Illustration for article titled RuPaul Has a Fracking Empire on His Wyoming Ranch
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As if we needed any more evidence that the world is a psychedelic hellscape, RuPaul—yeah, that RuPaul— and his husband are making money off the fracking industry. Yes, yes, this sounds like a wild conspiracy theory. But we’ve got the receipts.

RuPaul’s a big fan of getting that coin. In 30 years, they went from struggling artist to a household name. Now, as the host of the wildly popular TV drag competition RuPaul’s Drag Race, he’s a household name and has amassed a net worth of $60 million. Fans know that RuPaul and his partner Georges LeBar have a massive ranch in Wyoming. And in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, they let us know a little more about what goes on at that ranch.

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“Do you have, like, horses or cattle or a farm or...?” Gross asks.

“A modern ranch, 21st century ranch, is really land management,” Charles explains. “You lease the mineral rights to oil companies. And you sell water to oil companies. And you then lease the grazing rights to different ranchers. So it’s land management. Yeah.”

A little fucking vague, no? Rory Solomon, a PhD candidate at NYU, looked into it after hearing the interview.

“The unfortunate thing is that I was actually really enjoying the segment,” Solomon told Earther in a Twitter direct message. “I was doing dishes while learning about RuPaul’s punk past and was like, ‘wow, RuPaul has had such a cool and interesting path. But then it got to the last 5 minutes, and he dropped that line about selling mineral rights and Terry Gross didn’t follow up! So I had to do a little research.”

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Solomon found Ru’s ranch was a fracking hot spot, according to the nonprofit group FracTracker. Earther dug further, checking public records of the couple’s ranch.

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We found that Ru’s partner, Australian rancher Georges LeBar, owns seven parcels of land in Wyoming totaling some 66,000 acres. LeBar’s company, Le Bar Ranch, leases that land to at least three oil companies: Anadarko E&P Onshore, Chesapeake Operating, and Anschutz Oil Company. Using FracTracker, we looked at just 10,000 of those acres and found more than 35 active oil and gas wells.

All oil and gas drilling is bad, but these three companies are no mom-and-pop shops. Chesapeake Energy was a pioneer of the drilling method—early in the nation’s fracking boom, it was the second most active drilling company in the nation, closely followed by Anadarko. And Anschutz’s owner, Philip Frederick Anschutz, made billions from fossil fuel extraction that earned him the 41st spot on the Forbes 400.

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“I know RuPaul has been a really inspirational figure for a lot of queer people, and has inspired many to engage in transgressive gender performance, but beyond improving the representation of marginalized folks in pop culture, it’s important to recognize that these celebrities rarely embody our broader political aspirations,” Solomon said.

Truly, does RuPaul not know about the years-long campaign to end fracking, a practice of drilling for oil and gas that’s well known that emits methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 84 times more climate-warming than carbon? Does he not know that the process emits toxic air pollutants which can cause cardiovascular and respiratory disease? Research also shows that poor people and people of color are more likely to be forced to deal with hydraulic fracturing in their community, and therefore disproportionately suffer the health problem it causes.

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I’m going to be honest: I don’t watch DragRace, but mad people are losing their minds over this.

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And honestly, folks should be losing it. RuPaul hosted a climate crisis-themed ball in 2018. Green New Deal queen Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—who, because life isn’t weird enough, just introduced federal legislation to ban fracking last month—is set to be a guest host on his show this season. That makes this whole profiting-from-oil-companies thing worse and way weirder.

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We’ve reached out to RuPaul and LeBar for comment and will update this if they respond.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Chesapeake Operating and Anadarko E&P Onshore are currently the No. 2 and 3 drilling companies in the United States; this was based on data from 2011. As of August 2018, neither were any longer in the top 10, according to the trade publication Industry Week. We regret the error.

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Data Reporter - Investigations with Technology

Staff writer, Earther

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