The Swift-boating of George Soros

What does a whooole lot of innuendo and cheap labelling add up to? Not much, but there is a much more serious issue at stake here, which it the prime reason the US is in a bit of a mess..
There are articles (like this one) which argue, on at closer reading extremely flimsy “evidence” (of the guilt by association type), that George Soros is masterminding/organizing/financing an anti-fracking (the practice to increase flowrates in shale gas by injecting water and unknown chemicals at high pressure in the well) campaign.

That ‘campaign’ is waged by Pro Publica, a investigative journalism venture started by Herbert and Marion Sandler. We are inclined to say that with newspapers cutting back on their investigative journalism and tv news ever more politicized, an outfit like this could serve a purpose. It has won numerous awards.

Here are the articles about the risk of frakking. We’re no experts on the matter, but at first sight there seem to be at least some reason for concern.

Soros involvement, at least in the article linked above, is not clear. We couldn’t find him on the Board and Advisors, nor on Officers & Staff, not even on the Supporters list (which includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance). Soros nor his Foundation are on the Partner list either.

Googling Soros + “Pro Publica” delivers a whole host of articles like the one we linked above. Typically, Soros  “involvement” with Pro Publica is assumed self-evident with statements like:

Pro Publica was started by billionaires Herbert and Marion Sandler, who, along with billionaire George Soros, funded the left-wing Center for American Progress, run by John Podesta and touted as the Obama administration’s “idea factory.” []

In fact, Pro Publica specifically denied having received money from Soros in reacting to such an allegation in Investor Business Daily:

An unmitigated canard quoted in the editorial – one that has a goofy way of creeping into discourse from a variety of people who dislike something we have written – is that George Soros, the global billionaire, is behind our coverage. Soros has never given us a penny, and even if he had, none of our funders know in advance what we are going to write about, nor do they have any role in deciding what stories we do or don’t do.

Now, the closest thing we could find to link Soros to anti-frakking is through an email that send out, urging its supporters to sign a petition to place a one-year moratorium on hydrofracking and George Soros has been a big ($5M) donor of

Does being a donor, even a big one make him responsible for everything, a very large and diverse organization where initiatives can be started from anywhere, making him responsible for everything they do? Hardly. Let alone ‘masterminding’ it.

More importantly, is asking for a one year moratorium so that the Environmental Protection Agency can finish its assessment of the environmental risks of fracking so unreasonable?

Although the critics of Soros routinely state as a matter of fact that fracking is safe, closer inspection suggests that  there is at least some reason for concern (see here, here, here, especially here for a host of articles, here and here).

We mean, if you had problems like this, wouldn’t you at least want to know what’s causing them? This doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident either, more than 100 similar incidents are detailed in a report here. If companies pushing unknown chemicals into your back yard or close to your drinking water facilities, wouldn’t you at least like to know what they are and what risks they pose? Well, you may want to know, but the companies in question are not terribly forthcoming with information.
And at present, fracking is almost entirely unregulated:

In tandem with federal support for increased leasing, legislative efforts have granted exclusions and exemptions for oil and gas exploration and production from a number of federal environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, better known as the Superfund Act), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Toxic Release Inventory under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (Oil and Gas Accountability Project 2007). The most recent of these efforts was an amendment included in the 2005 Energy Policy Act that prevented the use of the Safe Drinking Water Act to regulate certain activities, known as hydraulic fracturing, which are involved in 90% of natural gas drilling. The cumulative effect of these exemptions and exclusions has been to create a federal void in environmental authority over natural gas operations, leaving the responsibility primarily up to the states. Although some states have oil and gas commissions to watch over natural gas production activity, the primary mission of these agencies has been to facilitate natural gas extraction and increase revenues for the states. In addition, when states issue permits to drill, they have not traditionally required an accounting of how the liquid and solid waste would be handled. In short, their focus has not typically been on health and the environment. [Theo.Colborn, Ph.D. Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective]

We don’t know about you, but we’ve seen enough examples of near unregulated industries and markets wreaking havoc recently. Some of the reasons for this also seem less than totally convincing.

The 2005 removal from the Safe Drinking Water Act (the ‘Halliburton loophole’) made that drillers don’t have to disclose what is contained in their fracking fluids (these are ‘trade secrets’, research has been able to reverse-engineer some of them, but not all). The drilling industry convinced Congress that fracking should be exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act by claiming that fracking fluids are ultimately removed from the shale formations into which they are pumped. But is this true? Well..

