A blue-skinned, mullet-sporting environmentalist with magic powers gifted by Gaia herself has fallen from grace.
Captain Planet, the superhero from the 1990s cartoon of the same name that was green in hair and purpose, was slapped with seven environmental violations resulting in at least $85,000 in fines by Pennsylvania state authorities back in 2011, a Raptor Lab investigation reveals.
To be fair, Captain Planet is not really at fault, an oil and gas drilling company is—specifically, Rice Drilling LLC, part of Rice Energy.
Rice is one of over 50 drillers operating in the natural gas-rich state of Pennsylvania and has over 90 wells there. Unlike most companies that name their well sites after the families whose land the well sites reside on or after the general landscape, Rice has named over 20 of its well locations after a series of superheroes and good guys—Batman, Captain Planet, Hulk, Iron Man, Robin, X-Man and Zorro.
But state oil and gas permit records reveal that not all of those wells have been performing to superhero standards in inspections by the state’s regulating authority, the Department of Environmental Protection.
So far, Rice wells named after the Hulk, X-Man and Captain Planet have all been hit with violations. The site with the most violations to date, at least according to the records available online, is “Hulk IV” with violation recorded on five separate occasions in 2011 (3/18, 3/21, 7/29, 9/14, and 12/13).
However, the site “Captain Planet 1H,” which had seven problems on file in 2011, racked up the most fines (again, according to the data available online). Citing problems such as “failure to properly store, transport, process or dispose of a residual waste,” regulators sent the energy company a bill for $85,000. More than half of those seven violations have still not been resolved, according to state records available online*.
*Correspondence with the Department of Environmental Protection revealed that the online records are not necessarily the most up to date. The Raptor Lab is waiting to hear back about the most recent status of Captain Planet 1H’s violations.
A Green Endeavor?
Rice Energy, a company that recently made the news for its first go at selling its stock to the public, “specializes in developing tight gas shale formations” according to its website. In other words, it is in the business of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
Fracking is an increasingly popular drilling technique that involves pumping a slushy cocktail of water, hard sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressures in order to crack open the bedrock to release valuable oil and natural gas.
While drilling like this has existed in some form for many years, the exact way operators are now fracking is new. This updated technique has been embraced by the industry. Proponents say that the drilling method offers a cleaner energy alternative, in other words less carbon-intensive, compared to traditional oil drilling and coal mining, as well as provides economic benefits like extra tax revenue and job opportunities to the communities that support it. (President Obama touted the growth of America’s natural gas sector in his 2014 State of the Union speech.)
Some communities are so worried about the environmental issues related to fracking that they voted to temporarily ban the practice in certain Ohio and Colorado counties in the last November election.
A recent AP investigation found that fracking wells in at least three states, including Pennsylvania, were responsible for localized water pollution.
Rice has not been found guilty of well water contamination, but its track record is nothing to brag about either. The company has been subject to 24 inspections in the state since 2008 and each one has resulted in multiple violations, according to state records. Over the last six years, the company has received at least 39 violations in total.
What Would Captain Planet Say?
The oil and gas industry has an image problem—and its attempt to address the problem haven’t always gone as planned.
Last month, for example, an educational program called “Rocking in Ohio” toured elementary schools and science centers across the state offering demonstrations on how oil and gas pipelines work. When environmental activists and parents learned about the program, which was funded by Ohio’s oil and gas industry and sponsored by Radio Disney, they drew enough negative attention to the program—calling it propaganda for the industry—to shut it down.
Although the person or people at Rice responsible for naming five* wells after Captain Planet likely meant no harm, their actions represent this same ignorance by the industry of not understanding how they are perceived by the communities they work in.
*When I started this investigation back in mid-January, there were only two Captain Planet “farms” :1H and 2H; three more new Captain Planet wells were permitted this month on February 6, 2014—4H, 6H and 8H. The Raptor Lab will be keeping a close eye on the records of these new green superhero tributes.
Zahra Hirji is an earth science blogger. Growing up, she wanted the “earth” ring from Captain Planet. Follow her @zhirji28
Fun Fact: In the very first episode of Captain Planet, the superhero and his gang of sidekicks, a group of teenagers with magical rings, battle an Eco-villain by the name of Hoggish Greedly. With looks to match his ugly way—he had four fang teeth, a short orange mohawk and ears that pointed out—the piggish villain was guilty of drilling oil illegally and polluting the coastline with black sludge. I highly recommending watching the first episode.