Forbes has published the first of a two part series on “who’s behind the fractavist” movement – as if there has to be something “behind” what is clearly a grass-roots amorphous effort. The frackers and their spokesman have taken this tack from the outset- that someone or some organization – Gazprom, the Saudi royals, the Park Foundation – has to be “behind” anti fracking – that anti frackers are paid, that they are part of a conspiracy controlled from somewhere.
This fractavist conspiracy approach has always amused me. Because if there is some group behind the anti-fracking movement, my paycheck is way way late. . .
My comments on Forbes’s gaseous infomercial in bold:
Fracking The Anti-Fracking Movement:
The Inside Story Of The Foundation Behind the Fractavists
Dan Fitzsimmons remembers that blustery day in March 2011 when he traveled to the offices of the Park Foundation in Ithaca, New York, asking for help. He was hopeful and a little desperate. The landowners he represented in the southern tier of the state were in the grip not only of the Great Recession but of New York state’s long, suffocating economic decline. There was, however, one reason for hope, Fitzsimmons and his neighbors believed. Deep underneath the rolling hills of upstate New York lay a massive sheet of untapped wealth in the form of shale gas. They had witnessed their neighbors just over the border in Pennsylvania experience a remarkable economic recovery because of that state’s decision to tap its gas. Vast reserves existed under their property as well, but New York was—and is—in policy gridlock.
They start this series by interviewing Dan Fitzsimmons ? Fitzsimmons is the head of a leasing group in New York, the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, that sued that the State of New York over its supposed delay in issuing fracking regulations with legal expenses bankrolled by the Koch brothers. Fitzsimmons not only is not interested in learning the truths about fracking, he notoriously advised his members to stay away from the presentations we made on New York’s shale gas potential – which I lampooned as a Fracking Chickenhawk
(This article is the first in a two-part series on the anti-fracking movement and the Park Foundation.)
Fitzsimmons was hoping to get backing for an education campaign for homeowners interested in responsibly leasing their property, so any extraction could be done in accord with the wishes of the local community. It seemed in line with what he knew Park Foundation founder Roy Hampton Park had always supported—smart conservation that honored private enterprise and respected property values.
Fitzsimmons’s organization is a a landowners leasing group interested in only one thing: leasing their land for shale gas exploration. They have no business seeking money from charitable foundations. Fitzsimmons is now threatening to sue the state over a purported “taking” of mineral rights, which has no substance in fact of the law.
Park launched the foundation in 1966 with money he made growing the food company Duncan Hines and later a string of communications firms. The foundation now has an estimated $350 million endowment. Last year it handed out more than $27.5 million in grants for education and environmental outreach and other efforts, mostly in Park’s birth state of North Carolina—particularly at North Carolina State University—and near his adopted hometown of Ithaca, where it contributes to both Ithaca College and Cornell University.
Fitzsimmons and Bob Williams, another local landowner, met with Park Foundation president Adelaide Park Gomer, Roy’s daughter, and director Jon Jensen, known to many as her “activist” gatekeeper. Jensen had come to Park after many years at Cleveland’s Gund Foundation and, before that, Pew Charitable Trusts, where he developed a reputation as a devoted environmentalist with deep suspicion of the energy industry.
The meeting lasted more than two hours, but according to both sides it did not go well. Fitzsimmons and Williams were not aware that Park had quietly begun funding anti-shale gas groups and that the founder’s daughter was steering the trust in a radical new direction, away from conservation toward a shriller environmentalism. Gomer and Jensen made it clear that they were fiercely opposed to shale gas and the extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking: the high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals into rock to release the oil or gas locked within. Natural gas was an environmental disaster, they said, and the foundation was committed to leveraging public opinion to ensure that New York’s temporary moratorium on shale-gas extraction would become permanent.
In a matter of days, Gomer and Jensen’s quiet campaign would suddenly become a global headline. An explosive anti-shale-gas study published by then-obscure Cornell University oceanographer Robert Howarth—a project funded by the Park Foundation—would be released, transforming the then-budding debate over natural gas into an international flash point.
Bridge to the future of alternative energy or Trojan Horse?
It’s hard to believe that natural gas was a favored fuel of leading environmental groups as recently as six years ago. In 2008, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change heralded its promise: “We also need to consider…how to better support natural gas as a bridge fuel to a more climate-friendly energy supply,” said president Eileen Claussen in a widely circulated speech at the American Gas Association Executive Conference.
This was a common environmentalist view and had been for years. In 1997, when shale-gas reserves were beginning to be identified, the progressive D.C.-based Renewable Energy Policy Project waxed optimistic. “Natural gas is inherently cleaner than coal or oil,” the nonprofit wrote. “Since renewables will be unable to meet most energy needs for some time, gas is an essential bridge to a renewable energy era.”
Natural gas used to be seen as a marriage of enlightened capitalism and pragmatic progressivism. It was welcomed as a relatively low-impact fossil fuel, much superior to America’s previous industrial and power-generating workhorse, coal.
“[Unconventional natural gas] is unstoppable,” said Jesse Ausubel, an academic ecologist at Rockefeller University in New York not noted for his hyperbole. Gas, he said, will be the world’s dominant fuel for years as coal gave way to economic and environmental realities. It was believed there were sizable but limited reserves, enough to carry over the US until the price of alternative energies became competitive.
That equates natural gas to a death cult. You’d have to believe that cooking the planet was not worth stopping to believe that “natural gas” is unstoppable.
But that brief period of moderation, which lasted until the late 2000s, has since given way to vitriol, as many advocacy environmentalists have done a 180 on natural gas. Rapid advances in extraction technology—hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking—made gas an increasingly inexpensive fuel. New reserves began popping up everywhere, ensuring a supply that could last well into the next century and beyond.
While we are awash in inexpensive natural gas, many loudly trumpeted “energy alternatives” have disappointed proponents and taxpayers amidst aggressive recent efforts to take them to mass scale. Vast research, production and operational subsidies for ethanol, solar panels, windmills and other fuel sources have often backfired in white elephants or scandal. Ethanol squanders energy and farmland, solar generation fields create eyesores, windmills are hard on wildlife. There are still no practical means on the horizon to make these hoped-for solutions efficient, cost-competitive or environmentally friendly on a mass-scale basis. Big Green’s argument in support of massive subsidies for alternatives was dissolving.
As gas prices plummeted and reserves exploded, the cold reality settled in on activists: alternative fuels might never compete economically with natural gas from shale (setting aside the complicated and contested debate over ‘externalities’). An almost endless supply of inexpensive natural gas meant that gas from shale might not be a bridge to the energy future; it might be the future.
Alternative fuels might “never” compete ? “Never” as in forever ? “Almost endless supply of inexpensive natural gas ” ? Maybe 20 years tops, then game over. Shale is literally the bottom of the hydrocarbon barrel – just enough left to cook the planet. This “article” has devolved into a gas ad. . .
Environmentalists, who until then had embraced natural gas, soon began seeing it as a Trojan Horse of their own creation. Their rhetoric shifted, dramatically. Websites that once extolled it as a short-term alternative ripped it as promoting “a bridge to nowhere.” Sharp criticism of fracking and shale gas is now a staple of green activism. The online environmental magazine Grist regularly bashes shale gas, such as the recent article, “Will Obama allow fracking to endanger his own water supply?” The Nation runs anti-fracking broadsides, conjuring “contaminated water wells, poisoned air, sick and dying animals, industry-related illnesses.” Earth Island Journal raises the specter of “water contamination, air pollution, global warming, and fractured communities,” and mockingly referring to natural gas as a “bridge to nowhere.”
The criticism of shale gas among activists built slowly in 2009 and 2010, before surging in 2011—just about the time Dan Fitzsimmons and his neighbors approached the Park Foundation to support modest shale gas development in New York State, but were summarily turned away.
Fitzsimmon’s group is simply a mineral rights leasing group – who have been trying to lease marginal shale gas prospects with no success.
What might explain this dramatic turnaround in sentiment by the activist community? Publications such as Grist, Nation, Earth Island Journal, Mother Jones, American Independent News Network,Yes! Magazine, the American Prospect and numerous other media sources that have reversed or hardened their positions on shale gas over the past four years do have one thing in common: They have all received recent donations from Park to conduct anti-fracking journalism and related environmental reporting.
Where is my check ? Where are the checks to the grass roots organizers that banned fracking in over 150 towns and have banned frackwaste dumping in dozens of counties and towns ? Who paid them ?
An extensive review of public records and dozens of interviews with regional and national energy experts and activists has revealed a fascinating subplot. This attitude swing against gas has been spurred by a carefully coordinated outpouring of research, media, and advocacy grants by well-connected anti-shale-gas activists. In particular, it is the seedwork of the Park Foundation, headquartered in Ithaca, New York, at the epicenter of one of the most promising shale gas regions in the U.S.,
Nonsense. The epicenter of the Marcellus play does not even come close to New York. New York is on the absolute fringe of the producing area.
and home to Cornell University, the academic base for the country’s most vehement anti-shale advocates.