An estimated 50% to 90% of the fracking fluid is returned to the surface during well completion and subsequent production (B.C. Oil and Gas Commission 2001), bringing with it toxic gasses, liquids, and solid material that are naturally present in underground oil and gas deposits. Under some circumstances, none of the injected fluid is recovered. [Colborn]

It’s not only local affected communities and environmentalists who are warning, it’s also scientists like Theo Colburn, here the abstract of the above cited article:

In the 1990s, the U.S. rush to become energy self-sufficient led to rapid expansion in acreage and intensity of natural gas operations across the western U.S. Modern technology to recover natural gas depends on undisclosed amounts of toxic chemicals and the release of combustion materials and other gases that may pose immediate and long term hazards to human health, water and air. We compiled a list of products and chemicals used in natural gas operations, searched the literature for their health effects, and categorized them according to standard toxicological categories. From this we created a profile of possible health effects based on the number of chemicals associated with each category. We demonstrated that toxic chemicals are used during both the fracturing and drilling phases of gas operations, that there may be long term health effects that are not immediately recognized, and that waste evaporation pits may contain numerous chemicals on the Superfund list. Our findings show the difficulty of developing a water quality monitoring program. To protect public health we recommend full disclosure of the contents of all products, extensive air and water monitoring, a comprehensive human health study, and regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act. [Colborn]

So we have:

  • Fracking is almost completely unregulated at present, being exempt from a host of Federal regulations
  • Local affected communities, environmentalists and scientists all have voiced concern, it doesn’t strike us as something of a fake, masterminded plan
  • While there isn’t much conclusive evidence fracking is causing health and environmental problems, there is certainly enough evidence to produce serious concern and warrant further study
  • Rather than ‘masterminding’ it, there is no evidence at all that Soros is involved at all in anti-fracking. He donated to one organization (MoveOn) that is one amongst many to have some marginal involvement (but MoveOn is a large organization involved in many issues, and MoveOn initiatives can come from many corners, it’s not terribly hierarchical like a corporation)

Soros motive, supposedly is to protect his gas investments overseas (PetroBras and InterOil) wasn’t helped when he sold of his PetroBras investment earlier this year. Ascribing motives to someone is a hazardous job at best of times, but using it as ‘evidence’ (for the lack of other) is downright silly, and even the most perfunctory of inspections (luckily enough we’re no strangers to that situation), even that doesn’t hold up either.

For instance, InterOil bulls (like ourselves) routinely claim that shale gas doesn’t pose a competitive threat because:

  • Gas from Elk/Antelope is much cheaper to develop (wells are several orders of magnitude larger and flow by themselves, rather profusely as it happens)
  • Shale gas is, apart from any environmental concerns, not without sceptics
  • The time frame for shale gas to become a significant force in the world gas supplies is beyond what InterOil will need to get its gas monetization on track. The first will (if the optimists are right) happen over the next two decades, the latter over the next two years (and it could be quite a bit sooner than that)

So it’s surprising to see those same longs now arguing that of course shale gas pose a serious competitive threat to InterOil’s gas. Enough of a threat to take as ‘evidence’ for Soros to apparently ‘mastermind’ a smear campaign against it.

Funny enough, on the same day, some of these very same longs tout very similar environmental problems in Australian coal-seam gas (a more present competitive threat to InterOil) as a competitive advantage for InterOil (and rightly so, in our view).

Seemingly completely oblivious to the meaning of the term, they go on to call Soros a “hard socialist” who is in it for the money (again ascribing motives), and now becomes “his” It’s funny to see the same investors touting Soros large position in InterOil now summarily dismissing his judgement on everything else.

Apart from the cheap labelling (“hard socialist” evidently being bad) foreclosing any debate or inspection of Soros’ stance, evidence that Soros was a victim of socialism and campaigned against it for the best part of his life (and played some role in overthrowing it) doesn’t seem to matter at all, neither does an extensive list of his initiatives his organization funds (which add up to a rather staggering total of $7B). So much for just being motivated by money.

That his fund is involved in a single company practising fracking in Poland is taken as evidence of Soros’ hypocrisy but the fund is largely run by his sons anyway and there is no evidence to prove Soros is involved, let alone masterminded the anti-fracking campaign. It could also simply be that there better (or at least any) regulation in Poland, or that the drilling is far from local communities or drinking facilities.

On past evidence, Soros might well take up the anti-fracking cause if provoked enough:

Despite repeated assertions to the contrary by various Fox News commentators, I have not to date been a funder of Media Matters. However, in view of recent evidence suggesting that the incendiary rhetoric of Fox News hosts may incite violence, I have now decided to support the organization. Media Matters is one of the few groups that attempts to hold Fox News accountable for the false and misleading information they so often broadcast. I am supporting Media Matters in an effort to more widely publicize the challenge Fox News poses to civil and informed discourse in our democracy.

Soros funds the Tides Foundation, the organization recently targeted by an assassin who claimed to have been inspired by Beck’s program. [Huffingtonpost]

It’s scary when otherwise seemingly intelligent people come to such rash judgements on the basis of, well, no hard evidence whatsoever and ascribing the most dubious of motives against a wealth of evidence to the contrary.

But this seems very much the state of the political discourse in the US. The country as a whole is paying for the consequences.