01 April 2014

A headline in the Saturday, November 30 Columbus Dispatch screamed: “Family’s well not tainted by driller.” The lead asserts that, “Natural gas that caught fire after it bubbled from a faucet in a Portage County house did not come from a nearby shale well, state officials have concluded.” The question is, can we trust these state officials?


The investigation conducted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) needs to be closely examined. The ODNR is at best a “captured agency” which has been accused repeatedly of promoting the oil and gas industry and specifically fracking, the practice of horizontal drilling.


The freepress.org reported earlier this year that formal complaints were filed against ODNR employees for falsifying “production records on wells.” Reports were also made to the FBI that the ODNR was covering up 1200 gas wells that were on record without tax ID numbers in southern Ohio. By leaving out ID numbers, the wells’ ownership can often be hidden so public doesn’t know who is responsible for the pollution.


When Jeff and Kerrie Bond called the ODNR on November 10, 2011 complaining that a brine tank owned by Miley Gas Company was leaking into their property, they claim that ODNR Inspector David Ball showed up and threatened to shut down the gas well the couple used to heat their home. The Bond’s had made formal complaints that Inspector Ball told them that if they didn’t shut up about the environmental complaints “…we’ll probably have to plug your well,” and that they would be “written up” for “daily violations.”



The rise of fracking propaganda



So now the ODNR in Ohio is using a technique perfected in Pennsylvania by a private company Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) that has a murky history and well-established ties to the intelligence community and military industrial complex. SAIC has consistently used a technique of groundwater assessment to assert that fracking is not contaminating people’s wells.


The recent investigation by the ODNR referred to in the Dispatch is modeled after SAIC’s techniques. In October 2011, SAIC issued a 179-page report exonerating Chesapeake Energy, a fracking company, from responsibility for a massive “blowout” at a Pennsylvania natural gas well that released thousands of gallons of contaminated frack water. Chesapeake Energy paid for the study, and one Louis A. Simpson simultaneously sat on the boards of Chesapeake and SAIC.


The Chesapeake Energy news release predictably echoed the recent Dispatch headline: “Independent Report on Atgas Incident Finds No Impact on Local Water Wells.” In contrast, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found that one of the local water wells displayed a “10-fold increase in methane and various salts compared with samples taken in July 2010 before natural gas drilling began at the site.”



Who is SAIC?


The apparent whitewash of the harmful effects of fracking are not SAIC's first appearance at the intersection of government regulation and oil interests. In January 1994, the Los Angeles Times reported that SAIC was involved in one of the “largest environmental fraud” incidents in the United States when it was charged with fabricating environmental testing from toxic waste dumps. In a 1995 article, Web Review reported “In 1990, SAIC was indicted by the Justice Department on 10 felony counts for fraud in its management of a Superfund toxic clean up site.”


SAIC has been a major contractor for the Bureau of Ocean Energy (BOE), which is part of the Department of the Interior, since at least 2003. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is responsible for issuing permits to drill or mine in the deep ocean off America's coastlines.


SAIC provides a myriad of services for the BOE ranging from the precisely described, such as computer aided design and manufacturing software, to the clearly obfuscated, since they received millions in multiple contracts under the term “other management services.” The most precise was a recent contract to study the deep ocean fluid dynamics in the Gulf of Mexico, signed in 2011. This contract would assist the government in mapping the long term travel of oil spilled by the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.



The spooky world of government contracts



SAIC has a somewhat complicated corporate history that is deeply intertwined with the defense industry and the intelligence community. Founded in 1969, it has long made its bread and butter in these two sectors of government contracting. On September 27, 2013, the company changed its name to Leidos and split in two, with the smaller company retaining the SAIC name and focusing on services with the larger focusing on information technology. Several current and former SAIC executives and directors have high level government experience. Included in this star-studded list are the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) John Deutch, former NSA head Robert “Bobby Ray” Inman, former Nixon administration Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, and former Clinton administration Secretary of Defense William Perry.


These defense and intelligence community connections serve SAIC well. Just as SAIC provides geospatial mapping software to the BOE, it also provides software services to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. SAIC also provides services to the Transportation Safety Administration, the Navy, and adolescent drug counseling services to the United States Air Force, although the latter contract also appears to extend to the Department of the Interior.


SAIC's executive ties to the intelligence community may be how it got involved in the early phases of the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrant-less wiretapping program. SAIC was a contractor for the precursor to PRISM, NSA’s spying software, along with Edward Snowden's former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton. The program was known by the codename Pioneer/Trailblazer and lacked some of the sophisticated data collation and analysis tools that have become part of the U.S. government’s worldwide eavesdropping empire.


In addition to contracts with the Defense Information Systems Agency, SAIC has a contract directly with the United Stated Army to provide services listed as “Support – Professional: Intelligence.” dated from September of 2012. It is not clear which of SAIC's two daughter companies retains this contract from public records available to the Free Press.


SAIC has contracts with the United States Special Operations Command, which is the sharp end of the stick in America's secret wars of the 21st century. Some of these appear to involve little more than the maintenance of night vision goggles. One involves providing Anti-Terrorist Force Protection services. It is not clear why the United States Special Operations Command, a key force in the war on terror, requires a civilian contractor for protection from terrorists.


SAIC emerged as a major player in the voting machine fiascos following the 2000 U.S. presidential election when it received a contract from Maryland’s then-Governor Robert Ehrlich to review Diebold’s election systems software. Admiral Bill Owens, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later went on to serve as President, Chief Operating Officer and Vice Chairman of SAIC’s Board. At the time of the contract granted by Ehrlich, it was pointed out that former CIA Director Robert Gates had also served as a SAIC Board member.



Myth-making and news



In Pennsylvania, the fracking industry turned to a CIA-connected company to produce the results they wanted. In Ohio, it is much more efficient. Simply turn to Governor Kasich’s Department of Natural Resources to provide propaganda that fracking is safe and not harmful to one’s health. The New York Post wrote an op-ed with the headline stating “Fracking gets a clean bill of health,” based on SAIC’s 179-page report. Here in our state, our major newspaper reports this not in an op-ed, but as news in the Metro section. The ODNR’s adoption of SAIC’s methodology suggests that federal agencies should be brought in to verify Ohio state agencies’ results in investigations of fracking.