Long ago Karl Marx argued that one of the hallmark characteristics of the marketing required to support mass production was the creation of a kind of false consciousness, that is, a sense of needing things we once merely wanted (or didn’t know), creating acutely felt desires for things intended to be consumable and disposable. In the contemporary incarnation of the culture industry, corporations like Chesapeake or Anadarko work hard to create a similar kind of delusion, namely, that they offer a product that is clean, American, endless—something only the un-American Luddite would deny.
In a world where the purchase of appearances is the ticket to profit margins, even the sacrifice of life can become convenient fodder for good advertizing. Consider Chesapeake’s effort to greenwash and genderize itself by partnering up with the Susan G. Koman Foundation and Race For the Cure to sponsor a 2009 bicycle “race” called “Cruising for the Cure.” The article opens with the stark facts about breast cancer: “[o]ne in eight women in the U.S. is diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime; that’s an estimated 5 million Americans over the next 25 years.” Chesapeake then announces its “partnership” with both organizations “to provide financial support and participants for several local Race for the Cure events.” The message is clear. We can trust Chesapeake to tell us the truth about cancer, to help find a cure, and to identify with its victims: “I had a scare myself in college,” said Tiesa Leggett, Chesapeake Public Affairs Representative. “Luckily it did not turn out to be cancer, but it’s frightening to think that statistically, anyone of us could be diagnosed in the future.” The caption under a picture filled with smiling bicyclists reads: “Chesapeake is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for its employees and the residents in the communities where it operates. As a result, the company partners with a number of health organizations including the American Diabetes Association (ADA).”
It is at least disappointing that organizations like Susan B. Koman or Race for the Cure—organizations devoted to curing disease and improving human life—opt to partner with corporations directly implicated in creating the conditions of the very cancers they purport to want to cure. It’s more than disappointing; this public relations coup for Chesapeake is a disaster for women—and I think a serious moral lapse for such otherwise charitable organizations. Chesapeake uses events like this bike race to promote itself as a compassionate enterprise interested in human welfare, women’s health and environmental integrity. But the truth is that its drilling process involves benzene and that its spokespersons actively lobby elected representatives to pass legislation to keep its chemical cocktails proprietary, its access to property—private and public—convenient, its reporting of accidents cursory, and its image shiny and fresh. The fact is that Chesapeake uses non-profits like Susan B. Koman to genderize and greenwash its image in the face of the fact that it contributes to breast cancer. What could be better than a foundation devoted to the cure of breast cancer to indemnify you against the accusation that you’re a cause of breast cancer? What better a cancer to pretend to care about than one that sickens and kills thousands of women?
Chesapeake’s partnering with non-profits aimed at women’s health epitomizes the masculinist worldview to which the Good Ole’ Boy Extraction Club thinks itself entitled. Rather like a relationship of domestic violence, Hubby- Chesapeake’s Charitable Foundation-Wife comes to the marriage economically vulnerable in virtue of a social structure which panders to Hubby’s buddies—Anadarko, Chief, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Inergy, XTO, Shell, Aqua America/PVR, Williams Production, Stantec—and all of their “midstream” associates. Hubby poisons and rapes Wife in order to extract minerals from her womb—but then brings her flowers and promises fun things like bicycle events. Sadly, however, Wife is already sick, and unless she can break free of Hubby altogether, she will end up dead even while he ends up rich—while the rest of us stand about wondering why there’s so much damn cancer. How much charitable organizations ought to be faulted for taking frack-bucks is, of course, up for debate. But one thing’s clear—the money is as dirty as is the misogynist profiteering behind it. Indeed, the money is as dirty as is the cynical strategy of the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition soliciting Big Energy for donations. As Green Generation reports in an article titled “Greenwash of the Month: Breast Cancer Prevention and Fracking Chemicals Don’t Mix”:
PPBC’s [Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition] website caters to this desire of companies to be seen as socially conscious in their blog article, “Can Your Business Help Take A Swing Against Breast Cancer?” The article details the advantages of becoming a company sponsor of their Baseball Derby stating, “The promotional and marketing opportunities are well worth the cost! Plus, your company will be seen in a positive light by linking with the PBCC, a non-profit breast cancer organization.” (Greenwash of the Month: Breast Cancer Prevention and Fracking Chemicals Don’t Mix | Generation Green – the consumer action wing of the Center for Environmental Health).
The purchase of appearance is the ticket to profit margins—and Chesapeake is not the only one who knows it. Just as many of the leader-activists in the anti-fracking movement are women, so too does the industry understand that its best marketing strategy is not just to put “the race for the cure” on its website home pages, but to employ women as the face of their public relations campaigns.
(Women of the anti-fracking movement, Cyndi, protest at Bowman Field, Range Resources sponsored Shale Day baseball game, Summer 2012, Williamsport, Pennsylvania; woman at protest at Schlumberger, Horseheads New York, Summer 2012; Sandra Steingraber, Protest at Schlumberger, Horseheads, New York, Summer, 2012)
Among the most visible of the fracking industry’s promotional agencies is Energy in Depth (EID) who along with the Marcellus Shale Coalition feature women both in youtube-style advertising for fracking, and as spokespersons or “reporters” for the natural gas industry. The aims, I suggest, are three-fold: first, to enlist women in the promotion of shale extraction despite the fact that fracking poses serious risks to women’s health, to exploit the iconic connection between women and “Mother Nature” as a strategy for green-washing the industry, and lastly, to genderize an industry controlled not only by men, but by interests which reinforce the patriarchal status quo. To take just four brief examples:
1. In a promotional video produced by EID titled “Women of the Marcellus” three women, a dairy farmer from Troy, a single-parent working for a local pharmacist, and a bed and breakfast owner from Towanda, each describe how the Marcellus shale industry has benefitted their families.
