How Hillary Clinton's State Department Sold Fracking to the World
A trove of secret documents details the US government's global push for shale gas
by Mariah Blake---September/October 2014 issue/ "Mother Jone's" Investigative Report
One icy morning in February 2012, Hillary Clinton's plane touched down in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, which was just digging out from a fierce blizzard. Wrapped in a thick coat, the secretary of state descended the stairs to the snow-covered tarmac, where she and her aides piled into a motorcade bound for the presidential palace. That afternoon, they huddled with Bulgarian leaders, including Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, discussing everything from Syria's bloody civil war to their joint search for loose nukes.
But the focus of the talks was fracking. The previous year, Bulgaria had signed a five-year, $68 million deal, granting US oil giant Chevron millions of acres in shale gas concessions. Bulgarians were outraged. Shortly before Clinton arrived, tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets carrying placards that read "Stop fracking with our water" and "Chevron go home." Bulgaria's parliament responded by voting overwhelmingly for a fracking moratorium.
Clinton urged Bulgarian officials to give fracking another chance. According to Borissov, she agreed to help fly in the "best specialists on these new technologies to present the benefits to the Bulgarian people." But resistance only grew. The following month in neighboring Romania, thousands of people gathered to protest another Chevron fracking project, and Romania's parliament began weighing its own shale gas moratorium. Again Clinton intervened, dispatching her special envoy for energy in Eurasia, Richard Morningstar, to push back against the fracking bans. The State Department's lobbying effort culminated in late May 2012, when Morningstar held a series of meetings on fracking with top Bulgarian and Romanian officials. He also touted the technology in an interview on Bulgarian national radio, saying it could lead to a fivefold drop in the price of natural gas. A few weeks later, Romania's parliament voted down its proposed fracking ban and Bulgaria's eased its moratorium.
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As part of its expanded energy mandate, the State Department hosted conferences on fracking from Thailand to Botswana. It sent US experts to work alongside foreign officials as they developed shale gas programs. And it arranged for dozens of foreign delegations to visit the United States to attend workshops and meet with industry consultants—as well as with environmental groups, in some cases.
US oil giants, meanwhile, were snapping up natural gas leases in far-flung places. By 2012, Chevron had large shale concessions in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, and South Africa, as well as in Eastern Europe, which was in the midst of a claim-staking spree; Poland alone had granted more than 100 shale concessions covering nearly a third of its territory.When the nation lit its first shale gas flare atop a Halliburton-drilled well that fall, the state-owned gas company ran full-page ads in the country's largest newspapers showing a spindly rig rising above the hills in the tiny village of Lubocino, alongside the tagline: "Don't put out the flame of hope." Politicians promised that Poland would soon break free of its nemesis, Russia, which supplies the lion's share of its gas. "After years of dependence on our large neighbor, today we can say that my generation will see the day when we will be independent in the area of natural gas," Prime Minister Donald Tusk declared. "And we will be setting terms."
But shale was not the godsend that industry leaders and foreign governments had hoped it would be. For one, new research from the US Geological Survey suggested that the EIA assessments had grossly overestimated shale deposits:
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