T-Boone Pickens and the Truth about All that Drilling

T. Boone PickensThe home page of T. Boone Pickens' "Pickens Plan" is emblematic of the oil industry's aggressive push to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale basin. The page greets visitors with the blaring headline, "WE MUST BREAK AMERICA'S ADDICTION TO FOREIGN OIL. The Pickens Plan will do it, but we need your help."

In the age of the perpetual War on terrorism, politicians, pundits and other U.S. demagogues have successfully used fear as a bargaining chip. Fear-mongering is a method of Orwellian thought control. In this example, Pickens equates foreign oil with evil, similar to the Bush Administration's Orewellian logic regarding American's position in the world: "You're either with us, or you're with the enemy." Bush put forth a false paradigm of absolute good versus absolute evil. The Bush Administration used fear as a political tool after 9/11 to march the country into war, and convince citizens that we need to permit domestic spying to keep us safe domestically. (Think Patriot Act). Fear also led to the heinous crimes committed at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib Detention Centers.

So it should come as no surprise that the man behind swiftboating John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, T. Boone Pickens, is at it again, as he attempts to "swiftboat" those who speak out against natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

The Pickens Plan and the U.S. Addiction to Foreign Oil

Pickens' statement on his home page about the U.S.'s addition to foreign oil is factually true, but it does not necessarily follow that the solution to this addiction is to tap into domestic fossil fuel sources -- at least from an environmental standpoint.

While the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is an easy Bogeyman for Pickens to use to influence public opinion in the post-9/11 era, the reason why Pickens is for domestic drilling is simple: he is all about the profiteering. His closest friends and allies see the abundance of natural gas lying dormant beneath shale reservoirs as akin to a modern day Gold Rush. Pickens has thus far run an ingenious public relations campaign that, if not examined closely or critically enough, could be perceived as progressive in nature.

It is anything but.

The Truth About the Pickens Plan

The truth about the Pickens Plan is that, in addition to fear mongering, it utilizes the propaganda technique of using celebrities. In this case, the beleaguered Pickens, who was torn to shreds in the aftermath of the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, is now "rehabilitating his reputation" by pouring his energy into being an "environmentalist." Pickens is offering misinformation by using his celebrity status to front for the drilling lobby's push to drill into the Marcellus Shale.

The Pickens Plan claims to be environmentally friendly, particularly with regards to natural gas. In reality, it is anything but. Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has wreaked havoc on people who live in this region and who get their water from the ground. Their water has been contaminated with fracking fluids. On top of that, contrary to Pickens' claims, drilling in the Marcellus Shale poses a major risk to the air, as well.

So, while a different plan may get the U.S. to use less middle east oil, it does not follow that it is a better, or more environmentally friendly alternative to the system currently in place.

The Obama Administration: "You're the Next Contestant on the Price is Right!"

In a May 31, 2010 address at Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the heart of Gasland, U.S.A., President Barack Obama announced that he would open massive land units in the U.S. for natural gas drilling. It was political symbolism, as the speech was given in the heartland of the Marcellus Shale at Carnegie Mellon University, where a massive research center for natural gas drilling into the Marcellus Shale is located.

In the speech, Obama declared, "Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we're going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy."

There is a disconnect between this rhetoric and the facts with regards to the country's "energy needs." The disconnect comes in the form of a natural gas surplus that the United States now possesses. The surplus was reported by The Financial Times (FT) in a February 1, 2010 story titled, "Shale boom leaves industry considering US gas exports."

The FT story states,

...[C]ompanies have started to contemplate exporting natural gas from the US ... The US now has enough of its own supply to last 100 years at current usage rates, according to the industry ... Mark Whitley, a senior vice president at Range Resources ... says the US has the potential to develop fields as big as any in the Middle East. He notes that the Marcellus Shale field, estimated at about 100,000 square miles -- is about the size of Greece ...[P]roduction has grown to such an extent that the major oil companies, which once focused their efforts internationally, are moving back into the US ... At this rate, the industry would do well to convert the natural gas import terminals into export terminals to get ready for the next stage in this boom.

Furthermore, data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, confirm the FT report one hundred percent, showing skyrocketing U.S. natural gas exports in the past decade. According to the industry itself in the FT story, if the industry has its way, this will increase infinite-fold in the coming years.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that when one needs something, one doesn't just get rid of it. One keeps it for himself. Doing otherwise would be nonsensical. So why the "energy needs" rhetoric by Obama, when there is an impending massive surplus of natural gas just waiting to be extracted from the Marcellus Shale?

The answer is fairly straightforward: It sounds good, and most people won't question it. In the mean time, Obama is ignoring the elephant in the room, which would require him and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to face the fact that natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale -- and anywhere else in the country -- is not an environmentally-friendly way forward. Indeed, is the antithesis of it.

