The country’s largest environmental group is profiting from oil drilling The Nature Conservancy could have done more to keep an oil company off its land, Naomi Klein argues
Why did the Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental NGO, permit an oil and gas company to drill a well on land it pledged to protect?
The disturbing allegation — verified to the New York Times by the green organization — is revealed in Naomi Klein’s forthcoming book on climate change. In 2007, Klein reveals, the Nature Conservancy allowed the company to drill a well on land that had been set aside to protect the critically endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken, and has since been profiting from the operations. It’s a decision that the group’s framing as the regrettable outcome of a tricky dilemma, but which raises questions about its commitment to conservation.
Here’s the Times on an oil well ended up on protected land:
Mobil Oil donated the 2,300-acre property, near Galveston Bay, to the Nature Conservancy in 1995, in a bid to save the Attwater’s prairie chicken. That bird, known for its colorful mating dance, was once widespread on the Texas coastal prairies, but was devastated by hunting and destruction of its habitat.
Gas and oil were being produced on the Texas City property at the time the land was donated, but relatively far from the breeding grounds of the prairie chicken. In 1999, the Nature Conservancy’s Texas chapter decided to permit new drilling there, with the idea of dedicating the money to prairie chicken conservation. It sought out a deal with an energy company and a new well was drilled, about a half-mile from the primary breeding grounds.
The drilling was exposed by The Los Angeles Times in 2002, and explored in more detail a year later by The Washington Post, in a series of articles that raised broad questions about the activities the Nature Conservancy was permitting on conservation lands. A two-year Senate investigation sharply criticized the Nature Conservancy.
The group instituted reforms, including a pledge by its then-president that it would not permit new oil drilling or mining on its lands, and the managers of the organization have largely been replaced in the intervening years. The no-new-drilling pledge had one important caveat: that the conservancy would honor existing legal agreements.