Oklahoma Anti-Oil And Gas Report Violated OSU Email Policy, Videos Inconclusive
The release of an anti-oil and gas report targeting emissions in the state of Oklahoma violated Oklahoma State University policy on use of emails for campaigning, according to the school.
The report, “Oil & Gas Pollution’s Impacts on Oklahoma Families,” released by the group Coalition for Oklahoma’s Renewable Energy (CORE), alleges that video evidence it obtained using “Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) technology, shows methane emissions invisible to the naked eye. The conclusions offered by CORE are meant to lend support for Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management methane regulations.
CORE’s press release makes use of an Earthworks mailing list on the MailChimp platform, listing an OSU email address for the group’s point of contact.
Dakota Raynes, a graduate teaching assistant in the OSU Department of Sociology, used a university email address on CORE’s Earthworks-sponsored email, a violation of OSU policy.
“Oklahoma State University Appropriate Use Policy states that it ‘is a violation of this policy to use the University’s information technology resources for transmitting political campaigning, commercial or personal advertisements…’” Gary Shutt, Director of Communications for OSU, told Western Wire.
“The use you reference goes against the policy and we will be contacting the[m] to ask that they take steps to comply,” Shutt said.
Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, said the report failed to provide any scientific evidence beyond what the group claimed was purported video evidence.
“Once again, Earthworks is using scare tactics to advance a keep-it-in-the-ground agenda,” Warmington said in a statement. “This radical group of activists used infrared video cameras to give the appearance of a scandal that does not exist, and they are not offering any scientific data collection from these drones to back their claims. While oil and natural gas production has rapidly grown in the Anadarko Basin, methane emissions have declined by roughly 33 percent since 2011, according to recent EPA data.”
According to the EPA’s latest GHGRP data methane emissions in the Anadarko Basin declined by more than 3 million metric tons “CO2e” from 2011 (9.1 million metric tons) to 2016 (6 million mt).
An environmental consultant commenting on similar videos taken in the Four Corners region of New Mexico and Colorado told Western Energy Alliance in a July 2017 interview that activists in other states using similar technology to capture what anti-oil and gas groups claim are methane emissions have difficulty proving conclusively with little evidence to substantiate their assertions of both the source and the actual emission, which in some cases is steam or water vapor.
“Our company and staff uses infrared technology, optical gas imaging cameras, to conduct emissions surveys. First of all, the video shot from such a significant distance that some of the things that represent plumes of emissions, you can’t tell what type of equipment it’s coming from,” said Trisha Fanning, a consultant for Eagle Environmental Consulting and past president of the Rocky Mountain Association of Environmental Professionals.
“Other things may show emissions but there is no way you can tell whether that’s actually a pollutant or not because it’s at such a great distance,” Fanning said. “They state that everything is methane. There is no way to know that everything is methane.”
“If you want to know if there is an actual emissions of a pollutant, then you would want to go to the piece of equipment, to the point source, and really determine if it is emitting,” Fanning said.
“Purposely deceiving the public does not help anyone, let alone help the environment,” Fanning said.
The report also contains personal commentary from Oklahoma residents Shelly Schmidt and Earl Hatley, with quotes derived from recycled Earthworks videos uploaded in June 2016.
Other Earthworks videos released in a July 2016 media push at the urging of Dakota Raynes, and the anti-fracking group Stop Fracking Payne County, covered similar ground to the CORE report.
“It seemed that their goal was more to incite people than to educate them,” A.J. Ferate, Vice President for Regulatory Affairs at the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, told KFOR in 2016. Ferate said that videos do not offer conclusive evidence of what is being emitted.
“What you can actually see on any given day might be water vapor one day, it could be emissions on another,” said Ferate. He added that the tanks in the video cannot be airtight or they would explode, and that emissions are permitted legally, below specified levels.
CORE’s own website features a placeholder contact page, with three names listed—Kim Bartlett, Dakota Raynes, and Meg Bradley—but with dummy email accounts for each, firstname.lastname@example.org. The remaining pages are also incomplete or unavailable. [Western Wire’s screengrab of the contact page can be viewed below.]
Raynes is listed as the co-founder of CORE in the Earthworks email.
“‘The air pollution documented in this report is, in many cases, preventable and when in new and modified wells may be against the law. No one should have to worry about living near toxic pollution that is spewing into the air like an invisible oil spill, but that is the reality thousands of Oklahomans will face if the EPA’s NSPS standards are suspended—or even worse, dismantled,’ said Dakota Raynes, co-founder of the Coalition for Oklahoma’s Renewable Energy.” [emphasis/bold in the original]
The CORE email bears Earthworks’ signature line.
Bradley, posting as a “Web Development Volunteer” for CORE on a LinkedIn page, lists “Assisting with the promotion & public awareness phase of upcoming statewide anti-fracking campaign” as one her primary duties.
The report also references the Oil & Gas Threat Map, a product of Earthworks, Clean Air Task Force, and the FracTracker Alliance.