The oil and gas super-lobby that actually is a … government agency !
Have you ever wondered why federal and state regulations are so preposterously supportive of fossil fuels even though a blind man could see they are energies of the past and that the threat of global warming should compel us to do all we can to find alternative sources of energy ? Have you ever felt like it must be some kind of inside job ? Well here's part of the answer to that question. Recent investigations have shed light on the nefarious role of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), a organization that sometimes presents itself as a government agency but that is essentially a powerful lobby all the more dangerous that its ambiguous status exonerates it from the normal checks that limit the activities of a lobby. One peek into the dealings of the IOGCC and you will realise why the transition to a clean energy is so hard in the United States and how badly things need to change on a political level before they can get better for the environment and the people.
A state compact with an ambiguous status[edit | edit source]
The IOGCC has a long history and has developed a knack for cultivating ambiguity around its status. It was founded in the form of the Interstate Oil Compact Commission (IOCC) in 1935 by the Congress according to the plan of E.W. Marland, a U.S. Congressman and Oklahoma's Governor, which explains why the center of the IOCC was located in Oklahoma City, right next to the Governor's mansion. The name was changed to IOGCC in 1991, when fracking opened the possibility to exploit natural gas. Now from the beginning, the true nature of the IOGCC was a bit dodgy. Indeed, legally, its a state compact, which is basically an agreement between two or more states to cooperate in a field that is not the responsibility of the federal government but that requires management on a broader level than inside the state. The IOGCC was therefore designed to handle the cooperation of all the oil producing states. However, giving the fact that its founder E.W Marland was also a huge oil baron, that he owned several oil companies and that he founded the US Oil and Gas Association, a powerful lobby, we can guess that the goals of the IOGCC were not to regulate this sector but to ease the activities of the oil industry.
The nature of this commission is incredibly ambiguous. When one looks at the website of the IOGCC, one reads that “The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission is a multi-state government agency”. This status comes with a lot of perks : the IOGCC pays no taxes, can use premises free-of-charge and has illimited access to government officials, whereas a lobby must be registered and is (fortunately !) restricted in its actions by regulations. However, it normally also entails some duties, for instance having to disclose information about their dealings according to the Freedom of Information Act. But when it comes to answering requests then the IOGCC claims that it's not a government agency per se and that therefore it's not obligated to divulge information about its action. The privileges of government agencies without the accountability, if that isn't living the dream, nothing is ! This absence of transparency is enough to make any concerned citizen feel uneasy about the IOGCC. But when one looks at the links between the IOGCC and the fossil fuel industry, that feeling quickly changes into alarm and anger.
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When one looks in detail at the IOGCC, the proximity of this state compact with the fossil fuel industry is astounding ! This is clear when one studies the composition of this body. As a state compact is would make sense for the Governors of the 30 oil and gas producing states of the IOGCC to appoint energy regulators to take part in the work of the compact. However, a full third of the members of the IOGCC are fossil fuel lobbyists or executives ! For instance, one of the members is Harold Hamm, a chief executive of Continental Resources, a notorious fracking company based in Oklahoma. Another third of the IOGCC members are officials from the states that take part in the compact. But these regulators have very cozy ties with fossil fuels. David Porter, the vice-chairman of the IOGCC, is a case in point. In his state, Texas, Porter is the head of the Railway Commission, that is in charge of regulating fossil fuels. Except that fossil fuel companies have literally spent millions of dollars to make sure that the Railway Commission stays cooperative : Porter and the other executives from this commission have accepted $2 million in campaign contributions since 2010. With that kind of independence, Porter might as well be a fossil fuel lobbyist ! The result is that the IOGCC is packed with lobbyists, fossil fuel executives, state officials sponsored by fossil fuel money and only three members out of the 500 come from environmental groups !
The umbilical cord between the IOGCC and the fossil fuel industry is also financial. The IOGCC gets some of its resources from government but it also receives funding from the oil industry ! For example, the IOGCC holds biannual meetings that are sponsored by oil and gas companies : in 2015, one meeting was held in Oklahoma City and was funded by a cohort of dirty fracking companies such as Marathon Oil, Schlumberger, Sandridge Energy, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP and XTO Energy. Furthermore, part of the public funding of the IOGCC comes from a tax on petroleum. This means that the IOGCC has a direct interest in encouraging the development of fossil fuels because more fossil fuel consumption means more resources for the state compact. These financial ties make it impossible for the IOGCC to be independent from the fossil fuel industry and its goals and this explains why this organisation has gradually become nothing more than an evolved form of lobby that has fought to preserve the interests of fossil fuel corporations every step of the way. Basically, the IOGCC has helped the lobbies by writing legislation and passing on their views to policy makers in the member states and on the federal level. The case of the Halliburton Loophole is a perfect example of how the IOGCC has become a decisive actor in the lobbying strategy of the fossil fuel industry.
