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Fourth Response to Mr. Kennedy’s Huff Post

November 4, 2011

This is the fourth response to RFK Jr.’s criticism printed in the Huffington Post on October 20th, 2011.

I have been addressing each of RFK’s highlighted statements, going bullet point by bullet point and today I will address bullet point 4, which says:

“In a devastating admission, the industry now acknowledges that it absolutely cannot afford to pay localities the costs of roads damaged from the thousands of truck trips per wellhead, leaving those ruinous costs to local tax-payers, many of whom will see no benefits from the shale boom, but only declines in their quality of life.”

RFK Jr. attempts to support the legitimacy of Urbina’s “Drilling Down” series by shoring it with claims that the series “…is also going the extra mile in the level of documentation it provides to bolster its stories, a move that raises the bar on public service journalism” yet he fails to do so in his own Huff Post article. His statements are often poorly cited/documented or one-sided misrepresentations of a body of data.

I believe that citation is extremely important and that complete sourcing and representation, which includes context, is important because incomplete reporting can produce deficient and illogical conclusions by skewing logical “constants”. I believe this about communication in general and that it is the responsibility of those in industry and its critics.

So this is also a small treatment of communication. If a statement is mostly true but slightly false, the statement is false.

If I were sitting with a group of friends, two guys and a girl, and I said “I am sitting with three friends.” then my statement is true. If I say “I am sitting with two girls and and guy.” then my statement is false, although it is 2/3 true.

RFK Jr. does not offer specific criticism and his statements conclude in illogical endings. This is not reasonable.

By not communicating specifically, he does the exact thing for which he attempts to damn the industry.

I will comment on his statement for the sake of illustration, bold print does not equate to yelling:

“In a devastating admission,

(Who made this “devastating admission” and where? when?)

the industry

(Who? There are a large number of service companies and operators. Their individual practices and culture all differ from company to company.)

now acknowledges

(Again, who acknowledged what? and where can this acknowledgement be found? One company’s statement or practice does not reflect all of industry.)

that it absolutely

(If there is a SINGLE exception, then this statement cannot include the word “absolutely” because it is an all encompassing term.)

cannot afford to pay localities

(Which localities and where? What state? County? Township? Parish?)

the costs of roads

(He offers no differentiation on the types of roads…there are different types of roads. An asphalt road is different from a gravel road etc. They all have different costs.)

damaged from the thousands of truck trips per wellhead, leaving those ruinous costs to local tax-payers,

(Baseless. Tax payers are experiencing benefits from Shale Gas. Pennsylvania overcame a $4 billion dollar deficit after the influx of industry paid taxes. Call Governor Corbett and ask him yourself.)

many of whom will see no benefits

(This statement is impossible to prove and, quite frankly, ludicrous.)

from the shale boom, but only declines in their quality of life.”

(By saying “only declines their quality of life” Kennedy again forces an absolute statement for effect when he boldly decides to speak for all of these tax payers, as if they can’t speak for themselves. There are “many” who support Shale Gas and would say that it has improved their quality of life. If I were to ask RFK Jr. if he could support his “only” statement, he would be unable to unless he referenced his use of the word “many” and pointed to the fact that his loose definition provided grace for his statement.)

Chesapeake, the company often criticized, reports that Chesapeake has 1 million mineral owners in 16 states. To put that in perspective, about one in every 300 Americans has an oil and natural gas lease with Chesapeake. And they have been very well rewarded. We’ve paid out $9 billion in lease bonuses over the past 5 years, about $5 billion in royalties over the past 4 years, and another $2 billion in taxes over the past 5 years.

Another problem with RFK Jr’s report is that “industry” is paying for the fixing of roads, because if they don’t, their permits are pulled.

According to Dennis Buterbaugh, a spokesmen for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation,  the department inspects the roads before–and after–the repairs are done.

“If there has been an issue where a roadway is not brought up to our satisfaction, then their permits are pulled,” he said. “There have been instances where those permits were pulled.”

The department issues hundreds of permits to natural gas drillers. In the past nine months, PennDOT has revoked 25 of those permits for improper road repair.

In the state of Pennsylvania, permits are pulled if the roads aren’t repaired.

According to that report, industry has already paid out $411 Million dollars for road repair in Pennsylvania. Chesapeake alone has paid $92 million.

If RFK Jr. wants to make a criticism about the effectiveness of the level of participation from “the industry” then he is entitled to do so. If he wants to point out lax practices for specific companies, then let him give specific citations and name his concerns.

RFK Jr. is an environmental attorney. He is allowed to be irresponsibly nebulous in print for practices that wouldn’t be permitted in a courtroom, so he is.

At this point, if he were making a case, he is presenting “The People of —– vs. The —– Oil and Gas Company in the town of —–“.

This is no case. He doesn’t provide any of the necessary information needed to make a case.

This is the importance of citation and complete story telling. It is the reason why historians are such sticklers for thorough sourcing. It is the reason why good citation can be a measuring stick used in qualifying an authentic portrayal of events. Specific sourcing also disables the speaker from using a really broad brush or from using blanketing generalities to describe specific occurrences and misrepresent the scale of the offense.

If anti-solar pundits wrote a story using Solyndra alone to describe the entire solar industry, companies who were more responsible would be outraged but Kennedy isn’t writing a hit piece about solar power.

Many times, the news is the first contact a citizen will have with information. If Kennedy intends to inform the public about a concern he has, then he needs to be thorough but he repeatedly uses vague accusations.

As I have mentioned before, this is a fundamental communicative flaw.

To quote RFK Jr’s uncle,

“Fear is the oldest weapon in history. Throughout the life of mankind, it has been the resort of those who could not hope to prevail by reason and persuasion.”


Fear is what RFK Jr. peddles. He should take a lesson from his uncle and attempt to prevail by reason and persuasion, not by selling a bill of fear based on misrepresentation because the sky is not falling.


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