Dallas Drilling Task Force Reminiscent of New York City Salsa

This afternoon’s public meeting of the Dallas City Council’s gas drilling task force reminds me of a quite funny, yet very salient, commercial from Pace, the food company that makes the famous picante sauce.

In the commercial, Texas cowboys are sharing a meal and then run out of salsa. When they ask for another jar, the cook gets reproached when he tries to substitute a salsa made in New York City. (New York City!!!)

The notion behind the commercial cowboys’ outrage is that individuals and/or companies far removed from a situation—whether it’s making region cuisine or making local regulations—aren’t usually the best parties to improve it.

In the case of natural gas development in the Barnett Shale, local citizens who are engaging policymakers and voicing their legitimate concerns are a productive part of any rulemaking process. Using that as a benchmark, it’s worth asking if all of the speakers slated to present today meet such standards.

Take for instance Deborah Rogers, one of Ian Urbina’s “sources” for his recently debunked New York Times series on natural gas. Rogers is represented, according to the City Council, as a former member of the Dallas Federal Reserve. But what Urbina failed to mention, and what the City Council has chosen to overlook, is that Rogers has a long-standing vendetta against the natural gas industry.

Better yet, according to Dallas Fed spokesman James Hoard, Rogers actually serves as an unpaid volunteer member of the Fed’s small business and agriculture advisory council. That’s a far cry from the financial clout she’s been bestowed after touting an affiliation such as former member of one of our nation’s 12 Federal Reserve branches; and that’s certainly not the qualification of a natural gas expert.

And quite frankly, Rogers’ primary interest in this entire debate is a personal lawsuit that impacts her property. Therefore, she’s hardly the type of representative needed to speak to the potential impacts of energy development on the larger Dallas-Fort Worth community.

For example, Rogers has been fighting Chesapeake Energy, America’s second-biggest natural gas producer, for years and serves on the steering committee for Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project, which has been described as “one of the most aggressively anti-shale activist groups in the country”. Given these “credentials,” it’s at least curious that the City Council’s task force is relying on her whatsoever. What legitimate point of view could she possibly express on the robustness of fracturing technology as the only legitimate production enhancement tool for natural gas?

The activist group Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling stated last Thursday, “the next Dallas gas drilling task force public meeting on August 30th should read like a super star line up of experts.”

Who are they talking about? The reality is that almost all of the task force’s panelists today are opponents of hydraulic fracturing, an irrational position that hides their personal biases against natural gas development. Some of their conclusions are far outside even those supported my mainstream environmental organizations.

The Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project, for example, says there is no scientific evidence to prove hydraulic fracturing is safe. This is the most outrageous presumption of guilt that anybody could ever express. It is not different than a statement that nobody has ever proven that walking is safe (which maybe quit difficult to do…. ridiculous but true.) Yet, among many others, only recently, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and even Lisa Jackson, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have concluded that the fracturing process is safe and well-tested.

Today’s session provides no opportunity for those with legitimate concerns and questions about natural gas development to be heard. And these presenters not only are a wasted opportunity to air real concerns that can be answered by true experts, but also fail to provide a good cross section of views from the environmental community or the community at-large.