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Shareholders inch towards responsibility for fracking risks


Posted on behalf of Nicola Jones

A hefty minority of shareholders in a few major oil and gas companies voted yesterday in favour of better disclosing the risks of hydraulic fracturing – a practice that has been accused of releasing toxic chemicals into drinking water.

The San Francisco-based corporate responsibility advocacy group As You Sow co-filed a series of resolutions with Chevron, ExxonMobil, Anadarko Petroleum and Ultra Petroleum asking for each company to “publish a report on the environmental risks of fracking and policy options the company can adopt to mitigate these risks.”

None of the companies passed the resolution, and even if passed, the resolution says nothing about actually changing company practices. But As You Sow is still taking the results as a victory. Anadarko agreed to post some statement about fracking risks on its website before it ever got to a vote. Exxon shareholders voted 28% in favour (compared to 26% when they voted on the same thing last year), and Chevron shareholders 41% in favour. Ultra Petroleum would only say that they voted against it (see Reuters and Petroleumbazaar).

“Breaking 40 percent on a first year resolution has only happened a few times in the last few decades, so it shows how seriously the company’s shareholders are taking this issue,” said As You Sow representative Michael Passoff. He’s referring to the resolutions that As You Sow have instigated, which have a heavy environmentalist leaning and don’t often garner strong shareholder support in their first year.

In the meantime, other moves are pushing oil and gas companies towards disclosure of information about fracking, from the chemicals they use in the water to the volumes injected. There have been a few bills introduced that would repeal an ongoing loophole that exempts fracking from the US Safe Drinking Water Act, if they go forwards.

In November last year, the US Department of the Interior said that it was considering requiring all US companies to reveal the chemicals used in their fracking fluids, and several states have already passed laws along these lines (see United States investigates fracking safety).

The Environmental Protection Agency will soon begin a study to determine whether fracking really does affect drinking water, but doesn’t expect results till 2012 at the earliest.


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