This issue of SHALE highlights company and industry culture, but there is a developing national culture in the U.S. regarding the energy industry, and oil and gas in particular, that should give us pause. At a time when the domestic oil and gas industry is discovering, developing and producing from more known reserves than ever before and standing on the brink of becoming a net exporter and maybe even of achieving energy independence, there is another movement quickly gaining strength by disrupting, delaying and denying various oil and gas projects across the country. This opposition movement became more emboldened over the past eight years, receiving protective cover and subtle encouragement from an administration similarly hostile to the oil and gas industry’s incredible growth. With the advent of a new administration whose view of the oil and gas industry is much more positive, it is likely that the same opposition movement will become even more hostile and aggressive out of fear of becoming irrelevant.
A grass-roots organization in the Barnett Shale area that is supportive of oil and gas development recently published a report revealing the identities of these opposition organizations who are so heavily involved in shutting down an industry that is such an integral part of our economy. North Texans for Natural Gas published its report “Messing With Texas: Exposing the Campaign to Shut Down Oil and Natural Gas in the Lone Star State.” The report reveals various national environmental organizations and the roles they have played in Texas in opposing the oil and gas industry — organizations like Earthworks, Sierra Club, Public Citizen Texas and Environment Texas.
Earthworks was the single largest financial contributor in the fight in Denton, Texas, over the fracking ban, a fight that fracking opponents eventually lost when the Texas Legislature enacted HB 40 in 2015. According to the report, Earthworks states that it is waging a self-described “war on fracking” and that “no drilling should be permitted for the foreseeable future.” The organization receives funding from the Park Foundation, a philanthropic organization headquartered in New York, part of whose mission is to “challenge continued shale gas extraction and infrastructure expansion.” New York, of course, has banned fracking statewide, and oil and gas opponents regularly disrupt and interfere with current efforts to build new pipelines. An automatic corollary to such intransigence should be to simply stop sending any oil and gas to the state at all for any purpose. Perhaps, then, more rational thinking would prevail.
The Sierra Club, whose website displays pictures of protestors with the message “Fight Back Against Trump,” is another organization clearly opposed to oil and gas development. The report quotes the Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune: “The Sierra Club is opposed to fracking, period.” The Sierra Club’s website quotes its President Allison Chin: “If drillers can’t extract natural gas without destroying landscapes and endangering the health of families, then we should not drill for natural gas.” This is from the leader of an organization that supports erecting tens of thousands of monster wind turbines across every open area in this country, except where elites are wealthy and influential enough to keep them from invading their space.
Environment Texas is the state organization for Environment America. The report quotes Environment Texas as having the position that “fracking should not occur anywhere.” Curiously, the Environment America website lists “Stop Fracking Our Future” as one of its issues, while the Environment Texas website discreetly leaves that one off of its list of issues. On the national website, the organization warns that there are already “more than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination from fracking operations” — an interesting claim, given that the EPA’s recently released report suggested otherwise, and the highly publicized alleged instances presented in the propaganda piece Gasland have all been discredited. But don’t let facts get in the way of fundraising.
Public Citizen Texas, the state arm of Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen, likewise has an absolutist view on fracking. In a 2011 letter to President Obama, the organization’s President Robert Weissman wrote: “On behalf of Americans who live in every U.S. state and territory, we urge that you employ any legal means to put a halt to hydraulic fracturing.” There might be more than a few Americans “on whose behalf” Weissman was not speaking.
In an illustration of historical head-scratching irony, one of the most significant sources of funding for these organizations that are so aggressively dead set on shutting down the oil and gas industry and “keeping it in the ground” is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, whose ancestor, John D. Rockefeller, is the father of the modern oil industry in America.
So these demonstrations of opposition have occurred over local and statewide fracking bans, the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, replicated over and over again by protesters whose grasp of a world without oil and gas for fuel, electricity and countless manufactured products is nonexistent. We have reached a point in our national condition where, paradoxically, our advanced education leaves us ignorant of the explanation for our success. As President Reagan once famously quipped, “It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.”
It is almost as if we are nearing the end of the life cycle of a free republic. Our nation was founded in hope and hardship. It was nurtured in opportunity, which eventually led to great success. Continued success led to comfort, but that comfort has grown into indolence. Indolence has permitted an increasingly large disjunction between a knowledge and appreciation of our past sacrifices and a simple, indifferent expectation of waking up every day in the greatest country in the world. That disjunction has now given birth to an elitism among those who oppose oil and gas that is founded on utopian hopes and practical ignorance. A much more constructive mission for these organizations and the philanthropies that fund them would be restoring a literacy to our citizens that educates them on how we got here and why it works.
About the author: Bill Keffer is a contributing columnist to SHALE Magazine. He teaches at the Texas Tech University School of Law and continues to consult. He served in the Texas Legislature from 2003 to 2007.