Like many other residents and elected officials, I have been trying to understand the Desalination plant shut down issue, and sensing that only part of the story has surfaced so far. This week, I started mapping it out on a giant marker board in my office, and digging into the murky interconnections between players in the story. The process started with Zurich Insurance, the operator of the desalination plant.
What’s turned up so far is an intriguing web of interconnections between key, powerful players in and around the energy industry. The diagram on my wall is so tangled and complicated that it may well take Jason Bourne himself to make sense of it all. But here are some of the highlights.
Zurich Insurance is an international insurance corporation that insures, or that insured, the AkzoNobel salt mine. After the 1994 AkzoNobel mine collapse they were required to build and operate the desalination plant to mitigate and remediate environmental damage caused by their clients. Last year, Zurich requested a release from their desalination obligations established under the settlement. These obligations included monitoring of local wells as well as insuring the former mine, which is filling with water from a regional aquifer, remains stable at present, and at this point is not further contaminating our local water sources.
Zurich is a large, diverse, international insurance powerhouse. On their board of directors recently was Josef Ackermann, a major global player most famous for leading Deutsche Bank through the European banking collapse in 2011, a board member so popular that he once received a letter bomb. Ackermann resigned from the Zurich board in August of 2013, after serving less than a year, after another well-respected board member, Pierre Wauthier, committed suicide.
Ackermann is currently on the Board of Directors for Royal Dutch Shell. Shell currently operates nearly 600 hydrofracking wells in Pennsylvania. Shell is also one of the companies rumored to have major interests in hydrofracking in New York State. And given Shell’s extensive gas well operations in Pennsylvania, the company is most likely one of the sources for the fracking waste fluid that was test processed at the Leicester desalination plant last year.
Here’s where things get interesting. Another member of the Royal Dutch Shell board of directors is Linda Stuntz, a partner at the D.C. energy lobbying firm of Stuntz Davis & Staffier. Stuntz, back in the day, was appointed by the second President Bush to the Department of Energy. She then took a turn or two through the lucrative revolving door between government service and “regulated” industry, at one point working extensively on the Romney campaign as an energy advisor.
According to records, one of Stuntz’s clients is National Grid, an energy company in New York State that sells and distributes natural gas. National Grid is also a relatively large donor to the campaign coffers of governor Andrew Cuomo. There may be more to discover, but so far the money trial to Cuomo is over $30,000 – peanuts in the big picture.
But there’s more. Among Ms. Stuntz’s credentials, she also sits on the Board of Directors for Raytheon, a defense contractor that specializes, among many other things, in military jet engines. Stuntz, according to disclosure reports, owns approximately $1.5 million of Raytheon Stock. And Raytheon, it turns out, owns a company called Tucson Embeded Systems, a firm that has developed a specialized jet engine designed to inject fluid into natural gas wells – hydrofracking – much more efficiently than the diesel engines that are the current standard.
These are all heavy hitters, and a rather serious research challenge for the likes of the GeneseeSun.com. But it’s interesting, where the trail from the little old Leicester desalination plant leads.
There is an enormous amount of money on the table with natural gas drilling, and my fear is that with big time lobbyist dollars pushing hydrofracking business into our region, profits will inevitably trump environmental safety. Energy lobbyists have been extremely generous to members of Congress for years, and it’s bipartisan. To the secretive players in this drama, the real issue with hydrofracking is money: who’s going to make the most of it, and who’s going to win an election because they have the biggest war chest.
The people who have lived here in the Genesee valley for generations are going to get screwed. We might get tossed a bone or two; a school might get some new astroturf on the football field, some farmers might get a couple of new tractors. But the real money is going elsewhere. Albany, Washington, lobbyists and stockholders like Linda Stuntz — that’s who will see the real money.
We need to be an energy independent nation, but however this plays out, the safety of our natural resources, like water, needs to be protected. Who in either Albany or Washington will have the moral compass to stand up to the energy lobbyists with fat checkbooks and millions of dollars to gain, to ensure the profits go to the right places?
And if something goes seriously wrong, guess who’s going to be left holding the bag?