Fracking Gets Drilled

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 2010

Drilling horizontally into shale and then cracking it by pumping in water under high pressure—a process known as “fracking”—has had stunning effects on U.S. oil and gas production, turning the U.S. into the world’s leading producer of natural gas and cutting our oil imports sufficiently to crash the world price of oil. The contributions of fracking include more than a million jobs, over $110 billion of GDP, and a reduction in pollution and carbon emissions (due to substitution of gas for coal in electricity production) that has actually pushed U.S. emissions well below our level of the previous ten years, despite population and economic growth.

Even with these dramatic benefits, fracking became a controversial process in recent years, and much of that is due to the effort of a foundation in upstate New York that supports left-wing media, and activist and environmental groups. In 2010 the Park Foundation approached a Cornell University marine ecologist about writing an academic article making the case that shale gas is a dangerous, polluting product. They gave him a $35,000 grant, and when his paper came out a year later scientists from across the ideological spectrum with geology and energy expertise were sharply critical. But a New York Times reporter leapt on the article and turned its negative view of natural gas into a cause célèbre, spawning hundreds of spinoff stories.

This was just one of hundreds of interventions in the fracking debate by Park over the last few years. The foundation also offered scores of small grants to activist groups and publications to support anti-fracking articles, conferences, rallies, and legislative campaigns. The Gasland films attacking fracking were also funded by Park. By carefully targeting about $3 million per year to a mix of sympathetic academics, ideological publications, and pressure groups, this one medium-sized foundation was able to make a large impression on public policy.

Indeed, this effort was sufficient to get fracking banned in Park’s methane-rich home state of New York, and to stimulate similar bans or moratoriums in Maryland, Vermont, a number of U.S. cities and towns, and even locations abroad where the energetic advocacy campaign against shale gas and oil managed to alarm public opinion.