As an oil and gas industry advocate, I’m always on the lookout for activist misinformation when I’m reading the newspaper, watching TV and surfing the Internet. But I was completely caught off guard recently while flipping through the pages of a retail catalog.
The latest Patagonia catalog includes a glossy, two page spread on hydraulic fracturing. The piece, penned by Casey Sheahan, the CEO of Ventura, Calif.-based Patagonia, makes numerous false claims to mislead readers into thinking hydraulic fracturing is scary and unsafe.
If you’re a casual catalog shopper, you may not be aware that Sheahan is an established anti-oil and gas activist who has been critical of the industry in the press, and sells copies of Gasland on the Patagonia website. Using the catalog to push activist talking points indicates a whole new level of desperation by Sheahan to be taken seriously.
But the hypocrisy here is astounding. Despite their best efforts to publicly distance themselves from fossil fuels, Patagonia’s stores are filled with clothes and other products made from petroleum-based products, such as polyester and nylon. But more importantly, those products are made in factories powered by fossil fuels and shipped to stores and homes in boats, planes, trains and trucks that run on fossil fuels. For example, Patagonia’s factories in China run off a power grid that gets 65 percent of its electricity from coal. For comparison’s sake, in America about 37 percent of electricity comes from coal. And to get Patagonia’s products from China to the U.S. requires shipping them more than 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Then there’s all the transportation required from West Coast port to the rest of the country, and all the additional energy that’s required to light, heat and cool Patagonia’s retail stores. At best, a tiny fraction of this energy comes from wind turbines and solar panels.
It takes a lot of energy to make and distribute Patagonia’s products, and we are proud that fossil fuels can power so many businesses, provide economic opportunities, and support thousands of jobs at companies just like Patagonia. But if Sheahan really felt that the oil and gas industry should be shut down, he should stop production on all Patagonia petroleum-based products, at the very least. We know that won’t happen, because while he’d like his activist friends on the East and West coasts to think he’s one of them, he’s also a shrewd businessman who recognizes that his brand cannot exist without oil and natural gas.
Beyond this hypocrisy, Sheahan’s diatribe against the oil and gas industry contained plenty of misinformation. Here are some of the worst examples:
Claim: Hydraulic fracturing is “…a water-and chemical-intensive method…” and “One fracking well uses and average of 2 million to 8 million gallons of water and 10,000 to 40,000 gallons of chemicals.”
FACT: It’s easy to claim that hydraulic fracturing is a water and chemical intensive process, but the facts tell a different story. In Colorado, hydraulic fracturing accounts for a mere 0.1 percent of total water use. Just for comparison, agriculture accounts for more than 85 percent.
The U.S. Department of Energy confirms the miniscule impact hydraulic fracturing has on state water use:
“The amount of water needed to drill and fracture a horizontal shale gas well generally ranges from about 2 million to 4 million gallons, depending on the basin and formation characteristics. While these volumes may seem very large, they are small by comparison to some other uses of water, such as agriculture, electric power generation, and municipalities … Calculations indicate that water use for shale gas development will range from less than 0.1% to 0.8% of total water use by basin.”
The amount of chemicals in the hydraulic fracturing fluids accounts for less than 1 percent of the total volume. About 99 percent of that fluid is just water and sand, and remaining additives aren’t anywhere near as scary as the activists would have you believe. You’ll find many of the same substances in products used around the house, such as disinfectant, laundry detergent or toothpaste.
And while I don’t condone this kind of fear mongering, the activists at Greenpeace have also made some pretty scary claims about the “chemistry” of outdoor clothing, including the Patagonia brand. Having been the target of these kind of scare tactics against an industry, it’s even more disappointing that Patagonia chooses to use them against oil and gas.
Claim: “According to a new Cornell University study, the sum process appears to be worse for climate change than the coal industry and is more toxic to the environment and human health.”
FACT: Put simply, the oil and natural gas industry doesn’t make global warming worse. In fact, thanks to hydraulic fracturing, we are using more natural gas and less coal. As a result, we’re actually cutting our carbon emissions faster than any other nation.
As for the Cornell study referenced, it’s been debunked time and time again by authoritative sources. For example, Carnegie Mellon University’s research (which, we will note, was partly funded by the Sierra Club) concluded that “We don’t think [the authors are] using credible data and some of the assumptions they’re making are biased. And the comparison they make at the end, my biggest problem, is wrong.”
The authors of the discredited paper, Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea, were even harshly criticized by other researchers at Cornell, who said “Here we reiterate and substantiate our charges that none of [these] conclusions are warranted.”
CLAIM: “Sixty percent of those chemicals can harm the brain and nervous systems, 40 percent are known endocrine disrupters, 30 percent are suspected carcinogens, 30 percent are developmental toxicants.”
FACT: Though Sheahan never cites any sources for his bold claims, this appears to have been pulled from materials by known anti-industry organization, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX).
One spin around their website exposes TEDX’s true colors:
“All meaningful environmental oversight and regulation of the natural gas production was removed by the executive branch and Congress … [T]he gas industry is steamrolling over vast land segments in the West. … From the air it appears as a spreading, cancer-like network of dirt roads over vast acreage, contributing to desertification.”
If you need further proof that these are activists, look at where the funding for TEDX comes from. One of their largest contributors is the New York Community Trust, an organization that funds numerous anti-industry groups and posted this statement on their website:
“You’ve probably heard the horror stories from Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Texas about poisoned wells, sickened communities, and flammable tap water caused by horizontal hydraulic fracturing. … When you’re dealing with flammables, toxic chemicals, and drinking water for millions, the potential for disaster is great.”
Just like I’m no longer buying Patagonia products due to blatant bias against the men and women of Colorado’s oil and gas industry, I’m not buying the statistics that TEDX is pushing.
CLAIM: “Colorado could be powered almost entirely by wind, solar and geothermal if we put our minds and investments to it. The technology and know-how to move to a nontoxic, renewable energy economy exists today, and yet we choose not to.”
FACT: This is an interesting claim, considering Sheahan said himself, in the last year, that “Yes, solar panels, are currently made using petroleum and metals that, when extracted, also toxify the earth.”
Sheahan certainly excels at being hypocritical, but if he really wanted to encourage a switch to renewables, he’d embrace natural gas.
Natural gas power plants make it easier to bring more solar panels and wind turbines onto the grid, not harder. As the output of renewables is subject to variations in weather, they rely on a backup power source that can quickly adjust to changing conditions.
Due to the fact that coal and nuclear plants are too big, and too slow, natural gas is the best option to provide the support that renewables need.
In fact, the CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the trade association for solar companies, has made the point that “Natural gas and renewables complement each other very nicely.” And a new report from the Texas Clean Energy Coalition found that natural gas and renewables “are complementary, not competing, resources.”
Apparently, these and other facts don’t mean much to out-of-touch opponents of the oil and gas industry like Sheahan. Only when the facts don’t matter can he argue for the elimination of an industry that makes his business, personal fortune and lifestyle possible.