Energy exec brags of 'hitting the jackpot' as natural gas prices surge amid deadly crisis in Texas
A man crosses Lemmon Avenue as a winter storm brings snow and freezing temperatures to North Texas on Sunday, February 14, 2021, in Dallas. - Smiley N. Pool/10053254P/TNS

More than two dozen Texans have died as a result of Winter Storm Uri—and thousands remain without heat, water, and food—but widespread evidence of human suffering didn't stop one dirty energy executive from boasting about profiting from the crisis.

"Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot." That's what Roland Burns, president and chief financial officer of Comstock Resources, Inc., a shale drilling company, told investors on an earnings call earlier this week, according to NPR.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that Burns' comments are a reminder of why the fossil fuel industry and aligned politicians are opposed to the Green New Deal even as its necessity becomes clearer.

As NPR reported, "The storm has reduced natural gas output at the same time that demand—for both home heating and power generation—has skyrocketed," resulting in "catastrophic shortages, as well as some truly eye-popping prices for natural gas in the affected regions."

While "many in the oil and gas industry have taken a blow because wells and pipelines have stopped working in the unexpected cold," NPR noted, "Comstock was already ramping up production in anticipation that natural gas prices would increase."

The company, which operates in Texas and Louisiana, is publicly traded. But Jerry Jones, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys, is the majority shareholder and biggest beneficiary of what executives called "super-premium prices" of "anywhere from" $15 per thousand cubic feet to as much as $179 per thousand cubic feet. Last quarter, Comstock sold the same gas for $2.40 per thousand cubic feet.

As millions of Texans endured a dangerous onslaught of bitterly cold weather while lacking heat for multiple days, many right-wing media outlets and lawmakers, including Greg Abbott—the state's Republican governor, who is facing calls to resign over his inept response to the disaster—senselessly blamed devastating power outages on frozen wind turbines in an attempt to discredit renewable energy and even a yet-to-be implemented Green New Deal.

The GOP's lies about the sources of electricity problems in Texas have proliferated despite the fact that officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) attributed the calamity to frozen equipment at gas, coal, and nuclear plants. The role played by the Lone Star State's embrace of a free-market approach to energy, which has included the decentralization and deregulation of its fossil fuel-dependent grid, has also been well-documented.

Texas sought independence from the two interstate electric grids to avoid federal regulations. In addition, despite a 2011 warning about the need to winterize energy infrastructure throughout the state, profit-motives led privatized power companies in Texas to forgo weatherization.

While Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday night accurately connected the crisis in Texas to an "energy policy that puts corporate profits over human life," Abbott—a major recipient of fossil fuel industry donations—erroneously claimed the same night on Fox News that "this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America."

On Thursday night, Ocasio-Cortez—who helped raise $2 million in direct relief for Texans while Ted Cruz, one of the state's Republican U.S. senators, rushed back home after facing a backlash for traveling to a warm resort in Cancún as his constituents froze to death—said Burns' comments about how Comstock is capitalizing on catastrophe lay bare the underlying reason for the GOP's false and incessant anti-renewable energy narrative.

The reason why right-wing media outlets and Republican lawmakers "are scrambling to blame the Green New Deal," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, is because "it's the biggest legislative threat against the corrupt powers responsible for (and benefiting from) the suffering unfolding now."

The Green New Deal resolution introduced in 2019 by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) calls for creating millions of green jobs to develop a 100% renewable energy system and build "resiliency against climate change-related disasters."

Although the measure has yet to be passed by Congress, climate justice campaigners at Greenpeace USA, the Sunrise Movement, and elsewhere argue that the compounding crises in Texas—which scientists link to climate change—have exposed the government's complete failure to prepare for extreme weather and strengthened the case for the Green New Deal.

Journalist Samantha Grasso and environmental justice scholar-activist Robert Bullard were among the analysts this week describing Texas as a "failed state." As BuzzFeed reported Thursday, the deadly winter storm has "exposed a deep chasm between who can afford to escape the deadly cold and who can't," with vulnerable residents being "left to seek help on their own amid life-threatening circumstances."

Exemplifying how crises cascade, frigid temperatures also led to the widespread bursting of pipes and disruption of supply chains, meaning that even as power is restored to most households in Texas, water and food shortages are likely to persist. In the aftermath of the winter storm, the state's residents must also deal with the costs of extensive housing damage.

Houston, the fourth largest U.S. city, will likely remain under a boil water advisory through the weekend as officials warned of possible contamination. The state's vaccine distribution plans and hospitals have also been negatively affected in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It could have been even worse, according to The Texas Tribune. ERCOT officials told the newspaper on Thursday that the state's grid operators "implemented blackouts to avoid a catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months."

Pointing to the deadly situation in Texas as a warning sign, experts this week have emphasized how much more prevalent extreme weather will become this century as a result of the climate emergency; they are stressing that the United States, which is currently severely unprepared to confront dangerous storms, must improve its capacity to deal with worst-case scenarios.

"We're already seeing the effects of climate change," Sascha von Meier, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Guardian Friday. "There will be more of this and it will get worse."

Roshi Nateghi, a researcher at Purdue University who studies infrastructure sustainability and resilience, told the newspaper that the crisis in Texas demonstrates why "we need to act now, and rethink our systems."

According to Ashley Thomson of Greenpeace USA, "Only a Green New Deal-style investment in our shared future can get us there."

"It's time to fundamentally fix the grid," she added, "so it can deal with the present and increasing impacts of the climate crisis. It's time to make investments nationwide in clean energy jobs, climate jobs, and climate solutions—putting millions of people to work while we build the renewable energy infrastructure of the future."