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RiverQuest program sells fracking to four year olds using chocolate chip cookies

July 1, 2013

Chocolate chips (so similar to methane, an explosive gas), sit innocently next to cookies (so similar to shale rock, cooked naturally with radium 226, uranium, hydrocarbons and other taste treats). Image: SeriousEats.

Extracting natural gas — methane, ethane, propane, all of it — from dense rock a mile or more below the surface of the earth is just like extracting yummy chocolate chips from chocolate chip cookies, it turns out.

That’s what a group of young children learned in June of 2013 at a RiverQuest program in western Pennsylvania, at a public library.

Mike Kamandulis, who attended three Riverquest progams in June 2013 — two for children and one for adults — found both the direct and subliminal messaging in the presentation, which is billed as “neutral,” to be profoundly skewed in favor of fracking.

Mike said, “In the first children’s program there were about seven boys and girls who appeared to be about four or five years in age. The RiverQuest instructors were two young women who seemed very eager to share their information with the youngsters. Indeed, their enthusiasm was palpable. A very affable gentleman, their educational director, with whom I had spoken with several days earlier, accompanied them.”

A bit later, while the children extracted the chocolate chips, representing methane, from the cookies, representing shale, they were told that the chips are “powering the world.”

Although clearly determined to accurately convey the politeness — the niceness — the likeability — of the program presenters, Mike also researched the RiverQuest “Exploring Marcellus Shale” program funding sources and found something less nice. Mike reports,

The EQT Corporation is “one of the country’s largest natural gas producers,” and in its 2011 – 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, it is noted on page 28 that in 2011 RiverQuest received a grant of nearly one hundred thousand dollars from the EQT Foundation.

RiverQuest appears to be in the process of ruining its previously positive reputation by giving these “neutral” presentations, funded by major fracking corporations including EQT, Chevron, and Dominion. An onionskin-thin layer of greenwashing for the RiverQuest shale gas propaganda is  provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP), known to be under political orders to further shale gas development regardless of health and environmental impacts; and by organizations such as the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, which accepts funds from the fracking industry.

For EQT, at one hundred thousand dollars, selling shale gas to children subliminally is running cheap so far. A lawyer who helped found the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in the 1990s and has observed corporate behavior for decades commented,

The tobacco industry invested hundreds of millions in educational efforts designed to fail at convincing kids not to smoke, but designed to succeed at making the industry seem genuinely concerned about kids’ well-being, and to stave off regulation of cigarette marketing.  There’s plenty of research and writing on these “kids shouldn’t smoke yet” campaigns. 
This [RiverQuest] is a little different, but still seems likely intended to deliver the next generation while appearing civic-minded.  It does make you wonder.

Cleghorn: “A Shameful Project”

Mandy and Kids 2010

Mandy and her kids nestle together at Cleghorn’s Paradise Gardens and Farm. Cleghorn does not own the mineral rights to the shale gas under his farm, in a situation of “split estate.” Photo: Kelly Fortkiewicz

Stephen Cleghorn, PhD, attended a RiverQuest program for adults at the public library in Punxsutawney. He concluded, “There is just no balance at all and I wish we could shut it down, but we hear that the roadshow goes on.” Cleghorn, a writer and the owner of a dairy goat and organic vegetable farm in western Pennsylvania, described the program in an email:

The RiverQuest presenters in Punxsutawney were Dani Stump and Janine Surmick, both listed as “Outreach Educator.”

The presentation bills itself as “neutral,” but it is nothing less than a roadshow commercial for gas drilling. I did not see the children’s presentation, but for adults they use “factual” slides that present the industry’s view only.

They showed that Marcellus Shale Coalition video, done by one of the gas companies, that depicts the [supposedly] neat and clean fracking that goes on underground in the shale; but nary a mention of Dr. Ingraffea’s “linear chaos theory” that describes what really happens when an already fractured rock formation [such as the Marcellus] is fracked. You can’t predict what will happen!

