Nicholas Kusnetz

What Are the Only 3 States That Score Higher Than a D+ in the Corruption Index?

In November 2014, Arkansas voters approved a ballot measure that, among other reforms, barred the state’s elected officials from accepting lobbyists’ gifts. But that hasn’t stopped influence peddlers from continuing toprovide meals to lawmakers at the luxurious Capital Hotel or in top Little Rock eateries like the Brave New Restaurant; the prohibition does not apply to “food or drink available at a planned activity to which a specific governmental body is invited,” so lobbyists can buy meals so long as they invite an entire legislative committee.

The top of the pack includes bastions of progressive government, including California (ranked 2nd with a C-), and states notorious for corrupt pasts (Connecticut, 3rd with a C-, and Rhode Island, 5th with a D+). In those New England states, scandals led to significant reforms and relatively robust ethics laws, even if dubious dealings linger in the halls of government. The bottom includes many western states that champion limited government, like NevadaSouth Dakota and Wyoming, but also others, such as MaineDelaware and dead-last Michigan, that have not adopted the types of ethics and open records laws common in many other states.

The results are “disappointing but not surprising,” said Paula A. Franzese, an expert in state and local government ethics at Seton Hall University School of Law and former chairwoman of the New Jersey State Ethics Commission. Franzese said that, with many states still struggling financially, ethics oversight in particular is among the last issues to receive funding. “It’s not the sort of issue that commands voters,” she said.

With a few notable exceptions, there has been little progress on these issues since the State Integrity Investigation was first carried out, in 2012. In fact, most scores have dropped since then, though some of that is due to changes made to improve and update the project and its methodology.

Since State Integrity’s first go-round, at least 12 states have seen their legislative leaders or top cabinet-level officials charged, convicted or resign as a result of ethics or corruption-related scandal. Five house or assembly leaders have fallen. No state has outdone New York, where 14 lawmakers have left office since the beginning of 2012 due to ethical or criminal issues, according to a count by Citizens Union, an advocacy group. That does not include the former leaders of both the Assembly and the Senate, who were charged in unrelated corruption schemes earlier this year but remain in office.

New York is not remarkable, however, in at least one regard: Only one of those 14 lawmakers has been sanctioned by the state’s ethics commission.

Grading the states

When first conducted in 2011-2012, the State Integrity Investigation was an unprecedented look at the systems that state governments use to prevent corruption and expose it when it does occur. Unlike many other examinations of the issue, the project does not attempt to measure corruption itself.

The 2015 grades are based on 245 questions that ask about key indicators of transparency and accountability, looking not only at what the laws say, but also how well they’re enforced or implemented. The “indicators” are divided into 13 categories: public access to information, political financing, electoral oversight, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, state budget processes, state civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, state pension fund management and ethics enforcement agencies.

Experienced journalists in each state undertook exhaustive research and reporting to score each of the questions, which ask, for example, whether lawmakers are required to file financial interest disclosures, and also whether they are complete and detailed. The results are both intuitive — an F for New York’s “three men in a room” budget process — and surprising — Illinois earned the best grade in the nation for its procurement practices. All together, the project presents a comprehensive look at transparency, accountability and ethics in state government. It’s not a pretty picture.

Downward trend, blips of daylight

Overall, states scored notably worse in this second round. Some of that decline is because of changes to the project, such as the addition of questions asking about “open data” policies, which call on governments to publish information online in formats that are easy to download and analyze. But the drop also reflects moves toward greater secrecy in some states.

“Across the board, accessing government has always been, but is increasingly, a barrier to people from every reform angle,” said Jenny Rose Flanagan, vice president for state operations at Common Cause, a national advocacy group with chapters in most states.

No state saw its score fall farther than New Jersey, where scandal after scandal seems to have sunk Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential aspirations deep into the muck of the state’s brawling, back-scratching political history. New Jersey earned a B+, the best score in the nation, in 2012 — shocking just about anyone familiar with the state’s politics — thanks to tough ethics and anti-corruption laws that had been passed over the previous decade in response to a series of scandals.

None of that has changed. But journalists, advocates and academics have accused the Christie administration of fighting and delaying potentially damaging public records requests and meddling in the affairs of the State Ethics Commission. That’s on top of Bridgegate, the sprawling scandal that began as a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge but has led to the indictments so far of one of the governor’s aides and two of his appointees — one of whom pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges — and even to the resignations of top executives at United Airlines. As a result of these scandals and others, New Jersey dropped to 19th place overall with a D grade.

Admittedly, it’s not all doom and gloom. Iowa created an independent board with authority to mediate disputes when agencies reject public records requests. Gov. Terry Branstad cited the state’s previous grade from the Center when he signed the bill, and the move helped catapult Iowa to first in the nation in the category for access to information, with a C- grade (Iowa’s overall score actually dropped modestly).

In Georgia, good government groups latched on to the state’s worst-in-the-nation rank in 2012 to amplify their ongoing push for reforms. The result was a modest law the following year that created a $75 cap on the value of lobbyists’ gifts to public officials. The change helped boost the state’s score in the category of legislative accountability to a C-, sixth-best in the nation.

Perhaps the most dramatic reforms came in Virginia, where scandal engulfed the administration of outgoing Gov. Robert McDonnell in 2013 after it emerged that he and his family had accepted more than $170,000 in loans and gifts, much of it undisclosed, from a Virginia businessman. McDonnell and his wife were later convicted on federal corruption charges, but the case underscored the state’s woefully lax ethics laws and oversight regime; Virginia received an overall F grade in 2012. At the time, there was no limit on the value of gifts that public officials could accept, and they were not required to disclose gifts to their immediate family, a clause that McDonnell grasped at to argue that he had complied with state laws. (Appeals of the McDonnells’ convictions are pending.)

Over the next two years, newly-elected Gov. Terry McAuliffe and lawmakers passed a series of executive actions and laws that eventually led, in 2015, to a $100 cap on gifts to public officials from lobbyists and people seeking state business. They also created an ethics council that will advise lawmakers but will not have the power to issue sanctions. Advocates for ethics reform have said the changes, while significant, fall far short of what’s needed, particularly the creation of an ethics commission with enforcement powers. Still, they helped push the state's grade up to a D.

States also continued to score relatively well in the categories for auditing practices — 29 earned B- or better — and for budget transparency — 16 got a B- or above (the category measures whether the budget process is transparent, with sufficient checks and balances, not whether it’s well managed).

