Fracking pioneer’s charity challenges industry orthodoxy by James Osborne
James Osborne, Oct. 31, 2019, Houston Chronicle
WASHINGTON – Four years ago, a group of oil and gas executives and environmental experts, assembled by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, prepared to publish a report calling on Texas regulators to adopt rules to reduce the risk of water contamination from oil and gas production — in response to numerous complaints by residents living close to drilling sites.
“It was the usual suspects,” she said, declining to name the executives or their companies. “On the day before publication, led by one company in particular, they said they would not put their names and dropped out. It was probably the plan from the beginning.”
Founded by George Mitchell — the man often often dubbed the “father of fracking” — the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation has used the family’s oil fortune to promote environmental causes for decades. But six years after Mitchell’s death, the Austin-based foundation has evolved into an unlikely critic of the oil and gas industry, as the shale boom sweeps the United States.
Run by the Mitchells’ children and grandchildren, the foundation has become one of the nation’s leading patrons of research into the public health and the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing, as well as a passionate advocate for the tightening of government regulations over drilling [Synergy! It’s impossible to regulate hydraulic fracturing to make it “safe.”] — the very thing U.S. oil and gas companies lobbied against for years.
The campaign was initiated by Mitchell himself, who at the last board meeting before his death [Guilt? Because of frac’ing poisoning and abusing so many innocent families and communities?] implored his family to work to force companies to drill more responsibly, according to notes from the meeting. [Impossible to “force” companies to do anything anymore, we’ve let them grow too corrupt and powerful. Only way we can “force” them to improve, is to stop buying their products and stop falling for their toxic bribes and jobs]
“All the environmental complaints everyone was making about fracking, he felt strongly they were totally unnecessary, and you could do this right,” [by not doing it, is the only way to do it right] said Katherine Lorenz, Mitchell’s granddaughter and president of the Mitchell Foundation. “He believed the problems are due to negligence, and he was outspoken on the greater need for regulation. He said that over and over to me.” [If it was doable, why did he need to repeat himself over and over? Like harmed landowners, begging over and over, trying to get responsible remediation and accountability from companies and their crime enabling regulators.]
For more than a decade, U.S. [and Canadian and German and Australian and and and] oil and gas companies have fought claims of flammable water and methane leaks that contribute to climate change, maintaining that the hydraulic fracturing boom has proceeded without long-term damage to land and water — save a few isolated incidents by less reputable firms.
[Frac harms are real Check:
Australian Petroleum Association: Coal seam damage to water inevitable by The Sydney Morning Herald, August 3, 2011.
The coal seam gas industry has conceded that extraction will inevitably contaminate aquifers. “Drilling will, to varying degrees, impact on adjoining aquifers,” said the spokesman, Ross Dunn. “The intent of saying that is to make it clear that we have never shied away from the fact that there will be impacts on aquifers,” Mr Dunn said.
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers: Coal bed methane operations contaminate water resources by The Calgary Herald, August 28, 2014
Yet CAPP’s Alex Ferguson says many worries about water quality are based on past operations involving coal-bed methane — shallow deposits in closer proximity to groundwater. These did occasionally contaminate water resources, he says. In some of the more infamous instances, affected landowners could light their well water on fire.
Alex Ferguson was appointed Commissioner and CEO of the BC Oil and Gas Commission from 2007-2011
After decades of lies to landowners and the public by CAPP, industry & energy regulators, University of Guelph Study Proves Potentially Explosive Methane Leaks from Energy Wells Affects Groundwater, Travels Great Distances, Poses Safety Risks. Will the lies stop now? Not Likely. Will groundwater monitoring begin now? Not Likely.
2017 04 05: New University of Guelph study on methane migration in sand aquifer in Ontario: “Potentially explosive methane gas leaking from energy wells may travel extensively through groundwater and pose a safety risk”
“For larger leaks over longer times and greater areas, these findings would indicate that the groundwater would become unusable,” he said.
Leaky wells could pose a significant danger to the environment in a number of ways, said Cahill, who is now at the University of British Columbia.
