JD Vance is one of the top recipients of oil and gas money. Now he’s shilling for their interests

September 5, 2023 4:30 am

Republican Ohio U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

J.D. Vance, the wealthy venture capitalist who moved back to Ohio to become a U.S. Senator as a reborn MAGA zealot, owes his deep-pocketed benefactors big time. Chief among them are the titans peddling fossil fuel. Vance was among the top 20 of all recipients of oil and gas donations in the 2022 campaign. 

He also personally benefits when oil and gas companies thrive. When the industry reaps huge windfall profits from soaring gas prices at the pump — due to oil production cuts and extreme heat this summer — fossil fuel company shareholders like Vance earn healthy dividends. So it’s not surprising that the millionaire opportunist perched in the U.S. Senate has taken up shilling for the fossil fuel industry.

It’s in his self-interest. Not Ohio’s. Recently Vance penned a public relations piece (masquerading as an op/ed in the Marietta Times) to boost oil and gas conglomerates itching to exploit the state’s natural resources for big payouts. The Republican, who received tens of thousands of dollars from oil and gas producers last year, portrayed the potential for more fossil fuel development across Appalachian Ohio as a godsend — even as the economic, ecological and human costs of such drilling are alarmingly abundant.

Global temperatures have soared in recent years as the world continues to burn planet-warming fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Methane, the main byproduct of natural gas, is much more powerful than carbon dioxide in its global warming effects. And vast releases of methane gas from routine leaks at fossil fuel extraction sites — drill pads, pipelines, compressors, and other infrastructure — cause 25% of global heating today.

Scientists are now warning there is a 66% chance the planet’s temperature will climb above 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2023 and 2027. Beyond that critical tipping point, they caution, the chances of extreme flooding, drought, wildfires and food shortages could increase dramatically. 

We are living a roller coaster of climate catastrophes in real time with a promise of worse.

But head-in-the-sand Vance is a mouthpiece for fossil fuel donors who want to get rich fracking for Utica Shale in Ohio. He hails hydraulic fracturing, a highly polluting process that involves injecting massive amounts of water, sand, and toxic chemicals into the ground to fracture rock and extract “natural” oil and gas, as Ohio’s way “to a brighter future” — of fossil fuel dependency instead renewable energy sustainability. 

Vance lamely attacks the Biden administration’s historic investment in climate and clean energy incentives — which propelled record growth in economically competitive renewables, especially in red districts — as an attempt “to demonize our nation’s most reliable sources of power.” He whines about the administration’s “wanton harassment of fossil fuel companies to the detriment of the American people.” 

Fossil fuels are the chief source of global warming emissions, one of the most pressing existential issues facing humanity today. Coal smoke is linked to everything from asthma and birth defects to cancer and premature death. Natural gas fracking is tied to contaminated groundwater and earthquakes. Oil is the single largest source of air pollution and smog in the world. Efforts to transition away from harmful, nonrenewable energy to renewable energy consumption ( solar, wind, water) are detrimental to polluters, not people. 

But Vance is hawking dirty and dangerous fracking. He heralds new drilling, wells, and production records for mining Utica Shale in Columbiana County. “They hit the sweet spot,” he crowed, ignoring the pollution that poured into the air in Columbiana County from an uncontrolled natural gas well in July. 

It forced over 450 people to evacuate an area already traumatized by high levels of a hazardous chemicals that polluted the air and water after a train derailment. The gas well ejected unknown quantities of methane gas poisoning straight into the air for roughly 28 hours polluting the surrounding community and exposing Ohioans to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) linked to serious health risks.

But being in bed with oil and gas producers means bypassing the health and environmental downsides of a hot fracking mess including the 20-day blowout at another natural gas well in Appalachia’s Belmont County in 2018. It’s considered one of the worst methane leaks in human history. The total amount of methane blown into the atmosphere from that one operation equaled a quarter of the entire state’s oil and gas emissions for the year. 

Vance is carrying the torch for Utica Shale drillers who want to cash in on Ohio’s natural resources without restrictions or “a bevy of onerous new Environmental Protection Agency emissions rules” that “are clamping down on power plants, truck engines and everything in between” — to prevent the downwind disasters that Belmont and Columbiana counties endured.

But more drilling will not save us at the pumps, ensure reliability of our energy grid, or lead to “high quality job growth and regional development in Ohio” as Vance claimed, despite the dismal record of employment in Appalachian counties a decade into Ohio’s shale gas boom.

More drilling will simply attach our economic and environmental health to an industry with a long history of volatility and greed. Ramping up investment in renewable energy, on the other hand, will insulate us from global oil shocks (and high gas prices) much more than domestic drilling ever could. 

You can take that to the bank even if Vance can’t.



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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.