In Idaho, for example, which earned an A and the second best score for its budget process, the public is free to watch the Legislature’s joint budget committee meetings. Those not able to make it to Boise can watch by streaming video. Citizens can provide input during hearings and can view the full budget bill online.

New York earned the top score for its auditing practices — a B+ — because of its robustly-funded state comptroller’s office, which is headed by an elected official who is largely protected from interference by the governor or Legislature. The office issues an annual report, which is publicly available, and has shown little hesitation to go after state agencies, such as in a recent audit that identified $500 million in waste in the state’s Medicaid program.

Unfortunately, however, such bright spots are the exceptions.

Access denied

In 2013, George LeVines submitted a request for records to the Massachusetts State Police, asking for controlled substance seizure reports at state prisons dating back seven years. LeVines, who at the time was assistant editor at Muckrock, a news website and records-request repository, soon received a response from the agency saying he could have copies of the reports, but they would cost him $130,000. While LeVines is quick to admit that his request was extremely broad, the figure shocked him nonetheless.

“I wouldn’t have ever expected getting that just scot-free, that does cost money,” he said. But $130,000? “It’s insane.”

The cost was prohibitive, and LeVines withdrew his request. The Massachusetts State Police has become a notorious steel trap of information — it's charged tens of thousands of dollars or even, in one case, $2.7 million to produce documents — and was awarded this year with the tongue-in-cheek Golden Padlock award by a national journalism organization, which each year “honors” an agency or public official for its “abiding commitment to secrecy and impressive skill in information suppression.”

Dave Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, said in an email that the department is committed to transparency, but that its records are laced with sensitive information that's exempt from disclosure and that reviewing the material is time consuming and expensive. "While we most certainly agree that the public has a right to information not legally exempt from disclosure,” he wrote, “we will not cut corners for the purpose of expediency or economy if doing so means that private personal, medi[c]al, or criminal history information is inappropriately released.”

It’s not just the police. Both the Legislature and the judicial branch are at least partly exempt from Massachusetts’ public records law. Governors have cited a state Supreme Court ruling to argue that they, too, are exempt, though chief executives often comply with requests anyway. A review by The Boston Globe found that the secretary of state’s office, the first line of appeal for rejected requests, had ruled in favor of those seeking records in only 1-in-5 cases. Needless to say, Massachusetts earned an F in the category for public access to information. But so did 43 other states, making this the worst performing category in the State Integrity Investigation.

While every state in the nation has open records and meetings laws, they’re typically shot through with holes and exemptions and usually have essentially no enforcement mechanisms, beyond the court system, when agencies refuse to comply. In most states, at least one entire branch of government or agency claims exemptions from the laws. Many agencies routinely fail to explain why they they’ve denied requests. Public officials charge excessive fees to discourage requestors. In the vast majority of states, citizens are unable to quickly and affordably resolve appeals when their records are denied. Only one state — Missouri — received a perfect score on a question asking whether citizens actually receive responses to their requests swiftly and at reasonable cost.

“We’re seeing increased secrecy throughout the country at the state and federal level,” said David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism and an expert on open records laws. He said substantial research shows that the nation’s open records laws have been poked and prodded to include a sprawling list of exemptions and impediments, and that public officials increasingly use those statutes to deny access to records. “It’s getting worse every year,” he said.

After a series of shootings by police officers in New Mexico, the Santa Fe New Mexican published a report about controversial changes made to the state-run training academy. But when a reporter requested copies of the new curriculum, the program’s director refused, saying “I’ll burn them before you get them.”

In January, The Wichita Eagle reported that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director had used his private email address to send details of a proposed budget to the private email accounts of fellow staff members, and also to a pair of lobbyists. He later said he did so only because he and the rest of the staff were home for the holidays. But in May, Brownback acknowledged that he, too, used a private email account to communicate with staff, meaning his correspondence was not subject to the state’s public records laws. A state council is now studying how to close the loophole. A series of court cases in California are examining a similar question there.

Cuillier said in most states, courts or others have determined that discussions of public business are subject to disclosure, no matter whether the email or phone used was public or private. But the debate is indicative of a larger problem, and it reveals public records laws as the crazy old uncle of government statutes: toothless, antiquated appendages of a bygone era.

Governments write ethics laws for a reason, presumably. Public officials can’t always be trusted to do the right thing; we need laws to make sure they do. The trouble is, a law is only as good as its enforcement, and the entities responsible for overseeing ethics are often impotent and ineffective.

In many states, a complex mix of legislative committees, stand-alone commissions and law enforcement agencies police the ethics laws. And more often than not, the State Integrity Investigation shows, those entities are underfunded, subject to political interference or are simply unable or unwilling to initiate investigations and issue sanctions when rules are broken. Or at least that’s as far as the public can tell: many of these bodies operate largely in secret.

The Tennessee Ethics Commission, for example, rose in 2006 out of the ashes of an FBI bribery probe that had burned four state lawmakers. In its decade of operation, the commission has never issued a penalty as a result of an ethics complaint against a public official (it did issue one to a lobbyist). That may seem surprising, but the dearth of actions is impossible to assess because the complaints become public only if four of six commissioners decide they warrant investigation. Of 17 complaints received in 2013 and 2014, only two are public.

“There just haven’t been that many valid complaints alleging wrongdoing,” said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, which includes the commission.

In 2013, in a case that did become public, the commission decided against issuing a fine to a powerful lobbyist and former adviser to Gov. Bill Haslam who had failed to disclose that he’d lobbied on behalf of a mining company that was seeking a state contract. The lobbyist had maintained that his failure was simply an oversight, and only one commissioner voted to issue a penalty.

In Kansas, staff shortages mean the state’s Governmental Ethics Commission is unable to fully audit lawmakers’ financial disclosures, according to Executive Director Carol Williams. “We would love to be able to do more comprehensive audits,” Williams told the investigation’s Kansas reporter. Instead, she said, all her staff can do is make sure officials are filling out the forms. “Whether they are correct or not, we don't know.” Only two states initiate comprehensive, independent audits of lawmakers’ asset disclosures on an annual basis.

The State Integrity Investigation found that in two-thirds of all states, ethics agencies or committees routinely fail to initiate investigations or impose sanctions when necessary, often because they’re unable to do so without first receiving a complaint.

