Is Frack Free Denton for Real or Just Sophistry?

Frack Free Denton - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


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.

frack free denton - texas sharon

Texas Sharon

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:

Schmidt Family/Google Foundations
Developer of major solar project,
Major funder of NRDC and anti-fracking campaigns

David & Lucile Packard Fund
Major funder of NRDC, Tides Center/Foundation
and Rockefeller Philanthropy

William Penn Foundation
Funder of Delaware Riverkeeper
(and the DRBC that Riverkeeper sues)

Park Foundation
Funder of all things fractivist
and Sustainable Markets Foundation

The New York Community Trust
Funder of local fractivist initiatives in New York

Energy Foundation
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

Tides Foundation
Money launderer for other foundations
and funder of NRDC, Rockefeller Philanthropy,
EarthJustice and

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).

frack free denton

Jay Halfon – Rainmaker

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.

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18 thoughts on “Is Frack Free Denton for Real or Just Sophistry?

  1. Classic Shepstone. Rather than debating the issues, attack the opposition, their motives, and their sources of money. Is this because there are no substantive rebuttals or is is simply a bad habit?

    • The issue is the legitimacy of the Frack Free Denton initiative, which is just more astro-turf as far as I can see. I clearly say, in the post, that there could well be legitimate neighbor grievances but that isn’t what Frack Free Denton is all about. Rather, it’s part of a much bigger agenda that has nothing to do with local grievances. Sorry you didn’t like it. Fractivists never like being called out and really hate it when their friends are called out but calling out is necessary.

      • Where did you get the term “astro-turf”? Off of us antis from when we pointed out that that’s what your buddy Cabot’s puppet Enough Already is?

        • Actually Tom Frost, the term was first used to describe fake grassroots campaigns in 1985 by Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsten, who complained of the volumes of mail being sent to his office on behalf of insurance companies.

    • Clifford: It is because you can tell a lot about the legitimacy and authenticity of any political movement by exposing its origins and true motives. In the case of Frack Free Denton, it’s origins are in the same foundations who are trying to eliminate energy competition for their massive investments in wind and solar technologies (Schmidt Foundation), to strengthen their old-money choke-hold on land ownership in the state of New York (Park, Rockefeller) and to drum up business for trial lawyers (Halfon and his connections).

      You could never get real people to support the founder of Google’s greedy need for more money or to support billionaire trust-fund kids who don’t want truck traffic near their estates (even if it means the serfs all around them suffer with a poor economy and no leadership from their governor) or to support the tactics of trial lawyers. No, time after time, real people support the economic benefits of domestic energy production. They support the fact that the United States has an opportunity to ween itself from dependence on foreign energy from countries that don’t share our values. They support the responsible development of our natural resources, as we have done since our nation’s founding.

      My question to you would be just about the same as your question to Tom: why isn’t there any anti-fracking political initiative that isn’t driven by these members of the 001 percent and why must they hide deep in Form 990s to drum up “local” support?

      You’re a tool Clifford. You want to act like the smartest guy in the room, but in unwitting service to your anti-fracking overlords, you are willing to call the forest fragmentation and wetlands destruction of a massive wind facility “roads for firefighters” and you are all too glad to look past the covert initiatives of a select economic elite.

      Thank God for people like Tom who have the brains and resources to do more than scratch the surface.

  2. This is completely ridiculous and typical of the oil & gas industry mouthpieces. Rather than addressing any of the many problems caused by moving this development as close as 187′ from where people live, you make up a bunch of blather. The Frack Free Denton effort is a local grassroots effort funded by local people including Sharon who lived and worked in Denton for many years and is only temporarily living away until her son finishes school next summer and transfers to UNT. Halfon has given no money to Frack Free Denton but we sure hope he will.

  3. I am confused to the objectives of environmentalists and the fact they cant buy a calculator and do a cost benefit study of what is the best way to reduce Carbon emissions. The evidence is very clear that Shale Gas has brought down Americas CO2 emissions more then all Solar and Wind Globally combined. The Shale Gas Advantage is pretty clear . Cost of shale gas in America reducing CO2 output by 300 megatons is one third of the Global Renewables which reduced CO2 by 270 megatons. Somehow I think these foundations must have huge money on the EU carbon trading market or in Solar panel makers who are now under threat
    by Shale Gas. The US being the fourth largest Shale Gas reserve holder is only the beginning . China with the worlds largest reserves is going all in and that is indeed a great thing. China is one of the biggest CO2 emitters and that will change with Shale Gas in their own territory. Argentina and Algeria with greater shale reserves then the US are going to develop as well. I think States should really look to restricting how many times the Antis can place a ballot to ban fracking . In the Case of Youngstown it seems like serial harassment of the voters by the Antis

  4. Tell this to the people from Denton .The ones that have lived with the affects from the NG prosperity you promote (because you don’t live it ) .Let’s leave it to the vote in Nov.Hopefully the proper decision will be made stopping the drilling and the pollution that comes with it ,among all the other related disruption …..Right on Denton !!

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  6. Perhaps if we applied the same level of disciplined and intellectually honest environmental and economic scrutiny (free from ideology) to nuclear, coal, natural gas, solar, and wind, then these debates would focus on facts, data, real cost benefit analyses and a recognition that we need to feed, clothe, house, educate, employ, and keep warm and healthy over 300,000,000 citizens of the USA.

    • Hey Paul, are you willing to sacrifice your family, your children so all those U.S. citizens can be fed, clothed, housed, educated, employed and kept warm? Even Shepstone admitted that some of the residents have legitimate claims. Will you step up and trade homes with one of those residents? Because they won’t have any luck selling their homes. Don’t you think that we can put our heads together and find a better way to feed, clothe, house, educate, employ, and keep warm and healthy than to sacrifice millions simply because of where they live geographically?

  7. And Bill F if they don’t vote to ban Fracking will that be the end ? Of course not because you have already shown your blind spot . I finally tried to watch Gaslands last night and got 5 minutes in to the first misrepresentation. Minute Six came the second one . The entire thing Was so painfully boring that I fell a sleep halfway through. It reminded me of the Blair Witch project style of film making . NO wonder Phelim McAleer was able to slaughter Fox . Fox is the figurative man behind the curtain in the wizard of oz

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