By Joe Mahoney The Daily Star
---- — Since joining the movement against the controversial gas drilling technique known as hydrofracking, retired Mobil Corp executive Lou Allstadt has been outspoken when it comes to challenging industry’s assertions that shale gas can be extracted without serious risks to water supplies and the environment.
But the Cooperstown resident had not taken any direct swipes at his old company — which has since become Exxon Mobil, the largest corporation on the planet — or anyone connected to it.
That changed this week after news report that Exxon Mobil’s chief executive officer, Rex Tillerson, and several of his neighbors in Bartonville, Tex., filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block construction of a 160-foot water tower that he and the other critics charged could encourage the town to sell water to gas and oil drillers. Allstadt even appeared on an MSNBC show, All In with Chris Hayes, Thursday night to speak out.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy,” said Allstadt, executive vice president of Mobil Oil before it merged with Exxon. Over 31 years spent with the company, he ran its marketing and refining in Japan and managed its worldwide supply, trading and transportation operations.
As for Tillerson, he said, “The irony is that his company is causing many people to have the same concerns that he has now by bringing this lawsuit.”
The anti-fracking movement has had a field day with the Tillerson story, training a spotlight on the irony that the head of a corporation that is the world’s largest gas producer would try to hinder a project that could aid drilling operations but decrease the value of his personal property.
To Allstadt, who retired from Mobil in 2000, the concerns voiced in the lawsuit by Tillerson and his Texas neighbors echoed the reactions in Otsego, Chenango and Schoharie county communities where citizens have pressed for local prohibitions on shale gas drilling.
“His comments in his lawsuit are very similar to the comments that I and others were making here in trying to get fracking bans passed,” Allstadt told The Daily Star.
This week, he sent Tillerson an open letter, questioning how the corporate titan could have his company promoting hydraulic fracturing while he is suing to stop a water tower that has been linked to potential drilling activities.
“No one should have to live near well pads, compression stations, incessant heavy truck traffic, or fracking water towers, nor should they have their water or air contaminated,” Allsadt wrote.
He added: “You and I love the places where we live, but in the end, if they are ruined by fracking or frack-water tanks, we can afford to pack up and go someplace else. However, many people can’t afford to move away when they can no longer drink the water or breathe the air because they are too close to one of your well pads or compressor stations.”
Allstadt’s letter was quickly put in wide circulation by anti-drilling activists. The letter was posted Thursday by the online news site www.slate.com and Allstadt was booked by the MSNBC television show Thursday night to discuss his attempt to open a dialogue with Tillerson.
From the other side of the drilling debate, John Holko, president of Lenape Industries, a gas drilling company that held leases in Otsego County, said Tillerson has every right to protect his real estate by bringing the lawsuit and shouldn’t be lectured by Allstadt.
“Filing a lawsuit can be a way to bring people to the table” and work out compromises, Holko said.
“If Lou Allstadt doesn’t like hypocrisy,” Holko continued, “he can turn in his car keys, turn off his lights and down his heat. He’s already made his money. He can be part of the solution or get out of the way.”
Holko added that while Allstadt had a lengthy career with Mobil he was skeptical whether his conversion to the anti-drilling movement was motivated by a genuine understanding of the science and technology used in drilling.
Allstadt, noting he has never met Tillerson, said he no longer has any connection to Exxon Mobil.
“I don’t have a pension and I no longer have any stock,” he said.
A spokesman for Tillerson told Reuters this week that Tillerson does not object to water from the tower being used to assist in fracking operations. The spokeswoman pointed out Tillerson’s property is adjacent to several oil and gas wells.
In his letter, Allstadt encouraged Tillerson to have ExxonMobil step up its involvement in renewable energy. “I am now much more concerned with the greenhouse gas impacts of fossil fuels in general, and particularly the huge impact of methane emissions from natural gas production and transportation,” Allstadt wrote. “These are global problems that local zoning cannot protect against. Only a major shift toward renewable energy sources can begin to mitigate their catastrophic climate impacts.”
He ended the letter by noting: “Good luck with that fracking water tank. I hope you don’t have to move, and also that you will help a lot of other people stay in the homes they love.”