“Many of these laws are out of date. They need to be revised,” said Robert Stern, who spent  decades as president of the Center for Governmental Studies, which worked with local and state governments to improve ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws until it shut in 2011. Stern, who is currently helping to write a ballot initiative that would update California’s ethics statutes, said that while he thinks the State Integrity Investigation grades are unrealistically harsh, they do reflect the fact that state lawmakers have neglected their responsibilities when it comes to ethics and transparency. “It’s very, very difficult for legislatures to focus on these things and improve them because they don’t want these laws, they don’t want to enforce them, and they don’t want to fund the people enforcing them.”

In 3-in-5 states, the project found, ethics entities are inadequately funded, causing staff to be overloaded with work and, occasionally, forcing them to delay investigations.

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission is charged with overseeing ethics laws for the executive and legislative branches, lobbying activity and campaign finance. This year, the commission operated on a budget of $1 million. In 2014, the nonprofit news site Oklahoma Watch reported that the commission had collected only 40 percent of all the late-filing penalties it had assessed to candidates, committees and other groups since it was created in 1990. Part of that failure was the result of a challenge to the commission’s rules, but Executive Director Lee Slater said that much of it was simply due to a lack of resources.

“Until about a month ago, we had five employees in this office,” Slater said. “We’ve now got six. Try to do it with six employees.” Slater said the commission this year began collecting all fees it is owed, thanks to the sixth employee — whose salary is financed with fees — and new rules that clarify its authority. But he said the agency simply does not have enough money to do what it ought to. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we do everything we should,” he said. “But I will tell you that we do the best that we can, whatever that is.”

Slater said he’s been told to expect a cut of between 5 and 20 percent to the commission’s appropriations next year ($775,000 of the commission’s current budget comes from appropriations).

Oklahoma is hardly an outlier. “They don’t have the resources,” Stern said, speaking of similar agencies across the country. “That’s the problem.”

New frontier points to old problem

Not long ago, journalists and citizen watchdogs were thrilled to get access to any type of information online. But standards have changed quickly, and many have come to expect government to not just publish data online, but to do so in “open data” formats that allow users to download and analyze the information.

"By making data available digitally, it can be more easily reused and repurposed,” said John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, an advocacy group. (Global Integrity consulted with the Sunlight Foundation when writing the open data questions for this project).

Only nine states have adopted open data measures, according to the Sunlight Foundation, some of which do little more than create an advisory panel to study the issue.

The 2015 State Integrity Investigation included questions in each category asking whether governments are meeting open data principles. Almost universally, the answer was no. More than anything, these scores were responsible for dragging down the grades since the first round of the project.

While open data principles are relatively new, the poor performance on these questions is indicative of the project’s findings as a whole. “If we really wanted to do it right we’d just scrap it all and start from scratch,” said Cuillier, of the University of Arizona, speaking of the broken state of open records and accessibility laws. That clearly is not going to happen, he said, so instead, “we’re going to continue to have laws that are archaic and tinkered with, and usually in the wrong direction.”

This articles draws on reporting from State Integrity Investigation reporters in all 50 states.

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Casinos and Offshore Gaming Sites Furiously Battle Over Billions in Gambling Revenue

Ever since Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo Hotel in 1946 and launched the Las Vegas Strip, gambling has held a tenuous position in American life, suggesting glamour, wealth, depravity and corruption all at once. Now that casinos have spread throughout the nation and allegedly shed their mafia ties, a new branch of the industry is fighting for legitimacy here.

Las Vegas-based casinos and overseas operators have begun an all-out battle over Internet gambling, which is mostly banned nationwide but carries with it the promise of billions of dollars in additional revenue for casinos and state governments. Three states began licensing online betting last year, and lawmakers are debating online gambling bills in seven others right now. In Washington, meanwhile, Congress is facing increasing pressure to either bar or regulate the fledgling industry federally.

An American market: New Jersey

Even before the Justice Department revised its opinion, the offshore companies had begun looking for a legitimate way into the American market, with a particular focus on New Jersey. In early 2009, Joe Brennan Jr., who ran a small, Washington D.C.-based industry group called the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association, met with state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a New Jersey lawmaker representing a densely populated patch of the state south of Newark. Lesniak, one of the state’s most powerful politicians, had caught Brennan’s attention when he introduced a bill to legalize sports betting.

The senator, who has thinning red-gray hair, shares a district office with two other legislators in Elizabeth, where he greets visitors in an unadorned conference room. He speaks confidently, as if whatever he’s saying should be self-evident. In a recent interview, Lesniak said he proposed legalizing sports betting after growing tired of annual raids on Super Bowl gambling rings in the Garden State, even as betting on the game is legal in Las Vegas. When Brennan came to visit five years ago, however, he had another idea for the New Jersey lawmaker. Why not legalize gambling over the Internet?

For Lesniak, the proposal offered hope for Atlantic City: a new form of gambling to draw younger clientele and help the state’s struggling casinos, which had been losing money for three straight years because of increasing competition in nearby states. Brennan’s group, which has since ceased operations, never published a list of members. But in a 2007 lawsuit,  the group acknowledged that some of its members “provide an Internet gambling opportunity to private individuals located both within and beyond the territorial borders of the United States.” In 2009, when Brennan first met with Lesniak, his organization collected $1 million in membership dues, which Brennan quickly devoted to fighting for a law in New Jersey.

“There was no silver bullet to this,” he said. “It was, very simply, a lot of hard work.” Brennan hired one of New Jersey’s most influential lobbying firms, Princeton Public Affairs Group, which drew up what proved to be an effective strategy. The idea was to have the Atlantic City casinos run the Internet gambling operations, because no bill would pass without their support.

Lesniak was a dogged sponsor, ushering a bill to passage in January 2011. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the measure, however, saying it would violate the state constitution, which allows gambling only in Atlantic City. Another factor: the casinos, led by Caesars, opposed the bill at the time. The big national gaming companies had gotten behind Internet gambling but wanted a federal law instead, worrying that a patchwork of state statutes would lead to a more arduous and expensive regulatory system. (Lesniak suspects the industry pressed Christie to veto the bill. David Satz, Caesars’ top lobbyist, was a member of Christie’s transition team in 2009 and helped write a report arguing against legalizing Internet gambling at the time.) A spokesman for Christie did not respond to questions about the veto. Neither Caesars nor any of the other casinos contacted for this story offered any comment.

By 2012, though, Caesars and some other casinos had changed course, realizing that Congress was unlikely to approve online gambling, and so they threw their support behind the legislation. Lesniak had reintroduced the bill, tweaking it to address Christie’s concerns, and after two more rounds, Christie signed the law in February 2013.

