2011-07-1

Isaac Newton taught us that for every action there is an equal or opposite reaction, and in John Hanger’s case that means answering in pro-industry talking points anytime something bad is said about the gas industry. We call it  ‘The Hanger Rule.’

Hanger is the former head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection and now works in Harrisburg as a lawyer with Eckert Seamans law firm as an advisor on energy and environmental issues. While he is mostly out of public life, Hanger emerges with blog posts within hours of almost any negative report about hydraulic fracturing that hits the mainstream media.

In February, Hanger responded to Ian Urbina’s piece in The New York Times that identified concerns about lax regulation of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania with a series of posts to his blog, These concerns included such facts as: The Pennsylvania waste treatment facilities were ill- equipped to remove radioactive material from fracking wastewater before it was discharged into rivers and waterways throughout the Keystone State. This rapid reaction led Checks and Balances Project Director, Andrew Schenkel, to pay a visit to Hanger’s Harrisburg office to gain a better understanding of his perspective.

Hanger is a proud man who touts the numerous regulations he helped to impose on the gas industry while in office. It was perhaps natural that a man who dedicated so much of his life to improving regulations in Pennsylvania may be a bit defensive about allegations that his work was ineffective or simply did not go far enough. However, what was perhaps most striking was Hanger’s tone throughout the interview. He wasn’t combative. He wasn’t defensive. Instead, he maintained a friendly nature while talking in sound bites. Almost all of his answers mimicked the familiar rhetoric of the gas industry. In fact, Hanger touched upon almost 30 industry talking points.

As you can see in the video, Hanger uses key gas industry messaging, that gas is a cleaner alternative to oil and coal, 15 times.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq5K4LK3urU&w=450&h=330]

Hanger’s comments are in line with the words of energy tycoons T. Boone Pickens and Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy.

-“Natural gas is about 30 percent cleaner than petroleum and produces no particulate emissions.” -Pickens

-“Natural gas has already achieved significant market share gains in the electrical generation market at the expense of coal largely on the basis of price, but also because of environmental issues.” –McClendon

Weeks after the first Urbina story, Hanger reemerged during the release of a new study that suggested that gas may not be a cleaner alternative to coal. The study, which was conducted by scientists at Cornell University, simply suggested that more research should be devoted to finding out if gas is as clean as many in the industry suggests. Following the release of that study, the gas industry embarked on a campaign to discredit the study’s authors including lead scientist Robert Howarth. A Google search of Howarth’s name generates a top search result as a link (paid for by the America’s Natural Gas Alliance [ANGA]), which casts doubt on his study. The link takes readers to quotes from John Hanger who says, “Professor Howarth does want the result to which he gets. He is a committed opponent of gas drilling and fracking, a position to which he is entitled in this free country.”

Following ANGA’s ad campaign, the Checks and Balances Project caught up with the Howarth. The scientist had no problem explaining that his conclusion, that more data is needed to find out if gas is on par with coal in terms of emissions, was not out of line. What was out of line, according to Howarth, was the lengths to which pro-gas advocates had gone to ruin his reputation. “It used to be that if you Googled my name… my boring lab site at Cornell University was the top pick up. Now there’s an ad from the gas industry, which has a critique of why my science is wrong. They are trying hard to push back,” said Howarth.

The latest news about gas broke in late June when Urbina filed another report for the Times that quotes an industry insider saying that rhetoric about the supply of gas is comparable to a “Ponzi scheme.” Since this story focused more on economic concerns rather than environmental ones it seemed unlikely Hanger would weigh in. But he did. “Would anyone imagine more sensationalistic narratives than radiation, Ponzi, and Enron?” asked Hanger. He continued, “Consistent with this reporter’s method, today’s article uses often anonymous statements to paint a sensational narrative and leaves out or underplays critical information that is inconvenient to establishing the credibility of the dominant anti-gas narrative.”

These comments led the Checks and Balances Project to go back and review its interview with Hanger from earlier this year. The point was to see if Hanger had weighed in on the economics of drilling for gas in Pennsylvania. It turns out Hanger did – using pro-industry talking points 13 times throughout the conversation.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsqu-0fLCig&w=450&h=330]

Once again Hanger sounds a lot like McClendon, except with no soft background music as you can observe in this video.

-“CNG costs about 40& less than gasoline. Natural gas is abundant, American shale basins contain an ocean of natural gas”

During the initial interview, Hanger was asked if he was currently working for the gas industry or if Eckert Seamans was planning to assign Hanger any gas industry clients. At the time Hanger said he had no gas clients but added he wouldn’t rule out working for them. While the industry is not currently paying Hanger, what you hear in his interviews  certainly sounds like he is.