Fracking Ethics

Fractivist Ethics - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.




A new video entitled “The Ethics of Fracking” is an exercise in double standards demonstrating the hollowness and, ultimately, the hopelessness of the anti-fracking cause.

Is it ethical to take someone’s property or deprive another of his or her livelihood based on falsehoods told for the purpose of advancing an ideology?

That’s the question that ought to asked of the participants in a video just released by a group called the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC). “The Ethics of Fracking” is a video bundle of such falsehoods, combined with inflammatory statements and baseless speculation by a small collection of activists, including trial lawyer, and now Congressman, Matthew Cartwright. It’s little more than a regurgitation of anti-fracking talking points long ago proven to be meritless.

There is so much of this in the video, in fact, I simply suggest readers check out our Hydraulic Fracturing page for the facts. The rebuttals are everywhere and there’s little point in rehashing them in this instance, for GDAC has offered nothing new.  Rather, it has only repackaged old disproven accusations, using an ethics theme to suggest intellectual seriousness. What has resulted is anything but intellectual or serious. It is merely a sad reflection, in fact, on the loss of ethics in so much of the environmental movement, which now adheres to no more than an “ends justifies the means” philosophy.

GDAC: Transparency for Thee, Not Me

The evidence of this loss of ethics is evident in several places in the video. Let’s start with some words from Rabbi Mordechai Liebling from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, who says the following at 7:29 in the video:

“Well, there are several categories to think about whether fracking is ethical or not. One category is transparency and if something is not open and transparent then we begin to have ethical questions. The fracking industry, for example, has done everything it can to hide what the contents of the fracking fluid is (sic). So, using this poisonous fluid and and not revealing to the public what exactly is in their; that’s not ethical practice.”

Perhaps, Rabbi Mordechai is unaware of and state disclosure requirements, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt on that falsehood. One can not do so for GDAC, however, which produced the segment. Why, because GDAC is anything but transparent. It identifies itself as follows:

The Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, Inc. of Luzerne County, based in Dallas, PA, is a non-profit community educational association, whose members are concerned with the negative effects of the Industrial Process of Drilling for Natural Gas in PA.

The indication GDAC is a “non-profit community educational association” immediately suggests it might be a charitable organization. A visit to the Charities Online Database at the Pennsylvania Department of State website, though, indicates no such charitable entity. Searches by name and zip code reveal nothing.  Ditto for Guidestar, where one can find background information on almost all non-profit charitable groups. Moreover, the donations page on the GDAC website is simply a PayPal link with “” at the top. Where is the transparency here? Who, exactly, is GDAC and who funds it? Who paid for that video?

GDAC was registered as a Pennsylvania corporation on September 27, 2010 but, apparently, is not recognized as a tax-exempt entity (a charity) and, if so, donations to it are not tax deductible. GDAC, to be fair, never says donations to it are tax deductible, but is this transparency? Is it ethical to collect donations on the premise you’re a non-profit educational association without telling your funders their donations aren’t tax deductible, assuming that’s the case? One wonders how many of those donations were deducted by unsuspecting donors? Is that ethical?

What’s Ethical About FLIR Flim-Flam?

Rabbi Mordechai also, at 2:43 in the video, talks about methane “gas escaping into the atmosphere,” accompanied by this FLIR image of what is supposedly a methane plume.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 4.53.33 AM

The FLIR camera images, however, can be very misleading, as this article and video, demonstrate from another example where a FLIR camera was purported to have depicted methane leakages. Is it ethical to accompany your claim of escaping methane with videography that has in other cases been demonstrated to show no such thing?

[UPDATE: Note comment below from Frank Finan who says he has a later version of the camera (a GasFindIR HSX Camera) which does show more than heat and is able to detect methane. We intend to further investigate this, but the reader needs to know what the camera owner says in the meantime.]

[UPDATE II: A little checking reveals the Chesapeake Bay Foundation video debunked by Energy In Depth was ALSO taken using a GasFindIR HSX Camera, so while it may well be useful in documenting gas leaks and is, in fact used by the industry itself for that purpose, it requires an expert reading of the results to know if its simply heat or something else based on the characteristics of the plume. We can’t, therefore, say with certainty what this video depicts or doesn’t depict.]

Where’s the Fracking?

Then there’s this fly-by image of Marienville, Forest County, Pennsylvania that appears at 36:18 in the video of some natural gas development in Marienville, Pennsylvania:

Fractivist Ethics - Marienville

The purpose of the photo, one imagines, is to demonstrate the supposed devastation associated with modern day horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, but it actually demonstrates the opposite. This area is easily locatable on Google Earth and here’s a shot from that service, including the typical distance between wells (yellow line), which is less than 1,000 feet.

