You say “Potato.” Rex Tillerson says “Potahto.”
By Kate Fried
The movement to protect communities from fracking has closely been following the curious case of Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon, who has attracted attention this week for his involvement in what appears to be an anti-fracking lawsuit. In what many are considering the height of hypocrisy, Tillerson has joined former U.S. Congressional Representative Dick Armey in an effort to block the construction of a 160-foot water tower in their neighborhood intended to supply water to fracking sites.
Over the past decade or so, the oil and gas industry has championed this short-sighted, unsustainable, toxic energy practice, engaging in one battle after another to ensure that the backyards of America are peppered with rigs and all the other accoutrements of drilling and fracking for oil and gas.
That’s our backyards, not his, apparently.
Today came a delicious new twist. Tillerson is claiming that his objection to the tower isn’t an objection to fracking per say, it’s just an objection to the tower itself, a hulking eyesore that Tillerson worries will devalue his 83-acre horse ranch.
People tend to focus on the environmental impacts of fracking when discussing the process. Indeed, it’s important to note that the practice releases methane into the atmosphere and that it may contribute to global warming. But what’s often lost in the debate is what’s highlighted here very clearly: fracking industrializes the communities it affects. With oil and gas development comes truck traffic, noise pollution, lumbering pieces of drilling equipment, and yes—towers to supply water to fracking operations.
This tower that Tillerson objects to is directly tied to nearby fracking. So while the embattled CEO may claim that he’s completely cool with fracking in his backyard, and that this legal action is simply an objection to a water tower, it’s important to note that said tower is a component of a system designed to support fracking. In fact, the tower was built specifically for the purpose of supporting nearby operations.
Tillerson is right to fret about declining property values. In Wise County, Texas, properties with fracking wells have lost 75 percent of their value. Of course, most residents there lacked the connections and resources to sue. Moreover, if Tillerson is worried about how a water tower may affect property values, just imagine what a drilling rig would do to undermine them.
It’s clear that what we have here is a case of semantics. As heat on Tillerson intensifies, he and his legal team are spinning their version of reality so furiously, it’s as if they’re hoping we’ll just get too dizzy to follow their logic.
But this is one spin job that nobody is buying. Fracking is not simply a matter of drilling a hole in the ground and pumping it with chemicals to extract energy resources. When people object to fracking, they’re rejecting an entire infrastructure system and a whole, outdated approach to energy development. This latest battle only highlights the industry’s deep denial of this and the effects its practices impose upon our communities.
One other fact is undeniable here: the debate over fracking is not just about the environment. It’s about social justice. While Tillerson may possess the deep pockets to litigate his problems away, the rest of us aren’t usually so lucky.