Marcellus Shale

Deborah Rogers: Goat Farmer, Cheesemaker and Model

We notice an individual named Deborah Rogers seems to be the latest cause célèbre for the anti-natural gas crowd.  Put forth as a member of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank Advisory Committee, she seems to be everywhere at once in upstate New York of late.  Her routine involves an attack on the natural gas industry as being a supposed Ponzi scheme.   Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Who is she in real life?  She’s a goat farmer, cheese maker, former model and committed anti-natural gas activist who chooses to present  herself as an independent economic expert.  Her message simply sells better that way.

Now before all you anti’s scream ad hominem, let me say I am a fan of goat farmers, cheese makers and models. I have done a fair amount of agricultural economic development work over the years throughout upstate New York and have met many goat farmers.  I have conducted feasibility studies for small cheese making operations and have recommended both goat farmers and cheese makers as examples of niche agriculture that can survive in a commodity based farming world.  And yes, I’m also a fan of models. It’s just this – I don’t go to these folks for advice on oil and natural gas development.  Farm animals do generate methane but, beyond that, one doesn’t typically find a lot of expertise on the natural gas industry in the fields of goat farmers, in cheese factories or on the model walkway.

Deborah Rogers, to be sure, had a financial career before she turned to goats.  She worked with various stock brokerage firms, for example.  When she was chosen to be on Dallas Federal Reserve Bank’s advisory council, here’s what the news release from the bank said:

Rogers is founder of Deborah’s Farmstead, a small, family dairy that produces goat cheese.

She has an extensive background in finance. From 1987 to 1999, she managed personal client investments for Prudential Bache, Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney. Previously, she worked in venture capital for Johnson Fry Ltd. in London.

Rogers attended the College of St. Thomas More in Fort Worth.

The Advisory Council meets to discuss economic activity and business conditions in the Eleventh Federal Reserve District, which includes Texas, northern Louisiana and southern New Mexico.

Rogers was not, contrary to the assertions put forth by several reporters, a member of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank Board — but, rather, the sixty-six member Eleventh District Advisory Council.  The Federal Reserve Bank describes these councils (also referred to as committees) as follows:

The Federal Reserve Banks also use advisory committees. Of these advisory committees, perhaps the most important are the committees (one for each Reserve Bank) that advise the Banks on matters of agriculture, small business, and labor. Biannually, the Board solicits the views of each of these committees by mail.

Deborah Rogers and Her Goats

Deborah Rogers and Two of Her Goats

It appears Rogers was chosen for this council precisely because she was involved in agriculture and small business, certainly not for her oil and gas experience (although her grandfather was reportedly a “wildcatter”).  Being a Texan and having financial experience probably didn’t hurt, but to parlay her role on this advisory council into suggesting she is an expert on the natural gas industry is to distort reality in a way that previously only Ian Urbina could do.  Also, these advisory committees do not, it seems, actually meet.  Rather, they simply consist of individuals whose views are secured by mail survey.  Finally, it’s worthy noting Rogers’ listing in the bank’s 2010 annual report simply identifies her as “Deborah Rogers, Deborah’s Farmstead, Fort Worth.”  She brings her goat raising and cheese making experience and insights to the Fed, not her oil and gas opinions.  Interestingly, she saw it the same way when she was appointed.  Here is how the Dallas News quoted her:

Now, Deborah’s been appointed to the Small Business and Agricultural Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Eleventh District. She is one of eight small-business owners and agricultural operators who are serving three-year terms on the advisory council. Their job: To provide the Fed with ear-to-the-ground information on regional economic activity and business conditions. The central bank then uses the council’s reports to help construct its economic projections.

“This is a huge honor,” Deborah says. “I really am excited. I think my financial background helped.” After all, she notes, “This is right up my alley: farming and finance.

If Deborah Rogers is skeptical about natural gas, the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank is not.  A report issued by the bank in late 2010 as prices were already decreasing said:

The Texas experiment in the Barnett Shale proved the technical feasibility of shale gas development and brought costs within bounds that promise to give shale gas an important role in global energy sup- plies for decades to come.

Shale gas cost estimates vary widely, partly because of limited experience in a few basins and partly because the technology is evolving. Prices of competing energy sources at levels seen today will likely stimulate continued rapid development of natural gas from shale.

Notwithstanding this, the New York Times, of course, relied upon Rogers as their expert (so did Rolling Stone but our Chris Tucker has already dealt with that).  An Ian Urbina article from June of last year entitled Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush featured her as one of its “insiders,” treating her as if she was a key official at the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and an industry expert, when she was anything but.  Noticeably absent from the description was any indication the committee she sat on had to do with agriculture and small business or that she was, first and foremost, a goat farmer and cheese maker.  Her modeling experience didn’t get mentioned either but a striking photo was offered.  She was quoted as telling a senior economist at the bank that “We need to take a close look at this right away,” as if oil and gas were part of her Fed responsibilities.

