T-Boone Pickens and the Truth about All that Drilling

T. Boone PickensThe 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.


"In this case, the beleaguered Pickens, who was torn to shreds during the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign..." What was "torn to shreds during the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign" were Kerry's misrepresentations of his Vietnam service, his shameful Purple Heart award pursuits, the attempted burial of his treasonous post-active duty sedition and, ultimately, any further aspirations for higher office. T. Boone Picken's bet on a sure winner...and it paid off in spades.

You've got to be kidding me. Did you really fall for that smear campaign? And, I suppose you marveled at GW and Dick's "records" of military service. Give me a break. Unfortunately, such smears can be effective with dupes.... Enough said. Lisa

Embarrassingly I haven't read 1984, but am very familiar with it. So I can't speak as to whether or not it includes the "for us or against us" quote. However, I am familiar with the Bible, which greatly predates 1984. :-) Given Bush's/Rove's attempts to pander to the Holier-Than-Thou-Congregation, it should come as no surprise that quote is from Jesus. However, Bush did NOT use it like Jesus used it. Jesus used it to keep his disciples from stopping others from doing good works in the name of Jesus. Bush, as you will recall, used it to bully people in to war, and to mischaracterize those who disagreed with his brand of terrorism, as supporters of the other terrorists. Here are the quotes for your own edification: Mark 9:38-41, Matthew 12:22-30

I remember it as "If they're not against us, they are for us." Remember, Jesus was a true liberal. Paul was the Republican in the bunch.

All fossil fuels damage the environment. They damage it when they are extracted as well as when used. If you really cared about the environment you would A. get sterilized (no matter how much we conserve every baby equals a lifetime of devastation to the environment) B. Stop driving, using plastic, heating your home, flying, using electricity (coal powered), and basically doing anything else that you do on a daily basis. If you really want to get into pollution of water then why don't you take a look at Pennsylvania's coal industry. Coal has been ravaging Pennsylvania's landscape and waterways for a century. The state already has the most impaired waterways in the lower 48. In contrast to what you may have seen or heard (by reference to the movie Gasland you immediately lose 100% of your creditability, it's like referencing a Michael Moore film for a paper) never has there been a single recorded case of "fracing fluid" contaminating a water source. Hydraulic Fracturing happens thousands of feet below the water table. Gravity doesn't tend to move objects upwards if you didn't know, especially through a mile of solid rock. By switching to natural gas for power generation we can phase out coal which is the most harmful fossil fuel known to man/ the #1 source of American power generation. Guess what if you switch off of coal then Pennsylvania's water could actually start to be cleaned. Starting to feel dumb yet... Next I am going to defend TBoon. I know he is an iconic "bad guy" in American history and will profit greatly from his self titled Pickens plan, but the guy has a lot of money, and guess how he got it? He's smart. The Pickens Plan is not about drilling, it's about creating demand. Your section on increased natural gas supply reads like a supporting argument for the Pickens plan. Maybe you haven't had the privilege of taking Economics 101 but I have and I will break it down for you in one phrase. "Supply must equal demand." It's not about drilling for natural gas in America, it's about finding ways to use it. By bashing natural gas demand movements you are really doing the coal industry (remember the #1 pollutant in the world/ largest lobbying movement in Washington) a huge favor. They pay people a ton of money to write articles just like this one every year. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if you worked for a coal company (you would probably make a lot more money if you did.) Look we have to find a way to use natural gas. We've got a ton of it. Made in the U.S.A. Bottom line is Oil/fossil fuels equal sovereignty as a country. Without it your military, economy, and social structures crumble. You're obviously a driven passionate person that cares to make a difference, so why don't you start directing your talent to solving the problems instead of creating new ones.