A Small Hope

The prospect of halting natural gas drilling in its tracks is slim in the face of a massive advertising, propaganda and PR campaign that the father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays would be proud of is well underway, as well as the government-industry revolving door that numerous government workers and industry workers go in and out of throughout their political careers.

There is a small hollow hope, however. Just as University of Chicago political science and law professor Gerald Rosenberg calculated that major legal changes do not come from courts, but rather through the legislative branch, the American people must realize that the protection of the environmental will not come from legislators or regulatory agencies, both of whom carry atrocious and catastrophic environmental track records.

As the late, great Howard Zinn once stated, "What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but "who is sitting in" -- and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change." When governments and regulatory agencies fail the people, it is the responsibility of citizens to demand government represent them. In the case of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, it appears that is the only option left on the table.


A lot of people are making efforts to help people wake up to the huge environmental problem the recent reliance on plastic water bottles poses. But, it's a nice big distracting argument for the drillers and their allies to deploy. The big story in Steve's piece is about how despite all the rhetoric about the need to drill for the gas to fill U.S. domestic needs for energy (not for more water bottles) the reality is that companies are exporting more gas than ever. So much for the claims about needing to expand the drilling to protect America's energy security.

The government is always late to regulate in to a new area, I don't even know if cement integrity logs are required, however some companies are now just deciding that they need them as a precaution. Little surprise about contaminated ground water, but it should get better. "So what" about how deep the well is if the cement job is no good.

Every point in Gasland has been backed up, researched and affirmed. Please see our detailed rebuttal of the Big Gas smear campaign against the film, entitled "Affirming Gasland" It is our answer, point by point, to every false gas industry claim and can be found here: http://1trickpony.cachefly.net/gas/pdf/Affirming_Gasland_July_2010.pdf Josh Fox

Dear Josh: Thank you for joining in to help rebut the apologists on fracking. I want to make sure readers have links to additional pieces discussing your great work on this important issue, in addition to urging them again to watch your thorough documentary. We think your rebuttal really takes down the PR campaign by the gas lackeys, and so I hope readers will follow your link and check out additional information. From PRWatch: * [https://www.prwatch.org/Energy_In_Depth_Disinformation] * [https://www.prwatch.org/node/9194] * [https://www.prwatch.org/node/9322] From SourceWatch: * [https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Gasland] * [https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Portal:Water] * [https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Marcellus_Shale] * [https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Fracking] * [https://www.sourcewatch.org] And here are links to the documentary and related social networking sites to help people get more involved: * [http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/] (with many resources to help activists) * [http://www.facebook.com/pages/GASLAND/238848283364?ref=ts/] * [http://twitter.com/gaslandmovie/] Thank you, Josh, for your film and your tremendous efforts! Lisa

Josh it literally makes me sick to my stomach that people believe your ignorant falsehoods. To think that you are doing all of this under the guise that you care about people and the environment is disgusting. The word evil comes to mind. You are simply another person cashing in on natural gas. How much money have you made from it so far? I'm willing to bet it's quite a bit. Every effort against natural gas is an effort for coal. Right now coal drainage in Pennsylvania is damaging far more water sources than natural gas production ever could. Coal is the bad guy and guess what? Do you know who has the largest lobbying base in Washington? Coal Companies. They are the main opponents against natural gas. By bashing the natural gas industry you are simply providing more outlets for other big fossil fuel companies to gain ground and continue to use far dirtier fuels. Which in turn will ruin more lives and more of the environment. Lisa you still a Josh Fox supporter? While relishing in your self glorifying crusade against natural gas you have simply missed the point. The sad thing is you have dragged many along in this elaborate campaign of ignorance. The energy has to come from somewhere Josh. Pick your poison. I'm going with natural gas.

Dear Sir or Madam: I reject the charge that Josh is funded by dirty coal money and I published your comment in part to note for the public record that such an implication lacks any credible facts to back it up. But, I will leave the rest of that to Josh. On the issue of the coal industry v. the gas industry, I think it is an unfortunate over-simplification of the issue. Since some natural gas is coal-bed gas and some of the companies that mine for coal also own land with shale reserves, there's certainly overlap between these industries as well as with oil companies. Some in the natural gas industry unconnected to coal companies and oil would like people to believe that the hubbub is all just generated by the coal producers, but it's just not so. There are legitimate and serious environmental hazards associated with expanded fracking for gas as well as with expanded burning of natural gas. And, there are legitimate and serious environmental hazards with expanded harvesting and burning of coal. It's not all equivalent on all major consequences, such as air pollution, water pollution, and climate change, but I don't believe that expanded drilling and exporting of natural gas to Canada and Mexico is *the* solution. Our SourceWatch site includes extensive documentation from CoalSwarm of the problems with coal, as well as a detailed page on natural gas as an alternative to coal issue: [https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Natural_gas_as_an_alternative_to_coal]. We're going to have to deal with the problems caused by both of these fuels until we can greatly expand the use of renewable energy. I just don't buy that the choice is either we rush headlong into reckless and mostly unregulated fracking for gas or we stand silent on coal. It's a false choice in my opinion. I really do appreciate your devotion to fighting against coal plant expansion, a goal we deeply share. Sorry we will have to agree to disagree on the gas. Lisa