Rogers suggested, in this New York Times piece, that she had badgered the bank into holding a meeting on the subject of natural gas economics and then, in turn, badgered one of the speakers, Kenneth Medlock, into admitting the Barnett Shale was not economical.  He has a quite a different recollection, as is obvious from his reply on the pages of the FuelFix blog.  His presentation speaks for itself.  Moreover, the bank’s own report, issued subsequent to this meeting, indicates it had anything but an upbeat perspective on the industry.

So, what’s the deal with Rogers?  Well, it turns out there is more to the story – a lot more.  She describes herself, on her LinkedIn page, as “Award winning artisnal cheese maker, environmental and economic consultant on shale gas”.  How did that “environmental and economic consultant on shale gas” claim arise?  What she doesn’t mention in her biography, and few others acknowledge when presenting her as an economic expert, is her role as part of the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) or her speaking engagement at Earthworks’ “2010 Peoples Oil and Gas Summit.”  Unsurprisingly, this project and/or Earthworks have received $240,000 from the Park Foundation since 2009.

Rogers, OGAP claims, experienced all kinds of contamination at her farm from natural gas development, but the evidence contradicts that claim, as we noted here and here.  Benzene, for example, was suggested as a problem until one reads downs further to find:

“Further testing again found toxic compounds including benzene barely below the NEW TCEQ long term levels.”

The TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) report itself said the following:

Out of all the samples taken, the TCEQ has only found two instances of benzene exceeding short-term levels of concern. Subsequent sampling at these two locations has shown low levels of benzene.

The annual benzene averages from Augo-GC air monitors in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Barnett Share area are substantially lower than the long-term air monitoring comparison value (AMCV) of 1.4 ppbv….Someone exposed to this level 24 hours a day for 70 years would not be expected to experience adverse health effects.

In the spring of 2009, the TCEQ installed automated gas chromatograph (AutoGC) monitors in two locations that are surrounded by natural gas operations—the town of DISH, in Denton County, and near Eagle Mountain Lake, in Tarrant County. These monitors operate around the clock, measuring levels of more than 45 VOCs, including benzene. After months of continuous operation, there have been no chemicals measured above levels of concern.

OGAP is obviously twisting and turning to avoid admitting the truth, and Rogers is right there with them.  Here she is speaking to an upstate New York audience last year:

There are several notable things about this set of remarks.  First, Rogers simultaneously argues the natural gas industry is headed toward bankruptcy (14:00) and “very handy profits” (35:15).  She does so by suggesting current overcapacity has driven prices so low that natural gas companies are unable to make money (17:00) but then positing that exportation will generate all kinds of money (30:30).  Similarly, she argues natural gas from shale is not adding supply, but only replacing conventional gas (6:40) and then says there is more capacity than ever (14:20).   She never explains why exports, thought to a be a good thing with respect to any other product, are somehow bad when it comes to natural gas (31:35), instead claiming that foreign demand will inevitably put Americans in a price squeeze once they have become dependent on low cost natural gas (33:00).

Rogers also says it is inevitable prices “will go through the roof” once exportation begins (34:50) after earlier describing a treadmill situation where companies were developing wells as fast as they could just to pay mortgages (7:40).  She also claims well yields are so bad her county had less revenues after quadrupling its number of wells (8:30), implying this was attributable to the production curve, but never explaining this was as much a matter of price reduction as gas production and probably much more.  Her message, no subtlety delivered, is that natural gas is bad when it’s expensive and bad when it’s cheap, leaving the listener to wonder what they just heard, except that most of her listeners are, sadly, already programmed to believe natural gas is bad.

She doesn’t stop there.  She begins her talk with plaudits for the New York Times article quoting her (no surprise there)  and at about 2:10 she suggests St. Lawrence County is part of the shale gas region, which, of course, it’s not.  She also challenges the notion of the “shale gas revolution,” a term used by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank in the above-referenced article written after she supposedly set them straight (3:15).  One supposes that’s what she meant when she said she was “ever the contrarian” (3:30).  She also improperly quotes a very shallow Penn State report to argue the costs of shale gas development were greater than the income produced to municipalities (12:05), alleges benzene was detected without ever saying how much (9:55) and falsely claimed “roads were being torn out” by gas companies despite mountains of evidence companies have improved road conditions (12:20).

All in all, Deborah Rogers delivers a not so cogent message but, if nothing else, it is delivered smoothly.  She avoids the obvious conflicts inherent in that message by preaching to the choir, using her Federal Reserve connection, slight as it might be, to advance a Park Foundation/Earthworks/OGAP line of attack on the natural gas industry.  Her motivation appears to be her objection to such development in her “tony” neighborhood of Westworth Village in Fort Worth.  Another NIMBY from another “tony” neighborhood – well, that’s a surprise isn’t it?  She uses her blog to regularly attack Chesapeake Energy, the company developing near her farm.  Her husband Pollard Rogers practices oil and gas law, among other specialties and has written some educational materials on subjects such as natural gas leasing and pooling, indicating their family benefits directly by natural gas development themselves but want to keep it out of their backyard.  Who would have imagined …?  It looks a lot like the picture we see every where with respect to land use battles and natural gas, except this time the protestant is a model goat farmer and not so model ‘economist.”

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