The Sound and Fury: Josh Fox on The Daily Show

Three years ago (almost to the day), Josh Fox appeared alongside Jon Stewart on The Daily Show for what everyone assumed would be a softball interview on the release of Gasland. Instead, Stewart printed out and actually brought on set the 11-page, scene-by-scene rebuttal to the film produced by EID, and asked Josh to respond to several specific points of fact contained therein (see this video, starting at 3:45). Caught off-guard, and unable to offer up anything of actual substance, the only response Josh could muster was to attack EID – not because we were wrong on the facts (we weren’t), but because … we receive support and funding from industry. That was literally the best he could do.

Well, Fox made his way back to The Daily Show last night – this time to hawk the release of his sequel to Gasland. Unfortunately, with Jon Stewart out on sabbatical the rest of the summer, Fox didn’t receive quite the same grilling this time around from stand-in host John Oliver. But given all the failures he’s had to endure recently as part of his nationwide campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing, perhaps he was due a more hospitable reception.

For folks who haven’t been following his progress as of late, here’s a quick rundown of what Fox has been able to achieve over the past several months: After testifying before an Illinois state House committee against legislation seeking to regulate and promote shale development in the state, the committee – after thanking Fox for attending – passed the bill unanimously, on a 11-0 vote.  The bill went on to be overwhelmingly approved on the floor: the House voted 108-9 and the Senate voted 52-3 in favor.

Then, just a day after organizing an anti-fracking rally outside California Governor Jerry Brown’s office, a bill that would ban fracking in the state was soundly defeated – receiving only 24 votes in an 80-member State Assembly.  Perhaps even more stinging than that was the comment that came afterward from RL Miller, the person leading the campaign in California to ban fracturing technology. “National organizations are trying to run the same playbook in California – show ‘Gasland’ and get people excited,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s not playing in California because we’re different.”

After all these failures, Fox retook the stage last night on The Daily Show and trotted out the same tired talking points he’s been pushing for years, but this time with a bit of a Shakespearean spin:

“What we’re seeing the natural gas industry do is say, ‘Oh, we’re not a fossil fuel. We’re friendly, we burn cleaner than coal.’ Well, it turns out, this is not true at all. Well, actually, that part is true,” he said. “It’s like the witches in ‘Macbeth.’ The witches say to Macbeth, ‘Oh, you’re going to be the king.’ And they leave out the part about how you’re going to have to kill all your friends, your wife’s going to go crazy and commit suicide, and you’ll be dead in three days. They left that part out.”

We’ll see your Macbeth reference, Mr. Fox – and, if you’re up to it, maybe raise you a couple of our own. To wit:

“False face must hide what the false heart doth know”:

Fox reiterated his claim last night that natural gas producers are “leaking huge clouds of methane off of these well sites” and, because of that, “natural gas development is worse than coal for the climate.”  But Fox left out a pretty important part: the fact that even while greenhouse gas emissions globally continue to increase, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that emissions in the United States decreased by 3.8 percent. How did we achieve this remarkable feat? Because of natural gas!

Fox’s talking point is based on papers from two Cornell researchers who also happen to be avowed anti-industry activists (one of them, Tony Ingraffea, even posed for photos with Fox, Mark Ruffalo and Yoko Ono at an activist press conference last year). That so-called research has been discredited over and over again by authoritative sources, including other researchers at Cornell, Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Fox also left out the part about EPA acknowledging that its estimates of methane leakage were way too high in its initial assessment and dramatically lowered its estimates for its 2013 Greenhouse Gas Inventory – more on that here.  But the truth is that even with EPA’s dramatic downward revisions, the agency’s estimates are still too high.  We’ve noted this many times, but it’s worth repeating that EPA’s methane numbers suffer from assumptions that are simply not based on actual industry practice.

For instance: EPA assumes that if a company is not required to utilize “green completions” (where methane is captured at the wellhead) or the flaring process (where methane is burned off), then it must be the case that companies are simply venting methane into the air (absurd – and dangerous).  EPA also assumes that the flowback periods for green-completed wells are identical to wells that vent or flare the gas, which means that EPA is calculating durations of emissions that are more than double what they actually are.

Put it this way: How would it be possible for the U.S. to be the only country in the world to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions — while significantly increasing natural gas development – if Fox’s claims were true?

“Prophesying with accents terrible of dire combustion and confused events”:

Despite mountains of evidence (including testimonials from Fox himself) eviscerating the “fracking-causes-flammable-faucets” myth, Fox refuses to retire the talking point. As usual, Fox forgot to mention last night that the folks featured with the flaming hose had worked up a “strategy” to get EPA’s attention – one that involved hooking up a hose to a gas vent – not a water line – and igniting it, creating what a judge later ruled to be a “deceptive video” intended to scare residents into thinking their water could catch on fire.  Remember Al Armendariz of “crucify” fame?  He’s the one that imposed an endangerment order against the company, Range Resources, without any scientific basis (just that deceptive video).  Of course, EPA eventually had to withdraw the order due to lack of evidence.

And what of the original flaming faucet featured in the first Gasland?  Even before the documentary was filmed, state regulators in Colorado had already determined that the methane found in the well had nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing.  In fact, it was later revealed that the homeowner had drilled his well through four separate coal seams, which were loaded with flammable methane, hence the situation with the faucet.

“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!”

Fox also claimed that oil and gas producers have “taken the regulatory agencies away from the people,” suggesting the industry is somehow exempt from federal laws.  Not exactly, Macduff.  According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), oil and gas producers have to comply with no fewer than 8 federal laws as we’ve noted before.  From its most recent report:

As with conventional oil and gas development, requirements from eight federal environmental and public health laws apply to unconventional oil and gas development. For example, the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates discharges of pollutants into surface waters.  Among other things, CWA requires oil and gas well site operators to obtain permits for discharges of produced water – which includes fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, as well as water the occurs naturally in oil- or gas-bearing formations – to surface waters.  In addition, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governs the management and disposal of hazardous wastes, among other things.

The truth is that oil and gas producers are highly regulated not only at the federal level but also at the state and local levels – often at all these levels simultaneously.  But don’t take our word for it. Here’s the assessment of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Ground Water Protection Council:

“The development and production of oil and gas in the U.S., including shale gas, are regulated under a complex set of federal, state, and local laws that address every aspect of exploration and operation.”

“Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill”:

Finally, in the “extended cut” version of the interview that didn’t air on television (mercifully!), Fox circles back with the charge that the natural gas industry is plotting a grand conspiracy to defraud American consumers – a “consumer squeeze” where “prices will go up 50 percent,” all because shale wells are set to run dry any minute now. In making this claim, Fox naturally omits mention of the now two-dozen or so studies authored by government scientists, independent experts, and international energy organizations showing that natural gas production is rapidly growing and will continue to do so.  The Potential Gas Committee’s latest report revealed the highest estimate of recoverable natural gas in the United States in the organization’s 48-year history – a 110-year supply.

As Josh Fox “struts and frets his hour upon the stage” the more appropriate quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth may be:

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


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