Commentary on an industry puff-piece: It’s not easy being “green”

I have been meaning to respond to Anne Blankenship’s and Charlie Burd’s propaganda piece published by the Charleston Daily Mail—“Oil and gas getting greener”—for a while now. Lissa responded in two earlier posts. The problem is that the sheer amount of flim-flam—starting with the big-fibber title and escalating until the downright cruel PR spin on behalf of Antero’s frack dump—is hard to address. There’s just so much of it, and almost all of it is disingenuous and meant to muddle.

These folks are paid very well to defend their interests, and they are paid very well to say nice things, ignore bad things, and make evil things sound downright lovable.

Industry Hack

I decided the best way to tackle this steaming pile of lawyerly-half-truths is to address it point by point.

Let’s begin…

Blankenship and Burd write:

West Virginia is home to some of our country’s most scenic landscapes.

Our rivers, mountains and forests are a source of pride — and shared value — to us all.

Protecting our environment is a top priority for the tens of thousands of hardworking West Virginians who work across the oil and natural gas industry.

They’ve gotten off to a great start. West Virginia is heartbreakingly beautiful. We are proud of our home, and we do value it.

But I find it interesting that they didn’t say “protecting our environment” is top priority for the executives and spokespeople of the oil and natural gas industry.

We live and raise our families in the communities where we’re privileged to operate and want to ensure future generations can continue to enjoy everything that makes our state so special.

I’m going to take a moment to explain something to my readers:

It will soon become clear that Blankenship and Burd wrote this op-ed in order to praise Antero’s frack dump. I suspect they’re trying to sell this project to the public at this particular time because there are multiple appeals filed with the Environmental Quality Board against the frack dump’s stormwater permit.

Maybe Blankenship and Burd live around here, but Antero is headquartered in Denver, and most employees building the dump also come from out-of-state.

Oil and Gas—Aiming their lasers at us!

That’s why conservation and environmental stewardship is at our industry’s core. We’re laser focused on innovation aimed at protecting and enhancing public health as well as our environment, while also creating good-paying local jobs and economic opportunity.

I’d like to see some studies showing just how an industrial waste treatment plant and a landfill like Antero’s can “enhance” the health of the people forced to live next to them.

Economic opportunity means nothing if the industry poisons the folks unfortunate enough to live nearby.

Move along folks, no fireball disasters to see here…

This commitment is clear in every aspect of oil and natural gas development: from drawing initial wellsite plans, to rigorous standards followed during every aspect of well development, through careful siting and construction of pipelines, as well as associated infrastructure.

From my perspective, oil and gas development seems like a dangerous, rule-breaking, three-ring-circus. For your consideration: earthquakes in Gilmer county adjacent to drilling  (but don’t worry, Noble Energy “believes” it wasn’t them), an Antero explosion in Doddridge county complete with two burning fracktanks and 8 injuries, and Rover construction so careless the “Department of Everything Permitted” called a cease-and-desist.

How about the inferno caused by an exploding gas line in Sissonville? This video of the fire on Highway 77 is terrifying (warning, there is some very strong language).

I have to take the claim of “careful siting and construction of pipelines” with a boulder of salt, considering the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be less than half a mile from Buckhannon-Upshur High School; the Mountain Valley Pipeline will be very close to James Monroe High in Monroe County and The Greenbrier Girls Academy in Summers County.

You need to read about the devastation an explosion next to a high school would cause.

Strong enough for an industry, but made for a lobbyist

We also understand some still question whether oil and gas activities are regulated strongly enough or regulated at all. Some individuals genuinely want to know more, so we, as an industry, have the responsibility to openly and transparently foster a fact-based dialogue about these important issues.

I think one reason some folks are questioning whether oil and gas activities are regulated strongly enough might be that the industry continues to lobby for weaker regulations and more power to bully citizens and landowners, with forced pooling and drilling bills, right-to-trespass bills, attempts to weaken our Aboveground Storage Tank laws, and attempts to weaken water quality protections.

They’re getting a little personal, y’all

We also recognize others have no interest in the facts, which is unfortunate. It’s disappointing that these same individuals spread misinformation and fear, which degrades public confidence.

I would like to challenge Blankenship and Burd to provide a specific example of a lie spread by a specific person. It seems an awful lot like they want to play the victim without providing any evidence to justify their claim. This statement is vague in the extreme. It wouldn’t fly in an elementary school essay. They say nothing about who is lying or what they’re lying about.

