The Sierra Club’s Embarrassing New Low

We have known for a long time that the facts simply don’t support the inflammatory rhetoric and misleading claims of activists who oppose domestic oil and gas production, and especially the use of the safe and proven well-completion technology called hydraulic fracturing. But the latest tactic from the Sierra Club in California marks a new low.

In a March 28 op-ed in the Modesto Bee called “Dangers of fracking outweigh short-term gains,” a local Sierra Club representative made two claims. First, that a recent USC study which predicts incredible economic benefits from the development of California’s Monterey Shale formation was funded by the RAND Corporation, and second, that a 2005 RAND Corporation report “outlined several serious obstacles to fracking.”

Both claims are, quite simply, false. The claim that the USC study was funded by the RAND Corporation isn’t true. The research, in fact, received financial support from the Western States Petroleum Association, with the balance coming from the University itself.  RAND had nothing to do with it.

The second claim is also blatantly false, and bizarrely so. Activists frequently cite discredited studies, or misrepresent credible research, in their attempts to put a stop to domestic oil and gas development. What makes the Sierra Club’s latest tactic uniquely shameful is that it ties its claims to a report that isn’t about hydraulic fracturing.  Hydraulic fracturing is a technology used to access natural deposits of oil and gas located many thousands of feet, and often miles, underground. The study cited by the Sierra Club, however, is about a mining process that digs rocks out of the ground and heats them up to release a substance called kerogen, which can be turned into a synthetic fuel. This mining process is nothing like hydraulic fracturing at all.

While it might seem strange that the Sierra Club would spin a tale out of whole cloth in its effort to shut down the development of California’s abundant shale resource, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising.   The group has to mislead the public because the facts don’t support its ideological worldview, which opposes almost 100 percent of the nation’s energy sources, including some wind and solar projects in California.

The Sierra Club’s opposition to natural gas is particularly nonsensical. Not long ago, the group recognized the importance of developing natural gas resources as a step on the move away from coal and toward renewable sources of energy. This was common sense, because natural gas produces about 50% less carbon dioxide than coal when burned to generate electricity, and gas-fired plants are ideal for providing essential backup power to intermittent, weather-dependent sources such as wind farms and solar arrays.

In fact, the increased role of natural gas in the nation’s electricity sector is the primary reason U.S. carbon dioxide emissions hit a 20-year low last year. Given the Sierra Club’s concern about carbon emissions and climate change, you’d think the organization would support natural gas today, just as it did in the past. But now, even though natural gas is still a low-carbon fuel that helps renewables, the Sierra Club calls it “dirty” and “dangerous.”

But the tortured logic doesn’t end there. As the Sierra Club continues to campaign for the closure of coal-fired power plants, it also approves of those generators being replaced with – you guessed it – plants that run on natural gas.

The leaders of the Sierra Club have abandoned logic and reality, possibly because neither supports their increasingly extreme positions on domestic energy production. Here are the facts: the residents of California, particularly those in the San Joaquin Valley, have the potential to enjoy an economic renaissance that’s already being enjoyed in places like Pennsylvania and North Dakota. In those states, using hydraulic fracturing to produce energy from deep shale formations is creating good jobs, filling state coffers with much-needed tax revenues and reducing dependence on imported oil and gas from countries that lack our strict environmental regulations.

It is a shame the San Francisco-based Sierra Club would climb aboard what Gov. Jerry Brown called an “ideological bandwagon” in California, a state which has proven for decades that responsible natural resource development and environmental protection can coexist. The people of our state deserve better than mindless opposition to absolutely everything, but that’s all the Sierra Club can bring to the table these days.

1 Comment
  • Dr. James McFadden
    Posted at 09:15h, 14 April Reply

    The USC study is more Big Oil propaganda. Kevin Hopkins, who authored the USC report, argues that California needs to be energy independent, a totally bogus argument in light of a global energy market where oil and gas are freely traded. Hopkins’s second bogus argument is that N. Dakota, whose population is 1/50 of California and which has none of our economic diversity, could be an accurate model for California’s future economy. Third, Hopkins claims that “oil” saved N. Dakota from the banking collapse in 2008, when it fact it was N. Dakota’s State-owned banking system, which didn’t participate in mortgage backed security fraud, that saved it. Fourth, and perhaps most telling, it’s amazing that two of Hopkins modeling numbers came out exactly 10.0%, a sure sign numbers were fudged and adjusted to reach a goal. There are many additional obvious flaws in the report. This study was paid for by Big Oil. It attempts to present “economic arguments” from a big name university in order to justify opening up the Monterey Shale. The study appears designed to give politicians cover when they shill for Big Oil’s private ownership of California’s oil reserves. Most big oil producing nations have nationalized reserves and oil companies are desperately trying to grab up those few reserves in countries where private ownership is still possible. California’s reserves are particularly attractive because we don’t have an extraction tax – a point suspiciously missing from Hopkins’ analysis. Reserves determine stock price and impact speculative investment returns. The push for selling Monterey Shale is about long term control of reserves – it’s about the ICE futures market and price manipulation. Monterey Shale should remain in the commons – owned by all Californians – and should not be sold away to these oil companies for next to nothing. Lastly, universities like USC should reject their current “short-sighted” business model that includes selling their reputations to the highest bidder. USC should require all their public policy studies, especially their economic studies, to be independently peer-reviewed prior to release.

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