*Update* Ruffalo and DiCaprio Host Anti-Fracking Field Trip for the One Percent, Vanity Fair Swoons

UPDATE (7:44 am PT, 3/4/2016): Vanity Fair changed the headline, and some text, in the article referenced below presumably in response to EID’s spotlight on its many errors.

In several instances Vanity Fair changed the word “fracking” to “drilling” without issuing a correction as a publication traditionally would. We are glad that Vanity Fair quietly acknowledged at least one of the falsehoods that Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. DiCaprio tried to foist upon its readers.

The lede now reads:

“There are two Oscar-nominated actors this year who have worked tirelessly as environmental activists offscreen—Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio. And on Thursday, four days before the Academy Awards, the brothers-in-eco-arms pulled focus to L.A.’s dangerous practice of urban drilling by embarking on a ‘toxic tour’ of all of the drilling sites in Los Angeles proper.”

The original text, recreated accurately in EID’s article, referred to “urban fracking.”

This error-laden sentence still remains:

“The intense means of extraction, known as fracking, is believed to induce earthquakes, compound global warming, pollute the environment, and to have wasted water during California’s most recent drought, the worst in 1,200 years.”

All of these claims remain incorrect, as explained below.

Original post, March 1, 2016

Vanity Fair magazine has built its reputation covering celebrity culture, with recent trending articles featuring topics like Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck’s divorce and Kanye West’s debt. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that a new article by the magazine’s Senior Hollywood writer Julie Miller – entitled “Mark Ruffalo Calls Out Governor Jerry Brown Over L.A.’s Urban Fracking” – doesn’t meet the highest standards of scientific rigor.

However, even celebrity culture magazines should scrupulously adhere to journalistic standards, meaning they  should, as the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics admonishes, “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work.”

The current Vanity Fair article fawns over two Academy Award nominees (and one winner) who brought other famous actors and reporters on a tour Los Angeles’s oil fields to pontificate, on the record, about “urban fracking.” As Vanity Fair wrote:

“There are two Oscar-nominated actors this year who have worked tirelessly as environmental activists offscreen—Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio. And on Thursday, four days before the Academy Awards, the brothers-in-eco-arms pulled focus to L.A.’s dangerous practice of urban fracking by embarking on a ‘toxic tour’ of all of the drilling sites in Los Angeles proper.”

The excessive use of adjectives is troubling from a magazine that should strive for a minimum standard of objectivity. Our heroes work “tirelessly”! Fracking is “dangerous”!

One might suggest that the author wrote “breathlessly.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. DiCaprio have as much scientific credibility as the Incredible Hulk himself. The claims of these “brothers in eco-arms,” which Vanity Fair didn’t think to question, are blatantly false. (This is not the first time DiCaprio has been found to have a casual relationship with the truth this week.)

First, the headline of the article contains a factual error: there is no fracking happening in Los Angeles at all. Second, there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that fracking is fundamentally safe with manageable risks.


Source: Mark Ruffalo in Vanity Fair



Ruffalo, in one of his “greener” moments



Leonardo DiCaprio. Source: PopSugar.com



DiCaprio, practicing what he preaches on his 450-ft. yacht


The author could have easily fact-checked these celebrities’ claims with a few calls to environmental regulators, scientists or even experts in the industry responsible for complying with the strictest environmental regulations in the country. Even a Google search would have turned up more facts than the misinformation that Vanity Fair was given and which it repeated uncritically.

It is as if this celebrity culture magazine – when listening to major movie stars! – decided to forgo the formalities of journalism and instead took a page from the new movie Zoolander 2. When male models Derek Zoolander and Hansel (Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, respectively) are debating whether to collaborate with Interpol agent Valentina, played by Penelope Cruz, Hansel says: “She’s hot, I trust her.”

Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. DiCaprio are handsome fellows to be sure, and they deserve their accolades for acting, but this doesn’t mean that Vanity Fair should abdicate its responsibility to verify the actors’ claims in an area far removed from their professional expertise.

Fact: Climate Leaders Frack

Among the risible claims that the celebrity activists fed to Vanity Fair, the most incredible may be that Governor Jerry Brown – one of the nation’s most celebrated environmentalists and climate change champions – is insufficiently committed to his goals. According to Mr. Ruffalo:

“This governor is adding 300 new wells a month to California’s drilling. He is the most drilling-friendly governor in the United States at this moment. . . . If Governor Brown is going to walk around saying that he is a climate-change hero, then by God, we are going to hold him to his word.”

