Michael Klein is an unlikely oil industry executive. He’s also an unlikely environmental activist. For many years, the wealthy San Franciscan was a major donor and chair of the board of the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental organization famous for agitating aggressively against timber giants, coal companies, air polluters, and the dirty energy financiers of Wall Street.
But Klein stepped down from that role, and has since helped form a company called Hydrozonix, which might be called a “green” fracking enterprise.
Klein’s company seeks to eliminate the use of two particularly nasty fracking-fluid chemicals, known as biocides and scale inhibitors, while giving companies a way to treat and recycle wastewater fluid. Hydrozonix just completed its first year of operations, with 12 systems up and running in Texas oil fields. Does this mean Klein has crossed over to the dark side? “It was never an easy decision,” Klein told us. “I never thought I would tell anybody that I’m in the oil business.” He hasn’t exactly turned into a climate change denier. “I believe we have to stop using carbon-based fuels as soon as possible,” Klein says without hesitation, “and find the political will to put a price on carbon.” He also supports a temporary moratorium on fracking. But he claims he’s only trying to make fracking “dramatically safer” in the interim, because “until we stop subsidizing [fossil fuels], the alternatives are at a severe disadvantage.” But since entering the biz, he’s no longer convinced by the arguments made by proponents of fracking bans who cite health and safety concerns. “I’ve come to the conclusion that if best practices are used, it’s … considerably safer than deepwater drilling,” he told the Guardian. “I do believe it can be done without concerns about contaminating aquifers or poisoning everyone.”