the history of the Environmental Defense Fund and how the group has been at the forefront of advocating for market-based solutions, such as cap and trade, to environmental problems. “We don’t view them as an environmental group anymore,” Hauter said at the book launch event, contending EDF has been a “market-based group” for several decades.

The Natural Resources Defense Council also has maintained close ties with the energy industry. Both EDF and the NRDC and their foundation funders “hopped on the deregulation bandwagon led by [Enron founder Ken] Lay, believing his rhetoric about the potential of electricity deregulation to spark a rapid transition to sustainable energy,” Hauter explains. Lay lavished both Republicans and Democrats with campaign contributions and enlisted paid pundits, including noted liberal economist Paul Krugman, to serve as advisers and write favorable articles about Enron and electricity deregulation.

Even Pope Francis’s views on carbon emissions trading are well ahead of the policies espoused by mainstream environmental groups, Hauter writes. In his 2015 encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis said carbon emissions trading simply crates a new type of financial speculation but does not bring about the changes necessary for avoiding catastrophic climate change, she notes in her book.

Polluters are allowed to purchase credits that give them the right to discharge pollutants into the environment. But these cap-and-trade schemes allow the dirtiest of power plants to continue spewing hazardous pollutants in the places where they are located, often in low-income and people of color communities, Hauter explains, reciting a common refrain by cap-and-trade program opponents.

As for the environmental groups working with shale gas drillers, Hauter said at the book event that “the days are over when we’re going to allow a group to be closer to the oil and gas industry than to the impacted people who suffering from this.”

Hauter says she chose to title her book Frackopoloy because of the natural trend among companies, in the absence of strict regulation, to create monopolies. The deregulatory policies of the late 20th century left the U.S. with “a handful of giant and politically powerful energy companies.” Throughout the book, she uses the term “fracking” as a label for the entire oil and gas industry, not just the actual hydraulic fracturing process of using water, sand and chemicals to create fractures that allow the release of oil and gas.

Frackopoly is a follow-up title to her 2014 book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, in which she covered the consolidation and corporatization of food production. In “Foodopoly,” Hauter asserted that corporate control over food prevents farmers from raising healthy crops and limits the choices that people can make in the grocery store.

In the second half of Frackopoly, after presenting a general history of U.S. regulation of the energy industry, Hauter narrows the focus to the leading shale gas drilling companies and the states that became flashpoints over fracking. She devotes chapters to companies such Chesapeake Energy, but her descriptions of these companies’ exploits are not filled with the praise and awe found in books such Russell Gold’s The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World, or Gregory Zuckerman’s The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters.

She describes how Aubrey McClendon, the hard-charging co-founder and leader of Chesapeake Energy, focused more on “flipping leases and ripping off mineral rights owners than with producing gas.” McClendon died in a car crash in Oklahoma City earlier this year, the morning after he was charged with conspiring to rig bids for oil and natural gas leases.

When shale gas producers began moving into the Appalachian region in the mid-2000s, they were caught off-guard by resistance from local residents. They were used to getting their way in states like Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming. “There’s a lot of fightback” from people in Pennsylvania “whose lives have really been impacted because that’s been ground zero for fracking,” Hauter said at the book talk.

Hauter also said she was “super-excited” that fracking became part of the debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. In an April op-ed, Sanders wrote, “A growing body of evidence tells us that fracking is a danger to our water supply — our most precious resource. It’s a danger to the air we breathe. It has resulted in more earthquakes. It’s highly explosive. And it’s contributing to climate change.” Clinton explained  she’s against fracking “when any locality or any state is against it,” “when the release of methane or contamination of water is present,” and “unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using.”

“You know there’s a big movement and it’s powerful when it’s part of the [presidential] debate,” Hauter said.

More articles by:

Mark Hand has reported on the energy industry for more than 25 years. He can be found on Twitter @MarkFHand.

September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
Robert Hunziker
The Elite World Order in Jitters
Ben Dangl
After 9/11: The Staggering Economic and Human Cost of the War on Terror
Charles Pierson
Invade The Hague! Bolton vs. the ICC
Robert Fantina
Trump and Palestine
Daniel Warner
Hubris on and Off the Court
John Kendall Hawkins
Boning Up on Eternal Recurrence, Kubrick-style: “2001,” Revisited
Haydar Khan
Set Theory of the Left
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail