The Energy Spectator

Facts on Frack Attackers

The well-funded effort to poison natural gas.

By 8.3.11

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Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., other than his name, is known best for high profile environmental absurdities like attributing a lack of snow in Washington DC to global warming, not long before the city was dumped on with the white stuff.

And then there was the time RFK Jr. joined fellow famous descendant Theodore Roosevelt IV in Miami at Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's climate change alarmism summit, not long before Charlie ran for Senate and flip-flopped himself right out of the Republican Party and political viability.

So dropping in to tiny Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, a year ago for a few hours with his pals from Natural Resources Defense Fund and Riverkeepers was just another day at the office for RFK Jr. The agenda for the day's visit was to affix the tags "completely and utterly untrustworthy" and "pathological liars" to the natural gas industry, which for the last few years has built up jobs and investment in the Keystone State thanks to technological breakthroughs that enable access to the Marcellus Shale natural gas formations. Then it was off to the next credibility-killing task for Lil' RFK.

The reason for his attack mirrored that of many other environmentalist organizations and activists against the process called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" in borderline profane parlance. The opportunity to demagogue in a visit to Dimock was the contamination of a few residents' water supplies, attributed to drilling activities by Texas-based Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. Causes were chalked up to problems with materials in the cement casings of wells and a shallow gas producing formation, but there were still those who wanted to blame Cabot's fracking, despite the company's provision of clean water for the affected residents.

spiMethane can sometimes be found to be naturally occurring in drinking supplies, to the point where tap water can be set on fire. Take, for example, the testimony of longtime Dimock resident Phyllis Myers, who said her neighbors' wells were "never going to clear up to crystal clear, no-methane-water because it wasn't like that before the gas companies got here. There has been methane in the water for years."

And Scott Perry, director of Oil and Gas Management for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said, "It's important to point out that we've never seen an impact to fresh groundwater directly from fracking…. A lot of folks relate the situation in Dimock to a fracking problem. I just want to make sure everyone' s clear on this -- that it isn't."

But there is no shortage of groups and individuals who disregard the facts because they benefit from the demonization of natural gas. That's why the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives last week published a paper last week titled, "The Great Frack Attack: The War on Natural Gas," co-written by researcher Mark Newgent and me.

In our research we found dozens of groups, who have enjoyed access to millions of dollars in grants, thanks to their public opposition to natural gas and fracking. Notable among their funders is Teresa Heinz Kerry, who through the Heinz Endowments has poured millions of dollars into nonprofits and academics that help take the gas companies' Marcellus efforts down a few notches. One Heinz grant went to a University of Pittsburgh health center to analyze "the major threats to the environment and health of people" from fracking in western Pennsylvania. Of course, if you're paid to look for a problem, you're going to find it -- and they did. Another Heinz grant went to the Clean Water Fund "to characterize pollution impacts of Marcellus Shale development." Wouldn't you love to get thousands of dollars to "characterize" activities you hate?

Another anti-fracking project highlighted in our report is the Oscar-nominated (and -- losing) film Gasland, which is a documentary in the true Michael Moore sense of the word. Also playing the "tap water on fire" image to great effect, director Josh Fox portrayed some Colorado residents as victims of fracking, when in reality the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a state agency, found the flammable spigots were the result of naturally occurring methane. John Hanger, former president of environmentalist group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary under former Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell, said Gasland was "fundamentally dishonest" and "a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect." Even an Environmental Defense Fund policy expert called fracking "safe."

Finally there is the so-called "journalism" nonprofit ProPublica, which I reported about recently for American Spectator. This group claims to focus "exclusively on truly important stories – stories with 'moral force,'" and has received several millions of dollars from its liberal founder Herb Sandler. He gained his wealth from the subprime mortgage crisis and has helped support Center for American Progress, the ACLU and EarthJustice, among many other leftist groups.

Part of ProPublica's search for "moral force" has apparently driven it to publish a 120-article series on the alleged dangers of gas industry fracking, also falsely attributing water contamination to the process. I'm not sure if that outnumbers Woodward and Bernstein in the early 1970s, but it certainly matches their zeal, if not their accuracy.

An agenda, and lots of money, are behind efforts that undermine fossil fuel development (both oil and gas shale) in our country. Lies and distortions, effectively publicized, may kill it before U.S. drilling produces enough to make a difference in gas prices and in our dependence on energy sources from the Middle East.

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.