AP Gets it All Wrong: Hacks, Frackers, and the Myth of Converted Fractivists
Two days ago, fracking opponents (and anyone who appreciates good journalism) were disappointed to read the AP story “Some Anti-Drilling Activists Change Tactics, Tone” by Kevin Begos and Michael Rubinkam. It’s a story that bears more resemblance to a fracking industry spin piece than a serious attempt at news. The story’s basic idea is that many former opponents of fracking are now embracing the industry, either for money or because they’ve seen the light.
We’ll take it from the top. According to the AP story,
Now some critics are doing what was once unthinkable: working with the industry. Some are even signing lucrative gas leases and speaking about the environmental benefits of gas.
The story gives one example of “former” critics signing leases. One. And that person is Robert Donnan, who was essentially forced by Range Resources to do so. (More on that below!)
As for “Speaking about the environmental benefits of gas,” where, exactly? Victoria Switzer and Rebecca Roter are the two fracking activists and shalefield residents portrayed as turncoats in the story. But Google searches of “Victoria Switzer natural gas” and “Rebecca Roter natural gas” turn up…this article, and a lot of older articles talking about the problems with fracking.
A few weeks ago, Victoria Switzer and other activists from Dimock endorsed a candidate for governor who supports natural gas production from gigantic reserves like the Marcellus Shale, albeit with more regulation and new taxes.
Considering that the article uses their public, official endorsement as a point, it’s curious that this pro-fracking candidate isn’t named.
Maybe it’s because that candidate is former DEP Secretary John Hanger. While John Hanger is pro-fracking and has an uneasy relationship with fractivists, as DEP head, he was willing to investigate what was happening in Dimock, accusing gas driller Cabot of “living on a planet where the facts don’t matter” when Cabot tried to deny responsibility for the water contamintaion in Dimock.
Also, every single other viable gubernatorial candidate supports fracking, unfortunately. It’s no surprise that the families chose to support the one proposing the tightest regulations.
For Switzer, the endorsement was a nod to reality; for some of her onetime allies, a betrayal.
Another unsupported statement. Who has called it a betrayal? “Victoria Switzer has betrayed no one,” responds Stephen Cleghorn, fellow anti-fracking activist in a comment on the ABC version of the AP story. Also, nice syntactical opposition of “reality” and fracking opponents.
But Pennsylvania residents concerned about drilling no longer have the luxury of simply calling for a ban.
With fracking continuing under-regulated, families still left without drinkable water (hence our Water Drive), and proposals in the works to build a 3-foot fracked gas pipeline to Philadelphia, there has always been more to do than “simply call for a ban.”
Environmentalists recently joined charitable foundations and major oil and gas companies to form the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, which aims to protect air and water from pollution in the Appalachian region […]
Wait, which environmentalists? Environmental Defense Fund, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and Clean Air Task Force, who have always supported fracking, and PennFuture, for which John Hanger (abovementioned pro-fracking candidate) served as Founding President for eight years. What a sea change.
[…] That’s similar to what Switzer is trying to accomplish in Dimock, the tiny crossroads where pro- and anti-drilling forces descended after state regulators held a gas driller responsible for contaminating residential water supplies with methane.
Those mean fracking-impeding state regulators…wait, which state regulators? Oh, John Hanger’s DEP. But earlier in the AP article, he was the unnamed pro-fracking gubernatorial candidate. He’s versatile, that John Hanger!
Switzer and Roter co-founded Breathe Easy Susquehanna County […] The group has won plaudits for its non-confrontational style.
Another vague, unsupported statement. Plaudits from whom? The industry?
Robert Donnan’s “Conversion”: The True Story
More shameful than these usual half-truths and omissions is the flat-out lying about Robert Donnan. Donnan, an outspoken fracking opponent, signed onto a gas lease last year with other heirs of his family’s property.
Here’s part of the AP story:
Robert Donnan had been an outspoken critic of drilling in general and Range Resources, the company that sunk the first Marcellus well in 2004, in particular. In February, he leased his land to Range, according to public documents obtained by The Associated Press.
[…] Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the company views Donnan’s decision to sign a lease after years of criticizing the industry “as an endorsement” of drilling, since he’s clearly aware of the risks involved.
The AP story uses Donnan’s supposed lucrative conversion or hypocrisy as its backbone. The Pittsburgh TribLive version of the AP story even ends with this:
Donnan is still speaking out. He denounced drilling at a public forum in Pittsburgh — though without telling the audience he had signed a lease.
Here is a short summary of the facts:
- Donnan’s family thought they were safe from drilling, since they’d been advised that the industry would need a 50% heirship interest signed to drill.
- Range Resources began drilling Donnan’s family’s land, claiming that two heirs had signed a lease. Turns out that’s all they needed.
- Donnan’s family discovered that these “heirs” who signed weren’t even related to them.
- Donnan was unable to find a lawyer who would take the case against the big, rich, highly aggressive Range Resources without upfront payment, which Donnan could not afford.
- Drilling had already begun, and now Donnan’s family knew that all the gas company needed was one or two real family members, not a majority. Worried that someone might truly sign a bad lease that would allow impoundments and well pads on their land, some relatives signed leases, but highly protective ones.
- Range Resouces told Donnan that if he didn’t also sign the lease, they’d just keep his share of the money.
By not signing a lease, I would forfeit money that would go back into Range’s purse. By signing, I would have some additional funds to continue my fractivist efforts.
Does this sound like someone who’s had a change of heart?
Cleghorn writes, “These people are not giving up, far from it. Begos underestimates them if that is all he sees. They have made strategic adjustments because they live in a gas field now. They are part of what some of us call the ‘full spectrum resistance’ to shale gas development.”