In February 2008, a mayor of a small town in north Texas issued a statement applauding a local natural gas producer for donating thousands of dollars to purchase new computers for the town library, and thousands more to help build a playground at City Hall. Less than 24 months later, a mayor submitted a brief to a court in Texas suggesting that same company had “raped and pillaged” his town.
Interestingly, those two letters were written by the same man: Calvin Tillman, the now-former mayor of DISH – a town of about 120 in Denton County, Texas. Last night in Canton, about that same number of folks turned out at the Oakwood Middle School in Plain Twp. to hear from the mayor, who now makes regular trips out to our part of the country to rally local opponents of shale development – first in Pennsylvania, then in New York, and now in eastern Ohio.
For folks who may not know, Mr. Tillman has become something of a celebrity among the small segment of the population who oppose oil and natural gas development on ideological grounds, starring in the anti-gas documentary Gasland, and teaming up with a national group that calls itself the Oil and Gas Accountability Project to get his message out to the masses. OGAP is based out in Colorado, but as exploration has expanded, so has its reach. It now has affiliates in Texas, Pennsylvania and even here in Ohio – all with a laser-sharp focus on shutting down development wherever it’s being considered.
So last night, the EID-Ohio team made its way up to Stark County to see what all the fuss was about. And we have to hand it to the mayor: He sure knows how to rally a crowd. His presentation was filled with harrowing stories about air that was sullied and water that was contaminated – all because of hydraulic fracturing, a technology which has been used in our country safely for over 60 years to stimulate the flow of everything from oil and gas, to water and geothermal energy.
You’ll recall that just this past year, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson testified to the fact that the technology is safe, a contention reinforced by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Ground Water Protection Council, and about two dozen top environment regulators hailing from states in which the technology has been deployed. Our task last night was simple: We wanted to make sure Mr. Tillman was aware of these testimonials, and we also wanted to get a bit more information on why his stories of “raping and pillaging” as a result of shale development didn’t quite square with the research and data collected by experts and scientists from his home state.
Take for example Mr. Tillman’s contention that natural gas development was responsible for dumping all sorts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air, putting his town’s residents at risk. In May 2010, the Texas Department of State Health Services took a close look at those claims, sending scientists to DISH to test residents’ exposure to those materials and produce a report based on what they found. Here’s that report. According to the researchers, “In Dish, we found no pattern to our test results indicating community-wide exposure to any of these contaminants.” Here’s another report confirming the same issued just six months later.
Buffeted by more complaints from Mr. Tillman, state health officials didn’t stop with those two reports — they actually went ahead and installed a 24-hour Automated Gas Chromatograph to monitor air quality right in his town. Two years later, those monitors have not registered a single measurement that exceeds state or federal health standards. Of course, Mr. Tillman doesn’t mention in his presentation – so at least one of the folks in attendance last night decided he would ask about it.
Now, to the mayor’s credit, he didn’t dodge that question – and eventually even conceded that “things have improved, tremendously” on issues related to air quality in his town. But even with that concession, Mr. Tillman kept pounding away on hydraulic fracturing – a common tactic among those opposed to development.
Truth is, these folks aren’t actually concerned about the use of fracturing technology – they’ve read the same reports we have, and know that the technology has proven time and again to be safe. What they oppose is oil and gas development generally. And they know that without the ability to apply this technology at the wellsite, we’ll have no ability to produce oil and gas in America – and not just from shale, but the whole kit ‘n caboodle.
But another fella in the audience last night wasn’t about to let ol’ Calvin off the hook that easily – he wanted to know whether the mayor was aware of any instances in which fracturing had been found to be dangerous. Now, you’d think that one of the opposition’s talk spokespeople would’ve been able to jump all over this question – certainly he must have hundreds of cases of contamination ready to cite — cases near and far, from every state in the country, and ones that must have happened very recently.
But as you can see below, the best Mr. Tillman was able to do was pull up an incident he said took place more than a decade ago in north Texas – a charge he even admitted was later found to be inaccurate by courts and regulators in Texas:
Whatever your opionions may be on the development of energy in America, one thing you have to say is that Mr. Tillman sure knows how to tell a compelling story. Unfortunatley for him, though — and the folks who appeared to buy most of what he was saying last night — it seems he has a tendency to keep important facts tucked away in his back pocket.
With a little bit of prompting, some of those facts found a way to make an appearance last night — weakening his case just a bit, but hopefully providing those in attendance with a little better, more balanced view of what he’s about and why he’s trying to stop the development of the Utica so far from his home.