Along with advocacy groups like Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and more than 50 large and small groups, they were the recipients of anti-fracking grants from the Park Foundation totaling more than $3 million in 2013 alone. Add in support for NGOs with a decidedly anti-natural gas tilt, the Foundation handed out more than $4 million last year alone and as much as $10 million over the past six years spreading the seeds of anti-fracking activism. Park has a plan, and a savvy one, to kill the American shale-gas revolution.
Compared to what ? According to the US Supreme Court, “money is speech” If so, then the amount that one foundation has spent is a whisper compared to the shouting of the gas industry, who lobbies for shale gas, runs incessant TV ads for shale gas, funds frackademics for shale gas and a shale shamstitute for shale gas. Hundreds of millions yearly. Screaming about gas.
Shale gas is a disruptive technology, in the good sense: economically. It has already proven a boon to the U.S. economy. “The shale gas revolution is firing up an old-fashioned American industrial revival, breathing life into businesses such as petrochemicals and glass, steel and toys,” the Washington Post has written.
According to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration report, the United States is the world leader in natural gas reserves—if we can tap them. “It has become clear to me that the responsible development of our nation’s extensive recoverable oil and natural gas resources has the potential to be the once-in-a-lifetime economic engine that coal was nearly 200 years ago,” US Steel Chairman John Surma has said.
The US has, at most, about 20 years supply of shale gas – assuming no exports whatsoever. Every major shale play in the US has been over-estimated at the outset. Celebrating such a potent greenhouse gas is willfully self-destructive.
Is fracking safe? That depends on one’s risk tolerance. Like every energy technology, extracting shale gas does raise health and environmental issues. The process can cause mini-quakes, which engineers believe are mostly induced by the reinjection of wastewater into wells after fracking is completed. The dangers are considered manageable, but the risk equation would change if large-scale fracking were pursued on a major faultline.
Air pollution is another worry. Fracking can release methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, raising climate change concerns. Wells and pipelines need to be maintained to avoid “fugitive” emissions leaks (which of course are also economically wasteful of a saleable product, which is why market forces are also squeezing out leakage). Regulators are also monitoring the potential for release of various chemicals—including disulfides, benzene, xylenes, and
Water quality is the biggest concern. The vast majority of drilling in the eastern U.S. Marcellus Shale occurs far below water tables, so aquifers are not affected, but that’s not always true in other areas, where deposits are closer to the surface. Leaks could also occur from broken seals, although supposed fail-safe measures have been introduced in recent years. Critics also point to the many chemicals used in small doses in hydraulic fracturing. Most are common and generally harmless, but some additives are known carcinogens at levels of exposure higher than those used in fracking.
Perhaps the clearest threat where sensible regulations are needed would come from accidental spills at the well site or other discharge of the water used in fracking. According to the General Accounting Office, more than 90 percent of the water involved in fracking in the U.S. is emptied into deep EPA-licensed wells, while less than 10 percent is reused, evaporated, used for irrigation or discharged to surface streams under varying federal and state guidelines.
While key opponents promote fears and “not in my backyard” protests, the federal government and most mainstream scientists believe fracking is no less safe than other forms of energy extraction as long as regulations are frequently updated and enforced. Scientists at many universities, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Environmental Defense Fund and other organizations reject a black-and-white view of shale gas.
“At the EDF, we don’t pick fuels. We are realists; we recognize that fossil fuels will be around for a while,” wrote senior policy adviser Scott Anderson. Noting that most states have considerable experience in regulating well construction and operation, he says, “if wells are constructed right and operated right, hydraulic fracturing will not cause a problem.”
The Environmental Defense Frauds are now little more than a money laundering operation for the gas lobby. Full fracking stop. Everyone knows that.
But the emphatic message coming from the Park Foundation and its beneficiaries is that only a total ban on fracking is acceptable. Opposition to shale gas is being transformed into one of the ideological litmus tests of our time.
Breaking down the walls of academic independence
What if wealthy corporations were deploying their mega-dollars to manipulate public opinion and fund research whose conclusions conflict with science? That in a nutshell is the activist and media rationale for scrutinizing university research or public relations efforts by Big Business.