Another slide was information straight out of the [industry group] Energy in Depth PR material, called “A Fluid Situation,” that tells us the chemicals they put down the hole are no worse than household chemicals and food additives. There was no mention of air pollution or climate change impacts of methane. No mention of the scale of the drilling (one half the land mass of Pennsylvania alone), no mention of an industrial grid being overlaid on where people are living, and nothing on the long-term risks to groundwater. Nothing on what is already known about [water] wells ruined and people sickened.

At one point I asked if they had seen the “List of the Harmed,” and their response was that they had, but they felt it was a bad idea to identify the addresses of people on that list. [Ed. note: this is a pure and simple lie].  Jenny [Lisak] spoke up and said it did not use actual addresses, but they insisted that it did and thus was not a helpful list. It sounded like a talking point fed to them by the industry to turn away attention from what is actually on that list.

Jenny tells me that Dani and Jean thought the Punxsutawney presentation was “rough,” but all we did was politely challenge the one-sidedness of the “facts” they presented, and we mentioned much of what they were leaving out that is critical to know. So they are used to presenting themselves as experts on unconventional drilling but totally unable to handle critical observations from people who know much more than they do.

In my view this is a really shameful project for RiverQuest to have undertaken.

Lisak: “Definitely Biased”

Blueberry farmer Jenny Lisak, a resident of western Pennsylvania shale country, compiler of “The List of the Harmed,” and a veteran researcher on shale gas industry impacts, attended both a RiverQuest program aimed at children, and one aimed at adults. Lisak provided notes from each, excerpted here.

The RiverQuest presenters’ remarks are in quotation marks, often countered by Jenny Lisak’s brief rebuttal in parentheses. [Editor’s notes are in brackets]:

I think it was definitely biased. They had a slide that showed their resources: Marcellus Shale Coalition [the industry lobbying group, which fights regulations and promotes laws making it easier to drill], PSUMCOR, DEP and Pennsylvania Environmental Council were among them. Our local paper did a write up on the Punxsy presentation and it told readers to go to the Marcellus Shale Coalition for more information on Marcellus Shale. [Editor’s note: that’s like going to RJ Reynolds for the facts on tobacco and cancer].

Observations from the children’s program: potato chip additives

“Our company is EQT, Equitable… We’ve been doing this for years since the 1800’s but now go horizontal” (implying we’ve been doing this shale drilling for years, with nothing different except direction?). [Editor’s note: High-volume is different. Slickwater chemicals are different. Massive water consumption is different. Multi-well pads, multi-stage fracking is different. It’s extreme, unconventional extraction.]

“We use mud and water to spin the drill” (“mud” in name only).

“Conversations are emerging among adults who are not used to having land disturbances, because they live in the country; in the city you have disturbances all the time” (misleading: conversations are occurring because of known and unknown risks).

Often, presenters used the word “additives” instead of “chemicals”; they listed only 7 additives.

Presenters listed negatives but did not discuss them except for asking [the children] if they knew what boom and bust was, and talked briefly about it.

The chocolate cookie exercise: they had the kids extract their chips, all the while making comments like “they (the chips) are powering the world,” or powering our cars ( subliminal messaging?). At the end when [the children] had to try and reconstruct the cookie, the moral of the story that one would suppose is that you cannot put it back the way it was. But it turned instead to be… “See, this is what drillers have to think about when they  reclaim an area, they have to plan on what ‘crops’ they will plant to restore the area.”

In the glitter, salt, food coloring and sand mixture exercise: when the presenters had an opportunity to drive the point home that the filtering process took out the sand and glitter but could not clean the water, little was said. In my mind it would have been the time to ask the obvious: where and how will this be cleaned and where will this uncleaned water go? But instead, the point was that the gas guys are recycling.

Funny thing was, the kids were spilling it all over the place. But the presenters missed an opportune moment to point out how this happens on the gas pads, as well.

The chemical power point slide was similar to the adult version: only seven “additives,” some “like [what] you eat on potato chips.”

Cows died in Louisiana shortly after  drinking leaked fracking fluid that was 99% water. It takes more than potato chip additives to kill such large animals. In this case the internal organs of the cows had lesions consistent with quaternary ammonium compounds, and quaternary ammonium compounds are among the proprietary fracking fluid additives used by Schlumberger, subcontracted by Chesapeake Energy. Photo: 60 minutes, CBS.

