Substitute Speaker at WVU Extension Program Somewhat Off Message

by Duane Nichols on June 20, 2012

WVU Extension Program

NOTE:  The three letters below were published by the Morgantown Dominion Post on the editorial page, each being a “Letter to the Editor.”  The issue at hand involves a program of the WVU Extension Service in which a public health expert was to speak on “natural gas issues.” Instead, a promoter of the oil and gas industry spoke presenting qualitative information to promote the gas industry.  In Letter 1 below, Jim Sconyers of the WV Sierra Club says that this substitute speaker was an inappropriate choice, in Letter 2 the speaker Simon Lomax of Energy in Depth defends is presentation, and in Letter 3 S. Tom Bond, a citizen of central West Virginia, brings more perspective to this situation.  Clearly, the lack of adequate governmental oversight, and the lack of health protection for residents and gas field workers, will continue to result in unnecessary human health exposures including pain and suffering.  Duane Nichols, FrackCheckWV.

# 1. Dominion-Post, Sunday 10 June 2012: Letter to the Editor

Extension squanders reputation — again

The WVU Extension Service has conducted a series of programs about the Marcellus gas boom in West Virginia since 2010. The most recent one was last week in Morgantown, titled “Enhancing Public Understanding of Natural Gas Issues.” The lead session was “Public Health Issues,” to be presented by a WVU public health expert. Many of us attended mainly to hear what this authority had to say about health and safety concerns linked to the rush to exploit Marcellus gas in our state.
But I was surprised to arrive the morning of the conference to find that the listed public health researcher was no longer on the program. No, he had been replaced by Simon Lomax, a PR agent from the gas industry’s Independent Petroleum Association of America. Lomax kicked off his talk by stating that he was an advocate for the gas industry and that he has no qualifications in health issues.
Instead of unbiased scientific data about the water and air impacts of gas development, we were then treated to an hour-long commercial for the wonders of gas drilling. Lomax attempted to slander health studies that have raised concerns that we need to know about.
I was outraged at what was no less than a travesty. Here WVU Extension had violated its responsibility to provide citizens with the information they need to live healthy lives. Rather, they had tried to pass off this industry propaganda as serious health information.
And this is not the first time this has happened. Ever since the initiation of these programs in 2010, WVU Extension has packed the speaker lists with partisans from industry. We first raised these concerns in 2010.
For the average citizen who does not know any different and has come to the program hoping for authentic science and information, he may leave thinking that’s what he received and act accordingly, still uninformed about serious concerns. Some tell me they fear WVU Extension is a captive of industry, given that funding for these programs comes from giants of the gas industry in West Virginia. The content of the programs seems to bear out those fears.

Jim Sconyers, West Virginia Sierra Club, Terra Alta, WV

# 2. Dominion-Post, Sunday 17 June 2012: Letter to the Editor

Sierra Club’s ‘outrage’ predictable, fact free

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of talking to citizens in Morgantown at a WVU Extension Service forum on natural gas. I work for the gas industry, so I was not surprised when Sierra Club’s Jim Sconyers (DP-June 10) called my presentation “propaganda.” But when you make a charge like that, you need to back it up with facts, and Sconyers provided none in his letter.
He also has a pretty broad definition of propaganda, because I directly quoted state and federal regulators, including U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, studies conducted by the Department of Energy and the Ground Water Protection Council, and experts such as Stanford University geophysicist Mark Zoback. Those regulators, studies and experts all say gas production from deep shale formations is safe and tightly regulated under multiple state and federal laws. Not perfect — no energy source can make that claim — but safe. So perhaps when Sconyers said propaganda, he really means “facts that don’t support my world view.”
He says he’s “outraged” that the “average citizen who does not know any different” may have thought I was a scientist. That comment is patronizing, elitist and wrong. WVU Extension officials told the audience that I work for the oil and gas industry, and before that, I was a journalist covering energy and the environment. They also made it clear I was taking the place of another speaker who pulled out of the event. So folks knew exactly where I was coming from when I told them most of the health concerns they’ve heard about are the product of sensationalized media reports and flawed “research” funded by anti-industry groups.
It’s hard to take Sconyer’s outrage seriously because the Sierra Club is constantly outraged about everything. It wants to eliminate coal, oil, gas and nuclear, which provide more than 90 percent of the nation’s energy. The group has even started opposing some wind and solar projects, too. Perhaps this makes perfect sense to above-average citizens like Sconyers. But starving the economy of energy when millions of Americans are unemployed makes no sense to me.

Simon Lomax, Energy In Depth, Washington, D.C.

# 3. Dominion-Post,  Wed.  20 June 2012: Letter to the Editor

 Industry mouthpieces ones doing supporting

Simon Lomax’s letter to the editor deserves some comment. I’m not a member of the Sierra Club but I was outraged, too. Lomax was heckled by many in the audience, the only speaker of the day that was. The reason was his hyperbolic divergence from reality. It is hard to tell which statement most deserves mention, but certainly the claim that the air quality in Dish, Texas, was better after operations in and around the town than it was before was one of the most memorable. Of course, the notion that shale drilling is “tightly regulated,” taken from company prospectuses, is also laughable.
Lomax’s topic was health effects. Many, if not most, of the people in the audience have heard several people give convincing accounts of diseases they attribute to shale drilling — both air and water pollution. The audience was not naive. Most of us have shale drilling in our neighborhoods. The speaker who “pulled out of the event” was a WVU faculty member who had credentials derived from the health data, rather than from a literature search, and was not acceptable to the industry, which funded the event.
There are about half a dozen organizations funded by the shale drilling industry that maintain a battery of speakers and writers to manage words to push the industry interests. If you hear denial of damage at a service club, business organization, county commission meeting or in a legislative context, it is one of these industry spokesmen talking.
If you read it in the newspaper or hear it on TV, same source. Almost every economic claim comes from individuals or groups funded by these organizations, too. They are better organized than either political party. They are a support group for the trillions of dollars invested in shale.

 S. Thomas Bond,  Jane Lew, WV

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