All came out to add their voice to the conversation regarding the extraction of unconventional gas from the Marcellus Shale basin in New York state. But the marchers weren't concerned landowners worried about losing their water supplies or property values. Their demand: to lift the current moratorium on fracking, which was prolonged by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 30.
One rally attendee, Doug Lee, described the ongoing fracking moratorium as a “communist act” to the Albany Times-Union. Another described anti-fracking activists as “well-funded and organized activists masquerading as environmentalists, who often do not need to make a living in our communities.” Republican Sen. Tom Libous, observed that Hollywood stars Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger weren't on the scene, telling them to “Stay in Hollywood. We don't want you here.”
Unmentioned by any of the news outlets that covered the event was a crucial fact: these weren't actual “grassroots” activists, but rather astroturf out-of-towners bused in from counties all across the state. Their journey was paid for by the legitimately “well-funded” oil and gas industry, which raked in profits of $1 trillion in the past decade.
According to the Associated Press, the pro-fracking rally and march were organized by a brand new front group called the Landowner Advocates of New York formed in the immediate aftermath of the recent Cuomo decision to stall on opening the fracking floodgates.
The well-known industry front group, Energy in Depth (EID), announced the launch of the Landowner Advocates of New York in an Oct. 3 blog post, mere days after the Cuomo announcement. Lee (the same man who accused Cuomo of partaking in a “communist act” by extending the fracking moratorium) wrote about the rationale behind the group's genesis - which he is the head of and which he registered the website for - in the EID post announcing the Landowner Advocates' launch:
The urban elite…are more interested in preserving scenic beauty and tranquility of the rural areas than allowing the farmers to make a living. Environmental preservation is a perfect excuse for imposing restrictions on private land use.
To protect private property rights, and to educate the public on the truth behind shale gas development, the Landowner Advocates of New York (LANY) was formed.
Other endorsers of the Landowner Advocates of NY's “Real People, Real Jobs Rally” (an apparent alternative name) included the likes of America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), the American Petroleum Institute (API), the New York State Petroleum Council (the state-level version of API), and the Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) of NY.
As exposed by DeSmogBlog in Feb. 2011, EID was formed with the financial grace of API along with numerous other multinational oil and gas corporations, the very same ones funding ANGA and IOGA.
A group with a similar name, the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York (JLCNY) also helped promote the rally, organizing bus pick-ups on a statewide basis, according to a Google Cache search. The registered agent for the JLCNY website is Bryant Tourette, owner of an Oxford, NY-based printing company called Rapid Reproductions, according to his LinkedIn page (where he goes by the name Bryant La Tourette). A targetted Google search shows Tourette is a ubiquitous commenter on the EID Marcellus blog.
Getting to the root of the issue: this a new well-coordinated campaign by the oil industry to create various front groups, with EID serving as the effort's centerpiece. Groups like LANY and JLOCNY are merely astroturf spin-offs of EID - an industry front group itself - helping to provide the veneer of widespread grassroots support for fracking in New York state.
Put another way, the Landowner Advocates of New York is a front group of a front group.
As John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton wrote in their seminal book “Trust Us We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future”:
Public relations firms and corporations have seized upon a slick new way of getting you to buy what they have to sell: Let you hear it from a neutral “third party,” like a professor or a pediatrician or a soccer mom or a watchdog group. The problem is, these third parties are usually anything but neutral. They have been handpicked, cultivated, and meticulously packaged to make you believe what they have to say.
For the oil and gas industry's public relations operatives, it's just another day at the office running the tobacco playbook. Set up another front group to create the illusion of support for more anti-science, anti-health activity.
Will the good folks of the Empire State buy this pack of lies about fracking? Or will they send the astroturfers and their smoke and mirrors packing?