Appalachian Basin

Toxic Messaging on Natural Gas with Your Coffee

The hypocrisy and naivete of natural gas opponents know no bounds, as Cherie Messore reveals in this story about coffee being sold in the Finger Lakes for the benefit of Walter Hang who was paid some $781,250 from the Sustainable Markets Foundation (essentially a Rockefeller family enterprise) to fight hydraulic fracturing.  It’s like bringing a bottle of wine to a wine-tasting in the Finger Lakes; strange and unnecessary.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a casual stroll into a food store stops you in your tracks. There it was, in front of a neatly stacked display of canned tomatoes: “Fractivist Blend, ” a special edition organic coffee, distributed by an Ithaca (natch) coffee roaster.

The label says that $2 off every 12 oz bag sold supports anti-hydraulic fracturing activities in New York State.


The opposition isn’t content to spread its misinformation through newspaper  ads, billboards, media interviews, letters to the editor, children holding signs, neighborhood meetings and social media…now it’s using branded merchandise and in-store product placement and is raising funds with it, too.

The more I considered this, the more curious I became.  A visit to the coffee roaster’s website provided the usual irrational rationale:

Hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”) is a controversial drilling method that has come under fire from New York state environmentalists and community groups because of the risks it poses to the water supply. Gas companies’ recent efforts to expand fracking from nearby Pennsylvania, where it is already taking place, to New York’s Marcellus Shale, have intensified the fight.

“Coffee is our livelihood, and coffee is 98 percent water, so if we don’t have access to good water, that’s a problem,” said  the roaster’s CEO. “But beyond coffee we’re human beings, and if companies are nonchalant about pollution, there’s going to be a shortage of potable water. It just seems like there’s way too much at stake to go running into allowing fracking because a few people have dollar signs in their eyes—the potential cost is everyone else who’s dependant on the natural resources that we have. This is our way of thinking globally and acting locally. The issue is worthy of us as an organization doing what we can to promote awareness of it in the general population.”

Toxics Targeting was selected from over a dozen possible organizations to receive the funds since it has a long track record of successful environmental advocacy and has been a leader in the fight against fracking. The coffee roaster is pleased to be working with Toxics Targeting to educate our customers about Marcellus Shale gas fracking hazards and participate in key public policy decisions about protecting public health and the environment.

Wow, this is as intense as a double shot of real Italian espresso. We have an Ithaca-based company, that imports its coffee beans from South America, predicting a potable water shortage and pointing fingers at a “few people with dollar signs in their eyes.”  And “thinking globally and acting locally?”

fraktivist blendSo these coffee roasters aren’t looking across the Southern Tier at foreclosed farms, growing unemployment, and shuttered manufacturing plants?  What about looking a few miles south into Pennsylvania and seeing economic prosperity, plenty of clean and safe drinking water, and healthy cattle on flourishing farms? It’s as different as a cup of Sanka and a French press with crema.

Using products to raise awareness and raise funds is nothing new. In fact, it’s generally considered good corporate citizenship. Every October, virtually every store is awash with pink ribbon-festooned products for breast cancer awareness. The Olympic rings encircle a myriad of items every couple years to celebrate the Olympic games. But, these initiatives don’t snub their noses at facts and science and use their popularity to misinform the public.

Generally groups and individuals opposed to natural gas development also sneer at economic development: using a boutique business like this coffee roaster (on the website, this stuff sells for $15 per 12 oz bag) to support more fear-mongering is laughable. The product is billed as organic: in coffee parlance this means the plants weren’t treated with pesticides and the soil was well tilled.

But, these beans are imported from South America, which also has an oil and gas industry. Colombia, where this company gets most of its beans, has the fourth largest oil and gas reserves in South America. In South America, more than four million vehicles run on natural gas (compare this to the US, where natural gas powers fewer than 200,000.)

So…when this company talks about “acting globally,” it means it’s OK to buy its coffee beans from a place where natural gas is developed, but “acting locally” means it is also OK to stunt the growth of natural gas development at home?

Of course, these are the same folks who worry about the ingredients used in the hydraulic fracturing process, the secret cocktail, and the extra shot of nastiness in the flowback. The coffee roaster says he’s committed to help educate the public about the dangers of fracking. Has he told his customers what is actually in coffee?

Check out what Wikipedia says about coffee:

Coffee contains several compounds which are known to affect human body chemistry. The coffee bean itself contains chemicals which are mild psychotropics for humans as a defense mechanism of the Coffee plant. These chemicals are toxic in large doses, or even in their normal amount when consumed by many creatures which may otherwise have threatened the beans in the wild.

Decaffeinated coffee (sometimes called decaf) is available. This is coffee from which most of the caffeine has been removed, by the Swiss water process (which involves the soaking of raw beans to remove the caffeine) or the use of a chemical solvent such as trichloroethylene (“tri“), or the more popular methylene chloride, in a similar process.

Or for the scientists among us, there’s this:

The Caffeine Poster 1.0e header shot

Remember, organic doesn’t mean that it is without chemistry.  Caffeine, in fact, includes some of the same stuff in methane, both involving combinations of carbon and hydrogen and, as noted above, dichloride methane is used to decaffeinate coffee.

As the delays in New York continue,  those who aspire to do business here are losing patience and motivation, landowners are being denied the opportunity to earn revenue from their mineral rights, laborers look beyond our state borders for work, and a Planet Ithaca coffee company is doing its best to make money off a sad situation for so many New Yorkers.


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