One of the fundamental lessons in life is that money and politics go together like, well, oil and gas. As fracking activity in the US has increased over the last eight years, so have contributions to Senators and Representatives. And the money is now finding its way to Montana.
According to a report released this week by nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), contributions from fracking industry companies to House and Senate candidates in fracking states rose by 231% from the 2004 to 2012 election cycles, from $2.1 billion to $6.9 billion. This is a much steeper rise than contributions to non-fracking states.
Contributions to Senate candidates in fracking states went up 461% over the same period, from $550,000 to nearly $3.1 billion.
Nearly 80% of contributions went to Republicans, and 44 of the top 50 recipients were Republicans.
States have traditionally taken the lead in regulating oil and gas, but the rapid growth of fracking has led to a patchwork of regulation across the country, and concerns about safety and environmental impact have led to increasing calls for federal oversight.
But that’s not what the oil and gas industry wants, and their increased activity at the federal level is designed to keep federal legislation out of the picture. It’s worked very well so far. The industry was able to get an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005, thanks to the leadership in Congress of Texas Congressman Joe Barton, who was Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Not surprisingly, Barton heads the list of Top 10 Recipients of Fracking Industry Contributions. Others on the list are from fracking states, are nearly all Republican, and are in positions of power on energy issues.
Attempts to introduce federal legislation to regulate fracking, most notably the Frac Act, which would remove the fracking exemption in the Safe Drinking Water Act, have stalled. The bill was originally introduced by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) in 2009, but has not yet made it out of committee. GovTrack.us gives it a 1% chance of passing.
With fracking ready to expand in Montana, you would expect money to find its way here, and that is exactly what’s happening. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Montana at-large Congressman Steve Daines (R) has received $87,412 this year, ranking him fifth among all House members. By contrast, his opponent Jon Tester has received about $2300. You can find a list of individual contributors here. If anyone familiar with the industry wants to identify these folks, please do so in the comments.
For the moment, it’s clear that there’s no help in sight at the federal level. Those who care about the Beartooth Front need to focus their efforts locally to get things done.