Fracking Shills for Hire

“Energy in Depth”
Energy in Depth (EID) is a gas drilling industry front group formed by the American Petroleum Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and dozens of additional industry organizations. Energy in Depth is funded by the El Paso Corporation, XTO Energy, Occidental Petroleum, BP, Anadarko, Marathon, EnCana, Chevron, Talisman, Shell, API, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Halliburton, Schlumberger and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association to counteract the efforts of grass roots opposition to fracking shale.1 Energy in Depth’s website was registered on February 23, 2009 by the PR firm Dittus Communications.2 Dittus, which is now known as FD Americas Public Affairs, boasts on its website that "energy clients have formed the backbone of FD Americas Public Affairs’ clientele for more than a decade." Clients have included Alabama Power, American Energy Alliance, Georgia Power, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. EID is part of the gas industry’s self-described “counter-insurgency” efforts against grassroots opposition to shale gas industrialization, which includes methods developed by the military to deal with insurgencies.3 To that end, and as bizarre as it may seem, the gas industry has, by their own admission hired ex-military psychological

Barry Russell, Independent Petroleum Association of America President and CEO Hydraulic Fracturing Under Attack, memo/newsletter to IPAA members, June 5, 2009 pdf
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warfare “psy-ops” personnel to harass local grassroots opposition groups. 4 Such harassment is part of the industry’s larger propaganda efforts of denials and distortions.5 In New York, EID’s political activities are lead by Tom Shepstone,6 a former land planner. Even while working as a land planner, Shepstone helped pave the way for unfettered shale gas industrialization in the towns he did plans for.7 Although not a lawyer, he introduced a “right to mine” provision in plans he did for towns, in the sense of a “right to farm”, when there is no such right if such mining is contrary to the health, safety and welfare of the public. For instance, the Town of Masonville Comprehensive Plan was completed with a “Right to Farm, Practice Forestry and Mine Law” stating that: “Timber and mineral resources present opportunities similar to agriculture. The area offers high-quality hardwoods that provide a potential source of income for owners of open space. Its mineral resources, including natural gas shales, are also considerable. The Town needs to largely avoid interfering with these industries so as not to discourage their development.” In plain English, he set the town and others like it up to be fracked, the polar opposite of land use practices in every state.8 The comprehensive plan was done based on a survey of the residents which mentioned mining, but did not mention gas drilling. Nevertheless, under the plan prepared by Shepstone, gas drilling would be allowed anywhere in the town, since gas drilling is not prohibited anywhere under the comprehensive plan. Absent any provisions to the contrary in a local ordinance, the setback of a gas well from a house would revert to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s standard of 100 feet. From a church, school, hospital
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or daycare center, 150 feet. These are literally the worst setbacks of any land use regulations in the United States. 9 Under Shepstone’s plans, no part of the town is protected from the encroachment of shale gas industrialization. Evidently, such paltry setbacks are of no concern to Shepstone, who insists that shale gas industrialization is not only environmentally benign, but “essential to health”:10 “Natural gas drilling is not only environmentally responsible, but essential to health. There is, despite all the hysterical statements made by opponents, not one example of gas-well fracking polluting a water supply. Opposition to gas drilling is largely speculation and fear-mongering by those who would have the rest us do nothing to improve our lot, while they live off money inherited or made elsewhere. … Gas drilling is good for us, good for our health and good for the environment we treasure. We cannot save our environment by standing still. It is only responsible development that generates the wealth required to protect resources. Gas drilling is responsible and it will save our environment.” That preposterously gaseous panegyric got Shepstone a job as political coordinator at EID. Prior to going to work for EID in April 2011, Shepstone held himself out as an American Planning Association AICP accredited planner.11 He did so when speaking to municipal groups about shale gas industrialization. Shepstone had not paid his membership dues nor maintained his certification since 2008. The Executive Director of American Planning Association’s Executive Director said that Shepstone must no longer use the AICP certified designation in his resume12 or on his website. The web site for the American Institute of Certified Planners states: "AICP certified planners carry a high mark of distinction because they are required to meet rigorous standards, maintain their




expertise through continuing education, and serve community interests.” Shepstone has subsequently dropped “AICP” from his title and became a full time fracking apologist for Energy in Depth, where he makes presentations in New York advising towns and town officials that they have no right to apply zoning to gas wells - in direct contradiction to New York case law, relevant statutes and good land use planning.13 As a fracking front group, EID paints the grassroots opposition as if it were EID’s commercial competitors – in conspiratorial and economic terms. In presentations to its financial backers, EID attempts to quantify the financial supports of the opposition, by way of putting a dollar value on the cost of confronting the opposition, and discounting grass roots opposition to fracking as being a conspiracy funded by the Park Foundation.14 EID’s conspiracy theory of the anti-fracking movement encompasses the entire spectrum of environmental organizations - as if they did not care about the impacts of shale gas industrialization without prompting from a cabal. EID lists the purported amounts that various NGO’s have spent to oppose fracking. This by way of justifying their own funding – the implicit message being – “the opposition is spending a lot to fight us – you (the gas industry) must spend more” – on us, Energy In Depth. Curiously, EID mentions no other industry supported front groups, some of which masquerade as grassroots fracking advocates like EID, derisively known as “astroturf” groups. Presumably at risk of “outing them” or having to share funding with EID. Or simply because there is a dearth of such groups relative to the grassroots opposition. EID also attempts to discredit critics in academia by referring to peerreviewed studies that call shale gas industrialization in question as being “manufactured”. This mis-categorizes legitimate peer-reviewed studies as if they were mere counterpoints to industry propaganda, or


to pro-gas papers that are written by industry supported groups, including “made-as-paid” academics. To that end EID ignores unflattering studies done by the industry itself15 – scholarly studies that predate the shale gas debate16 or that were done by government agencies17. EID rates the opposition as being either “solutions oriented” or “ideologically attached” – as if a group could not be both ideologically driven and working towards solutions that are not in sync with the fracker’s agenda. In the former camp, EID lists the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Clean Air Task Force, some of which are beneficiaries of Big Gas’s largesse. In the latter, they list Environmental Working Group, Food & Water Watch, Riverkeeper, and the Natural Resource’s Defense Council. EID notes that some NGO’s have changed their opinion about shale gas industrialization. They single out Kate Sinding of the EDF and Robert F. Kennedy of Riverkeeper as shale gas apostates. Remarkably, EID’s explanation for this change is simply the increase in natural gas production and the drop in the price of gas – not a growing awareness of environmental problems associated with shale gas development – which is the concern of the grassroots opposition. EID specializes in such dissembling – even when addressing industry groups. As long as the industry ignores the problems and avoids responsible solutions, they will remain in denial – and EID will help keep them there. Josh Fox merits EID’s special attention, as does the Park Foundation. Given the unctuous credentials of EID, their condemnation is an accolade to any organization or individual concerned about the environment, good regulations or political probity.



EID’s conspiratorial world-view – and its delusional denial of the problems posed by shale gas industrialization - have helped cause the industry to lose credibility. It has forced the industry to attempt to overcome that loss of credibility by more direct means: political handouts to key politicians and all the puppetry that entails.18 If EID purports to rally support for fracking in New York, they have done a poor job of it, even when they pay to have “advocates” bussed in to attend public hearings.19 Responses to the DEC’s proposed regulations were 10 to 1 opposed to the practice,20 and an increasing number of New York municipalities have taken steps to protect themselves from shale gas industrialization.21 The gas lobby may want to find themselves some better shills.

James L. “Chip” Northrup Cooperstown, New York



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