Dear Anonymous: Thank you for your comment. There's a lot there for a debate, but it's late so let me correct one major thing. You assert there has never been a single case of fracking fluid contaminating well water, but there have been hundreds of cases of wells being contaminated following fracking. This has been well documented by Toxics Targeting, Pro Publica and, despite your disdain, Josh Fox. But don't take my word for it readers, check out this detailed compilation from New York: [http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/documents/dec-letter] And here is a link to numerous Pro Publica articles about this. [http://www.propublica.org/search/search.php?q=fracturing+and+well+contamination&x=0&y=0]. On that point, your comment really sounds more like a talking point distributed by the gas industry, but perhaps you researched all the news yourself and somehow missed these stories and the video evidence of well water contamination resulting from the fracking. Lisa

I really hate these "burning water" stories. people didn't care about burning water before in my area, yet homes would sometimes fill with gas and explode, and local folks could lite the kitchen sink on fire for a laugh at parties. Guess what, this was BEFORE GAS DRILLING! creeks were burning in upstate NY when the natives lived here and the first white men wondered into the area in 1819. Few know that the oil was so thick in some creeks in pa that before drake took the oil OUT of the ground it was in the water.

The fact that some water sources were commingled with gas before recent drilling does not disprove that folks whose drinking water was NOT contaminated before recent drilling now have contaminated wells and ignitable water. The fracking pressure and the extensiveness have a lot of adverse consequences that Josh documented at length in his film. Just because some idiots used to joke about gas in their homes does not mean that it's okay or that people who don't think it's funny should face this risk from the expanded drilling without any real protections for their health and the environment. If you're not profiting from the drilling or a friend of Big Gas, I hope you'll read Josh's rebuttal of the well-financed misinformation campaign by the industry. Lisa

On further reflection, Anonymous' comment made me think of how this analogy might play out with an example from my home state, Colorado, and I think it just proves the paucity of Anonymous' argument. Imagine this scenario: Back in the day, rattlesnakes were prolific in Colorado and people would find them in their homes and some would joke about how many poisonous rattlesnakes they skinned for boots while some others got bit. Nowadays, some fat cats have decided that there's a lot of profit in exporting rattlesnake skin so they've reintroduced them. How dare people complain since the area used to be filled with rattlesnakes and people thought it was hilarious. See, the underlying argument is just as foolish as the analogy. Still doesn't mean we should say hoorah more gas in homes and wells any more than we should say hoorah more rattlesnakes! Lisa P.S. My grandpa taught me early how to shoot those rattlers on the ranch....

Misinformation is like a virus. You read it on the internet or see it in a documentary and then you quote it as truth. Then someone else quotes it. Then someone else and then no one remembers who said it first but it must be true since so many people are saying it. This is especially true when it comes to environmental issues. People sit in front of their computers, in their nice AC house, drinking a bottled water bitching on the internet about how we need to save the environment and how all these big companies are so evil. Yet they don't stop to realize that they are the problem and not the companies. Why do they drill for fossil fuels? Because we use soooooo much of them. Do you know what Ethylene is? It's what the petrochemical companies use to make plastic (aka everything that you use constantly.) You know how they make ethylene? It's made from ethane. Guess where ethane comes from... thats right natural gas. Guess where there is a ton of ethane? Marcellus. Check your self before you wreck yourself. You can go after natural gas companies all you want but the only reason they are drilling is because you can't put down that bottled water. I'm sure there are tons of reports of water being contaminated. That doesn't mean they are from fracing fluid, thats just a common misconception/scapegoat. There are 2 types of people in Pennsylvania, the people that are making a lot of money off of gas production and people that are mad because they're not. Many of the claims of contamination are often followed by lawsuits. Everyone wants to put their hand in the cookie jar. According to the DEPs 2010 report 24,000 miles of rivers and streams already don't meet clean water standards in PA. None of which are in conjunction to natural gas drilling. What Josh Fox doesn't make apparent is that people have been lighting their water on fire in PA since.... well since people moved to PA. The land has the largest natural gas basin in the world underneath it. Which includes a ton of coal bed methane (Naturally occurring contaminate to water wells.) This methane finds it's way to the surface in lots of ways. People have been dealing with it for a century. But now that there's all these big companies spending all this big money, people all of the sudden want to cash in. Or bitch about how they can't cash in by complaining on the internet. All of which gives environmentalists even more gas for their fire (pun intended). Anyways I'm done rambling. Just remember internet doesn't equal facts.