Who is “Tom Shepstone?” Spokesman for Energy In Depth?
Commentary by S. Tom Bond, farmer in Lewis County, WV
To begin with, who is the man reported to have made these claims: (1) shale drilling helps “the neediest among us,” (2) natural gas drilling is not only environmentally responsible, but essential to health, (3) “hydrofracking improves water quality!” (4) “natural gas produces water rather than depleting it,” (5) natural gas drilling is not only environmentally responsible, but essential to health, (6) gas drilling is responsible and it will save our environment, (7) “there is no evidence the development of this resource will damage the environment . . . but plenty of evidence the farm and the woods can be saved with it,” (8) “hydraulic fracturing is an open book” – a response to the complaint that drilling chemicals are unknown.
Give up? No question what industry he is in, though, is there? Well, he is a well paid top spokesman for EID – Energy in Depth, and a leading practitioner of an art I learned about in college. It was a Philosophy course, and one of the things the professor taught was propaganda and how to detect it. (Love that Liberal Arts education!) One of the techniques he taught I have observed many times since. It is called “the Big Lie Technique.” You can say the exact opposite of the truth and repeat it over and over.
Many unwise people will never detect a statement is false if said with enough conviction and often enough. That is the method of Energy in Depth, energized with all those dollars that are no longer actually profitable in producing gas. EID has a whole company giving speeches, writing articles and getting out advertising.
Mr. Shepstone began by doing land use planning in the Delaware River area. He was a certified planner, member of the professional land use planning organization, and worked in many counties in the area for years. However, he somehow got connected up with the shale drilling industry.
Mr. Shepstone added “right to mine” to his planning documents, which was interpreted to mean a right to drill wells. None of the areas in his planned towns was safe from drilling, and the required minimum distance from existing buildings was the least in the nation. This may have been in part due to his far-right political views, but likely reflects influence from the shale drilling industry. In 2008 he dropped his professional membership but continued to do land-use planning.
The petroleum industry has long had a penchant for organizations. The Independent Petroleum Association of America, hereafter IPAA, was formed at a conference which began June 10, 1929. President Herbert Hoover called a national and state conference to discuss and formulate a practical program for the conservation of America’s natural petroleum resources. Today IPAA’s function has morphed. Its function is to promote the most widespread use of petroleum possible and overcome all obstacles to that goal.
When shale drilling began the industry learned it “had a bull by the tail.” It promised to be hugely profitable, but there was no regulation of growth and there were huge side effects which were an obstacle to acceptance. The old boy smile, handshake and pat on the shoulder could not bring the price up, and it could not placate people who had their drinking water contaminated, their property values decimated, their hunting and fishing threatened and their roads destroyed. Nor could the legal bullying used in the past on widespread individuals shut up the networks of injured citizens, demanding their rights. In short, the industry was in trouble.
The answer they chose was PR, public relations. They had done a good job buying legislatures to give favorable laws and underfund and limit enforcement of those inadequate rules. The PR vehicle they came up with is Energy in Depth, EID.
Energy in Depth was born out of the IPAA and a large, long-time public relations firm in 2009. The purpose was to defend hydraulic fracturing and unconventional gas in the wake of a rising number of investigative media reports calling the industry’s risky practices into question. Support came from many huge corporations such as Anadarko, BP, Chevron, El Paso Corporation, EnCana, Halliburton, Marathon, Occidental Petroleum, Schlumberger, Shell, and Talisman. Also the American Petroleum Institute.
EID attacks not only shale drilling opponents of any stripe, but also academic studies that do not hew the line, and news articles that are not favorable. Here is an example right from EID’s page: A recent Bloomberg National Poll that found an increase in public support for more regulation on hydraulic fracturing appears to have made three key mistakes – asking a question of the wrong group of people, asking it in the wrong way, and asking it after a series of other questions that may have affected the results. As a result, this poll doesn’t add any substance to the debate over hydraulic fracturing, and is actually quite misleading.
Who is more pro-business than Bloomberg? Would they settle for any poll that showed anything less than ecstatic joy with the industry?
EID has branches that cover shale drilling everywhere. So who is Tom Shepstone?
Shepstone came on board Energy In Depth in April 2011. He is the spokesman for the most aggressive branch, called the Northeast Marcellus Initiative. It is the one which covers Pennsylvania in particular, his home territory, and the rest of the Marcellus-Utica area.
Just after being hired, Shepstone organized “packing” the federal safety hearing in June of 2011 with testimony favorable to the industry. The subject was safety of hydraulic fracturing. His plan was to offer those who would make statements for deregulating the shale drilling industry free meals, hotel rooms and transportation. The night after the hearing the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the Mets, and a trip to that game was thrown in as an additional incentive. Those who spoke for more and better regulation had to pay their own expenses, of course.
You’ll likely be hearing more from Tom Shepstone, his tricks and his inverted reality. Even if you don’t care to stay tuned in.