As we will explain below, it is actually Mr. Ruffalo’s recommendation that would lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions: it is precisely because of fracking and the shale revolution that the world – led by the United States – is experiencing sharp declines in these emissions.

Is it just possible that the Governor, a passionate environmentalist, knows this? After all, even the Vanity Fair article notes:

“In December, the governor joined world leaders at the U.N.’s Paris climate-change summit, where he was heralded as an eco advocate, at one point telling French graduate students, “We have to be able to imagine the horrors that might unfold, and then take steps to prevent it.” The summer before, Brown called upon Republicans to detail their plans to address climate change.”

This sounds like climate leadership to us.

To apply Occam’s Razor and common sense: is it more likely that the Governor has ceased being the environmental activist he has been since Mr. Ruffalo was in Elementary School, or that Mr. Ruffalo, who admits to first hearing of the 60-plus year-old process of fracking only six years ago, is the one getting bad information from documentary filmmakers and thoroughly discredited academics? (Recently, one of Mr. Ruffalo’s favorite academic/activists, Anthony Ingraffea, admitted under oath that he is not an objective scientist and that he has no direct experience with fracking or related processes.)

No fracking in Los Angeles

Putting aside the claim that Governor Brown is somehow in bed with the energy industry, the simple fact is that there is no fracking happening in Los Angeles. None. So much for the story’s reason for existing.

The last time a well in Los Angeles was fractured was in 2012, and that was not for oil production but for a court-ordered study on the safety fracking at the Inglewood Oil Field, the same oil field Miller and her celebrity “guides” visited. The study was peer reviewed by an independent third party selected by Los Angeles County. Two wells were fractured to comply with this study, and across 13 different potential areas of impact – air pollution, water contamination, seismicity, subsidence, etc. – not one was found to be problematic for the citizens living in proximity to the oil field.

(It should be noted, as the article may have confused some readers, according to Baker Hughes, there are only six wells being drilled in the entire state of California – the nation’s third largest energy producing state – and none of those are in Los Angeles.)

So, no fracking, no story.

Fundamentally safe, highly regulated

This brings us to the anti-industry claim, dutifully repeated by Vanity Fair, that fracking is “dangerous.”

“The intense means of extraction, known as fracking, is believed to induce earthquakes, compound global warming, pollute the environment, and to have wasted water during California’s most recent drought, the worst in 1,200 years.”

“Intense.” Earthquakes. Global warming. Pollution. Water waste/drought. There is a great deal of misinformation packed into this single sentence. Let’s examine each claim:

  • “Dangerous” and “intense”: While pumping water at high pressure may sound “intense” to Vanity Fair, fracking is a routine well-completion technique, which only takes a day or two and can allow a well to produce oil or gas for many decades. It has been such an ordinary and unremarkable part of the energy development process that many jurisdictions like California regulated fracking as part of its mandate to regulate oil and gas but did not single-it out for special punitive treatment. That occurred only after an activist misinformation campaign led to the passage of SB 4, which, according to the Los Angeles Times are the nation’s toughest fracking regulations.

The claim that fracking is “dangerous” is contradicted by more than 60 years of experience in which more than 1.2 million wells have been hydraulically fractured without the adverse impacts claimed by activists like Ruffalo and DiCaprio and their enablers in the media.

Scientists including those at the independent California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), environmental regulators, as well as elected officialsmany of them Democrats — and the Obama Administration all confirm the fundamental safety of the hydraulic fracturing process.

  • Earthquakes: Scientists and regulators – including John Parrish, California’s State Geologist —  have have confirmed that fracking has not been linked to earthquakes in California nor, except in extremely rare instances, elsewhere in the country. The injection of produced water into Class II injection wells has been linked to some seismic activity, but water is produced and injected in the energy development process regardless of whether fracking occurs.