The online gambling bill received little organized opposition in the state. Only six lawmakers voted against it, compared to 105 in favor. One of the opponents, Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo, a Democrat, said he was concerned about gambling addiction. One of the few voices against the move from outside the capitol was Carl Zeitz, who served on the state Casino Control Commission from 1980 to 1988.

“It is one thing to have to get on a bus, drive a car, take a train, get on an airplane to Vegas, to go to casinos. It is another thing to sit home in your skivvies in bed or at the kitchen table playing gambling games for real,” he said. “That to me is really unwise public policy.”

The bill allows licensed casinos to apply for online gambling permits and to offer a wide array of games. Players have to be in New Jersey to log in, a detail the casinos verify by tracking a computer’s IP address and using geo-location on cellphones. The state takes 15 percent of the proceeds, along with $400,000 up front and $250,000 each year from any casino running online betting. While the casinos are the only ones eligible for licenses, they have generally partnered with other companies, including overseas operators such as Gibraltar-based Digital Entertainment, to run the websites.

The casinos, which were in favor of an Internet gambling law by 2012, spent $1.2 million on lobbying in 2012 and 2013 in New Jersey, with Caesars spending $703,100 of that both directly and through its donations to the Casino Association of New Jersey. The offshore companies were also active in lobbying. The Interactive Gaming Council, a Vancouver-based industry association for online gambling companies, spent another $253,700, and PokerStars’ parent company, Rational Services, spent $204,353 last year. Both of those entities hired Princeton Public Affairs, the same firm that had represented Brennan’s group.

The various groups also donated generously to Lesniak and other supporters. Brennan, his wife Jennifer and his association gave $22,225 to New Jersey politicians and committees since 2009, including $4,600 to Lesniak and $7,000 to Assemblyman John Burzichelli, the prime sponsor of the legislation in the lower chamber of the legislature.

Another donor was that Washington-based poker group, the Poker Players Alliance, which has been one of the strongest proponents for legalizing online poker. It has unleashed torrents of social media attention on state and federal politicians, pre-writing tweets for its members to send. When the Massachusetts Gaming Commission held a forum on Internet gambling in March, the alliance’s vice president for player relations, Rich Muny, tweeted a link directed at Gov. Deval Patrick: “@MassGovernor I'm glad to see today's Gaming Commission Internet Forum. Please support Internet #poker for Massachusetts!” Within a day, dozens of supporters had sent the tweet.

The alliance was formed in 2005 by a group of poker players, and says it represents 1.2 million players around the country. But according to federal tax filings published by the website, nearly all of its money in 2005  came from $1.1 million given by Ruth Parasol and James Russell DeLeon, a married couple who started PartyGaming, one of the world’s largest online poker companies.

The couple, both born in California, were living in Gibraltar at the time, and their company eventually entered into a “non-prosecution” agreement with the Justice Department in 2009, after it had pulled out of the American market in response to the 2006 Internet gambling enforcement act. Under the agreement, PartyGaming paid a $105 million fine and acknowledged that some of its “customer transactions” prior to the 2006 law “were contrary to certain US laws.” In exchange, the Justice Department agreed not to prosecute the company for those transactions.

The company later merged with another to become, which announced in October that Parasol and DeLeon would divest their 14 percent stake as part of the company’s application for a license to operate in New Jersey (in its partnership with the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, in Atlantic City, the company holds about 40 percent of New Jersey’s Internet gambling market so far).

John Shepherd, a spokesman for, said the couple decided the time had come to part ways with the company, in part because they were in the midst of divorce proceedings. He said the company had some contact with the Poker Players Alliance prior to 2006, but that Parasol and DeLeon gave their own money to the group and that the company has never contributed money.

While the poker alliance hasn’t received funding from, John Pappas, the group’s executive director, said that most of its money does comes from other offshore online gambling companies, including the Rational Group, which owns PokerStars.

And as Lesniak and Brennan were pushing the law through New Jersey’s legislative process, the alliance was there to help it along. Pappas and other members met with Christie’s staff in January 2013 to urge him to sign the bill. The organization, Pappas, and four prominent poker players gave Lesniak a total of $15,600 after the law passed last year, along with $2,000 to the Union County Democratic Committee, which gave $144,089 to Lesniak. The alliance gave another $2,600 to Burzichelli, the maximum allowed under state law.

Lesniak, Burzichelli and Sen. Jim Whelan, a co-sponsor, received an additional $17,300 collectively from four law and lobbying firms and their employees and family members, including Princeton Public Affairs, that represented the offshore companies in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Licensed casinos are barred from contributing to politicians in New Jersey. But in 2013, the country’s largest casino companies and their representatives, several of which operate in New Jersey, gave at least $1.5 million to the Republican Governors Association, with $1 million coming from Adelson, the casino mogul. The RGA, in turn, spent $1.7 million last year helping reelect Christie as governor. In November, Christie became chairman of the organization, anointing him the chief fundraiser for the group. Adelson and his wife Miriam also gave $7,600 directly to Christie’s campaign last August, even though Christie had already signed the law legalizing online gambling, which Adelson opposes. Adelson does not have operations in New Jersey.

Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the RGA, said in an email that his organization does not solicit funds for specific races, and there’s no way to tie money from donors to individual contributions the RGA makes. A spokesman for Las Vegas Sands, of which Adelson is chairman and CEO, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Despite all the cash being thrown around in the Garden State, the revenue from Internet gambling has so far proved disappointing. The casinos pulled in $27.2 million since they began operating the new websites in late November, through the end of February. At that rate, revenue will fall well short of the $200-$300 million analysts had forecast for the first year of operation; Christie’s initial budget projections suggested even more.

But other states and casino firms still envision a potential Internet gambling bonanza. By the time Christie had signed the law, Nevada and Delaware had passed their own online gambling laws too, with Nevada legalizing only poker. In February, those two states announced an agreement to allow players from each state to place bets with sites based in the other. One of the biggest concerns for less populated states has been that casinos won’t have enough customers to run viable games, and early returns in Delaware have proved disappointing too.

Several other states are looking at Internet gambling this year, including MassachusettsCalifornia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Mississippi, where a bill was introduced but failed to pass. Lawmakers in Louisiana held hearings on the issue.

The Rational Group, the firm that owns PokerStars, hired lobbyists in at least six states last year, including New York, where the company’s lobbyist met with an adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November, according to a report by Capital New York. In late March, a lawmaker introduced legislation to legalize online poker in the Empire State. But the bill’s language makes clear that companies that continued to offer U.S. betting even after the 2006 federal law limiting online gambling — with PokerStars the most prominent example — would have a hard time obtaining licenses in New York.

