Prominent Green Group Likens Fracking to Rape

Earthworks promotes staffer’s claim that Texas bill allows ‘industry to RAPE people’

Fracking / AP
April 1, 2015

An innovative oil and gas extraction technique is analogous to rape, according to a leading environmentalist group opposed to the practice.

The group, Earthworks, retweeted a message from Texas anti-oil activist Sharon Wilson that decried "Texas fracking RAPE." Earthworks subsequently said that the retweet "was done advisedly."

"The Texas legislature is trying to pass bill to force city to be fracked against its will," Earthworks added in an effort to justify the comparison of legislation affecting state governments’ authority over the practice with forcible sexual intercourse, a felony.

Oil and gas extraction technologies such as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, have dramatically increased U.S. oil production. Texas has been one of the chief beneficiaries of that increase.

The legislation in question, known as HB 40, would vest more regulatory control over fracking in the state government, angering activists who want to see the issue hammered out at the local level, where they are more likely to enact policies that restrict or outlaw the practice.

Wilson’s tweet linked to a post on her website that pushed activists to oppose the bill, saying it "STRIPS control from cities allowing the oil & gas industry to RAPE people living there."

The post featured an image of the state of Texas overlaid by a drilling rig and the word "RAPE" written in ominous red lettering.

"To me, it perfectly depicts what is happening in Texas," Wilson said of her rape comparison.

"Fracking victims I have worked with describe it as a rape," she added. "People wear T-shirts with this imagery and I intend to continue using it."

Below her rape comparisons, Wilson posted a press release on HB 40’s passage out of committee. Also listed as contacts on the release were representatives of Earthjustice and the Natural Resource Defense Council, two leading anti-fracking groups.

Earthworks’ website lists Wilson as a member of the group’s staff. Alan Septoff, a spokesman for the group, said she was speaking in her personal capacity.

"One of the understandings of her employment was that she'd get to keep her individual, independent voice in addition to serving as our organizer," Septoff said.

He also backtracked on Earthworks’ endorsement of Wilson's blog post and tweets.

"Having your home fracked against your will is not the same thing as rape," Septoff said in an emailed statement.

"It's not rape because at the end of the day you can leave your home, even if the cost is enormously high," he said. "With rape, you can't leave your body as it is being violated."

Earthworks is a longtime anti-fracking advocate active in state-level legislative battles over the practice. The group receives funding from some of the environmental left’s leading foundations, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Park Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation.

According to Earthworks, Texas’ HB 40 "guts the rights of communities to protect themselves from impacts of oil and gas operations within their borders."

As fracking has become a common practice and fueled a historic increase in U.S. oil production, groups that oppose the practice and the use of fossil fuels have seen little success in pushing for outright bans on the practice, with the notable exception of New York State, which banned it last year.

Instead, many of those groups have couched their positions in the language of "local control."

HB 40 "attacks the longstanding rights of every town and city in the state that has passed an oil and gas ordinance," according to Earthworks.

The legislation gives the state government regulatory control over the production of oil and gas, and reserves for local control surface issues such as the distance of well pads from residential structures.

However, it also includes provisions that prevent the latter types of regulations from being used to institute regulations that, in effect, would prohibit oil and gas drilling in a particular area.

Earthworks has used just such an approach in its attempts to effectively outlaw fracking in Dallas. It pushed city officials to ban the practice within 1,500 feet of "protected" structures, including homes. Earthworks called the measure "a de facto ban on fracking."

The group was also involved in pushing an outright fracking ban in Denton, Texas. Industry groups are currently suing the town over that ban, and Earthworks expects HB 40 to weaken the town’s case.

"Until today, attorneys for the city felt fairly confident their ordinance would stand," the group said.

Earthworks has collaborated extensively with a Denton-based anti-fracking group called Frack Free Denton. That group declared that Wilson "speaks for us all," and promoted her post comparing fracking legislation to rape under the heading, "Scream rape."

Cathy McMullen, the president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, Frack Free Denton’s parent organization, also promoted Wilson’s post. McMullen has received plaudits from Denton’s mayor and city council for her work on the fracking ban.