The reason was made clear by leading geophysicist and Obama Administration advisor Mark Zoback of Stanford University in testimony before the Unites States Senate:

“[E]xtremely small microseismic events occur during hydraulic fracturing operations. These microseismic events affect a very small volume of rock and release, on average, about the same amount of energy as a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.” [emphasis added]

Global Warming: As EID has highlighted before, activists like Ruffalo and DiCaprio claim to be fighting climate change when they are opposing fracking.  Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy – who, unlike our Oscar-nominated/winning friends, has scientific credentials —  called fracking for natural gas a “game changer” and “enormously beneficial” in the fight to combat climate change. The sharp reductions in both CO2 and methane emissions as shale development has expanded are extraordinary:



The fact is, then, that domestic production lowers emissions. Not only would producing less oil in Los Angeles, and in California generally, hurt everyday consumers of petroleum products, but it would have negative environmental consequences as well.

As previously noted, California, and Los Angeles in particular, has the strictest regulations on oil and gas production anywhere in the United States and perhaps the world. As Governor Brown has noted:

“California imports 70 percent of our petroleum products; our cars drive over 330 billion miles mostly on petroleum.  If we reduce our oil drilling on California, which a ban on fracking would do, we’ll import more oil by train or by boat, that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

That’s right: even as the third largest energy producing state, California uses so much petroleum that we import – by ship and rail — more than half of what we use from countries with laxer environmental regulations. This increases the carbon footprint of our energy economy.

The fight against fracking, then, is a fight against a technology that has allowed the U.S. to be a global leader in the reduction greenhouse gas emissions, something environmentalists truly concerned about climate change should cheer and not oppose as a matter of anti-industry ideology.

  • Pollution: Again, the scientific studies on this issue directly refute the activists’ talking points. Studies that have directly examined the impact of oil production on air pollution in Los Angeles have confirmed that oil production does not pose a significant threat to air quality for those living near oil production operations.

Most recently, a July 2015 study by the CCST found that less than one percent of pollutants and contaminants in relevant areas stem from oil exploration or production activity. From the report:

“In the South Coast air district (including all of Orange County, the non-desert regions of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County), upstream oil and gas sources represent small proportions (<1%) of criteria air pollutant and toxic air contaminant emissions due to large quantities of emissions from other sources in a highly urbanized area.”

Energy development is regulated by a tapestry of agencies (nearly 20 in Los Angeles), including the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). Urban oilfields are regularly inspected by the AQMD. One of the sites visited by the celebrity activists was inspected close to 20 times in one year with no significant issues found. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also did a multi-day inspection on another of the sites they visited and confirmed no pollution issues existed. The County of Los Angeles routinely does health assessments at the Inglewood Oil Field, and regularly confirms that there are no elevated illness rates, contrary to celebrity claims.

Not only are oil production facilities in Los Angeles are well within regional air quality standards, but ground-level ozone is decreasing, which is something all of us who live in Los Angeles (unlike some of the celebrity activists featured by Vanity Fair) should celebrate. From an EPA air monitoring station in Los Angeles:


Oil production in Los Angeles, then, is not a significant source of air pollutants (though of course the ideal amount of pollution is zero). Because it serves their anti-fracking agenda, the celebrity activists simply ignore the 99+ percent of pollutants and contaminants from sources other than energy development. It is a shame Vanity Fair let them get away with it.

It is interesting that in her adjective-laden introduction, the author of the Vanity Fair article described the soccer field across from the Inglewood Oil Field as “poignant,” as if to evoke a dystopian wasteland. It is actually quite bucolic in and of itself and, more relevantly, trails and parks around the oilfield serve as training sites for Olympic-level athletes. This is not something that would happen if there were air quality concerns.


Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. Source: http://art-chitecturelosangeles.blogspot.com/



Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. Source: County of Los Angeles


  • Water Use: Vanity Fair repeats the activist claim that oil production “wastes” water when in fact oil production is a major water producer. This is why flowback water used in production – conventional and unconventional – is called “produced water.” It is water that is new to the water cycle.

According to the California Department of Conversation (DOC), the production of a barrel of oil results in the production of an average of 15 barrels of water. This water is salty or brackish and has been buried for millions of years along with oil or gas. After the oil or gas is extracted from the water, it can then be put to a variety of productive uses, including reinjection (of this treated, cleaner water) to stabilize pressure, or to help in advanced oil recovery operations in the form of steam.

It is important to highlight a special use of this water given the historic drought that we are experiencing: produced water can sometimes be made clean enough that it can be used by California’s agriculture industry for crop irrigation, helping farmers though the drought and helping the industry to produce food and fiber that feeds the world and keeps another important California industry afloat.