Fractivist Ethics - Marienville 2

That short distance is the first tip-off this isn’t modern day Marcellus Shale drilling. Today, units of one to two square miles are typical, with single well-pads accommodating 8-10 wells that each have laterals of as much as a mile or more in length, greatly reducing the land disturbance. This picture depicts 5-6 dozen well pads with perhaps one acre of total disturbance each (60-70 acres total) in an area of perhaps one square mile, whereas Marcellus Shale drilling today, using horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing (officially, albeit erroneously, tagged, as “unconventional” natural gas development) would probably only disturb a total of 5-8 acres, with most of that reclaimed at the end.

We also know those aren’t unconventional wells because there are only 21 of those in all of Forest County, according to DEP records, and there are a lot more than 21 in this photo. These are conventional wells and there are almost 3,500 of them in Forest County. They were drilled at a density of as much as one well per 10 acres and there was a well pad for each. And, there was none of the horizontal drilling hydraulic fracturing combo activity about which the GDAC rails. So what was the point in displaying that image? It was, obviously, more scaremongering. Is that ethical? Do anti-fracking ethics permit one to use false images?

The False Images Used by Fracking Opponents

That isn’t the only instance, either. There is, too, an image from Franklin Forks of the Manning well, which has been proven to be a mechanical issue unconnected with natural gas development and representative of what can happen when your water well is flooded and no one bothers to repair it. There is also footage of Tony Ingraffea at 8:55 showing what he says is methane leaking from a gas wellhead that is flooded with water. Tony goes on to cite his usual litany about high methane leakage rates. That’s interesting because Ingraffea developed his figures using, among other things, old off-shore drilling data of little or no relevance to shale gas production. Is it ethical for fracking opponents to use irrelevant data to make their case? Clearly, it is not, but there it is in the GDAC video as their supposed evidence fracking is somehow unethical.

Then, there is trial lawyer/Congressman Matt Cartwright at 15:02 saying “We don’t know if we can clean up an aquifer that has been fouled by fracking wastewater” as if it had ever happened (it has not) or there was no need to first prove it could happen. That is the essence of the precautionary principle, which is the common thread running through the video. Described as “holistic,” it may be summed up as “if I’m scared, you can’t do it.” It is anything but holistic as it assigns all the costs to one side of the argument. Aaron Wildavsky described it as follows:

The precautionary principle is a marvelous piece of rhetoric. It places the speaker on the side of the citizen—I am acting for your health—and portrays the opponents of the contemplated ban or regulation as indifferent or hostile to the public’s health. The rhetoric works in part because it assumes what actually should be proved, namely that the health effects of the regulation will be superior to the alternative. This comparison is made possible in the only possible way—by assuming that there are no health detriments from the proposed regulation.

Oh, and Cartwright’s former law firm, where his wife still works, solicits fracking lawsuits. Is it ethical for a Congressman to appear in a video that indirectly doubles as a piece of advocacy for his wife’s trial lawyer business?

So it is with GDAC’s definition of ethical behavior, which, it turns out, like its data, is ultra selective in its application and adapted to making a case that fits their ideology. They seek to impose that ideology on others, which brings us back to the beginning. Is it ethical to take someone’s property or deprive another of his or her livelihood based on falsehoods told for the purpose of advancing an ideology? The answer is NO.

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18 thoughts on “Fracking Ethics

  1. Thanks for another great post. I use your information to educate people on the truth behind the anti-fracking lies. Working on a simple position paper for my local elected reps right now. Keep up the great posts.

  2. The Kings College professor actually represents the ethics curriculum at that school. I don’t hold him accountable for the final editing of this video, but I will be interested in his thoughts on whether he considered this an ethical treatment of the topic.

    Furthermore, I think the entire treatment by GDAC missed the much larger consideration at play: should we be developing domestic energy supplies to use at home and to provide to our allies abroad, or should we continue purchasing oil from the OPEC cartel and allowing Russia to colonize Eastern Europe through energy pricing? When you weigh the potential impacts of domestic energy development (which is largely welcomed by the local populations experiencing it) against the devastation of blood-for-oil wars and the ethics of giving our hard-earned money to countries whose value systems support subjugation of women, death sentences for rape victims and terror against much of the west, it becomes a much different ethical consideration. GDAC and those involved in this video may have chosen to ignore it, but that only further exposes their anti-domestic energy agenda.

  3. Great piece, Tom, as usual. Do we ever feel like we’re beating our heads against a wall? Are these folks totally incapable of interpreting the real world and then functioning in it? Or is it their way of gaming the system to make some money? It’s propaganda like this, and that’s what it is, that can lead a nation into demise if not destruction.

