Kirk Jalbert, FracTracker’s Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement, interviews Dorina Hippauf, one of FracTracker’s 2015 Community Sentinels Award Winners.
Dorina Hippauf is the Chair of the Research Committee for the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC) of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and a contributing member of the Shale Justice Coalition. When a landman came knocking on her door in 2010, offering riches in exchange for a gas lease, Dory took the old saying of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t” to heart. This was the starting point that led to her dedicated exploration of the industry’s practices and the creation of the Shale Players project, which now contains over 10,000 entries of who is connected to who in the industry. Dorina is one of three recipients of the 2015 FracTracker Community Sentinels Award. Here we talk with Dory about her work to connect the dots between board rooms, lobbyists, PR firms, astroturf organizations, and government agencies that promote the agendas of the gas industry.
Q: Dorina, perhaps we can begin by your telling me a bit about what brought you to advocacy work related to oil and gas development?
Dorina: What got me into the whole issue of gas drilling was, one, when I was driving to work, I would see flares on hillsides and I didn’t really understand what was going on. You know, there were big, large flames and my first thought was, something is on fire. Then I realized that from the way it was flaming, it was contained. But I still didn’t know what was going on. And then we had a land man come knock on our door and start offering us a lease. And we only have three quarters of an acre. Originally he was offering $1,000 an acre and when we said we only have three quarters of an acre, he dropped the price to $750. Everything just didn’t sound right. So I started doing some online investigating. I came across the GDAC, which is a local grassroots group in our area. I started attending meetings and I got involved from there.
The big driller here that was signing everybody up was Encana, which is of course based out of Canada. They did three test wells in our area. All three came up dry. Basically we are right at the edge of the productive end of the Marcellus Shale. Encana, shortly after they finished up the last test well, released everybody from their leases and left town in 2011. But I remained active with GDAC because I realized they have to get the gas to market. We’re located along the Transcontinental Pipeline, an ideal place for them to connect to gas hubs for gathering lines. So I knew the whole issue of gas drilling wasn’t going to be over with just Encana leaving our area.
The Shale Players Project
Q: I know that one of the projects that you were instrumental in founding was the Shale Players project. Tell me more about that project, how it began, and what its status is presently?
A: I was at a GDAC meeting and somebody was talking about Encana and the question was asked, who is Encana? So I started Googling them and getting some information and this lead to other connections and I realized that just jotting things down on a piece of paper wasn’t going to give the whole picture. A lot of these companies are all interconnected one way or the other. I created this spreadsheet that grew into the Shale Players project. I have lists of the executives that work at these companies, the Board of Directors, politicians that are connected to them, other front groups, trade agencies, Astroturf, PR firms, and lobbying groups. It has grown to over 10,000 entries now.
Dorina explains Shale Players in her video “Connecting the Dots”
Q: How have you disseminated your findings and what are some of the results that you have seen come from this research?
A: Anyone who wants it, I give it to them. It’s also online on Google Docs. What I hope to do eventually is find someone that is able to put this into a format so it’s searchable online. So that when you type in somebody’s name or a company, it shows all of those connections. I update the online version every three or four months. As for what we’ve done with the results, the Public Accountability Initiative used it when they did their expose on Pennsylvania and gas drilling. Walter Brasch also cited a lot of my work in his book Fracking Pennsylvania. Other groups are using it because they go looking for information on a company that they may be dealing with.
Q: You also do a fair amount of blogging too, correct?
A: Yes, my blog is Frackorporation. When I blog, I usually try to show the connections to the genealogy of some of these organizations to give people a better idea of who they are really dealing with. So many people are looking for a single villain to blame. But it’s all interconnected. And that’s what I’m trying to show people, that this is more than just drilling and fracking and dealing with one company, it also extends to the whole issue of lobbying, the citizen united decision, and with unlimited donations to candidates. A lot of money gets passed around. Alec is involved, the Koch brothers are involved. A lot of big names.
Blog post by Dorina Hippauf
Blog post by Dorina Hippauf
We’re in for the long haul
Q: How do you think your work has made a difference in the public’s understanding of the political and economic landscape of the gas industry?
