A Fox in Sheep’s Clothing Creeps West Toward Ohio
I know a few folks on the Energy In Depth team and they asked me recently if I had heard about Josh Fox’s upcoming trip to Ohio and what I thought about it. Well, I’ve done some Josh Fox debunking of my own (see here, here, and here) and I am happy to offer my thoughts again. Plus as a resident of southwestern Pennsylvania, and as a professional in the natural gas industry, I know a thing or two about shale.
Western Pennsylvania/eastern Ohio has always been a blue collar region. A region I’m proud to call home. Born from the toil of its tempered inhabitants are the steel industry, which built our cities… the coal industry, which for decades has kept the lights on for millions of Americans… and the oil and gas industry, which perhaps more than anything else is responsible for the comfortable standard of living that society enjoys today. It’s a region that’s not afraid to roll up its sleeves and get to work. A region that has little use for excuses, and much use for rolling up sleeves and getting the job done. Mother Nature provides us what we need to survive, but has little sympathy for those who refuse to help themselves.
When the Marcellus Shale came to town, it was greeted with open arms. An outpatient, non-invasive alternative to the neck to navel open heart surgery that is the coal mining that we’ve long since become accustomed to. Five to eight acres of surface disturbance can drain 1,200 acres of gas, as opposed to 1,200 acres of disturbance to reach 1,200 acres of coal via surface mining. This Marcellus gas burns much cleaner than coal, and places where coal couldn’t burn…in cars, trucks, and buses. It was cheap, it was clean, and it was ours – and in such abundance that the decades old dream of energy independence and the shackles it shed were no longer a dream, but an inevitability.
But you don’t just discover you’re sitting on the second largest energy field in the world without garnering some attention. And in today’s world, attention is a marketable commodity. Enter Josh Fox. Fox, an unknown theater director from New York City, with no knowledge whatsoever of the natural gas industry, saw an opportunity to spin Marcellus mania to his gain. In the information vacuum that existed in the first years of development, Fox jumped in head first. Facts and truth meant little, while sensationalism and outright fabrication ruled the day in the early stages of Marcellus development.
Fox’s home spun “documentary” was just that: sensationalism and outright fabrication. He peddled his wares and found a buyer. The Park Foundation, a huge endowment which has spent millions to try to ban hydraulic fracturing, has subsidized him beyond his wildest dreams. HBO coughed up a sweet $750,000 to Fox for Gasland 2. Fox even charges $7,500 to college kids to show up and speak at their school (not counting first class airfare to and from New York City). Fox went from unknown starving artist to a big bankroll celebrity activist almost overnight, and why quit a gig that pays like that, right?
Looking for a new battleground (and the cameras and free media attention that comes with it), and in turn a new batch of suckers to sell his snake oil to, Fox has settled his crosshairs on Ohio. Hard working families, farmers, and property rights be damned! Ohio residents, Mr. Fox will soon be in your back yard, using and abusing local folks to advance his narrative (and his wallet), just like he did in Colorado and Pennsylvania.
To the good people in Eastern Ohio, I hope you decide to listen to the facts, and dismiss the for-profit hyperbole. Listen to the science. Gain perspective and context. Look to us on your eastern border. Natural gas development is no longer in the incubation stage here, and we’re still alive to tell about it. In fact, we’re quite better off. Our kids have a place to work, over a billion dollars of new tax revenues have been generated, our heating and electric bills are lower, and maybe most importantly, we’ve regained our identity. Once again, our region has the opportunity to fuel the world through our hard work and determination. And with today’s technology, we don’t have to choose between the environment and the energy.
Press your legislators for good, practical regulations and a fair tax climate. Trust, but verify. If you do so, you will be rewarded with jobs, cleaner air, deeper tax coffers, healthier children, and a more secure nation….all
of which can be wisely parlayed to ensure that the rising tide raises all ships. Learn from our mistakes and our successes. And for goodness sake, when Josh Fox comes skulking around in your bad yard to tell you what you should and should not be allowed to do with your resources, tell him to shed his sheep’s clothing, pack it up, and drive his posterior back to New York City… and while you’ve got his ear, feel free to remind him that it was our families that burned our gas and coal in our mills to make the steel that built it.