Natural gas industry consultant to ‘debunk’ climate change consensus in House testimony

By: - March 24, 2019 6:30 am

A Pittsburgh geologist who consults for the natural gas industry, published a book casting aspersions on the scientific consensus around climate change, and who serves on a board for a climate denialist think tank will speak to members of a House committee Wednesday.

Environmental Resources & Energy Committee Chair Daryl Metcalfe invited Gregory Wrightstone to “present his research on climate science and factually debunking some of the modern myths surrounding the ‘climate change’ discussion,” according to a hearing notice. 

Wrightstone’s testimony was first noted by The PLS Reporter.

Metcalfe, R-Butler, did not reply to a request for comment. But in a Facebook post last week, he attacked Auditor General Eugene DePasquale for holding public meetings on climate change.

“He is another liberal democrat holding up the shiny object of ‘climate change’ as a distraction in an attempt to help his leftist accomplices pick the taxpayers’ pockets!,” Metcalfe said on Facebook.

Metcalfe has also previously called veterans campaigning against global warming “traitors.”

Legislative website (screen capture)

Wrightstone has a master’s degree in geology from West Virginia University, according to his LinkedIn page. He works as a geological consultant, per the page, and discussed his work for the natural gas industry in a 2015 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

In an email, Wrightstone said he could provide the committee with “a geologic long-term perspective that is quite often lacking. I also examine what is actually happening rather than relying on speculation of what might happen 50 or 80 years into the future.”

Wrightstone’s website describes him as a “strong proponent of the scientific process and believes that policy decisions should be driven by science, facts and data, not a political agenda.”

In 2017, Wrightstone published a book titled “Inconvenient Facts: The Science That Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know” through a company he said he co-owns with his wife. The book seeks to undermine arguments for action on climate change.

“You will learn that the planet is improving, not in spite of increasing CO2 and rising temperature, but because of it,” a book description on Amazon reads. “The very framework of the climate-catastrophe argument will be confronted with scientific fact.”

On his personal website, Wrightstone also criticized Gov. Tom Wolf for saying “we have a problem with climate change” after a season of devastating flooding across the state.

As NASA points out on its website, 97 percent of scientists agree that Earth’s climate is getting warmer due to human activity. According to a 2018 Yale study, 56 percent of Pennsylvanians believe global warming is caused “mostly” by human activity. 

Studies from international scientists and the federal government released last year project increased natural disasters, disruptions to agriculture, economic damage, and risk to hundreds of millions of people if action is not taken.

The Geological Society of America, of which Wrightstone is a member, also backs the consensus “that global climate has warmed in response to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”

Wrightstone is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that has taken money from the energy industry and other free-market donors. The Institute has published Wrightstone’s writings on its site.

While Heartland has stopped releasing donor information, the environmental group Greenpeace has published records of at least $676,000 in donations to the Institute from gas giant ExxonMobil.

Heartland says on its website that no corporation gives more than five percent of total annual receipts. Wrightstone said he has never been paid by the Institute.

Internal documents leaked from the Institute in 2012 showed concentrated efforts to undermine climate science. That includes $200,000 to create public school curriculum that claims “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy.”

Pointing to work of fellow scientists and scientific forums, Andrew Stuhl, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Bucknell University, said that there is no controversy on climate change.

He added that the way Wrightstone’s book was published — from a non-academic publishing house — is inconsistent with being a strong believer in the scientific process.

“If Mr. Wrightstone was really committed to see his work pass the rigors of science, he would seek peer review and that kind of public scrutiny,” Stuhl said.

Wrightstone said papers he wrote on paleoclimate were peer-reviewed, but not his work on contemporary climate issues.

Seeing Wrightstone’s work with the Heartland Institute reminded Stuhl of the playbook used by big businesses, like the tobacco industry, to lull the public into self-doubt over the risk of a given product or process.

“The perception of doubt really comes through the media,” Stuhl said.

Reached by phone, the environmental committee’s ranking Democrat and longtime environmental ally, state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, pointed to Metcalfe’s previous remarks just this year to ward off astonishment.

In a hearing in February, Metcalfe commented that rising CO2 levels would be good for “green grass and green vegetables.

Yet Vitali was still a little puzzled by Metcalfe’s decision to invite Wrightstone.

“Having been around for a quarter of a century, it takes more and more to shock me these days,” Vitali said. “[But] I honestly was a little surprised we would have a climate change denier and I’m not sure really how to respond.”

The hearing will begin at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in Room G50 of the Irvis Office Building in the state Capitol complex. 

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.