“Methane is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat when in the atmosphere, so we need to consider both the air and the groundwater when monitoring for leaks. The impact to groundwater is likely to be long-term and persist long after a methane leak is fixed,” he said.
Norfolk, Ontario: leaking abandoned industry *sour* gas wells forces exclusion zone for vehicles, vessels, and evacuation of 22 homes. In nearby Town of Jarvis (population 2,300), unusually high methane readings, firefighters test gas levels at every home. Compare to grossly negligent, “No Duty of Care,” Charter-violating, lying, spying, heinous AER covering-up industry’s deadly gas leaks
Harmful Levels Benzene, CO2 Detected at MidWest School Surrounded by 744 Active & Abandoned Oil Wells Within 1 Mile Radius, Including CO2 Injection Wells for Enhanced Recovery by Anadarko, Now Owned by Fleur de lis
Trouble Beneath Our Feet: Leaking Energy Wells a Burning Issue; Big problem, Expensive to Fix, Impossible to Completely Stop
Are Suspended/Abandoned Oilfield Wells Dangerous? Oil Field Worker Critical After Being Burned in Robertson County Explosion
Leak in 100 year old shallow natural gas well caused serious methane migration into Waynesburg Medical Center; Methane build-up rendered the center uninhabitable!
End Frac harms are real Check]
But as the family of one of the industry’s legends turns on them, it has made for an awkward situation.
Asked about the foundation’s call for more regulations on oil and gas drilling, Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, declined an interview and sent a statement praising Mitchell’s “pioneering work.” He added, “All sectors of oil and natural gas are heavily regulated and the industry continues to be a leader in developing solutions that are advancing environmental progress.” [Soggy garbage. Even in jurisdictions where the industry is heavily regulated, regulators refuse to regulate, so as to keep their jobs and keep companies and politicians happy. Environmental degradation is progress? Toxic air, food, land and surface and ground water pollution is progress? Flammable water is progress? Greedy self-serving idiot.]
Steve Everly, a consultant and spokesman for the industry group Texans for Natural Gas, questioned the notion that more research on fracking was needed while downplaying any conflict between the foundation’s work and industry. [Everly is right! There are already over 1,700 references, with the majority showing harm from frac’ing! No need for more research. The only need is for the world to stop frac’ing – for oil and gas or geothermal]
“This isn’t Earthworks or the Sierra Club saying ban natural gas,” he said. “George was a little more progressive than others may have been. Different companies and executives have different views.”
Unusual oil man
… Mitchell then took his budding oil fortune and developed 27,000 acres of timberland north of Houston into a nature-centric model community complete with wildlife preserves, a concert pavilion and walking trails – naming it The Woodlands.
Of fracking, which netted him $3.1 billion when he sold his company in 2001 to the Oklahoma exploration and production firm Devon Energy, he was not shy about expressing his concerns.
“Mostly, it’s the loud voices at the extremes who are dominating the debate: those who want either no fracking or no additional regulation of it,” Mitchell wrote in an op-ed with then New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2012. “As usual, the voices in the sensible center are getting drowned out — with serious repercussions for our country’s future.” [But, dear Mr. Mitchell, you had to repeat yourself over and over and over and over, getting nowhere trying to get the abusive greedy industry to reduce its endless harms a tiny bit!]
His descendants now are carrying that mantle. With a $300 million in assets, the Mitchell foundation is funding everything from a campaign to grow rooftop solar systems in Texas to a gala honoring the longtime fracking critic Tom “Smitty” Smith, the former director of the activist group Public Citizen Texas.
At an event in Washington last month, the Aspen Institute released a report sponsored by the Mitchell Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, warning that “while many of the documented impacts associated with oil and gas development have been manageable [How is that working out for Cody Murray and his family blown up and seriously injured by their frac’d water in Texas? or the people that were killed by frac contaminated water in PA, or for Ernst in Alberta? Lauridsens? Signers? Campbells? Hawkwoods? Diana Daunhemier and family? The Ludwigs? The many families in NEBC and on the Blood Reserve? The frac’d to hell in world-record frac quakin’ shakin’ Fox Creek? The 400 families with homes damaged by frac quaker Cuadrilla in UK? etc etc etc ] to date, research is still thin, and effective governance practices have not been sufficiently baked into practice on a broad scale.” [Purely propaganda by the foundations! Research is not thin. Lift off the veils, and Read, I dare you, and you will see.]