But the corrupting power of money and the ego have no ideological limits. That’s the story unfolding in New York’s Tompkins County in the middle of the vast Marcellus formation.
The middle of the Marcellus ? Tompkins County, NY ? What this guy does not know about geology is a lot
In this case, however, the key actors are not industry apologists but self-described ‘white as snow’ philanthropists, NGOs and journalists. Over the past four years, Cornell University and the regional community around Ithaca have emerged as the financial and academic center of the activist movement challenging shale-gas drilling. Research by a select group of scholars—oddly, none is considered an expert in this field, even at Cornell—has been touted around the world, with the New York Times, consciously or not, playing a leading role as megaphone.
In April 2011—only a few weeks after Don Fitzsimmons was shown the door by Jon Jensen at Park—the Times helped transform then obscure Cornell marine biologist Robert Howarth into the ideological rock star of anti-shale gas activism. Within a few days, the paper twice promoted stories on an academic brief that Howarth and co-author Anthony Ingraffea had just published in the letters section of Climatic Change Letters, a journal that had not previously addressed the shale gas phenomenon.
The authors claimed that the shale gas extraction process releases rogue methane gas that generates more greenhouse gas emissions than the production and use of an equivalent amount of coal would entail. Fracking could push the world over a tipping point, sending global temperatures irreversibly higher. Natural gas and fracking, they concluded, were a catastrophe in the making.
“All this talk that it’s a clean fuel, as some say, is not based on any scientific analysis,” Howarth told me. “There is a lot of money invested in shale-gas development. Our research is threatening that, which makes it political.”
Howarth is a longtime environmental activist. Until his controversial letter he had never published any university-level research on natural gas. The obscure article was initially ignored by scientists and the media until the Times featured it. Then interested exploded, globally. It would be difficult to overstate the influence its coverage generated. It led to thousands of headlines around the world and was debated in the British parliament and the European Union.
How did Howarth come to write what has since become a seminal script of the movement against shale gas? Howarth told me in a phone interview that he had been approached by the Park Foundation in 2010 to consider writing an academic article that would make a case that shale gas was a dangerous, polluting fuel. That led to the first of numerous grants from Park. Howarth has also said that his conclusion was not influenced by Park’s request: “$35,000 won’t buy my opinion,” he told me.
$35k ? Park Foundation – call me. We need to talk. Operators are standing by.
While the study and subsequent Times coverage generated thousands of media stories, and jacked the activist opposition to fracking, the paper was widely criticized by scientists across the ideological spectrum. The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory reviewed the same data, concluding that natural gas, even from shale, results in far lower emissions than coal.
“His analysis is based on extremely weak data, and also has a severe methodological flaw (plus some other questionable decisions), all of which means that his bottom line conclusions shouldn’t carry weight,” concluded Michael Levi, energy and climate-change scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Actual the data coming in is that systemic leakage rates – from gas field to gas burner tip have been consistently understated.
Independent researchers from the University of Maryland published a peer-reviewed response . “[A]rguments that shale gas is more polluting than coal are largely unjustified,” they concluded.
Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, in a study partly funded by the Sierra Club, concluded that shale gas has significantly less impact on global warming than coal. “We don’t think they [Howarth et al.] are using credible data and some of the assumptions they’re making are biased,” Paulina Jaramillo, one of the lead researchers, told Politico.
Howarth’s opinions were sharply challenged even at Cornell. Professors Lawrence Cathles, Larry Brown and Andrew Hunter combined their expertise in earth and atmospheric sciences and chemical engineering to produce their own analysis to write a stinging response, calling the work “seriously flawed.” They wrote, “the assumptions used by Howarthet al. are inappropriate and…their data, which the authors themselves characterize as ‘limited,’ do not support their conclusions.”
As the Worldwatch Institute would later write in a review of a half dozen studies comparing coal and shale gas, “Despite differences in methodology and coverage, all of the recent studies except Howarth et al. estimate that life-cycle emissions from natural gas-fired generation are significantly less than those from coal-fired generation.”
When I interviewed Howarth at the time, he insisted that his analysis and conclusions were “solid,” the shale-gas disaster his models predicted was inevitable and laggard environmental nonprofits like EDF would turn against shale eventually. “They’re still heavily invested in their prior statements that shale gas is a win-win solution,” he said. “It will take them some time to come to grips with the new data and move toward a new position. Science moves slowly.”
Or in the case of the fracking global warming deniers, not at all . . .