Journalism in the Public Interest

Another Layer to Rendell’s Fracking Connections

Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor who oversaw a boom in the state’s natural gas business, is special counsel to a Philadelphia firm deeply involved in the controversial fracking trade.


Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet the Press)

Recently, we wrote about former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's connections to the natural gas industry after he published a pro-fracking op-ed in The New York Daily News.

Following our story, Rendell's column — which called on New York officials to lift a ban on the drilling technique — was updated to disclose that he is a paid consultant to a private equity firm with natural gas investments.

Rendell assured us in an interview before the first story that despite his role with the private equity firm, he had no "pecuniary interest in the natural gas industry doing well."

But the story doesn't end there. One entity that indisputably has an interest in the industry is Rendell's longtime home outside of politics: the law firm Ballard Spahr of Philadelphia.

Rendell is currently special counsel at the firm, and is a member of its energy and project finance and environment and natural resources practice areas, his spokeswoman said.

The firm touts its work "on the forefront" of the development of the Marcellus Shale, the formation under Pennsylvania and other states from which a vast quantity of natural gas is now being extracted.

In 2011, the publication AOL Energy named Ballard Spahr one of the top five energy law firms in the country. AOL cited Ballard Spahr's "deep presence in Pennsylvania" that "put it on the doorstep of the Marcellus Shale natural gas field," a "major source of controversy and legal work as developers work in heavily populated and closely monitored areas."

A week after leaving the governor's office in 2011, Rendell rejoined the firm, where he had given up his job as partner when he was elected in 2003. As governor, he presided over the fracking boom in Pennsylvania.

Has he worked for natural gas interests in his role at Ballard Spahr?

"Governor Rendell cannot comment on what areas he may or may not work on for clients of the firm," Kirstin Snow, his spokeswoman, said in an email.

Another attorney in Ballard Spahr's Philadelphia office, Harry Weiss, has "advocated for an oil and gas company at both the state and federal levels during regulatory and policy debates on impact of shale gas exploration on ground water supplies," according to the firm. He also represents landowners in lease negotiations with gas companies.

The firm did not respond to a request for comment about Rendell's work.

Michael Knapp

April 8, 2013, 3:16 p.m.

Still waiting for ProPublica’s in depth investigation into the millions of dollars Josh Fox, director of Gasland, has raked in by scaring people about gas drilling.  Or does ProPublica ONLY rake that muck which would result in stories its financial backers would approve of?

Sure would be nice to see you all give equal credence to both sides of the story.

Hey, Michael!  You win the irrelevant/distraction post of the day.  Here in Nigeria, we call it the “Look…a chicken!” award.  To get your winnings please include all your personal details and a self-addressed, stamped envelope and send it to:

Look…a chicken!
Box 4a  
Nsukka Nigeria
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Hey, Micheal!

You forgot to mention “Bengazi!”

Hey Michael -  Have you ever seen all the ads,  thousands and thousands of ads costing the fracking industry millions of dollars$$$$??  Somehow these ads just deal with promoting doing this nasty business, which is promoting the selling of toxins.  It is difficult to convince people to turn their rural neighborhood into an industrial zone, with the promise of toxins to come upwelling in the future(6% of well casings fail from the start; in twenty years, 40% of cement-steel well casings fail -  Now there is a fact that the Industry Ads seem to ignore…)

Industry Frack Ads -  rural landscapes, and happy family scenes…
Ahhhhhhhh, the ad companies at work making money $$$$$$$$$

Gee.  Oh, and what about all the money ($$$$$$$$$) spent by the fracking industry in buying off “our” politicians to get them to screw the citizens, us, and the future and to go for the poison?? 

I rather doubt that Josh Fox has made millions of bucks on his movies,  but he certainly deserves to do so, as he has done such a public service to all the people of the United States and the world.  And he has a heart, something you will find difficult to discover with The Industry.

I and others will await Josh Fox’s GASLAND II.  And you, Michael, can stew in your own juices.