Rational Group declined to comment for this article.

While Nevada and Delaware have teamed up, it’s competition among the states that, more than anything, is driving the push for online gambling. The decline in revenue that so concerned Lesniak, Christie and others began in 2006, two years after Pennsylvania legalized casinos. New Jersey’s casinos have seen revenue fall each year since, and Pennsylvania’s casino revenue passed New Jersey’s in 2012, pulling in $3.2 billion.

Now Pennsylvania is finding itself in a similar situation to New Jersey. Since Ohio and Maryland legalized casinos in 2008 and 2009, Pennsylvania’s gambling growth has stagnated: last year was the first that the Keystone State’s casino revenue did not grow. It’s no surprise the state is now considering legalizing online gambling, with New Jersey as its model, offering a glimpse of how the debate may spread across the country in coming years.

All about revenue: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s ornate state capitol sits high on a hill overlooking Harrisburg and the Susquehanna River. The building dates back to a more prosperous time in the Keystone State’s history, when wealthy industrialists like Andrew Carnegie drove a growing industrial economy. Today, Harrisburg sprawls out below the capitol in a gritty grid of mostly empty streets.

In the plush offices of the capitol, the debate over online gambling is circumscribed almost entirely by the question of whether or not it will generate money for Pennsylvania and its casinos. The state takes 55 percent of revenue from slots and 14 percent from table games, making it essentially a partner in the business. “It’s about revenue,” said state Sen. Kim Ward, who chairs the Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, which oversees gambling. “Because every year we’re in a budget squeeze.”

The state is facing a deficit of more than $1 billion this year. Pennsylvania and neighboring states have steadily increased the number of allowable forms of legalized gambling over the past decade, increasing competition within the industry, and casinos have responded with a cry for help.

In December, the Senate funded a study that will look at updating the state’s gambling regulations and taxes and allowing Internet gambling in an effort to boost revenue. The report is due by May 1, in time for this year’s budget debate. Rep. Tina Davis, a Democrat, had already introduced a bill to legalize online gambling last year. But Republicans control both chambers and are likely to write their own bill if they decide to advance the issue after the report comes out.

The state’s tremendous casino stake gives the industry a powerful tool to influence policy, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Pennsylvania. All told, various interest groups spent $7.4 million lobbying on gambling and wagering issues last year in Pennsylvania, with Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands spending nearly $234,000, the most of the big casinos. PokerStars spent $42,500 lobbying in Pennsylvania last year, pressing to make sure it’s not cut out of an Internet gambling bill because of its troubled legal history. All told, Pennsylvania’s biggest casinos retained 12 lobbying firms in the state last year, including some of the state’s most powerful, like Greenlee Partners and J.M. Uliana and Associates. Most lawmakers say the casinos have not begun lobbying aggressively on the issue — that would come once a bill is introduced — and that some of the smaller, local casinos have expressed concerns that online gambling could hurt business.

Like in New Jersey, the casinos cannot give directly to candidates or committees in Pennsylvania. But since 2010, casinos operating in the state or their executives and executives’ families have given at least $6 million to the Republican Governors Association. That cash cannot be traced to particular expenditures by the RGA, but the governors’ group has spent generously in Pennsylvania over a period of several years, giving $6 million to Gov. Tom Corbett in 2010 along with $2.3 million to the Pennsylvania Republican Party. Corbett is up for reelection this year in what is expected to be one of the toughest governor’s races in the country. Last year, the RGA gave Corbett another $210,028 and $16,110 to the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Casinos have also given more than $850,000 since 2010 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that distributes money to state politicians. In 2012, that group gave $500,000 to the Pennsylvania House Republican Campaign Committee, which in turn distributed money to candidates and to the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Jill Bader of the Republican State Leadership Committee said in an email that her group has created a “segregated account” for Pennsylvania and that money from casinos is not deposited into the fund.

In response to a question asking whether some casino funds had made their way to Pennsylvania, Thompson, the RGA spokesman, said only that the group invests money “in full compliance of the law.”

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board oversees casinos in the state, and spokesman Richard McGarvey said his agency tries to make sure that PACs and other committees are in compliance with the law, but that the agency has no authority over federal political organizations. “We deal with the constraints that we have,” he said.

The casinos’ lobbying firms contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pennsylvania candidates last year, though the lobbyists represent many other clients as well.

Pennsylvania lawmakers say that because of the ban on campaign contributions, they don’t feel influenced by the casinos. And unlike in New Jersey, there is opposition in both parties to allowing online gambling. Republicans in the House have introduced bills to ban online betting. Adelson runs a casino in the state, so he carries considerable weight.

In February, state Rep. Mario Scavello, a Republican, introduced a bill to create criminal penalties for gambling online illegally. The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, an advocacy group funded by Adelson, quickly issued supportive statements. The Poker Players Alliance called its members to action with the opposite goal, directing people to flood Scavello’s Facebook page with comments, which the representative later deleted. “If you had read those things, you wouldn’t leave them up there,” he said.

When Rep. Mike Tobash included a note about the Scavello bill in a recent newsletter, the alliance again unleashed its members, who put up a solid block of nearly 40 posts on his Facebook wall, some of them presenting detailed arguments, others with more direct assertions like, “I guess you hate freedom!

Scavello said he’s not convinced by the poker players’ arguments. “I’m really set on seeing something happen,” he said.

Dianne M. Berlin, who helped lead a loose coalition of religious, good-government, minority and other advocacy groups that campaigned against the 2004 gambling expansion, sees a repeat of what occurred a decade ago. She said the industry preys on Pennsylvania’s weakest citizens, from the elderly to the poor, and that lawmakers are hoping for revenue while ignoring the costs of addiction and increased gambling.

“I find it a slap in the face to the people of Pennsylvania when they only look at one side,” she said. “If I open a shoe store and say, oh my god, I can make 60 percent on each pair of shoes, and don’t look at my rent and my lights and the people I’ll have to employ, that’s stupid.”

The coalition has largely dissipated, though. The faith-based Pennsylvania Family Institute and it's sister group, the Family Council, represent the most established anti-gambling organizations in the state, but Thomas J. Shaheen, the group's vice president, said the institute is focused more on blocking the state lottery from adopting a new type of video gambling. Last year, the two groups spent $52,714 lobbying on a handful of issues, including gambling.

A battle royale in the nation’s capital

While many of the big casinos turned their attention to the states over the past couple of years, the Washington lobbying game is ramping up again, driven largely by Adelson’s new push to ban online gambling.

