“Truth Tour” More Like “Scare Tour”
Friday evening I journeyed up to Vestal, NY, to see the final act – at least one could hope – of the Shale Test “Truth Tour” through our region. It was more like a “Scare Tour.” Securing baseline water quality information is certainly a wise precautionary measure for any landowner and there is nothing wrong with the concept of a non-profit organization helping those who cannot afford it. There are a number of reputable sources for getting this done. The Wilkes University Center for Environmental Quality is one place to go, for example, and here is another. Call me skeptical about Shale Test, however, for a number of reasons:
1. Responsible testing organizations don’t normally parade their principals all over a region acting out the role of the “good guys” saving us from the ravages of the natural gas industry. They recognize science is neutral and adopt a much more professional demeanor than anything I’ve seen on display with the “Truth Tour.” No professional organization would do a “truth tour” that implies pre-determined conclusions. Then again, Shale Test, is advised by Josh Fox, the producer of Gasland, and sponsored by Earthworks, a radical anti-energy development organization, so perhaps professionalism isn’t that important to them.
2. The founders spend more time using scare tactics (see videos below) to show dangers of natural gas development than actually spending time on talking about Shale Test. What does this say about the scientific credibility of anything this outfit might produce?
3. The founders. Tillman and Ruggiero acknowledge they will not be the ones collecting samples. Instead, they seek volunteers to do so. A number of red flags pop up immediately. For example, how can volunteers be trusted to properly conduct scientific tests on water quality and composition? Moreover, the results have to be sent to Shale Test for prescreening before they send them out to contracted laboratories to actually perform the testing. Why don’t they just have the laboratories come out collect the samples themselves thereby eliminating two thirds of the process? The answer is self-evident. No responsible self-respecting organization would operate this way – unless, of course, it had an agenda. Is there anyone, anyone at all, who thinks this kind of testing would be held up in court or serve any purpose other than mud-slinging?
4. Both Tillman and Ruggiero spend more time talking about ways you can donate to their cause than they actually spend on the testing. Interestingly, Tim Ruggiero starts off each presentation talking about his experiences when a drilling company set up a well on his property, which he never expected because, incredibly, he didn’t have his title searched before he bought the land. Calvin Tillman (Mayor of Dish, Texas – population, 185) then takes over to share his experiences with compressor stations . During Tillman’s presentation he mentions there is something like 20 wells in Dish, joking that he can throw a stone to each. But, he never once says anything negative about the drilling process itself, even announcing he is in the process of negotiating the lease of gas rights on his parents’ land in Oklahoma.
The overall goal of Shale Test is fairly clear, however, when Tillman tells the audience to “make the checks out to Earthworks, our sponsor.” The Earthworks tax return tells us “the activities (of Earthworks) shall include, but not be limited to: protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of destructive mineral development.” That says about everything we need to know. Shale Test is just another anti-development advocacy group – nothing more and nothing less.
So, what exactly, is Tillman’s motive in pushing Shale Test? One can’t know precisely, but surely fame is part of it. (Please watch the video below). It isn’t every day a Mayor of a town of only 185 people gets this kind of attention. It doesn’t matter much because Shale Test is clearly anything but a testing organization. It is designed to advocate against natural gas drilling and, perhaps, build the resumes of its proponents.