CREDIT: AP Images
What do Texas Democratic candidate for governor Wendy Davis and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson have in common? They both wanted to limit hydraulic fracturing in their neighborhoods in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — but for very different reasons. During her time on the Fort Worth City Council, Davis oversaw the early days of the fracking boom and worked with residents and industry to shape the local ordinances, limit noise, keep drilling a safe distance from homes, and set up inspection duties now imitated throughout the country. Tillerson, whose day job is to promote oil and gas development and stave off regulatory oversight, didn’t want his $5 million property value to be harmed.
Where does Texas State Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Greg Abbott fit into all of this? He received large sums of money from oil and gas companies shortly after Davis announced her intention to run for governor last fall.
According to analysis by the Burnt Orange Report, several Texas oil companies gave large sums to the Republican Governors’ Association last October, with ConocoPhillips giving $50,000, Valero PAC giving $15,000, and Texas Oceanic Petroleum giving $25,000. While these sums of money alone will not swing the election, they are indicative of the broader scope of both candidates’ dealings with the booming fossil fuel industry in Texas, where more than 800 drilling rigs comprise almost half the total number in the U.S., and nearly a quarter worldwide, according to a Baker Hughes Rig Count from late 2013.
“Abbott has always been a lapdog for the oil and gas industry,” Sharon Wilson, a spokesperson for Earthworks and author of the popular Blue Daze: Drilling Reform blog, told ThinkProgress in an email. “It only takes a quick glance at his campaign contributions to understand that he’ll dance with the ones who bought him.”
Wilson said that Davis, for her part, has written a number of common sense bills that would protect private property and help lessen impacts to the families who have to live with unconventional oil and gas development while still allowing development to take place. Not many of those bills where allowed out of committee though. As the Burnt Orange Report points out, oil and gas companies spread the wealth around Texas at the state level, barring a Democratic party registration.
Both Davis and Abbott declined to be interviewed for a recent New York Times’ article on their oil and gas records. Davis submitted a statement saying her record shows that “we promoted the industry while making sure drilling in urban areas was safe and respected individual property rights and communities.”
Kinnan Golemon, an oil company lobbyist who dealt with Davis’s Senate office, told the New York Times that Davis “developed an understanding of the industry and some of its wants and needs” and that “she never closed us out from having meaningful discussions.”
Matt Hirsch, the campaign’s spokesman for Abbott, came to a different conclusion, saying Davis’s “record makes it clear she has more in common with radical environmentalists than the people of Texas.”
As Texas Attorney General, Gregg Abbott has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 17 times and the Obama administration at least 25 times. Last year, Abbott was quoted telling a tea party group that on a typical workday, “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.”
Abbott’s campaign has not yet released detailed oil and gas proposals, but his history of environmental lawsuits indicate that fossil fuel interests are rarely out of sight or mind. Hirsh even told the New York Times that Abbott’s legal record shows that he would have the industry’s best interests at heart.
Davis has been taking on good ole boys in Texas like Rex Tillerson and Gregg Abbott for her entire political career. While her rise in popularity was centered around her stance on women’s rights and abortion, she’s also helped citizens fight for clean water and against contaminating chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing. In 2011, she filed a bill the would’ve required companies drilling for natural gas to include a “tracer” fluid that would “protect the gas drilling industry from false claims of groundwater contamination in the same manner that DNA evidence is used to prove (guilty) or exonerate defendants in criminal court cases.”
Innocent until proven guilty; Davis did attend Harvard Law School. Abbott, on the other hand, knows the EPA is guilty to start with.
According to Amy Silverstein in the Dallas Observer, when oil and gas companies in Davis’s Fort Worth area became more aggressive around 2005 council members initially went along with their demands. A couple years later it became clear the situation was getting out of hand, and Davis started having second thoughts about the city’s approach to urban drilling. At a meeting, she said “I’m not an anti- gas-well person. The dialogue gets characterized: If you express concerns, you’re against it.”
“As much as I like Wendy Davis, she was not a good advocate for my side,” Don Young, a Fort Worth local who started an early anti-fracking group, FwCanDo, told the Dallas Observer. “She was better than others but not tough enough. Still I’m a supporter, even though I don’t expect her to be anti-fracking or -drilling.”