Cugini was escorted out of his western Pennsylvania office in late September 2013 and placed on administrative leave. His computers from his office in Morgantown, WV, were removed. At that time, Department spokesperson, Shelley Martin did confirm that Cugini was on “leave”, but would not comment further stating it’s a personnel matter.
Approximately 3 weeks later, in October of 2013, Cugini submitted his resignation. NETL spokesperson, William Gibbons restated no comment because it was a personnel matter.
NETL is part of DOE’s national laboratory system, is owned and operated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It has offices in Oregon, Alaska, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas. More than 1,200 employees work at NETL’s five sites; roughly half are Federal employees and half are site-support contractors. Major site-support contractors include URS Corporation – Washington Division; Platinum Solutions, Inc.; Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc.; Keylogic Systems, Inc.; Leonardo Technologies, Inc.; Performance Results Corp.; SRA International, Inc.; Ultra Electronics, ProLogic.
Cugini had been lab director since April of 2010, and was part of NETL for more than 25 years.
According to a one-page indictment, Cugini is accused of instructing other to delete and redesignate computer files and provide false answers to protect him during a DOE inspector probe into the lab. The DOE investigations were responding to accusations that Cugini misused his position.
In response, Cugini has stated he is consulting with his lawyer and may issue a statement later.
There is no readily available information as to the specific of the original “misuse of his position” charge which prompted the DOE investigation.
With lack of sufficient information, speculating as what the “misuse” involved would be fruitless. However, according to the US Department of Justice website, under the Misuse of Position and Government Resources it states:
An employee may not use his official position, including information learned by virtue of his position, for his personal benefit or for the benefit of others.
Misuse of Position
An employee may not use his public office for his own private gain or for that of persons or organizations with which he is associated personally. An employee’s position or title should not be used to coerce; to endorse any product, service or enterprise; or to give the appearance of governmental sanction. An employee may use his official title and stationery only in response to a request for a reference or recommendation for someone he has dealt with in Federal employment or someone he is recommending for Federal employment.
5 C.F.R. § 2635.702 (see Subpart G – Misuse of Position; Use of Public Office for Private Gain)
NETL, DOE, EPA and FRACKING
DOE released a report in July 2013 stating there was no connection between fracking and water contamination. The study done by NETL in Pittsburgh and was the first time:
…a drilling company let government scientists inject special tracers into the fracking fluid and then continue regular monitoring to see whether it spread toward drinking water sources. The research is being done at a drilling site in Greene County, which is southwest of Pittsburgh and adjacent to West Virginia.
One finding surprised the researchers: Seismic monitoring determined one hydraulic fracture traveled 1,800 feet out from the well bore; most traveled just a few hundred feet. That’s significant because some environmental groups have questioned whether the fractures could go all the way to the surface.
Also around the same time period, it was learned that a study done by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding water contamination due to gas drilling activities in Dimock, PA has a few serious omissions.
In July 2012, the EPA announced it had completed its investigation and that water in Dimock was safe to drink. An undated internal PowerPoint leaked to the Los Angeles Times shows at least one official at the mid-Atlantic office in Philadelphia linked contaminants found in the tested water to gas drilling.
“The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that “methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.” The presentation also concluded that “methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work.”
The natural gas corporation involved with Dimock’s water well contamination is Cabot Oil & Gas. To this day, Cabot maintains the water contamination is a pre-existing problem and not their fault.
Cabot has hit Vera Scroggins, a local fracktivist, with a SLAPP suit. In late October, Cabot gained a preliminary injunction against Scroggins which forbids her from accessing any property and roads controlled by Cabot. A hearing date for a permanent injunction has not been set.
Former PA governor, Ed Rendell, intervened on behalf of Range Resources with regards to Steve Lipsky case in Weatherford,Texas. Rendell, acting as spokesperson for Range Resources, met with EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson where he “proposed certain terms”. EPA dropped its case against Range Resources, and recently Range Resources has filed a lawsuit against Steve Lipsky.
In the middle of the Range Resources investigation of the Lipsky water contamination, Sharon Wilson of the blog BlueDaze Drilling reform was subpoenaed by Range Resources.
EPA retreated from an investigation into water contamination in Pavillion, WY in June 2013. Two years earlier, a draft report issued by the EPA stated water contamination was connected with natural gas drilling activities. EPA has turned over the investigation to the state of Wyoming, and a study would be funded by EnCana – the drilling corporation involved with the gas wells which the EPA originally said caused the contamination.
NETL is the lead research and development office for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy. One of 17 national laboratories in the Energy Department’s complex, NETL serves a unique role compared to its counterparts: it functions as both an onsite science and technology research center and as the administrator of nearly 1,800 contracts with external organizations.
One former staffer at the DOE Office of Fossil Energy is Andrew Browning, a partner at HBW Resources who is also listed as a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute and Vice President of the Consumer Energy Alliance, and has been a guest blogger for the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s PR campaign, Energy-in-Depth.
Michael Whatley, another partner at HBW Resources, was formerly a Principal Deputy Assistant Director at DOE. (For more details see HBW Resources, The Frack Pack).
We don’t know if there is a connection with Dimock, Weatherford, and Pavillion with the case against Cugini. Nonetheless, these are all stories that need to be watched, and watched closely.
©2013 by Dory Hippauf