Document dates: June and July, 2011
Every Friday, POGO will strive to make one document available that we or others have obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), especially documents that have not previously been posted online. Some of these documents will be more important than others, some may only be of historical interest— although relevance is in the eye of the beholder. POGO is doing this to highlight the importance of open government and FOIA throughout the year.
By MIA STEINLE
In the aftermath of last summer’s damaging New York Times investigation into fracking—a method of shale gas drilling lauded by investors—industry and the Department of Energy (DOE) went into damage control mode.
Internal department emails obtained by POGO through the Freedom of Information Act give insight into how DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) responded to the first story from Ian Urbina’s “Drilling Down” series for The Times. The story itself helped bring the fracking debate into the public consciousness, by making public internal industry emails and DOE documents, which showed skepticism about fracking’s promises as early as 2009.
The EIA emails obtained by POGO show that agency employees were displeased with The Times investigation, which revealed, among other things, industry emails from 2009 comparing shale gas investments to Ponzi schemes. The Times noted that, just one year prior, residents of Fort Worth, Texas, were promised almost $28,000 per acre for drilling leases—but many never received such high royalty checks.
The emails also show that employees from the fracking industry—from investment banks, consulting firms and energy companies—and EIA employees emailed each other Urbina’s article and press releases, written by both EIA and industry employees, that were critical of the article.
One EIA economist sent fellow agency employees a press release from natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK), which called The Times investigation “inaccurate” and “misleading.” The EIA economist wrote, “This is only my opinion, but I concur with CHK’s findings.” Another EIA employee forwarded the CHK press release to fellow employees, noting, “Here is a rebuttal from a company my nephew works at. Just for amusement.”
It’s no wonder industry hit back hard against Urbina’s story, considering how much they’re betting on fracking and the natural gas market. Another Urbina story also brought to light the dependence EIA has on industry data. As that story notes, EIA “relies on research from outside consultants with ties to the industry. And some of those consultants pull the data they supply to the government from energy company news releases.” So perhaps it shouldn’t come as any surprise some EIA employees, who’ve depended on industry for their view of fracking’s potential, might be taking industry’s side. And if industry indeed has made some rosy assumptions, this is troubling.