The possibility the City of Denton, Texas might ban fracking has gotten lots of press lately from fractivist groups and their media enablers, but there’s more to the story on Frack Free Denton.
Like many who are involved in the fracking debate, I have followed the Denton matter from afar. I was pleased and unsurprised to see their city council reject the ban but there will, nonetheless, be a referendum vote this November, so we’ll be hearing a lot more about it over the next few months. Therefore, I decided to investigate Frack Free Denton a little further to learn more. I found this is just one more example of anti-fracking astro-turfing by the usual suspects. Denton residents and local discontents are simply being used by the same forces always at work in the background. There’s also some “Soph”istry involved.
Frack Free Denton or Earthworks?
The City of Denton is located in Denton County, Texas, which also includes small parts of both Dallas and Forth Worth. It is an area tremendously benefitted economically by natural gas development and it’s health has greatly improved as a result. Not everyone is happy, though, and some NIMBY types such as a jazz music professor named Ed Soph from the University of Texas, who left Texas many years ago and then returned have protested the development. There’s no NIMBY like one who left and then returned to find things have changed, of course. They always seek to return to the past.
Ed Soph is apparently that kind of individual but he’s not alone. There are also some folks who located in subdivisions where the mineral rights had long ago been sold to gas companies now exercising them and drilling wells relatively close to houses. Drillers have erected large temporary barriers to shield the residents from the drilling and fracking, which are short-term activities, but some residents are still unhappy and are complaining about the noise, the lighting, the barriers, etc. They’ve also alleged various other health impacts but it’s of the usual sort; that is to say undocumented anecdotal assertions.
These individuals have formed a group called the Denton Drilling Awareness Group a/k/a Frack Free Denton which is supposedly incorporated as a non-profit educational entity. The name doesn’t show up yet in Texas on-line corporate records but that may be because it’s using another name or some other innocent reason. Regardless, the group has a rather glitzy website and there a couple of things one learns quickly perusing it.
First, the name Earthworks is all over it. The evidence this is all an Earthworks initiative, notwithstanding the fact there may be legitimately unhappy neighbors, is manifest. Earthworks links appear on every page of the site. Earthworks also says Sharon Wilson, from its Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project, who is otherwise known as Texas Sharon and has been in the thick of this whole effort, “has been organizing in Denton for five years.” Wilson speaks frequently for the group and recently assured everyone of legal help for their fight.
Who is Earthworks? Well, it’s the usual suspects at work in a new arena. A look at the 990 return of the organization for 2013 shoes it took in $2,196,716 in grants and contributions. A review of the 990 returns of the most prominent fractivist funders for their most recent years shows $675,000 invested in Earthworks by the the following:
David & Lucile Packard Fund
Major funder of NRDC, Tides Center/Foundation
and Rockefeller Philanthropy
The New York Community Trust
Funder of local fractivist initiatives in New York
Third largest funder of NRDC and also funds
Sustainable Markets Foundation, Tides,
EarthJustice, Civil Society Institute,
Environment America, Sierra Club and
Rockefeller Family Fund/Philanthropy
Money launderer for other foundations
and funder of NRDC, Rockefeller Philanthropy,
EarthJustice and 350.org.
Frack Free Denton Is the Usual Suspects
What becomes readily apparent in perusing this list of Earthworks funders is this; they are precisely the same people funding the fractivist campaigns in New York, the DRBC region and elsewhere. Texas is simply a new frontier, which points out why the industry must be more engaged in New York and cannot afford to write it off or offer it up as the token sacrifice. Notice, also, how the Earthworks, in the guise of Frack Free Denton, cites the New York Court of Appeals decision in its appeals for a ban in Denton. Pay close attention, too, to the interconnections, as one entity funds the other, and the central role of the Sustainable Markets Foundation.
The connections to New York are further revealed in the Board of Directors of Earthworks, which reflect its New York funders. They include Tony Ingraffee, the Cornell professor who seems to be on permanent leave at taxpayer expense to do anti-drilling advocacy and whose research and advocacy is also funded by the Park Foundation. There is also Deborah Rogers (the model, goat farmer and economic naysayer).
Most significant, however, is the name Jay Halfon, who is the wizard behind the Sustainable Markets Foundation, various Rockefeller family initiatives and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NY-PIRG), which serves as a trial lawyer rain-making entity. Halfon is the maestro in doling out money to both unincorporated and incorporated non-profits that simultaneously advance the Rockefeller agenda and feather trial lawyer nests by employing dirty tricks. He makes sure Walter Hang has money to operate in New York and Frack Free Denton gets the support it needs in Texas through Earthworks.
Following the money indicates Frack Free Denton is no spontaneous burst of citizen action. Rather, it is carefully orchestrated campaign by the same folks doing it in New York. There are, no doubt, individuals involved in the effort who know nothing of these relationships, who will protest they are not being paid or motivated by these usual suspects. Nonetheless, it’s clear who is supporting them, pulling the strings in the background and agitating for public relations effect. Sharon Wilson hasn’t been organizing in Denton for five years for nothing.
Agitating, though, always requires individuals willing to be the local face of the effort. Frack Free Denton’s website tells us their “board members are all long time Denton residents.” We notice something else – three of the five are academics, two are husband and wife (Ed and Carol Soph) and one, Rhonda Love, “co-authored a paper on the public health effects of gas drilling.” Reviewing the paper, one sees it is the same sort of thing Victor Furman wrote about recently here – a collection of anecdotes and baseless assertions, and it was written in 2011, more than two years before the episodes supposedly driving Frack Free Denton occurred.
Rhonda Love is an activist, not an aggrieved neighbor. She’s also not a “long-time Denton resident,” in the sense most of us would interpret that phrase, as she held academic positions in health sciences from 1975-2009 in Ontario, Canada. Perhaps she commuted. More likely, she’s another move-back NIMBY, like Ed Soph.
Ed Soph is also an anti-drilling activist, having written this column in May, 2011, advocating against drilling under the name of an organization he founded called “Citizens for Healthy Growth, an environmental advocacy group.” The group has gone inactive and Soph has now found a new vehicle to advance his agenda; Frack Free Denton. You might say it’s a new form of “Soph”istry, in fact, but that wouldn’t be quite correct, as he has moved from spinning his opposition to natural gas development as just a desire to have smarter growth to now admitting what he really wanted all along–no drilling and no development. He’s now being more honest and less sophist. Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy did the same thing, of course, and it’s no wonder, given the same funders are involved behind the scenes.
Such is the nature of the fractivist movement. It’s all big money being funneled out by blue-bloods, who don’t want to get their own hands dirty, to local activists, ideologues and perennial protesters who imagine they’re the smartest people on earth but are just “useful idiots” at the end of the day. The sad part is this; there may well be neighbors with legitimate grievances, but their interests are being swept up in a fractivist cause where their voices are drowned out by these activists. That’s how fractivism works and Frack Free Denton is just the latest example.