Natural Gas lobby in bed with the Sierra Club?

posted at 6:40 pm on February 4, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

File this one under, “DOH! What were they thinking?

News broke this week, highlighted at the Daily Caller, that Chesapeake Energy, largely through CEO Aubrey McClendon, donated $26M to environmental group Sierra Club to run down the coal industry.

A Time magazine blogger reported Thursday that the Sierra Club, America’s oldest and most august environmental organization, accepted millions of dollars in donations from one of the nation’s biggest natural gas-drilling companies for a program lambasting coal-fired power plants as environmental evildoers.

The total take for John Muir’s conservation group? A whopping $26 million over four years from Chesapeake Energy and its subsidiaries, mostly through Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon.

The news rocked the environmental movement, sent the Sierra Club headlong into explanation mode, angered coal companies that the organization targeted with natural gas money, and had free-market advocates shaking their heads.

First of all, as has been published here many times, I’m frequently in touch with Chesapeake and have supported their work in developing America’s natural gas resources. (Just to get the disclosure thing out of the way early on.) But even with that said, I have no idea how this situation came to be. I contacted the company and was referred to Jim Gipson of their communications group who provided Hot Air with the following statement:

Back in 2007, Chesapeake and the Sierra Club had a shared interest in moving our nation toward a clean energy future based on the expanded use of natural gas, especially in the power sector. We mutually agreed in 2010 to end our funding.

Over the years, Chesapeake has been proud to support a number of organizations that share our interest in clean air and agree that America’s abundant supplies of clean natural gas represent the most affordable, available and scalable fuel to power a more prosperous and environmentally responsible future for our country.

I’m sorry, but as much as I support these guys, this seems like a tone deaf thing to do. I was on the phone with another person familiar with the players here – who asked not to be named- who gave me a much more reasonable answer, paraphrasing some recent political candidates.

Hey… this ain’t bean bag.

See… I could at least respect that. NG competes with coal, and you do what you need to do in order to gain an edge in a very competitive market. But jumping in bed with the Sierra Club? That leads to big problems, mostly because our recent success in natural gas exploration relies largely on fracking and other developing technologies. The Sierra club has been All Hands On Deck against such things.

The Fracking Regulatory Action Center (or FRAC tracker) is a resource for activists to help secure strong safeguards for fracking. It tracks state efforts to update their rules to stay ahead of the fracking boom, and to blunt its most dangerous effects. It also collects a growing library of technical comments and reports on these rules, which activists can use in their own work.

Their allies have also been up in arms trying to stop us from developing domestic resources.

And how as late as Tuesday, Sierra Club tried to mislead it’s own members about the money.

According to the Time report, between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy – one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking.

Time reported that the group ended its relationship with Chesapeake in 2010 – and the Club says it turned its back on an additional $30 million in promised donations.

Waiting to speak with Brune.

And ask him what he meant by:

“We do not and will not take any money from Chesapeake or any other gas company.”

This entire affair has the Greens up in arms against the Sierra Club and domestic energy supporters wondering why Chesapeake would get in bed with these guys, beyond trying to leverage a bit of advantage over the coal industry. And… AGAIN… we can understand why any group in a capitalist society would want to get a leg up on a competitor. As was noted… this ain’t beanbag. They want to make a profit and coal is a competitor. But… the Sierra Club? These folks aren’t anyone’s friends in the energy community. Poor move, guys. And a huge waste of money. How much of that $26m went into anti-fracking advertisements?


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