This successful program has existed for more than 20 years, but the drought makes it even more critical. Last year, Kern County energy producers provided more than 10 billion gallons of water (31,658 acre feet) to their agriculture industry neighbors.  This is a beneficial use of “produced” water – water that does not impact the drought negatively because it was never in the water supply.

This is a win-win for everyone, right? Yes, except for certain New York-based celebrities. It turns out that one of the most vocal critics of Kern County’s long-standing and successful irrigation program is none other than Mark Ruffalo.

  • Water use in Fracking: It should be quickly noted that while there is no fracking in Los Angeles, activists frequently cite fracking as a water-intensive process.

In fact, according to the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), all of the hydraulic fracturing in the state last year used 214-acre feet of water, equivalent to the amount of water that just one of California’s 1,100 golf courses uses in a year. (Remember that industry in Kern County also produces 31,000 acre-feet that is put to productive use by the agriculture industry.)

As environmental reporter Chris Clarke  wrote:

“The water used for fracking in 2014 is just .00069 percent of California’s total water consumption. Or put another way: If all the water used by California society in 2014 was represented by a bank account totaling $10,000, the amount we spent on fracking last year was just under seven cents. Puts those 214 acre-feet in perspective, no?”

Conclusion: The consequences of misinformation

If this were simply a matter of professional entertainers taking time away from private planes and their mega-yachts to lecture their fans – and the magazines that sell to them – about a process they don’t really understand, nobody would care.  However, the impact of shutting down oil production — one of the backbones of the Los Angeles economy for a century – would be to increase gasoline prices on hardworking Angelinos (something even billionaire anti-industry activist Tom Steyer doesn’t want to see happen) and, as noted above, make greenhouse gas emissions higher, not lower.

It takes a special kind of audacity to use bad information to mislead fellow one-percenters, thousands of fans and Hollywood journalists when the outcome of this misinformation campaign is to exacerbate climate change. Celebrity activists should encourage domestic production, especially in California, as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even as they promote renewable energy and additional climate solutions.

And, of course, when we buy oil from other, often unfriendly regimes, all of the jobs, government revenue and economic activity that could be putting Californians to work and funding our school and building our roads goes to line the pockets of governments that often fund activity that puts Americans in harms way.

Everybody in the Southland would be hit hard by rising gas prices (prices that are already among the highest in the country because of uniquely stringent state regulation) and it is important to remember that the industry is also a major employer, with most jobs, which afford excellent wages and benefits, held my ethnic minorities.  The spectacle of  actors actively trying to take away these high-quality jobs from those who need them is not a good look.

Unfortunately for the well-meaning one-percenters who attended Ruffalo and DiCaprio’s field trip, and for the readers of Vanity Fair who were misinformed by the magazine’s gushing coverage, Governor Brown (D-CA) remains correct: anti-fracking activists “don’t know what they hell they’re talking about.” And this is good news for both our economy and our environment.


  1. *frac*

  2. Jhon Arbelaez-Novak says:

    Mr. Quast,
    Although there are many egregious, and downright untruthful arguments in your story, I would to point out the most blatantly incorrect one. You state that the oil industry is a net producer of water – creating new water and adding it to the hydrological cycle. This is simply wrong. I invite you to search the Internet, and learn about the Law of a Conservation of Mass, which can recited by any middle school aged young adult. The Earth’s water cycle includes all water, including subsurface water, and bringing that water does to the surface does not add to the cycle. Additionally, it is surprising to me that you are saying that it is called “produced” water as it is produced by the industry. Unless the oil industry is performing complex chemical reactions at drilling sites, combining hydrogen and oxygen, it is not producing anything. You should be well informed that it is called “produced” water because it is a result of the oil “production” process.

    I invite you to fully research this, and other information to which you are reporting here. Misinformation and propaganda do nothing to advance your point, especially in an age where so can simply Google something and prove your information to be incorrect.

    Finally, I would like the address the point you made regarding the industry creating high paying jobs for ethnic minorities in California. I have visited these sites for years, and have seldom met minorities in high paying positions. Most workers in oil fields in Kern County are Caucasian, from Texas or Oklahoma, which can be easily confirmed by hearing their accents, or seeing their TX and OK plates on their trucks. This disproves your assertion that oil industry jobs go mostly to locals.


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