But I am deeply interested in the facts. I look forward to Anne Blankenship and Charlie Burd providing the following facts for me, since they are in the mood to correct the record.

  1. Please list every chemical in fracking fluid, both pre-and-post use.
  2. Now please list every chemical that Antero will be monitoring for in their stormwater runoff from the frackdump.
  3. Please list Antero’s environmental violations for the past, say, 10 years. I want to see how many were related to frackwaste disposal and how many were related to endangering WV water.
  4. Please let me know whether the oil and gas industry in West Virginia is developing effective ways to test for 4-NQO in West Virginia water.
  5. Is there a way to detect “one of the most potent carcinogens known,” one which is “consistently encountered in flowback fluids from Marcellus gas wells” in West Virginia, one that “causes cancer at parts-per-trillion” in our water? (source)

Oil and gas rules were made to be broken

Oil and gas development is one of the nation’s most rigorously regulated industries — period.

Yes. And West Virginia is one of America’s top ten most-regulated states

We may have a lot of regulations, but is anyone enforcing them?

Is anyone in the oil and gas industry following  all regulations without complaint?

And when members of this industry run up against a rule they don’t like, why do they break that rule, or sue to be permitted to break it?

Blankenship and Burd speak of regulations as if the industry respects them and intends to abide by them– why, then, did EQT sue over the no-frackwaste ordinance passed by the Fayette County Commission?

These absentminded dears completely forgot to mention a few things…

Dozens of regulations and laws — the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, as well as the state Horizontal Well Act and key air, groundwater and erosion control permits, among others — oversee virtually every aspect of the process.

Industry works constantly to erode environmental protections worldwide.

For example, why were folks in the West Virginia oil and gas industry pushing back so hard against HB 2811 (the WV Aboveground Storage Tank Act introduced to protect the public from disasters like the Freedom Industries spill)? The natural gas industry attempted to “get a wholesale exemption” from this law.

B & B’s claim that “dozens of regulations and laws… oversee virtually every aspect of the process” leans very heavily on the vagueness of the word “virtually” almost to the point of being meaningless. I say this because frackwaste is exempt from nearly everything they mentioned.

Frackwaste is exempt from the following regulations: Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, The Superfund Act, NEPA, Toxic Release Inventory under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the West Virginia Hazardous Waste Management Act (Ch 22-18-6(a)(12)(D))

Maybe they wrote this on opposite day… ?

And that’s a good thing. Our industry strongly supports robust, predictable and workable regulations that provide surety and promote environmental, workforce and community safety.

The oil and gas industry has an unenviable safety record. In fact, one law firm says oil and gas deaths are “on the rise” in West Virginia.

Just this year, two people were killed in an explosion at Midland Resource Recovery… then someone was killed in nearly the exact same manner a month later.

Three deaths, two consecutive months, same place and same safety hazards. I guess that’s the “predictable” part of B & B’s claim?

And frankly, as has been pointed out with numerous examples before, I’m not impressed with Antero’s workplace safety record

Friends in low places

Through collaborative efforts — working closely with any number of relevant government agencies, conservation groups, as well as local stakeholders — our industry continues to clearly demonstrate how seriously we take our responsibility to environmental leadership and stewardship.

Fayette County instituted a fracking waste ban which EQT (and Danny Webb) promptly sued over.

Is the oil and gas industry working closely with conservationists and local stakeholders in Lochgelly? Have they cautioned their colleague Danny Webb to be an environmental steward?

Our state government passed a bill to protect citizens from AST spill disasters, which the oil and gas industry has lobbied to undo ever since. (Lobbying for sweetheart deals on environmental regulations may count as “working closely with” our state government, but it doesn’t demonstrate responsibility, environmental leadership, or stewardship.)

The Doddridge County Watershed Association seems to be against Antero’s frack dump. The two groups appealing the frack dump stormwater permit are against the project. Maybe Antero and the oil and gas folks just forgot to work closely with them, who knows?

But let me take these industry spokespeople at their word. I’d like to know the actual number—not just “any number”—of conservation groups their industry works with. And the names of these groups, so I can contact them, maybe do a little networking.

My guess is that no self-respecting conservation group would touch the industry with a ten-foot pole.

Hot-sludging our way to a real economic explosion!

Being good environmental stewards is also good for business — it’s not an either-or. Our state is showing we can — and must — achieve environmental and economic progress.

Lovely! I hope we can all agree that it’s much better business to stop illegally dumping radioactive waste in other people’s communities—like Antero did in Kentucky.