Adelson had already begun pushing for a ban through Las Vegas Sands, which spent $320,000 on lobbying in Washington last year. But in November, the Washington Post reported that he was forming a group called the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (the group’s website,, was registered in June, according to The group hired former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas (who was also recently hired as a lobbyist by Las Vegas Sands) and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb as national co-chairmen and recently announced the support of 38, mostly faith-based organizations.

The coalition has begun a national media campaign to convince the public of the ills of online gambling, with Pataki and Webb writing opinion pieces in major newspapers and appearing on television. In February, the group released its first television ad, which warns that “disreputable gaming interests are lobbying hard to spread Internet gambling throughout the country.” The group also secured signatures from 15 state attorneys general on a letter expressing their concern about online gambling and urging Congress to restore the Justice Department’s initial interpretation of the Wire Act; in March, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina sent their own letters — each nearly identical to the other — with the same request to Congress.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas Sands lobbyists were reportedly circulating draft legislation to achieve this goal, a copy of which was published in January by poker blogger Marco Valerio. Several reports tied the draft to Adelson’s representatives.

In late March, the campaign scored a major victory when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a bill with the same title and intent as that draft legislation: to amend the Wire Act to prohibit online gambling. M.J. Henshaw, a spokeswoman for Chaffetz, said the Congressman wants the issue decided by Congress, not a Justice Department lawyer, and that he’s particularly concerned because Utah does not allow any form of gambling. Asked whether the bill originated with Adelson’s lobbyists, Henshaw said, “like any issue that my boss takes on, he seeks the advice of industry folks.”

While Graham has not received much money from casinos, Adelson and his wife and daughter contributed $15,600 to his campaign account last year, and a Sands PAC gave another $5,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The senator’s office did not respond to requests for comment, but Graham told NPR that his Baptist constituents and Adelson “are one with this,” and that “this is really easy politics for me back in South Carolina.” Chaffetz has not received contributions from Adelson or any other gambling interests, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Neither Las Vegas Sands nor the coalition responded to requests for interviews, but in January, the Sands’ vice president for government relations, Andrew Abboud, told Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston that Adelson was “prepared to mount full campaigns in every state where a bill is introduced,” adding, “we are going to make it ‘the plague.’ ”

Adelson, 80, says he is morally opposed to the practice. He warns of a rash of underage gamblers betting in their living rooms and of the ease with which criminals and terrorists could rig games to launder money. Adelson and his coalition have widely cited an FBI letter, sent last year in response to a request from the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, which warns that, “online casinos are vulnerable to a wide array of criminal schemes,” including identity theft, money laundering and public corruption. Effective regulation could prevent much of this activity, the letter notes, but “sophisticated methods” might evade detection.

In a recent interview with Politico Magazine, however, Adelson admitted that beyond the morals, he fears for his industry, warning that if online gambling is legalized, software giants like Google or Facebook will take over the market, “and that’s going to be the end of all of it.”

Most of the rest of the casino industry disagrees, and the American Gaming Association, of which Sands is a member, announced in January that it was launching a campaign to fight back. The group added several new staff members and also hired Jim Messina, who led President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, to help with “grassroots initiatives,” including online gambling.

The following month, the gaming association and other casino interests formed the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection, which has hired former Reps. Michael Oxley and Mary Bono and launched a $250,000 ad campaign to block a federal ban. The coalition has framed the question in terms of states’ rights, consumer protection and Internet freedom.

In the Poker Player’s Alliance, the offshore companies have a voice in Washington, too. Pappas has a long history as a political operator — he began his career working for former Rep. John Shadegg before going on to political work with Dittus Communications, a well-connected Washington public relations firm that was later bought by a competitor. Pappas joined the alliance in 2007 and now spends his time criss-crossing the country, testifying on behalf of his group to lawmakers in Washington D.C.Springfield, Ill., and wherever else someone is talking about online gambling. His message: millions of Americans are already gambling over the Internet, and legalizing and regulating the practice would make it easier to protect those gamblers from criminal activity and addiction problems.

Pappas said Adelson appears to be reaching for any argument he can to try to ban online gambling, though most of them, he says, are specious. What’s more, Pappas argues, Adelson has offered visitors to his Venetian Palazzo Las Vegas the opportunity to use computers or smartphones to place bets from anywhere on the property.

The alliance has shifted its focus from direct lobbying to playing more of a pesky role through its own “grassroots” effort, Pappas said, particularly with a heavy social media presence. A December Facebook post by Adelson’s group, showing an image of a child in front of a computer and warning of the “threat to kids,” garnered more than 50 comments after the PPA urged members to fight back. The group’s spending on direct lobbying is far lighter than in previous years, down to $350,000 last year from a high of $2 million in 2007.

The alliance has also given some $363,000 in federal campaign contributions since it began operating in 2005, with the top recipient being former Rep. Barney Frank, who for years pushed to legalize online poker. Frank received $15,024 in direct contributions from the group over the years, and in the 2010 election cycle Pappas bundled contributions worth $51,200 for Frank, according to the Sunlight Foundation. and its predecessor also spent $2.7 million on lobbying in Washington since 2007, hiring influential firms such as Heather Podesta and Partners. Shepherd, the spokesman, said that money was, “very much to geared to having political radar as opposed to having full-on lobbying.”

Over the past few years, lawmakers have introduced several bills that would create a federal system for regulating Internet gambling, but they garnered little support. In February, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said he is working on a bill that would legalize Internet poker but ban all other types of online gambling — a move he and Sen. Harry Reid, D. Nev., have pushed in previous years — telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal that “Adelson brings up some reasonable concerns.”

Adelson and his wife have given $18,800 to Heller’s campaigns since 2006, and other Sands employees have given another $27,550. Over the same period, the casino industry as a whole has given Heller nearly $640,000.

The chances of passing such a federal bill, though, will become more difficult as more states legalize their own systems of Internet gambling. To many, there’s a sense of inevitability to online gambling. Rose, of Whittier Law School, said that the wave of gambling expansion that swept the country over the past 25 years has inured politicians to the reservations they once had. “Adding one more form, like Internet poker, is not a big deal now,” he said. “Every state has entrenched political operatives who have no problem with Internet gambling. As long as they’re the ones to run it.”

Ben Wieder contributed to this report.

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Feds Link Water Contamination to Fracking for the First Time

In a first, federal environment officials today scientifically linked underground water pollution with hydraulic fracturing, concluding that contaminants found in central Wyoming were likely caused by the gas drilling process.