A: Well, to some extent, it discourages people because they see how large and involved it is. But on the other hand, it also makes them angry and they realize that you have to deal with this issue on a lot of different levels, both in terms of environmental impact, getting the community involved, and that its important to get involved politically. Also, it helps them to determine who to contact if they want to write a letter to a company. Too often we will just send it to the spokesperson who is just reading a script, but that is not whose attention you want to get. Also, the shareholders, they often don’t realize what the company is really doing. If you own one share of a company, you can go to their meetings and make a lot of noise.
Q: So this really is about building community and not just about collecting data. This relates to another project you are involved in called the Shale Justice Coalition. Can you tell me more about the Coalition?
A: The Shale Justice Coalition is a coalition of grassroots groups. Our overall objective is to stop the practice of fracking and to promote alternative energy as a better option. We have members in four or five in the states now as well as some from England and Ireland. Lots of information gets passed around as a result of the coalition — things that are going on in Ohio that we may not know about, things that are going on in New York — we try to share the information, get people interested and make them more aware of the bigger picture of the industry. Many of these groups will get a hold of me personally and ask me to write up a blog post about what is going on in their area. The media is not paying attention. With the Seneca Lake gas storage project there was some emails that were uncovered where Crestwood was telling its employees to boycott all businesses in the towns surrounding the lake that opposed the storage facility. Local groups had tried to get it to reporters who put it on the back burner and didn’t follow-up. I blogged about it, then it got picked up on social media, then the papers finally picked it up. Yeah, I mean, sometimes you have to rattle the cages.
Blog post by Dorina Hippauf
Q: How has this work changed your perspective on the role of making information and data available to the public, in terms of making for better environmental protection?
A: It’s important to get this information out there, to make it readily accessible, easy for people to find and to use. I always thought when I first started this, that I could find one website where I could do a search on companies specifically for fracking and gas and oil drilling. But there wasn’t any. So in a way, with the Shale Players project, I’ve had to fill that niche. Also, a lot of the information I tend to find online I don’t know where they got their information. I take great pains to make sure whatever I put out there has the source link to it, so people can go and look for it themselves.
Q: So what is next for you Dory? What kind of new projects are you planning?
A: At the moment we are fighting the pipelines. I’ve been going around doing presentations at the request of organizations. Talking about what is going on with FERC and how the FERC process works. Letting people know what they need to be aware of the easement agreements and that they do have to negotiate. Just saying “no” to the easement and taking it to the point of imminent domain, if that is the course the company takes, isn’t enough. You have to show good faith and some attempt at negotiating an easement. Otherwise, when you go before the judge, he’s going to side with the company. Unfortunately, I think with these pipelines, unless we get more action from people, these pipelines are going to go through.
Truth-Out.org article by Dorina Hippauf and Ellen Cantarow
Q: Is there anything that you would communicate to other people and groups that are trying to get off the ground to deal with issues related to oil and gas?
A: Yes. One of the biggest things I keep hearing from people is that, when we have meetings or presentations or newspaper articles or whatever, we are only preaching to the choir. But what these groups have to realize is that the choir is growing. Every pipeline and every gas well sparks a new group of concerned people. So, the choir is growing and people are listening. It does get discouraging. It feels like you are losing at Whack-a-Mole. You are not going to get your cookies right now. And there is no one magic bullet that is going to fix everything. You have to deal with FERC, you have to deal with DEP, you have to deal with the government agencies that are involved. You have to consider who your legislators are. And you just can’t get discouraged. Take a break, stay off the computer for a week, recharge your batteries, and get back into it. You are in it for the long haul and you have to be able to make that commitment.
Q: Do you have any concluding thoughts for our readers?
A: People need to get local and be vocal. Tip O’Neil said, all politics are local and that is where it’s going to start. It’s like that movie, Groundswell. That’s grassroots. It starts from the bottom up to make real change. You can’t look at the federal government to fix it for you and the state government isn’t going to fix it either. You have to start locally and building the momentum there. And don’t give up.