A dairy farmer describes how in 2009 the recession nearly drove the family farm under—until the white trucks of the landmen appeared. A single parent describes how, in kindling a romance with a childhood friend who has retired and gone to work for the industry, she is able to put her kids through private school. She points out with great pride that her oldest son will likely go to work in the shale region. The Towanda owner of the Victorian Charm Inn caters to gas industry executives and representatives “who have become like family.” This latter vignette is particularly striking given that Towanda has experienced increased crime and blight due to the transient fracking industry workers who occupy its man camps.
2. Appointed by DEP, Kathryn Klaber is the president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), a group promoting itself as an advocate for “responsible development,” but that plays “a leading role in the gains made by a coalition of organizations and employers to improve tax competitiveness and the business climate in Pennsylvania” for the extraction industry (President). She also takes an active role in squashing bad press for corporations like Cabot, the star of Josh Fox’ Gasland (the documentary that exposed well-contamination in Dimock), and she defends the EPA report concluding Dimock’s water was clean despite evidence to the contrary: “we’re now able to close this chapter once and for all” (EPA: Water Safe to Drink in Fracking Region Town). Klaber provided damage control to the industry at this year’s incarnation of Shale Gas Outrage, an anti-fracking demonstration in Philadelphia, by promising a “campaign” to answer “the questions of residents of Southeastern Pennsylvania with facts, with sound science and with comprehensive research” (Marcellus drillers launch campaign to repair image in Philadelphia area – Philly.com). And she was instrumental in promoting Governor Corbett’s courtship of Shell with 1.7 billion in tax breaks to build an ethane cracker plant in Beaver County. It’s no accident that DEP appoints a woman as the president of a pro-industry group advocating for the promise of jobs. After all, she could be a mother, a daughter, a sister—certainly not someone who’d lie to us about the toxic agents used in fracking
3. Energy in Depth is a pro-industry group funded by the American Petroleum Institute as well as a number of extraction corporations (Anadarko, BP, Chevron, El Paso Corporation, EnCana, Halliburton, Marathon, Occidental Petroleum, Schlumberger, Shell API, Talisman and XTO Energy) (Connecting the Dots: The Marcellus Natural Gas Play Players – Part 3). EID employs a number of writers and “field reporters,” but two of these, Nicole Jacobs and Rachael Colley stand out in virtue of their sheer excitement about fracking. In her criticism of an anti-fracking student art contest in Vestal, New York, for example, Colley insisted that the event unfairly encouraged hostility to the industry—all the while ignoring the gender-freighted symbolism of a work depicting an infant suckling from a gas can ( State-Codified Avoidance of Accountability and Genocidal Profiteering: Gag Orders, Compressor Station Explosions, Children’s Art Projects, and Fracking | Raging Chicken Press).
For her part, Jacobs attacks anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins for “crying wolf” when Scroggins insisted on a DEP investigation into “loud flaring” at a drill site near her home. Jacobs wonders “how much of our taxpayer money is spent needlessly investigating complaints such as the ones made by Scroggins” (Legitimate Concern Over Natural Gas or Wasting Taxpayer Money? | Energy In Depth – Northeast Marcellus Initiative), and yet she also acknowledges that the wells on land near her own home have been contaminated with brine, a byproduct of the drilling process.
My point here is not to suggest that women ought never to be critics of other women—of course we should
and we must. Neither is my point that Jacobs and Colley are simply naïve dupes of the fracking industry. They are not. My point is that as long as women continue to identify their own advances on a scale determined by and for men, they will continue to contribute to the ongoing entitlement of men’s interests. And we cannot afford this in the era of hydraulic fracturing. Whether what we’re talking about is exposure to carcinogens that cause breast cancer, or the dispossession of economically vulnerable women and their children, or the exploitation of cancer in the interest of propagandizing for fracking—or even if what we’re talking about are the reasons why intelligent educated women like Colley and Jacobs would throw their own lots in with “the gas”—we cannot afford another minute of dithering about what fracking means for women’s health or for the conditions of women’s lives. If the symbolism contained in images of “Mother Earth” have any meaning in the 21st century it is surely that none cleave more closely to the existential conditions of life than do real flesh and blood mothers for whom water represents not only the stuff of life but its tenuousness.
At the end of fossil fuel extraction is a “Mother Earth” despoiled and a choice: we can continue on the path of entitlement that will continue to reward the same players—mostly male, mostly white, mostly affluent—until the gas runs out, or we can start screaming.
Just a few of the inspiring women of the Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio Anti-Fracking Movement:
Leah Jacobs Schade
Julie Ann Edgar
Judy Morrash Muskauski
Debbie Ziegler Lambert
Michelle Novak Thomas
Holly Hall- Stamper
Mary Ellen Persuit
Linde Van Groenigan
Mandy Middaugh Mauer
Wendy Lynne Lee