The Year In Fracking: Who Was Naughty, and Who Was Nice?
By Kate Fried
Time Magazine recently recognized Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth, who each significantly contributed to the anti-fracking movement as “people who mattered” in 2011. As the year draws to a close, we’re making our own list and checking it twice to take stock of those who helped make some of this year’s victories in the fight against fracking possible. While many heroes emerged, there are a few grinches who deserve a big lump of coal for their efforts to defend and promote this destructive and risky means of extracting gas from deep below the earth’s surface. Read on to see who has been naughty and who has been nice.
T. Boone Pickens
In 2011, the oil tycoon turned natural gas evangelist continued his call to develop U.S. shale resources, taking his show to the National Press Club to promote his Pickens Plan to get U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for billions in government subsidies for vehicles that run on natural gas. The National Press Club event was the stage for Pickens’ stunning display of hubris when he trivialized the concerns of New Yorkers worried about the environmental and public health effects of fracking, saying in effect, that all they really need is a “leader” to set them straight. This coming from a man who amassed his fortune from pillaging our nation’s water and mineral resources, and who forked over a hefty chunk of cash to help finance the notorious 2004 Swiftboat smear campaign against then-presidential contender Sen. John Kerry.
Having raked in $21 million in 2010 as CEO of the Chesapeake Energy Corporation, the nation’s second-largest producer of natural gas and one of America’s champions of corporate tax dodging, McClendon obviously had a lot on the line in 2011 as opposition to fracking reached new heights. Too bad his company was forced to pay over $1.1 million after an accident at one of its fracking rigs spilled toxic fluid across a rural vista in Bradford County, Pa. Several months later, at an industry conference, he accused opponents of fracking of “unfettered fear-mongering” and wanting to live in a world where “it’s cold, it’s dark, and we’re all hungry.”
Governor Tom Corbett
Pennsylvania didn’t become ground zero for the Marcellus Shale fracking boom by accident. Much of the oil and gas industry’s expansion into the area can be credited to the cozy relationship it maintains with state Governor Tom Corbett. Drillers in Pennsylvania enjoy lax regulations and sweetheart deals as their pockets fill with the spoils of industrializing the state’s pastoral beauty. Corbett’s loyalty to the oil and gas industry was also revealed this year when he and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection permitted Cabot Oil & Gas to stop delivering water to 11 families in Dimock, Pa., even though these families’ well water was contaminated by Cabot’s fracking activity.
Governor Chris Christie
He had the opportunity to blaze a new path as the governor of the first state in the U.S. to permanently protect residents from the dangers of fracking. But New Jersey Governor Chris Christie chose to veto a bill to ban fracking in New Jersey, instead favoring a one-year moratorium on the practice.
Governor Jack Markell
In late November, many opponents of fracking feared that the Delaware River Basin Commission would vote to approve a proposal to open the area to fracking. But just days before the historic vote, Delaware Governor Jack Markell emerged as an unexpected hero when he announced that he would vote against the proposal. Markell’s firm rejection of fracking prompted the Commission to cancel the vote, thereby protecting the drinking water of 15 million Americans.
Governor Andrew Cuomo
He had 20 million reasons to ban fracking—one for every resident of New York State. Instead, Governor Andrew Cuomo spent 2011 kowtowing to the oil and gas industry. As his predecessor’s moratorium on fracking ran out in July, Cuomo announced plans to drill thousands of fracking wells in New York, opening up 85 percent of the Marcellus Shale and turning rural areas of the state into sacrifice zones.
After producing the Oscar-nominated documentary on the perils of fracking, Josh Fox could have been content to rest on his laurels and move on to cover less controversial topics. Instead he used his film and new celebrity as a springboard to become one of the anti-fracking movement’s most vocal opponents. Stay tuned for his follow-up to Gasland, which will explore the oil and gas industry’s lobbying influence in Congress.
2011 was a busy year for Mark Ruffalo. In addition to wrapping production as Bruce Banner in the upcoming Avengers movie, the actor transformed into a superhero of another variety as he lent his voice and celebrity to the anti-fracking movement. Ruffalo spent much of his free time this year speaking out at rallies and other events, helping to raise the movement’s profile, and infusing it with a strength that would make even the Hulk green with envy.
Craig & Julie Sautner
When Craig and Julie Saunter moved their family to Dimock, Pa., they expected to raise it in an idyllic rural setting, not to see their new oasis sullied by industrial development and pollution. But when the Marcellus Shale boom hit the area, that’s exactly what happened. Their water supply turned yellow and undrinkable, so the Sautners hit back, joining their neighbors in a lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas—in the process raising awareness about the real costs of fracking.
Ecologist, author, mother and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber has become one of the movement’s most informed and outspoken opponents of hydraulic fracturing. Her most recent book, Raising Elijah, devotes a chapter to the potential public health risks of opening up New York State to the process. This year when Steingraber was granted the Heinz Award, she announced that she’d donate the $100,000 prize to the movement to stop fracking in New York.
Robert Howarth, Renee Santoro, Anthony Ingraffea, and Thomas Wigley
While the oil and gas industry continues to claim that shale gas will help combat climate change, these scholars published peer-reviewed research this year showing otherwise. According to the research of Howarth, Santoro and Ingraffea, and a separate study by Wigley, methane emissions from shale gas drilling are at least 30 percent higher than those from conventional gas. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, meaning that in the coming decades widespread fracking may be just as bad for our climate as continued dependence on coal.
While he was mayor of DISH, Texas, a town home to heavy fracking activity, Calvin Tillman’s young sons started suffering from nose bleeds. An air quality study found multiple carcinogens in the air. Intent on protecting his family’s health, Tillman decided to leave DISH, selling his home at a loss and requiring that the buyers watch the documentary Gasland as a condition of the sale. Tillman went on to found Shaletest.org, a nonprofit organization that provides testing and data to low-income families and neighborhoods affected by natural gas exploration and development.
New Jersey State Legislature
In November, the New Jersey State Legislature sent a message that the health and well being of New Jersey residents is more important than the interests of the petroleum industry when it voted to ban fracking—the first state legislature to do so. Though Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill opting instead for a one-year moratorium on the practice, the state legislature could still vote to override his ban.
The movement to ban fracking gained critical ground in 2011, and much of the success would have been impossible without you, the grassroots, who spoke out to tell elected officials that you did not want this toxic process polluting the air you breathe and the water you drink.