    Anyhow, I wish I could make them read my recent piece (1/9/14) and then rationally discuss the issues point by point. Incontrovertible facts are hard to dismiss. Here’s one, PA Marcellus production right now could satisfy the residential natural gas needs for every household in America.

    Moreover, it is likely that the formation’s output, along with the Utica, may represent close to one-third of total US production in a few years. See:

    How is it that those opposed to NG development choose not to recognize the sheer magnitude of the enterprise? I desire a clean environment as much as the next person and I’m not really fond of truck traffic either. But I’m a realist. If I were them, I would engage in honest, rational dialog with the aim of establishing beneficial “best practices” operations. Spewing out propaganda is despicable, and sadly, it often works on the masses. Need we point out some totalitarian states, past and present, to make the point?

  4. Quick question. Does non-profit mean charitable? I think the two things are not the same although a charity must be non-profit of course.

    Anyway, keep up the work dispelling myths. These guys seem behind the times.

    • A charity, as defined by the IRS rules and, specifically, 501(c)3 regulations, must be a non-profit organization but a non-profit organization does not have to be a charity. There are many non-profits to whom donations are not tax-deductible. It gets complicated quickly, so I won’t go further, but, generally speaking, a charity is a non-profit organization qualified by the IRS as authorized to accept tax-deductible donations. The point here was to note GDAC is non-profit amd might appear to be a charity but is NOT recognized as a charity in the Pennsylvania records, at least those that are posted on-line and that assumes they are accurate, which, of course, there is always a possibility they are not.

  5. Thank you for your terrible review of my video Tom. You have brought up many good questions. I could have answered them if you only asked me when I met at John Hanger’s press conference the day before you posted this, but then, if you had the real answers, you couldn’t use them against me. You are very good at deception tactics. You should proud, you are exactly the kind of person this video exposes.

    • I had not finished reviewing the video at that point, Scott. Feel free to explain here in the comments and offer whatever explanations you wish. By the way, I actually enjoyed meeting you and that’s one of the reasons I didn’t call you out specifically in my review. If we can have a reasonable debate here in these comments and you have no objection, I’ll post that pic. Anyway, I welcome your response, although I’d appreciate leaving the personal insults out of it. No need for that.

  6. Dear Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC),

    Would any of you care to read my recent piece in NGN

    and MDN, additional links in the same article,

    and comment in detail point by point on each of my ten assertions?

    I am curious if there are any glaring weaknesses, non-glaring too. It is always good to get alternate perspectives on one’s work. Too often folks get wrapped up in their own biases and I do not wish this to happen to me.

    Many thanks for your input.

    Feel free to post here, or for a lengthy discussion, write to me directly at

    Chris Acker

  7. I’d gladly take the time to put together the facts for, say a neutral reporter, but I won’t waste my time to do it here where nobody who reads blog cares one iota about the truth. You arrange a story and I’d gladly do it. Maybe have the Northeast Driller do it. I believe you know them and they feed you information.

    • I know one person at the Northeast Driller and they don’t feed me anything, Scott. Regardless, I remain open to publishing your response, if you should change your mind. If you want to run it elsewhere too, be my guest.

  8. Hello Tom,

    Please correct the capabilities of my FLIR GasFindIR HSX camera, perhaps you have it confused with the first IR camera I bought (I have never posted any footage from that one as it only shows hot vs. cold, like you claim this one does) All the FLIR footage I have made public was shot with the HSX.

    Quote from the FLIR GasFindIR HSX datasheet:
    “The new FLIR GasFindIR HSX is the next-generation
    GasFindIR camera from FLIR. New integration modes
    and productivity features help organizations maximize
    safety, savings, and productivity when surveying for
    methane and other Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)
    leaks in facilities and pipelines.”

    GasFindIR HSX Camera is Laboratory Tested to Detect:

    I will call you tomorrow to discuss this.
    Frank Finan

    • The screenshot you have posted in this article is of my footage, however when I click on the highlighted “video” link it goes to a different video, not mine.

      • The video link is to an analysis and debunking of other FLIR camera work conducted for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and purported to show methane leakage. I clarified this in the article and added an update that points people to your comment for your explanation.

      • I have now checked further and my quick research indicates the Chesapeake Bay Foundation video debunked by Energy In Depth (to which I linked) was ALSO taken using a GasFindIR HSX Camera, so while that particular camera may well be useful in documenting gas leaks and is, in fact used by the industry itself for that purpose, it requires an expert reading of the results to know if its simply heat or something else based on the characteristics of the plume. Watch the EID video and you’ll see what I mean. Perhaps it would be useful to submit your video to the same expert or another for such an evaluation.


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