Josh fox didn’t scare people about gas drilling, it was gas company lies, failures, spills, blowouts, leaks, violations, explosions and their toxic chemicals, radioactive waste pits, benzene billowing tanks, their emissions, methane migrations, their denial and unaccountability, their lack of compassion, the fumes from their compressor stations and glycol dehydrators etc etc that scared people.

Please keep the news coming, about what energy is! Thank you.

Steve, you’re my hero.

Anyway, I recently heard that there’s a petition to have politicians start wearing patches on their suits like NASCAR drivers, showing their sponsorship.  Perhaps this could be added to anybody pitching their half-assed ideas to the media.

Michael Knapp

April 9, 2013, 2:48 p.m.


Josh Fox was paid $750,000 by HBO to do Gasland II.  He was charging $5,000+ to do speaking events at colleges.  Ed Rendell wrote one stupid op/ed saying that he supports gas drilling (shocking, he spent 8 years as Governor of PA and was a big drilling supporter) and ProPublica has now ran two articles on it. 

Also, hugs and kisses to the brain trust commenters already trying to lump me in as some sort of uber-conservative extremist just because I’m pro-drilling I’m not. 

And, *gasp* not only do I have a heart, I have a brain too.  I live in a county in Pennsylvania where there are over 14,000 gas wells drilled over the last 150 years.  The water here is fine.  People here aren’t afraid of it.  It’s not a desolate wasteland. 

And yes, before any of you uber-internet-sleuths google my name and try to cry conspiracy, I work in the gas industry.  And I’m damn proud.  Someone has to continue to deliver the energy and raw materials many on here so ravenously (and hypocritically) devour.

many would differ with you Michael, like this woman

dear mr knapp,
I’m sure you do have a brain. But those 14,000 gas wells in your county were done before fracking. As you know, fracking is an entirely different kind of drilling that basically homogenizes rock structures, and coincidentally ruins water supplies. If Ed Rendell is taking a tiny bit of heat for promoting fracking, he deserves it. As for “deliver(ing) the energy and raw materials many on here so ravenously (and hypocritically) devour.” But some of us see that it’s not just about making profit at the expense of someone else.

Michael Knapp

April 9, 2013, 5:19 p.m.

Mr. Mike W.,

I’m sorry sir, but you are 100% wrong. One hundred percent. Some of them were not, but the overwhelming majority of them have indeed been fracked.  The company I work for and its affiliated companies have fracked thousands of wells in Western Pennsylvania for decades before Marcellus shale came along.  The only major difference?  The wells we frack now are twice as deep in the ground.  We do use more water because the formation is thicker and less permeable, but the pressure levels, the chemicals used, the equipment, the contractors,  etc. are all the same. 

Please, don’t try to tell me (or anyone else for that matter) how gas drilling works if you don’t have a solid grasp.  It appears as though you’ve only got one side of the story, and unfortunately the side your listening to is more concerned with rhetoric and their end game than legitimate science.  There is not one single incident in which fracking has caused water contamination here in Pennsylvania.  There have been a few very small and very isolated incidents where there was not enough cement pumped behind the well bore to seal off very shallow gas formations just beneath the surface, but those regulations have been upgraded and it hasn’t been an issue since. 

It’s funny, I talk to risk management and safety specialists that conduct training and implement safety programs across many different industries all the time.  They always remark that they WISHED other industries paid as much attention to safety and environmental protection as the gas industry does. 

But we’re getting off topic.  I have no problem with ProPublica looking into any potential conflicts with Ed Rendell.  All I ask for is some consistency. 

Pro-drilling ex governor says he still likes gas drilling, gets 2 articles in a week.  Unknown provocative theater director with no knowledge of gas drilling at all makes doomsday documentary trashing gas drilling and makes millions off of it… nothing. 

Also, nice false dichotomy at the end there.  We can very easily produce energy and not have it be at the expense of someone else.  We do it every day.

