Energy companies spent $750 million lobbying for hydraulic fracturing

Oil-and-gas companies that hydraulically fracture wells and trade groups that represent them spent $747 million to lobby federal policymakers and contribute to lawmakers’ campaigns from 2001 through late 2011, Common Cause, the advocacy group, reported Thursday.

Common Cause, a liberal nonprofit organization that advocates tougher campaign-finance laws, said fracturing industry employees and political-action committees gave $20.5 million to current U.S. lawmakers’ campaigns from 2001 through June 2011 and that the companies and industry groups spent $726 million on lobbying at the federal level from 2001 through September 2011.

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting mixtures of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure deep underground to break up shale-rock formations and extract oil and natural gas. Environmental groups have argued that the process can cause contamination of drinking wells, aquifers and other water sources.

The oil-and-gas industry disputes those claims and says expanding use of the process can create jobs while reducing U.S. reliance on foreign energy.

Company/group Campaign donations
Exxon Mobil $2,843,443
Chevron $1,572,175
ConocoPhillips $1,399,600
Occidental Petroleum $1,197,218
DTE Energy $1,083,392
Williams $1,000,300
Marathon Oil $961,350
American Gas Association $926,022
Ind. Petro Associ. of Amer. $898,500
Anadarko $836,000

Fracturing – or “fracking” – is just one of the policy and legal issues that the oil-and-gas industry has pending before Congress and the executive branch at any given time. The Common Cause study didn’t identify any specific issue that attracted the lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions.

The group’s report also found that the companies’ rate of spending has increased in recent years. Industry employees and PACs gave three times more money to candidates last election cycle than they gave in the 2001-2002 cycle, and the industry increased lobbying expenses from $29 million in 2001 to a peak of $144 million in 2009, the report said. Companies themselves can’t give directly to candidates under federal law, but PACs affiliated with the companies can.

A 2005 law had a provision exempting hydraulic fracturing from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Common Cause found that current lawmakers who voted for that law on average received $73,433 from industry, while lawmakers who voted against the bill got an average of $10,894.

Common Cause President Bob Edgar contended that the oil-and-gas industry was spending the money to try to avoid federal regulation of fracturing.

“Players in this industry have pumped cash into Congress in the same way they pump toxic chemicals into underground rock formations to free trapped gas,” Edgar said in a statement.

The American Petroleum Institute, a group representing oil-and-gas companies, didn’t immediately have a comment on the report.

The report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency studies the safety of hydraulic fracturing. The agency recently said it would write standards for disposal of fracturing wastewater.

The Common Cause report identified Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, as the top recipient of campaign contributions from the fracturing industry. Barton and his political units collected about $515,000 between 2001 and June 2011, mostly from PACs, the report said. Barton formerly chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee and voted for the 2005 law containing the exemption.

Barton said in response to the report that he is “proud to have the support of people” who produce domestic oil and gas, including in his state.

“Hydraulic fracturing isn’t nearly as dangerous as this report would have you believe,” Barton said. “Trust me, I know. There are gas wells near my home that have used the process. I would not have allowed it if I thought it put my family’s health or anyone else’s in danger.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who also voted for the 2005 law, ranked second with about $418,000 in contributions, which were split roughly evenly between PACs and individuals, the report said. His office did not respond to a request for comment.