March 10, 2013

Celebrity 'fractivists': True advocates, or NIMBYs?

Some stars who oppose fracking make misleading claims and ignore the benefits of the gas obtained from the process.

By JENNIFER PELTZ and KEVIN BEGOS The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono
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Yoko Ono and her son Sean Lennon visit a fracking site in Franklin Forks, Pa., in January. Ono and Lennon have formed a group called Artists Against Fracking, which has become the main celebrity-driven anti-fracking organization.

Photos by The Associated Press

Josh Fox
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“Gasland” director Josh Fox

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"In truth, celebrities are rich, and they use far more energy and resources than anyone else. There's this grass-roots NIMBY revolt against fracking," said Michael Shellenberger, who heads the Breakthrough Institute, a nonpartisan Oakland-based environmental think tank that is releasing a report this month on the environmental benefits of natural gas.

Critics of drilling largely welcome the support from celebrities. Biologist Sandra Steingraber, speaking for the group New Yorkers Against Fracking, said the support helps to "elevate the voices of this grassroots movement in contrast to the millions of dollars spent by the gas industry."

Many self-labeled "fractivists" say drilling ruins drinking water and farms -- think the fictional disaster spun in the Matt Damon vehicle "Promised Land" -- and makes no sense, since it's possible to quickly transform our society to one that's powered by clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar.

Yet the boom has created jobs, reduced imports of oil and gas, and lowered energy bills. In contrast with Baldwin's claim, local landowners have received billions of dollars in royalties, and the typical royalty of 18.75 percent is higher than what many novelists, actors or musicians are paid.

Pennsylvania dairy farmer Shawn Georgetti said he was struggling before signing a gas lease. Now, he's been able to buy better and more fuel-efficient equipment and says the drilling hasn't caused any problems. "It's a lot more fun to farm," he said.

As for Fox's claim about the ease of shifting to wind, solar and hydropower, "if that was true, we'd be doing it," said Stephen Ansolabehere, a Harvard University professor who has studied public attitudes toward renewable energy. "People think wind and solar are cheap; it's just not right. They see what the prices are, and the support drops."

Wind energy currently provides about 2 percent of total U.S. energy, and solar less than 1 percent. Hydropower is about 3 percent, and building more dams would also have environmental effects. In practical terms, it will take decades of nonstop solar, wind and other renewable investment to phase out fossil fuels.

Many celebrities are just beginning to embrace renewables. Sean Lennon told the AP in January that the family farm in upstate New York is still conventionally powered.

"I'm actually looking into it. It's a long process," Lennon said. "I've met with a lot of solar companies. I'm looking for the best possible solution, and there are a lot of options out there."

Redford spokeswoman Joyce Deep wrote in an email that he installed passive solar in his home in the mid-'70s, but she didn't know details about more recent installations. "Passive solar" means using windows or other materials in an energy-conscious way, not solar panels. Deep noted that Sundance, the Utah resort Redford helped found, uses some renewable energy.

Baldwin declined to comment about how much renewable energy he had installed, and Ono's spokesperson said Lennon spoke for her, too.

Ruffalo, an Academy Award-nominated actor, made the switch to solar last year on his property in New York's Catskill Mountains, also near gas reserves. "In fact, I have a 14 KW system on my single property," Ruffalo wrote in an email. "It is a beautiful system." And Fox said he uses electricity from wind power on a Pennsylvania property.

But experts note that even renewables need conventional backup, since the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow.

"It demonstrates the ignorance of renewable power advocates to suggest that renewables can run without gas. We don't get to say, 'I only want solar and wind,'" Shellenberger said.

Even the success that turns people into celebrities often involves tremendous amounts of energy. Restaurateur and Food Network star Batali started with one restaurant. He now has 16 -- in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore -- all using natural gas to cook.

Some of his restaurants "use a percentage of green power to help offset some of our non-renewable energy consumption, and we are looking to do more in the future," Batali spokeswoman Elizabeth Meltz wrote in an email.

Some celebrities acknowledge the complexities.

"Obviously the entire society is addicted to fossil fuels, and the reason that we're fractivists is to try to move toward a renewable economy," Lennon said. "That doesn't mean that any of us have extracted ourselves completely from the society itself, because the entire city's running off of oil and gasoline."

 

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Additional Photos

Robert Redford
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Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford

Mark Ruffalo
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Actor Mark Ruffalo

 


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