Natural Gas Industry Pours Money into Congress

The nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization, Common Cause has issued a report titled “Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets” detailing the extent to which campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures by the natural gas industry have infiltrated our political system.  The report reveals that “ the natural gas industry has invested more than $747 million as part of a 10-year lobbying and political spending campaign to persuade federal authorities to ignore the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ a rapidly expanding but poorly regulated method of tapping gas reserves.”

Given the extent to which industry has invested in lobbying and political efforts, how does this affect the federal government's decisions to regulate fracking?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Natural gas obtained from shacking and horizontal drilling in shale deposits…will rise from 16 percent of all U.S. natural gas production in 2009 to 45 percent by 2035.”  As natural gas drilling continues to increase, enviroFracking will only continue to grow as an issue and the need for regulation will become more and more pressing.

However, there is hope for federal legislation to regulate fracking.  The 2011 Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals, or FRAC Act, "would regulate fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act and require disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process."  Unfortunately, much of the natural gas industry's political expenditures have been targeted towards those who have signaled support of this fracking regulation, creating a conflict of interests for those who are genuinely interested in regulating this booming industry.

The EPA is on track to release new findings on the environmental impacts of fracking by the year 2012.  However, the National Resources Defense Council notes that, “even when ordered to investigate the environmental impacts of fracking by Congress, the EPA is hobbled by industry and political pressure to narrow the scope of the investigation.”

Due to natural gas reserves in Michigan, our state has been the focus of many natural gas industries the last few years. In 2010, Michigan “auctioned off 120,000 acres of state land for hydro-fracturing.”  It is noteworthy that, in Michigan’s Congressional delegation, the top recipients of industry money are Rep. John Dingell (D), Rep. Dave Camp (R), Rep. Mike Rogers (R), and Rep. Fred Upton (R), Chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, “[w]hich has jurisdiction over legislation that would require disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process”. 

Common Cause recommends three solutions to provide greater transparency:

  • Independent political expenditures should be disclosed in a timely manner so the public can better understand their impact on Congressional elections.
  • As with all corporations, the shareholders of natural gas companies should have the right to approve or disapprove any political expenditures by their companies, and the extent of corporations’ political expenditures should be disclosed to their shareholders.
  •  The U.S. Senate should join the U.S. House in requiring that reports of campaign contributions be filed electronically.

For more information on what Michigan organizations are doing on fracking, check out the Great Water page on the Great Michigan website.

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