Big Green Fracking Machine

How gas industry insiders are funding and overseeing the environmental groups behind the Center for Sustainable Shale Development

Much has been made of the recently announced Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), a Pittsburgh-based partnership between 11 fracking companies and non-profit groups. The CSSD bills itself as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for the gas industry, putting forward a set of 15 standards for fracking and certifying drillers that voluntarily comply with those standards.

Though CSSD’s materials and the news media have touted the group’s independence in certifying drillers, CSSD appears to be less a guarantor of fracking’s sustainability than a “greenwashing” campaign controlled by the natural gas industry with the cooperation of a few philanthropies and environmentalist organizations with considerable ties to the natural gas industry.

(Click here to read the full report as a pdf)

The following are major findings from the report:

  • The major philanthropic force behind CSSD, The Heinz Endowments, has significant, undisclosed ties to the natural gas industry. The foundation has contributed more than $250,000 to CSSD, providing funding to every environmental group involved as well as to CSSD itself. Heinz Endowments president Robert F. Vagt is currently a director at Kinder Morgan, a natural gas pipeline company, and owns more than $1.2 million in company stock. This is not disclosed on the Heinz Endowments website or the website of CSSD, where Vagt serves as a director. Kinder Morgan has cited increased regulation of fracking as a key business risk in recent corporate filings. A director of the Heinz Endowments, James E. Rohr, is also a board member at EQT Corp, which is playing a central role at CSSD (see below). This directorship is not disclosed on the Heinz Endowments website.
  • Environmental sponsors with CSSD board seats are closely linked to the natural gas industry. Although five environmental groups were involved in the discussions leading to CSSD’s creation, only three have seats on the Center’s board of directors. One of the groups on the CSSD board, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, is controlled by fracking interests: half of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s board comes from Marcellus Shale Coalition member companies and all but two directors come from companies with a stake in the natural gas industry. Another group on CSSD’s board, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), has significant board and funder ties to the natural gas industry and has lent its name to studies proclaiming fracking to be environmentally safe that were later discredited. The third, the Clean Air Task Force, has ties to the industry through several board members.
  • The national debate about fracking has seen the use of a variety of tactics to portray the natural gas industry as safe and friendly to the environment. Gas companies have set up front groups such as the American Clean Skies Foundation to push for natural gas, paid for “frackademic” research that asserts that fracking is safe and beneficial, and co-opted environmental organizations to further their message.

    The Center for Sustainable Shale Development combines several of these tactics, and appears to be the latest industry effort to paint fracking as a sustainable and environmentally sensible extraction process.

    Click here to read the full report (pdf) »

    The data in this report can be found on LittleSis, PAI’s investigative research site, by viewing the profile page for the Center for Sustainable Shale Development »

    Data can also be added to LittleSis by registering for free here »

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