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Chem Industry’s Hero And Villain of The Week

This week’s look at who’s getting kudos and who’s getting flak spotlights the go-to cleaner in oil spills, and the fracking mogul accused of trying to get earthquake researchers fired.

This week’s look at who’s getting kudos and who’s getting flak spotlights the go-to cleaner in oil spills, and the fracking mogul accused of trying to get earthquake researchers fired.

HERO: Dawn dish soap
Dawn: Apparently it's tough of grease and gentle on seabirds.

Generally when there’s a spill that affects wildlife, an organization called International Bird Rescue (IBR) swoops in to start scrubbing the pelicans with the only cleaner they’ll use — Dawn dish soap — in hand.

Last week, a pipeline rupture in Santa Barbara unleashed about 101,000 gallons of oil and created a 9-mile slick on the California coastline. Since then, IBR says that 57 seabirds have been collected — 39 alive and 18 dead. And because the thick, gooey oil impairs a bird’s ability to move, fly and dive, they can die quickly once they’re covered. And with at least 20 seabirds currently in IBR’s care, the race to save them continues.

Why does IBR only use Dawn? Because it can take hours to clean one bird — and some of the birds from this spill have to be cleaned twice — time is of the essence, and they say Dawn is the best at quickly breaking down oil.

Dawn is owned by Procter & Gamble, and the company has long touted its oil-cleaning properties. A 2010 article on its use in another spill reported that Procter & Gamble had raised about $500,000 for wildlife groups, in addition to donating bottles and bottles of Dawn for cleanup efforts.

Many environmentalists, however, criticize the use of Dawn because it is partly made from petroleum products. But a representative from Procter & Gamble responded to the criticism by saying that petroleum is part of what makes Dawn so effective.

"To make the best product out there, you have to have some in there," said Ian Tholking of Procter & Gamble, who pointed out that less than one-seventh of Dawn comes from petroleum. "To say Dawn's horrible because of this, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.”


VILLAIN: Harold Hamm
I guess you can’t blame the guy for trying.

Last week, accusations surfaced that Harold Hamm, the fracking mogul and billionaire CEO of Continental Resources, tried to get scientists at the University of Oklahoma canned. His issue? The researchers had blamed state’s 400-fold increase in earthquakes on fracking wastewater disposal.

The story broke on Bloomberg, which published an email from the dean of the university’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy that read: “Mr. Hamm is very upset at some of the earthquake reporting to the point that he would like to see some select OGS [Oklahoma Geological Survey] staff dismissed.” Hamm was also accused of trying to get on the search committee for OGS’s new director.

According to Bloomberg: “Hamm has been a generous donor to the University of Oklahoma, including a 2011 gift of $20 million for a diabetes research center named after the oilman.”

Was he using his position of influence to sway the scientific debate around the fracking-earthquake connection?

Hamm has denied the allegations. The university has also pointed out that no OGS staff has been fired.

The school’s vice president of public affairs said, “University of Oklahoma will not tolerate any possible interference with academic freedom and scientific inquiry."

Meanwhile, the debate about fracking causing earthquakes in states like Oklahoma and Texas remains contentious. But the scientific evidence that there is a link has been mounting in the last year. And every time a new study surfaces with evidence of seismic activity caused by fracking, it gives more ammunition to environmentalists working around the country to get the practice banned.