“They’re one of the biggest environmental funders in the state, funding a lot of really important work,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of the non-profit Environment Texas. “Though I should disclose we’re a recipient of their grant money.”
Nowhere is the foundation’s work bringing them into greater conflict with the oil and gas industry than West Texas, where the drilling boom is spreading beyond the well-established oil towns Midland and Odessa.
Worried about the intrusion of rigs, supply trucks and worker camps into the countries surrounding Big Bend National Park, the Mitchell Foundation launched the Respect Big Bend Coalition earlier this year. The aim is to bring together land owners, environmental groups and even oil companies [Synergy! Used by industry and groups such as the Foundations to enable more drilling and frac’ing, and more drilling and frac’ing.] to minimize the impact on an iconic desert landscape.
“Big Bend is one of the most bio diverse regions in western hemisphere,” said Hastings, the foundation’s sustainability director. “Yes, there’s no drilling [near the park] right now. People ask why are you spending your time preparing. All you have to do is drive down the street to the Eagle Ford and see what’s going to happen. If you go in after the fact, it’s too late.”
More than 40 years after its founding, the Mitchell Foundation has developed a reputation for its ability to work with the oil industry [that’s all one needs to know about the intent of this foundation] in ways that other environmentalists cannot. When the foundation went looking for partners earlier this year for a project at Rice University to speed the development of carbon capture technology, it succeeded bring together interests as diverse as Occidental Petroleum, Dow Chemical and the Environmental Defense Fund. [One of the worst synergizing NGOs out there! Shameful!]
Joe Kiesecker, a scientist with The Nature Conservancy, a national conservation group whose work in West Texas is funded by the Mitchell Foundation, said the affiliation with the foundation helped his work with oil companies including BP and Royal Dutch Shell in developing climate change policy.
[Frac Happy Nature Conservancy Reality Check:
Harper’s National Conservation Plan Ignores National Parks, Wilderness, gives $100-million to frac happy Nature Conservancy of Canada
Frac Happy Nature Conservancy accepts $14 million donation from BHP Billiton, Australian oil and mining giant
End Frac Happy Nature Conservancy Reality Check]
“If I were to knock on a door with energy regulatory folks or developers,” Kiesecker said, “I might knock for a lot longer if I’m just the Nature Conservancy.”
In part, that’s a product of the foundation’s namesake. In addition, the foundation doesn’t argue against fracking altogether, maintaining that it benefits the U.S. economy [What benefit? Like Aubrey McClendon billions in losses hung on investors? The foundation is spewing the same lies industry is. Take a look at the bankruptcies and billions in frac debt bubbles, busting all over Canada and America!] and simply needs to be done more responsibly.
But as climate scientists’ warnings of environmental catastrophe grow increasingly dire, the Mitchell family’s outlook is changing, too. [Too late! After how many thousands/millions harmed?] Lorenz, Mitchell’s 40-year-old granddaughter who previously ran a nonprofit helping farmers in Mexico grow organic crops, said she believed the world would eventually need to move away from natural gas. She admits it was not something her grandfather said in his lifetime, explaining the consequences of climate change were not as clear while he was still active in the foundation.
“This is not the case where we feel bad how the money was made,”she said. “Our values, using science to inform everything we do, is a direct, direct piece of the legacy coming from him.”
Refer also to:
For a few examples of frac’ing contaminating water, harming families, destroying homes:
Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand against the World’s Most Powerful Industry by award-winning investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, originally published in Canada September 18, 2015 by Greystone Books
Brief review of threats to Canada’s groundwater from the oil and gas industry’s methane migration and hydraulic fracturing by Ernst Environmental Services (EES), June 16, 2013
French Translation by Amie du Richelieu, June 16, 2013