Fracking Debate Splits the Environmental Movement

Published October 24, 2014

Fracking Debate Splits the Environmental Movement

By Bonner R. Cohen

Environmentalists are at odds with one another over hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas. Most environmental organizations vigorously oppose fracking as part of their larger effort to combat the use of fossil fuels. However, some green groups argue hydraulic fracturing is inevitable, and they seek to work with the oil and gas industry to make the practice environmentally friendly.

In just a few short years, the shale revolution, propelled by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, has made the United States the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas.

In the process, fracking has transformed many shale-rich areas from backwaters to boom towns. The Marcellus and Utica shale formations underlie broad swaths of what used to be called the Rust Belt, an area that has undergone a dramatic economic resurgence thanks to fracking.

Environmentalists at Odds

The Buffalo-based Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) is in open conflict with the Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD). The CSSD states on its website,, “The Center provides a forum for a diverse group of stakeholders to share expertise with the common objective of developing solutions and serving as a center of excellence of shale gas development.” To that end, CEED supported a 2012 bill in the Ohio Senate allowing drilling companies to avoid publicly disclosing the chemicals they use in fracking, while expanding the distance tested for contamination around wells from 300 feet to 1,500 feet.

CSSD Certification Program

For businesses interested in participating in shale development, CSSD offers a certification program based on 15 initial performance standards. Companies can seek CSSD certification in air and climate, water and waste, or both, concurrently.

Headed by Susan Packard LeGros, a former attorney with the oil, gas, and chemical industries, CSSD has teamed up with what it calls “strategic partners” from both industry and the nonprofit world. These include Chevron, Shell, the Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), FDT Corporation, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the Group Against Smog and Pollution.

EDF, one of the nation’s leading environmental groups, testified in support of a 2012 energy bill in Ohio. EDF’s Matt Watson said, “We would like to commend the General Assembly and the governor for the thoughtful approach that has been put forward,” Al Jazeera America reported.

The PAI, by contrast, issued a report, “Big Green Fracking Machine,” which stated CSSD “bore the hallmarks of a public relations campaign meant to ‘greenwash’ oil and gas drilling.” In a follow-up report, “Anatomy of an Industry Front Group,” PAI said the CSSD “appears to have doubled down on its energy industry ties.” Among other things, the new report notes three of the CSSD’s nonprofit members—the Heinz Endowments, the William Penn Foundation, and the Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future—have left the organization.

Opposition, Expansion in Ohio

The conflict between pro- and anti-fracking environmentalists is playing out throughout the shale-rich regions. In Ohio, local green groups have been trying to get anti-fracking initiatives put on the ballot in several cities, including Columbus, Athens, and Oberlin. Meanwhile Buckeye state drilling companies are expanding their activities southward. Though Carroll County still has the largest number of oil and gas wells, shale development is moving south into Noble, Harrison, Belmont, and Monroe counties.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources data shows in the second quarter of 2014 Ohio produced 2.5 million barrels of oil—a 26 percent increase over the previous quarter—and 88.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas, a 31 percent increase. Although Ohio shale development lags that of neighboring Pennsylvania, it is on the rise. Caldwell, the county seat of Noble, opened up its second new hotel this year, and two more are planned.

“Hydraulic fracturing has been used in over one million wells, and study after study shows that it is not contaminating groundwater,” said Dan Simmons, director of state policy at the Washington-based Institute for Energy Research. “But that’s not good enough for most environmental activists. These activists, such as those with the Public Accountability Project, will only be satisfied when there is no oil and natural gas development.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC