Appalachian Basin

Courts Clarify: Fractivists Aren’t Experts

Activists relying on Professor John Stolz to lend scientific credibility to their “Keep It In the Ground” stance on energy might want to review court records from a recently decided Pennsylvania appeals case that made it clear he’s no expert on natural gas development.

Stolz, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, has claimed expert status on fracking. When a few residents in Westmoreland County, Pa., challenged Allegheny Township’s zoning ordinance that allowed for fracking, they brought in Stolz to testify on their behalf. It didn’t turn out well for him.

Stolz was not qualified as an expert.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court this month officially ended the case, after the township zoning board that heard from Stolz, a county judge and the state Commonwealth Court all rejected appeals of the ordinance. The Commonwealth Court specifically highlighted the shortcomings of Stolz’s ‘knowledge’ of fracking in its decision.

When Stolz testified to the Allegheny Township Zoning Board , the township had already issued a permit to CNX to develop the Porter well pad. As the Commonwealth Court noted in its decision: “The  Board did not qualify Dr. Stoltz [sic] as an expert.”

The court’s summary of Stolz’s zoning hearing testimony makes it very clear that his familiarity with actual facts around the planned development of the well was shaky at best. Through his testimony, Stolz:

  • “Conceded that he had no knowledge of the location of wells or public water sources in the Township and had not realized that the Porter Pad project would not use water from streams but, rather, public water sources.”
  • “…testified that onsite burial of waste is problematic; he was unaware that CNX did not plan to bury waste at the Porter Pad site.”
  • “…opined that truck traffic would increase at the site because CNX will need to drain the condensate tanks. Dr. Stoltz [sic] did not know how much condensate would be generated or what type of gas would be extracted at the Porter Pad; he agreed that “dry gas” does not present condensation issues.”

In reality, Stolz is a microbiologist with no real-life experience in unconventional shale development. He has also admitted bias against the oil and natural gas industry.

In 2017, when announcing he end a congressional bid, Stolz wrote on Facebook that he was now “free to continue my outreach and advocacy for the new economy with a fossil fuel free future.”

His research is funded by anti-energy foundations. His Duquesne University faculty page states that Stolz’s lab “is currently funded by grants from the Heinz Endowments and Colcom Foundation.” EID has previously reported that both Heinz Endowments and Colcum have a history of anti-fracking advocacy.

Courts continue to disregard activists posing as experts.

Colleagues of Stolz, such as Seth Shonkoff and Tony Ingraffea, who have also received or benefitted from Heinz funding, have been similarly called out by courts on their ‘expertise’ in shale development.

When PennFuture challenged the shale zoning in Mt. Pleasant Township in Washington County, Pa., the Zoning Hearing Board disregarded testimony from  Shonkoff after the finding  it to be “equivocal, not properly founded, and not credible”.

Shonkoff – who leads the anti-fracking Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy – was also the author of a 2012 strategy memo which encouraged anti-fracking groups to make connections between health problems and fracking, even when no evidence existed to support the linkage.

In  a separate Pennsylvania court case, Cornell Professor Tony Ingraffea (who has a Ph.D. in civil engineering) admitted under cross examination he had no experience whatsoever with shale development:

How many oil or gas wells have you participated in the actual design, construction, drilling or completion?



That’s what I said.

None. How many cement jobs have you actually participated in designing or conducting?

In an actual well as opposed experimental well, none.

I’m talking a real world here actual well, okay. None. Correct?


There was reference to cement bond logs. Have you ever conducted one or run a cement bond log on an oil or gas well

No, I have not.

Have you performed integrity or pressure testing of an oil or gas well?

No, I have not.

And, of course, we heard some reference to hydraulic fracturing. You’ve never participated in the hydraulic fracturing of an oil or gas well, have you, sir?

No, I have not.

Have you ever observed hydraulic fracturing of an oil or gas well?

Not on a pad, no.

By that you mean you looked at it on the screen, a computer screen in your office, is that right?

No…some distance away from a pad where fracking was occurring.

What personal experience do you have with plugging or cementing an oil or gas well?

Absolutely none.

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