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Feds Say Major New York Gas Pipeline Poses Safety Risk

A major natural gas pipeline stretching across southern New York may be at risk of rupturing and poses a safety threat, according to a recent inspection by federal regulators.

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State Fracking Rules Could Allow Drilling Near New York City Water Supply Tunnels

The latest draft of guidelines for hydraulic fracturing in New York could open the door to drilling within 1,000 feet of aging underground tunnels that carry water to New York City -- a far cry from the seven-mile buffer once sought by city officials.

If the proposal is adopted in coming months, the state would allow drilling near aqueducts but would require a site-specific environmental review for any application to drill within 1,000 feet of the water supply infrastructure.

That's not enough to protect New York City's water, said Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is based in the city.

"There needs to be a buffer area in which there's no drilling whatsoever,” Sinding said. "Just having elevated review doesn't cut it.”

City spokesman Farrell Sklerov wouldn't say whether the city's position on the buffer zone had changed, only that officials are updating their recommendations. When the state advanced a similar proposal two years ago, city officials said it could expose tunnels to damage and allow explosive gases and pollutants to leak into the water.

State spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said a separate proposal to prohibit drilling in the New York City watershed was enough to address the city's concerns about threats to the water supply.

John Conrad, a spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, an industry group, said the guidelines' provision for drilling near infrastructure was adequate to ensure safety. "It seems to be more than would be necessary to be protective,” he said.

At the center of the debate is a system of tunnels constructed in the mid-20th century that carries 1.2 billion gallons of water a day from upstate reservoirs to New York City and nearby counties. The network is already fragile -- tens of millions of gallons of water leak out each day. One repair project is expected to cost more than $1 billion [2].

In comments on a previous draft of the state fracking guidelines [3], the city said brittle rock surrounds many of the tunnels. Drilling nearby could shift the earth, exerting pressure on tunnel walls that they weren't designed to withstand. Natural fractures extend as far as seven miles out and 6,000 feet down through the earth; gases and fluids already have a tendency to migrate through those fractures and toward the aqueducts, according to the city.

These geologic features, together with drilling errors like the ones that have contaminated water wells in Pennsylvania [4], "could result in significant surface and subsurface contamination,” the city wrote.

Though state environmental experts have concluded that gas, natural fluids and fracking fluids -- a mixture of water, sand and chemicals used to crack open the earth -- would not migrate beyond the targeted rock, city environmental officials have argued there isn't enough evidence to prove this couldn't happen. This debate is at the center of the disagreement.

The city and state use a similar 1,000-foot zone to govern the drilling of geothermal wells near the infrastructure. The state has said this policy should apply to gas wells, too, because fracking occurs thousands of feet below the tunnels, which would isolate any effects. The city, however, has expressed concern that the pressure exerted by fracking could alter pre-existing faults and damage the tunnels.

Moreover, city officials have said, there are areas where the Marcellus Shale, the zone of rock the drillers are targeting, is in direct contact with the tunnels. The shale is deeper to the west and south but nears the surface in parts of New York.

In addition to banning drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds -- both of which provide high quality, unfiltered water -- the state has proposed setbacks of varying distances from these watersheds and other sensitive areas where drilling would be prohibited.

Drillers who want to sink a well within 1,000 feet of the aqueducts would need to conduct a study to identify whether drilling poses significant adverse environmental effects. If any potential effects are identified, the driller would need to initiate a full environmental impact study before drilling could be approved. The state has said it would not approve drilling unless the city is satisfied, but the state would hold ultimate authority over whether drilling would proceed.

Sinding worries that the layers of protection guaranteed on paper won't get much use in practice. A similar process has existed for conventional drilling in sensitive areas for more than two decades, yet the state has never required the full review, she pointed out.

The 60-day public comment period on the state's proposals is scheduled to start in August, after which officials will issue final guidelines, a process unlikely to be completed this year. Drilling cannot begin until the process is complete.

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Critics Find Gaps in State Laws to Disclose Hydrofracking Chemicals

Over the past year, five states have begun requiring energy companies to disclose some of the chemicals they pump into the ground to extract oil and gas using the process of hydraulic fracturing.

The regulations allow companies to keep proprietary chemicals secret from the public and, in some state, from regulators. Though most of the states require companies to report the volume and concentration of different drilling products, no state asks for the amounts of all the ingredients, a gap that some say is disturbing.

“It’s a shell game,” said Theo Colborn, a toxicologist who has testified before Congress about the dangers of drilling chemicals. Colborn and her organization, TEDX, examine the long-term health risks of chemicals and have opposed the expansion of drilling in Colorado and elsewhere. “They’re not telling you everything that there is to know.”

Others say the regulations, despite some flaws, are moving in the right direction. “It’s just a step in the process,” said the Sierra Club’s Cyrus Reed, who worked on a bill signed into law in Texas on Friday [1].

Most drillers have supported the measures. Some say more complete disclosure isn’t necessary because the information that remains secret involves only nonhazardous chemicals or trade secrets that are a small fraction of products they inject. Energy companies recently have begun voluntarily disclosing some of the chemicals they use on FracFocus [2], a web site run by two groups representing state regulators.

“While we support disclosing our ingredients, it is critical to our business that we protect our recipe,” Tara Mullee Agard, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil and gas service companies, told ProPublica in an email.

Gas drilling has surged across the country over the past few years due to technological advances that include hydraulic fracturing, in which drillers pump millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to free up trapped deposits of natural gas. Energy companies are increasingly using the technique, dubbed “fracking,” in oil recovery, particularly in Texas and North Dakota.

ProPublica first began reporting [3] on health and environmental concerns surrounding fracking three years ago. Gas companies are exempt from federal laws protecting water supplies, leaving it up to states to decide what sort of regulations are needed to protect ground and surface water.

Wyoming takes the lead

Wyoming’s rules are the strongest in place, although it’s unclear how thoroughly they are being enforced. The rules require public disclosure of all the chemicals except for trade secrets, which drillers must submit for regulators’ eyes only. The only thing the rule lacks, critics say, is a requirement to report the concentration of the individual chemicals.

Three reports that were selected at random and reviewed by ProPublica appeared to leave out some of the chemicals used. Tom Doll, the state’s oil and gas supervisor, said his agency has two staff members reviewing each of the reports.

“They’ve obviously missed some of these,” he said.

In Arkansas, manufacturers are not required to disclose proprietary fracking chemicals to regulators. Rules in Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania have similar exemptions. (See a summary of the state rules [4].)