Thanks for the great debate, everyone. I'm glad my piece started what is an important dialogue and this is what is so beautiful about the Internet as a whole. It democratizes the important issues of the day and allows common citizens (and the industry posing as common citizens! I've also had the Pro-Israel Lobby, posing as common citizens, personally attack me on articles I've written critical of Israel do the same thing) have important discussions and add to the marketplace of ideas! So again, thank you. Obviously, having written the column, I am on the side of Josh and Lisa, but I have a bit of insight to add, too. It seems as if there is a false dichotomy or "lesser of two evils" (like our elections) presented here by coal vs. natural gas. Indeed, there are more options. How about more mass transit in all cities across America? It would also create jobs (Katie Klaber, head of the Marcellus Shale Coalition loves to talk about jobs, too) by the millions and would be far more environmentally friendly. How about electric cars, which GM killed in the early 90s? The country is not addicted to foreign oil. People are not addicted to oil. It's rich people, or the elite, who are addicted to what Professor Michael Klare calls "energy extremism," or oil at all costs, whether it be going to war for oil (i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan) for power and perpetual empire and hegemony, drilling for oil via offshore drilling (see BP quagmire!), Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, etc. Every new "solution" that involves oil is extreme and is driving the planet and humanity to extinction. We must either radically rethink we acquire energy and step outside the mainstream paradigms set up for us by the corporate media if we are to, quite literally, save the world as we know it. Here's a great interview with Klare. Check it out: http://www.progressive.org/radioklare10.html -Steve

One plane ride across the US is emits as much emissions as would be saved by someone car pooling for a year (mass transit really won't do it.) Just one plane ride and all that riding your bike and taking the train was in vain. Electric cars?? Wait how do we generate electricity? Oh yeah that's right by burning coal. Only the rich are addicted to oil? HELLO OIL IS EVERYTHING! This is the age of the Hydrocarbon man. Without it civilization simply ceases to exist as we know it. Lets just think about plastic for a second. You use it everyday. The keyboard your typing with is made out of it. The shoes on your feet wouldn't exist without it. Plastic is made from Olefins aka fossil fuels. You can't escape it. You are dependent on fossil fuels for EVERYTHING and seeing how we have enough of them to last for the foreseeable future this fact isn't going to change anytime soon. So we best start using the cleanest one out there. Light coming on yet. NATURAL GAS! I think we can all agree that there should be regulation and responsibility put on the nat gas industry and I don't think anyone in that industry would disagree with that statement. It needs to be done right. But sadly it's not the fossil fuels driving the planet to extinction. Its humans. I'm not a complete pessimist on this subject either. There is a clear way to stop this problem but no one wants to hear it. Stop having kids. The right to have kids is something humans should have to earn. The real problem has to do with trends in baby making (for lack of a better term haha). The educated person is having 1 maybe 2 kids because they know how much responsibility goes into taking care of them. The educated person understands the financial responsibility as well. They take care of their kids and one day those kids go on to have kids of their own and provide them with the opportunity their parents gave to them. It's how things are supposed to work... but they very rarely do. The poor uneducated person is popping out kids by the bushel load. Just the other day I walked passed a pregnant woman smoking a cigarette with 4 kids around her. Its moments like this one when I realize our future is bleak. Those five kids will likely grow to have 5 kids of their own who are just as equally disadvantaged and those 25 kids will go on to have 100 kids and so forth. Do you see what I'm getting at here? Take a second to really think about what this means. This is why the environmental movement is so crazy. Come on, recycling really? Recycling doubles the amount of garbage trucks, doubles the amount of manufacturing plants (The process of recycling is far worse for the environment than the original manufacturing) and yet people happily participate because they want to do their part for humanity. Don't you see it doesn't matter how much we conserve or how much we try to lessen our impact. The race is growing at an exponential rate. Our only hope is population control. Make people earn the right to reproduce. Until this happens (which it never will) we will continue our downward spiral as the hydrocarbon race. Wow that came off as a dooms day rant. Well I guess it is what it is.

You're right, actually. I learned about that in an ecology class I took. I don't think it's as mutually exclusive as you made it out to be, but overpopulation, as well as peoples' diets, are actually HUGE environmental issues and hazards that only take place in intellectual circles, but not really in the environmental movement or in activist circles, and in actuality, that is sometimes the problem with activism. it can, and often does, lead to oversimplification of cause and effect and also of solutions in general. I still think energy extremism is one big thing we must end, but it's not as if the buck stop there, that's for sure. Thanks for pointing out that out.

Why is it that every time you see a video or photo of oil wells you see gas being burned off next to the well. What the Hell is with that. Why is this not being captured!!!