The home page of T. Boone Pickens' "Pickens Plan" is emblematic of the oil industry's aggressive push to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale basin. The page greets visitors with the blaring headline, "WE MUST BREAK AMERICA'S ADDICTION TO FOREIGN OIL. The Pickens Plan will do it, but we need your help."
In the age of the perpetual War on terrorism, politicians, pundits and other U.S. demagogues have successfully used fear as a bargaining chip. Fear-mongering is a method of Orwellian thought control. In this example, Pickens equates foreign oil with evil, similar to the Bush Administration's Orewellian logic regarding American's position in the world: "You're either with us, or you're with the enemy." Bush put forth a false paradigm of absolute good versus absolute evil. The Bush Administration used fear as a political tool after 9/11 to march the country into war, and convince citizens that we need to permit domestic spying to keep us safe domestically. (Think Patriot Act). Fear also led to the heinous crimes committed at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib Detention Centers.
So it should come as no surprise that the man behind swiftboating John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, T. Boone Pickens, is at it again, as he attempts to "swiftboat" those who speak out against natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
The Pickens Plan and the U.S. Addiction to Foreign Oil
Pickens' statement on his home page about the U.S.'s addition to foreign oil is factually true, but it does not necessarily follow that the solution to this addiction is to tap into domestic fossil fuel sources -- at least from an environmental standpoint.
While the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is an easy Bogeyman for Pickens to use to influence public opinion in the post-9/11 era, the reason why Pickens is for domestic drilling is simple: he is all about the profiteering. His closest friends and allies see the abundance of natural gas lying dormant beneath shale reservoirs as akin to a modern day Gold Rush. Pickens has thus far run an ingenious public relations campaign that, if not examined closely or critically enough, could be perceived as progressive in nature.
It is anything but.
The Truth About the Pickens Plan
The truth about the Pickens Plan is that, in addition to fear mongering, it utilizes the propaganda technique of using celebrities. In this case, the beleaguered Pickens, who was torn to shreds in the aftermath of the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, is now "rehabilitating his reputation" by pouring his energy into being an "environmentalist." Pickens is offering misinformation by using his celebrity status to front for the drilling lobby's push to drill into the Marcellus Shale.
The Pickens Plan claims to be environmentally friendly, particularly with regards to natural gas. In reality, it is anything but. Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has wreaked havoc on people who live in this region and who get their water from the ground. Their water has been contaminated with fracking fluids. On top of that, contrary to Pickens' claims, drilling in the Marcellus Shale poses a major risk to the air, as well.
So, while a different plan may get the U.S. to use less middle east oil, it does not follow that it is a better, or more environmentally friendly alternative to the system currently in place.
The Obama Administration: "You're the Next Contestant on the Price is Right!"
In a May 31, 2010 address at Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the heart of Gasland, U.S.A., President Barack Obama announced that he would open massive land units in the U.S. for natural gas drilling. It was political symbolism, as the speech was given in the heartland of the Marcellus Shale at Carnegie Mellon University, where a massive research center for natural gas drilling into the Marcellus Shale is located.
In the speech, Obama declared, "Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we're going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy."
There is a disconnect between this rhetoric and the facts with regards to the country's "energy needs." The disconnect comes in the form of a natural gas surplus that the United States now possesses. The surplus was reported by The Financial Times (FT) in a February 1, 2010 story titled, "Shale boom leaves industry considering US gas exports."
The FT story states,
...[C]ompanies have started to contemplate exporting natural gas from the US ... The US now has enough of its own supply to last 100 years at current usage rates, according to the industry ... Mark Whitley, a senior vice president at Range Resources ... says the US has the potential to develop fields as big as any in the Middle East. He notes that the Marcellus Shale field, estimated at about 100,000 square miles -- is about the size of Greece ...[P]roduction has grown to such an extent that the major oil companies, which once focused their efforts internationally, are moving back into the US ... At this rate, the industry would do well to convert the natural gas import terminals into export terminals to get ready for the next stage in this boom.
Furthermore, data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, confirm the FT report one hundred percent, showing skyrocketing U.S. natural gas exports in the past decade. According to the industry itself in the FT story, if the industry has its way, this will increase infinite-fold in the coming years.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that when one needs something, one doesn't just get rid of it. One keeps it for himself. Doing otherwise would be nonsensical. So why the "energy needs" rhetoric by Obama, when there is an impending massive surplus of natural gas just waiting to be extracted from the Marcellus Shale?
The answer is fairly straightforward: It sounds good, and most people won't question it. In the mean time, Obama is ignoring the elephant in the room, which would require him and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to face the fact that natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale -- and anywhere else in the country -- is not an environmentally-friendly way forward. Indeed, is the antithesis of it.
A Small Hope
The prospect of halting natural gas drilling in its tracks is slim in the face of a massive advertising, propaganda and PR campaign that the father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays would be proud of is well underway, as well as the government-industry revolving door that numerous government workers and industry workers go in and out of throughout their political careers.
There is a small hollow hope, however. Just as University of Chicago political science and law professor Gerald Rosenberg calculated that major legal changes do not come from courts, but rather through the legislative branch, the American people must realize that the protection of the environmental will not come from legislators or regulatory agencies, both of whom carry atrocious and catastrophic environmental track records.
As the late, great Howard Zinn once stated, "What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but "who is sitting in" -- and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change." When governments and regulatory agencies fail the people, it is the responsibility of citizens to demand government represent them. In the case of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, it appears that is the only option left on the table.