It’s pretty easy to blow me off with statistics I don’t have, about a location I don’t know. But the first number you mentioned is off. I’m not 100% wrong, because that would only be true if all of those wells were fracked, and you say yourself they’re not.(1st par) And as I read it, I’m not trying to tell you how gas drilling works. I don’t need to know, because I don’t drill wells(2nd par). But when you say there “has not been one single incident of water contamination”, that is blatantly untrue and intellectually dishonest. All you have to do is open your eyes to the evidence. You don’t seem to be willing to consider you might be wrong, and that is a big red flag for your objectivity. And as for your last two sentences there, 1) you don’t produce energy at all, you mine it and 2) the expense is the loss of water supplies for apparently, many people. I can’t personally go and get stories from affected people because I’m thousands of miles away but the stories are epidemic. As you know.

a two minute search yielded this gem- from the Journal of the National Academy of Science. It’s not the whole story of course; scientific papers always seem to end with the phrase “needs more study”. What it describes is flammable tap water. The study is in the northeast part of PA, so not directly applicable to your neighborhood.

Not interested in playing word games with you.  I said there have been water impacts.  Just not from fracking.  That’s not intellectually dishonest, it’s a fact.  Some people assume “fracking” is synonymous with gas drilling.  It’s not.  It’s one of many parts of the drilling process.  Your argument was that its the addition of fracking that is causing problems.  But that’s not at all true. 

So please stop lecturing me about stuff you have only Googled, that I live day in and day out.  Gas drilling isn’t perfect.  But it’s nowhere close to being the demon that you think it is, or that anyone would think it is after reading Propublica’s jaded, sensationalistic coverage.

Michael, if I may, let’s look at this in a different field, since anything energy-related tends to be a hot-button topic.

I’m a software engineer.  What you’re telling me sounds a lot like if I said, “A project I once worked on had no bugs in it, therefore software doesn’t have bugs.”  (My code does, in fact, have bugs, but just humor me for the sake of the example.)

You, your bosses, and even your entire company might be doing everything right.  I don’t doubt that you are, because I have no reason to do so.  However, the industry at large seems convinced that safety doesn’t apply to them and that people’s lives are just sometimes the cost of doing business.

Your comments, taken in the context of a post-Enron, post-Exxon Valdez, post-Deepwater Horizon world, are as difficult to generalize as my assertion that my code is good doesn’t generalize to their being no bugs in the latest version of Windows.  They’re even harder to generalize when companies (presumably not yours) insist that fracking is perfectly safe, but couldn’t possibly disclose the contents of the fracking fluids.

(Similar argument:  Genetic engineering is probably entirely safe, if handled by people who aren’t blind profiteers.  However, companies like Monsanto have proven themselves to be blind profiteers and thus smear the technology.)

Is it fair that you’re smeared by the rest of the sector?  Of course not.  But to dismiss problems in the industry because you’re doing it right is also unfair.

Michael, could it be that you are just mad at ProPublica for letting everyone know about the Harpers, who lost their lives? Was this your company that settled with heirs?

To claim that fracking is not responsible for a lot of water contamination, methane migration and many of the other problems is ridiculous.  If you weren’t fracking you wouldn’t be using millions of gallons of water and adding tens of thousands of chemicals to it. You wouldn’t be using silica sand that is harming families in iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan, and you wouldn’t be using the high pressures that causes many workplace deaths and injuries and causes the blowouts and “ unintended releases” that are all too common
If you weren’t fracking we wouldn’t have the highly toxic flowback water that gets illegally dumped on rural roads ( and wasn’t it your company that got fined for this)  If it weren’t for fracking we wouldn’t have all of this highly toxic and radioactive waste that nobody wants and is stored in leaking pits and then injected into the ground to cause earthquakes and destruction to homes and water.

Surely you are aware of the multitude of violations that DEP passes out regularly to your industry for “discharge of pollutional material into the waters of the commonwealth”  and other similar violations. Do you know how foolish you sound to consistently deny any problems because of “fracking.”

I believe the public record of harm and this constant denial is part of the reason your industry no longer has any credibility

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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