On a recent episode of NPR’s talk show Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed TV host and drag queen RuPaul Charles.
It was a standard chit-chat covering RuPaul’s rise from humble beginnings to becoming the world’s foremost drag queen and host of the Emmy-winning hit TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, in the last five minutes of the interview, Gross brought up RuPaul and his partner Georges LeBar’s 60,000-acre ranch in Wyoming.
“What’re you doing with them?” Gross asked.
“Well, a modern ranch, 21st-century ranch, is really land management,” RuPaul replied. “You lease the mineral rights to oil companies and you sell water to oil companies. And then you lease the grazing rights to different ranchers.”
Grazing rights, fine. But it’s the mineral rights and selling water to oil companies that raised an alarm for some that RuPaul may be fracking.
HOLD UP. (Non-COVID content) @RuPaul was just on @NPRFreshAir and shared that he & his partner own 60,000 acres in Wyoming & they "lease mineral rights … and sell water to oil companies" and Terry Gross did not follow up with one question about the fact that RuPaul is FRACKING pic.twitter.com/KJanHgi0xI
— Rory Solomon (@rorys) March 15, 2020
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is the process of using pressurized water, sand, and chemicals to break through rock layers and release oil or gas. Fracking has been around since the 1940s, but over the past few years, the U.S. has seen a boom in activity: In 2019, oil production reached its highest level in 14 years and is expected to grow 44% by 2040, in part thanks to increased fracking.
Increases in production have invited increased investigation of the ramifications of fracking. Studies have shown that fracking poses risks to air quality from the equipment needed to operate machines, as well as risks to water quality as a result of surface and groundwater contamination.
Fracking has become a hot-button environmental issue—and one on which RuPaul may have to comment. While RuPaul doesn’t out and out say he and his partner are fracking on their property, all signs point to yes. (At press time, a representative for LeBar Ranch had not yet replied to Fast Company‘s request for comment.)
“Just looking at this sentence, he could be leasing his mineral rights for fracking and selling the water for different oil and gas operations, including fracking,” says Erica Jackson, community outreach and communications specialist at FracTracker Alliance. “Or the resources could be for conventional oil and gas operations.”
That said, Jackson points out that the majority of new oil and natural gas wells drilled in the U.S. use fracking. She also says that other types of minerals can be extracted from beneath a property, but since RuPaul directly referenced leasing to oil companies, “it makes one assume they’re being used for oil.”