Anti-Fracking Group Scrubs Website of Prior Support for Horizontal Drilling
An environmental group that opposes fracking has deleted from its website a page that touted the land use benefits of horizontal drilling, a move that comes as activist groups increasingly focus on surface issues related to development, and as some cities debate whether to ban drilling based on those claims. The attempt to conceal prior support for drilling also reflects a trend among several activist organizations that used to promote natural gas.
The Washington, DC-based Earthworks – an aggressive anti-fracking group that has published or promoted several dubious reports suggesting harm from shale development – used to house a page entitled “Directional Drilling” on its website, which described how directional and horizontal drilling can actually reduce overall surface impacts from oil and gas development. The page read, in part:
“The benefits of directional drilling are numerous. Using these techniques, companies can drill a number of wells in different directions from one well pad (multilateral wells), which can decrease overall surface disturbance by reducing the number of well pads required to drain an oil or gas field.”
The original URL now redirects to the group’s “Hydraulic Fracturing 101” page, which includes a laundry list of alleged harms from fracking and shale development. A search of Earthworks’ website now yields no results for pages entitled “Directional Drilling,” although the now-deleted page can still be viewed here as a static screenshot. An archive search shows that the Directional Drilling page was active on the Earthworks site as recently as August 13, 2014.
A report that Earthworks published in 2005, and for the moment still remains on the group’s website, contains the exact passage cited above.
Earthworks has made news recently for its support of local drilling bans, most notably in Denton, Tex., where the group has been the primary funder of Frack Free Denton, which is the organization leading a campaign to shut down oil and gas development within the city limits. Frack Free Denton’s list of reasons for a ban focuses almost exclusively on land use concerns, and many of the activists in Denton claim multi-well pads and horizontal drilling are “incompatible” with their city.
Indeed, much of the debate in Denton has focused on the alleged surface impacts of development, making Earthworks’ recent decision to scrub its website of references to the benefits of multi-well pads all the more curious. A ballot measure on whether Denton should ban drilling will be decided by voters in November, and Earthworks has a fundraising page that reads in part: “Your donation will be used to help the Frack Free Denton campaign push their ban forward.”
Earthworks has also been actively campaigning in Colorado, where activists have used claims of surface impacts to try to shut down oil and gas development. Gwen Lachelt, the founder of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), is co-chair of a task force that Governor John Hickenlooper (D) helped establish earlier this year, which will ultimately make policy recommendations regarding setbacks and other land use issues. Earthworks board member Tony Ingraffea, an anti-fracking activist who has campaigned against development alongside Josh Fox and Yoko Ono, tried to get appointed to the task force, but was not selected.
Last year, an Earthworks organizer called for “an immediate moratorium on fracking in Colorado,” based upon allegations that the historic floods in the state had impacted drilling operations and created an environmental disaster for homeowners. The U.S. EPA and other officials debunked that claim a few months later.
Follow the Money?
The shifting position on oil and gas development is also part of a broader trend among some of the more fringe and activist-oriented environmental groups, many of which used to support natural gas. The Sierra Club, for example, once touted natural gas as a clean fuel, but a few years ago changed its mind and started the “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign.
In 2009, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., wrote in the Financial Times that increased natural gas use was the “first step towards saving our planet and jump-starting our economy.” Last year, he changed course and called natural gas a “catastrophe.”
The shift could be due to the financial resources that have proliferated in recent years to advance anti-fracking advocacy. A recent article in Philanthropy Roundtable highlighted how just one organization – the Park Foundation, whose president has stated that its work is to “oppose fracking” – has distributed millions of dollars to anti-fracking groups. Since 2010, Park has funneled more than $300,000 to Earthworks alone.
Many of the more mainstream and moderate environmentalists, however, have embraced shale gas for its ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and cut local air pollution.