“If we hit our CO2 targets and every one of us are living in abject poverty, is that really how you really want to live?” Greg Kozera is making his pro-fracking case to me. Later in our phone call, he’ll argue that renewable energy depends on child labor in Congolese cobalt mines and observe that his golden retriever lived to the ripe age of 14 years old romping around three fracking wells, proving that the practice poses no health risks. He makes a version of this case every weekend in the opinion pages of newspapers throughout Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania—the case for natural gas, for industry, and, if you take his word for it, for America.
Four years ago, an editor at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel in West Virginia contacted Shale Crescent USA, a nonprofit “messaging” organization in Marietta, Ohio, whose funders include natural gas companies and pipeline construction companies, to ask what the group’s work entailed. Kozera, a former oil and gas salesman who now serves as Shale Crescent’s head of marketing, responded by suggesting the paper run a five-part series, authored by himself, about how to return jobs to the Mid-Ohio Valley by embracing natural gas. The series debuted in August 2017 and was such a hit, to hear Kozera tell it, that the paper offered him a weekly column. Then the column started getting picked up by other regional papers, including the Charleston Gazette-Mail and occasionally the Columbus Dispatch. Today, Kozera’s weekly pro-fracking column often runs in eight to 10 local papers throughout the Ohio River Valley, reaching anywhere from 60,000 readers to well over 200,000 if his column is picked up by the region’s major papers like the Gazette-Mail, Dispatch, or Akron Beacon Journal. It reaches even more when recirculated by national publications like the New York Daily News, which has one of the largest readerships in the country.
Ambrose is right. That’s the really troubling part of this story: It’s not just that fracking pollutes and Kozera says it doesn’t. The core appeal of Kozera’s original column—the promise of jobs and prosperity that helps people look away from the pollution, and the reason his original series probably did well at the News and Sentinel—has now been debunked by a number of economic studies. In February 2019, research produced by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that many of the industry’s early projections overstated the actual impact of natural gas production on West Virginia’s economy. From 2008 to 2017, the natural gas industry added 2,500 jobs, not the 5,700 that were predicted, the study’s authors wrote: “The only reason that there has been any growth in employment at all from 2008 to 2017 is the increase in employment due to natural gas pipeline construction, which are largely temporary jobs,” almost half of which go to out-of-state workers.