How the IOGCC got the Halliburton Loophole voted[edit | edit source]
The Halliburton Loophole is the decision that opened the gates of fracking in the U.S, and the IOGCC was an essential part in making that happen, thus proving that it really is an advocacy group that protects fossil fuel profits at the cost of the environment and people's health. Indeed before the loophole was created in 2005, the Safe Drinking Water Act regulated any activities that could endanger the water supply. Which is why fossil fuel corporations waged war on this legislation to open up the U.S to fracking without bearing the costs of the Safe Drinking Water rules. The IOGCC played its part without fail. It started working on what it called a “simple fix” in 1999 and managed to push it through in 2005. What was this “simple fix” ? It was an exemption that allowed fracking not to observe the safety rules that protect the water quality. How did the IOGCC manage to get it voted ? By consistently downplaying the danger of fracking to the water supply. In 2002 the IOGCC released a survey claiming that all the fracking that had been conducted until then had been absolutely harmless for the environment and the water. But that report was full of half-truths and omissions and was blatantly dishonest, with the sole purpose of giving pro-fracking policy-makers cause to support the loophole. And when the loophole was voted, the IOGCC congratulated itself on this “great success” in its newsletter, which is decisive proof of its role in opening up fracking in the U.S. The result of its efforts is the situation that we see everyday : a fracking industry that is free to act without being regulated, which leads to water contamination, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and even enhanced seismic activity, especially in the IOGCC's own backyard, the state of Oklahoma, that has become one of the places in the world with the most earthquakes in the last few years.
The issues the IOPCC is working on today : Atlantic offshore drilling[edit | edit source]
The Halliburton Loophole may be the pinnacle of the IOGCC's wrongdoings but the commission hasn't stopped its crusade in favour of fossil fuels and keeps on lobbying heavily to bend the regulations their way. One thing the IOGCC has been doing is protecting the Halliburton Loophole. In 2009, the Congress was set on overturning it but the IOGCC drafted a resolution urging it not to, a resolution mirrored by resolutions in 10 member states. For instance this sentence was exactly the same in the IOGCC and the Wyoming resolutions : “hereby declares its support for maintaining the exemption of hydraulic fracturing from the provisions of the SDWA and urges the Congress of the United States not to pass legislation that removes the exemption for hydraulic fracturing”. This is a good example of one of the IOGCC's strategies. Instead of acting as a forum for cooperation, the commission plays the part of a lobbying headquarter that defends the priorities of the fossil fuel industry and gets the member states to become lobbies of sorts themselves ! Basically, the IOGCC acts as the middle-man between official lobbies such as the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) and the states themselves that end up promoting the same agenda. This strategy is at work again on a new topic, Atlantic offshore drilling.
Opening up Atlantic offshore drilling is one the goals is one of the main goals of the fossil fuel industry but its dangers had spurred a vast movement of criticism by environmental groups as well as fishermen and hotel operators. Which is why the CEA asked the IOGCC to help in their nefarious campaign to be able to drill the Atlantic ocean floor. Through the IOGCC, member states volunteered to help with this endeavour. For example, Nick Tew, the oil and gas supervisor of Alabama pledged to support the CEA in this goal and got the Governor of Alabama to write the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to support Atlantic offshore drilling. The letter he wrote included unaltered content that the CEA had written, thus making the state of Alabama a de facto lobby working hand in glove with the CEA, thanks to the IOGCC, the perfect go-between with its privileged access to state officials and its status as a state compact and not an official lobby.
The study of the actions of the IOGCC can lead to only one conclusion : this body is nothing more than a lobby and the worst part is that this lobby is extremely powerful because it has such an ambiguous status. The Department of Justice realized the danger when it tried to disband the IOGCC in 1978 but the attempt failed. It's time to resume the fight against the major player in the fossil fuel lobbying scheme and to rid the political system of the democratic anomaly. So that we can finally get the energy policy that we need to save the world for the cataclysm fossil fuel corporations would drive us to.