Some environmentalists and toxicologists say the state rules give energy companies too much discretion.

Companies can get trade secret protection, for instance, simply by asserting that disclosure would hurt their business and showing that details about a chemical are not otherwise public. More than 100 such exemptions have been granted in Wyoming, though most of the exempt products haven’t been used, Doll said.

Advocates of disclosure say that, at a minimum, proprietary information should be on file with state regulators, as in Wyoming, so it can be accessed quickly in an emergency.

Federal law already requires chemical manufacturers to share trade secrets with health care providers in emergency situations, but getting the information into the public domain can be a slow process, said Daniel Teitelbaum, an adjunct professor of toxicology at the Colorado School of Mines.

“If you call someone on Saturday … it may be Tuesday before you can find someone who has the actual formula,” said Teitelbaum, who has worked for environmental groups on disclosure and chemical safety. “It is not a straightforward process by any means.”

On April 19, fracking fluids spilled during a blowout at a Chesapeake Energy well in Pennsylvania. [5] While no one was directly injured, Brian Grove, a company spokesman, said a full ingredient list [6] was provided to state regulators the following day and to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a week after the spill. Chesapeake voluntarily posted the list to FracFocus on May 13.

The mixture of fluids used to fracture a well generally contains several different products, which themselves can contain multiple chemical ingredients. While the industry has used hundreds of chemicals to frack wells across the country, the mixture regularly includes ingredients such as hydrochloric acid, methanol, a disinfectant called glutaraldehyde and petroleum distillates.

These chemicals usually comprise a tiny fraction of the overall mix, but since wells are injected with millions of gallons of fluid, the mix can include thousands of gallons of a chemical that can be toxic at low doses.

Deciding what’s hazardous

Colborn and other toxicologists say one area of concern involves how “nonhazardous” chemicals are treated. Pennsylvania, Michigan and the FracFocus web site only disclose hazardous substances as determined by a product’s Material Safety Data Sheet.

Chemical manufacturers are required to list health hazards and ingredients that contribute to those hazards on these sheets, which are filed with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

The sheets don’t have to list ingredients that are not considered hazardous, however, or chemicals that may damage the environment but haven’t been shown to harm humans. In determining what to report, manufacturers are not required to do their own testing and may rely on existing research that many toxicologists consider inadequate.

“We have just extraordinarily poor information on the whole portfolio of health effects that are possible from industrial chemicals,” said Michael Wilson, director of the Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California, Berkeley. “In the great majority of cases, that information is not going to appear on a [Material Safety Data Sheet], in most cases because it’s not known.”

OSHA acknowledged as much in a 2004 report on chemical hazard communication [7]. “Even the best available evidence may not provide sufficient information about the hazardous effects or the way to protect someone from experiencing them,” the report said. The report noted in particular a lack of research on chronic health effects.

Chris Tucker, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, a drilling industry group, said chemical suppliers evaluate every product, so if an ingredient doesn’t make it onto an safety data sheet, it doesn’t pose a threat to human health. ”That’s why it’s nonhazardous,” he said.

There are more than 80,000 chemicals registered for commercial use with the EPA, and Wilson said there is enough research to identify potential hazards for less than 2 percent of them.

Researchers with TEDX, Colborn’s organization, have reviewed Material Safety Data Sheets for 980 products used in natural gas production [8] and found that for more than 400 of them, manufacturers listed less than 1 percent of the product’s total composition.

“What’s there is what the product manufacturer wants you to know,” Colborn said. Without knowing all the ingredients, she said, it’s impossible to anticipate the chemical reactions that can occur as the products mix and react not only with each other but with whatever is present underground.

Volume, concentration are keys

Colborn and others say that knowing the concentration or volume of the individual components is also important to measure toxicity, and because various concentrations may behave differently as chemicals break down and react with others underground.

Texas, Arkansas and Wyoming, while requiring disclosure of all chemicals used, do not require companies to provide the concentrations.

The federal government regulates oil and gas drilling only on federal lands, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in November that he was considering requiring disclosure of fracking fluids for wells under federal jurisdiction. No action has been taken so far.

Some environmental groups and members of Congress have pushed for a nationwide database. Currently, drillers are not required to report fracking chemicals to the federal government unless they contain diesel, but the proposed FRAC Act [9] would require disclosure across the country.

So far, more than 40 oil and gas companies are voluntarily disclosing some of their chemicals on the FracFocus [2] website. Using the site, anyone can identify individual wells and find out the hazardous chemicals that were injected into them, including the maximum concentration at which they were used.

Mike Paque, executive director of the Ground Water Protection Council, an association of state regulators that is overseeing the site, said the organization is discussing whether to expand the disclosures to include nonhazardous chemicals. The site does not list proprietary chemicals, although it notes when they are us [10]ed. (See our annotated fracking disclosure form [11] for a closer look.)

Chart: States With Drilling Disclosure Rules

Five states have passed laws or administrative rules requiring drilling companies to reveal some of the chemicals they use when injecting fluids to free natural gas and oil from underground rock formations.

StateWhat's reportedVolume or

concentration used



Posted online
Wyoming*All chemicals used in fracking.Volume and concentration of the products are disclosed, but not of individual ingredients in chemical mixtures.Disclosed to regulators; secret to the public.Yes, via state website.
ArkansasAll chemicals used in fracking.No.Exempt.Yes, via state website.
PennsylvaniaAll hazardous chemicals used at an individual well after fracking is complete.For hazardous chemicals only.Unclear.**No; available by request.
MichiganMust submit Material Safety Data Sheets for hazardous chemicals.For hazardous chemicals only.Exempt.Yes, via state website.
Texas***All chemicals used in fracking.For hazardous chemicals only.To be determined.Yes, via state website and FracFocus, an industry website.

* Wyoming was the first state to require disclosure of fracking fluids.

** Pennsylvania officials did not return calls or emails seeking clarification.

*** The Texas legislature passed the law in May 2011, but state regulators have until 2013 to complete the actual rules.

Source:Reporting by Nicholas Kusnetz/ProPublica

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Why Did the Responders to a Pennsylvania Gas Well Accident Take 13 Hours and Need to Be Called in From Texas?

When Chesapeake Energy lost control of a Marcellus Shale gas well in Pennsylvania on April 19, an emergency response team from Texas was called in to stop the leak. By the time the team arrived more than 13 hours later, brine water and hydraulic fracturing fluids from the well had spewed across nearby fields and into a creek.

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