At the end they told the kids that there was a 100 year supply of gas and alluded [to the possibility] that they could someday get jobs in some aspect of the industry.

They showed one of the Stolz slides [from reputable scientist John Stolz] and asked the kids what they saw or  noticed. I thought the kids would notice the obvious, that it was very close to homes. But instead the point was that the well pad was out in the country where there was lots of room for access roads.

The presenters mentioned climate change at the very end. Would they have if Mike, Grace and I hadn’t been observing? Another RiverQuest guy, Jeff, told the kids that natural gas is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate  change, and that our future was in their hands (of course it’s the other way around!).

It sounds like RiverQuest is very busy taking this to schools, libraries, Boy Scout troops all over Pennsylvania.

Observations from the adults’ program

Jenny Lisak’s observations continued: This program was too simplified: RiverQuest did not mention frack sand mining, consumptive use of water, potency of ch4 [methane] as a greenhouse gas. Presenters mentioned impact fees but did not go into costs of impacts.

The presenters did not mention that drilling first occurs through an aquifer without protection, using chemical-based “muds.” They did mention that methane is released when shale is fracked, but did not mention [other emissions such as] benzene, H2s [hydrogen sulfide gas, which can kill instantly and cumulatively], etc.

“We are going to stop flaring in 2015 to save money,” they said, but failed to mention negative air quality [impacts] from flaring.

“The chemicals used are found in your food and in your home,” they asserted.

RiverQuest presenters: “Only one earthquake has ever occurred from an injection well in U.S.” [Editor’s note: again, this is an astounding lie: earthquakes from injection wells are firmly documented in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas, for starters].

RiverQuest presenters: “Methane has been found in people’s well water for generations.” [Editor’s note: this industry talking point is designed to distract, by sheer repetition, from the scientifically confirmed methane and ethane migration into drinking water due to Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania].

“Like any industry, there are risks,” not unlike coal or steel, presenters say.

The presenters showed two power point slides listing opportunities, but only one listing impacts. Some group is listed as on board with [shale gas] development. They did not mention the many not on board.

Motives and Means

The problem is bias — intentional, profound, and manipulative bias masquerading as “neutrality” while vital, life-altering information is omitted and opinion, as well as overt lies, masquerades as “fact.”

Neither the author, nor anyone quoted in this article, means to make assumptions about the motives for any well-intentioned scientists involved  in creating, for example, the chocolate chip cookie exercise. We know that this industry can, and does, take advantage of the best and the brightest, using them to promote the profitability of their enterprise.

But we also believe children could understand fracking better by putting on a respirator, hazmat suit and goggles, pouring a large amount of “toxic” liquid onto a “radioactive” rock — outdoors next to a pristine, beautiful stream — then smashing the rock with a hammer, and trying to clean up the resulting mess while listening to a “radioactivity alarm” going off. The child, watching the stream become “contaminated” in real time (only with food coloring), might better understand the impacts not only on chocolate chip cookies which lose their chips, but on fish, plants, animals, and people. Add a little infrared footage, and they can easily “see” the impact on climate, as well.

Surely, if the array of fracking opponents — residents, health advocates, climate and energy justice organizers, environmental and human rights groups — as well as First Nations, labor unions, town councils, cities, states, and whole countries — knew that shale gas drilling was as easy, quick, and just plain yummy as taking chocolate chips out of chocolate chip cookies, they never would have kicked up such a fuss!

Rising Tide organized actions against Chevron and the Pacific Pipeline “Coast to Coast” across North America and published this photo on March 29th, 2013 on their Rising Tide Canada Facebook page as part of that campaign.

  1. July 1, 2013 7:53 pm

    We buy the propaganda. We shouldn’t ……but we let it eat our children.

  2. July 8, 2013 10:54 am

    Injecting toxic chemical deep into the earth? Does anyone think this will not have dire consequences for both the Earth and the water supply!?
    Many also believe that the Earth is a living organism and we are poisoning her.


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