Smuggling and dumping radioactive waste is poor environmental stewardship. I’m glad Blankenship and Burd have acknowledged we must achieve environmental progress, but let’s not pretend Antero should be setting the standard.

I for one welcome our impending climate change cataclysm!

Such efforts have resulted in cleaner air as oil and gas producers continue to reduce methane emissions, even as production rates have soared.

“Cleaner” air and “reduced” methane emissions are not good enough. Soaring oil and gas production rates will not help us avoid the disastrous effects of climate change we’ll see in WV, like increased flooding.

“Minimal” disturbance and “massive” community benefits

Land disturbance is minimized through careful attention to reclaiming drilling sites. A commitment to recycling water has dramatically decreased freshwater use and truck traffic.

In Doddridge County, a massive investment in-water infrastructure will help eliminate land, air and water impacts while creating good-paying local jobs, along with other important community benefits.

Imma let ’em finish, but Antero’s facility will provide only 21 permanent jobs in the community.

Antero says “Construction of the facility will support nearly 250 jobs.” Well if they’re only providing 21 permanent jobs, that’s about 230-250 people who are either going to go back to their home states or countries, or are going to be laid off. That’s not how “community benefits” works.

Here’s where the spin stops being laughable and starts being unforgivable

Antero Resources’ $275 million [frack dump] — a world-class project that is subject to an exhaustive regulatory and permitting process — will fully treat water from natural gas operations for safe reuse. By treating water for reuse, [frack dump] will eliminate the need for using injection wells for water disposal, thereby reducing land use.

[The Frack Dump], which will begin operations this year, works hand-in-glove with the $500 million-plus centralized freshwater systems Antero has been developing over the years to reduce truck traffic and water sourcing demands. Fewer trucks — hundreds of thousands each year — on the road increases safety and air quality.

Almost all of Blankenship and Burd’s claims gloss over some troubling realities. This part, to me, is one of the most troubling.

They want us to give them credit for reducing truck traffic.

But wait. There are going to be trucks in Doddrige and Ritchie, headed to this facility. 600 trucks a day. Gosh how many is that in a year? 219,000?

YES: hundreds of thousands of trucks each year. On one small community.

And what about those trucks once they get close to the frackplant and join the queue? Running those engines, chugging out that exhaust. Air pollution, noise pollution, traffic hazards. The trucks will be hauling potentially radioactive industrial waste.

Oh, and maybe you haven’t heard that the area near the frack dump has already had two tank truck crashes this year.

They are asking us to give them credit for reducing a hazard for the rest of the state by focusing that hazard on one little area of the state. That is beyond human. I can’t believe it.

I will not applaud this cruelty. How dare they suggest they are increasing safety and air quality?


I know you are, but what am I?

What’s more, [the frack dump] will be powered by locally produced, clean-burning natural gas. Finding more ways to use our local resources across our economy — especially for manufacturing — presents very bright and long-term investment and job growth opportunities for West Virginia.

In a recent interview with the Exponent-Telegram, Antero Chief Administrative Officer Al Schopp said “the primary reason for this [project] is the long-term environmental impact of recycling water,” adding: “We’ll be able to reduce more truck miles and eliminate the use of disposal wells throughout the state.”

Despite this positive economic and environmental progress, some individuals continue to prey on fear and dishonesty.

Isn’t it “prey[ing] on fear and dishonesty” to attack “some individuals” you can’t name as if your attack itself is evidence?

Asking for a friend.

“We are men of action. Lies do not become us.”

West Virginians deserve better. Our industry will continue to make our home a better place through a shared commitment to protecting our state. And we’ll stick to the facts, too.

Ma’am, Sir: I think you might mean “West Virginians know better.”

But since you say are committed to our state, it’d be great to know just a few more facts from y’all.

  • What percentage of your industry’s workers are from West Virginia?
  • Did anyone ask the local communities in Ritchie and Doddridge whether they wanted to be ground zero for an experimental industrial waste center?
  • Who are the consumers of the oil and gas extracted in West Virginia?
  • Where do West Virginia’s radioactive drill-waste materials end up? In our backyard, or in someone else’s?
  • How many headquartered-out-of-state companies’ interests do WVONGA and IOGAWV serve?
  • How much do you make, annually, and how does that compare to the average West Virginia resident’s income? And—Just because I’m curious—
  • How do you sleep at night?

“This message brought to you by generous contributions from…”

Anne Blankenship is executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association ( Charlie Burd is executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia (

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