What Donald Trump, Bon Jovi, and Fracking Have in Common

National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Aug. 12, 2014, 1:10 a.m.

Three un­likely ad­versar­ies are squar­ing off to buy West­ern New York’s cher­ished foot­ball team the Buf­falo Bills.

Don­ald Trump, Bon Jovi, and frack­ing bil­lion­aire Terry Pegula have all put in bids to be­come the new own­er of the NFL fran­chise with the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of los­ing the Su­per Bowl four years in a row.

Pegula can’t com­pete with the star power of Trump or Bon Jovi, but he’s con­sidered the front-run­ner in the sports team show­down. Pegula’s bid would keep the Bills in Buf­falo. He also has the fin­an­cial muscle to pull off the pur­chase. The Pennsylvania nat­ive is the founder of a nat­ur­al-gas drilling com­pany called East Re­sources and has gobs of money from oil and gas. 

Trump and Bon Jovi, mean­while, have hit a few hurdles in their ef­fort to buy the Bills.

Bon Jovi has partnered with Toronto-based Maple Leaf Sports and En­ter­tain­ment Chair­man Larry Tan­en­baum and the own­ers of Ca­na­dian me­dia com­pany Ro­gers Com­mu­nic­a­tions. But the group’s ini­tial bid was re­jec­ted after the in­vest­ment firm over­see­ing the sale deemed it “un­com­pet­it­ively low.” (The of­fer re­portedly came in at un­der $900 mil­lion.)

The rock star has also faced a tor­rent of back­lash in the Rust Belt city amid spec­u­la­tion that he plans to move the team to Toronto. Ra­dio sta­tions, bars and res­taur­ants have even stopped play­ing his songs in protest. 

Trump’s pro­spects aren’t look­ing too bright either. The busi­ness mogul has even said he doesn’t ex­pect to win. “I would say the chances are very, very un­likely,” Trump told Fox News in late Ju­ly. 

That leaves just a hand­ful of likely con­tenders, with Pegula so far primed to take the top spot.

The frack­ing bil­lion­aire has in­ves­ted heav­ily in the de­vel­op­ment of down­town Buf­falo, and be­come pop­u­lar with loc­al polit­ic­ans and city res­id­ents as a res­ult. “C’mon, it has to be Pegula. Any­body but Bon Jovi,” Bills fan Mi­chael Thomas said when Syra­cuse.com asked who should win the team. 

Bid­ders are sub­ject to a nondis­clos­ure agree­ment, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to say for cer­tain who is in the lead. Early re­ports had Pegula’s ini­tial bid at $1.3 bil­lion for the team. But For­bes re­por­ted over the week­end that Bon Jovi, Trump, and Pegula all offered less than $1 bil­lion in first-round of­fers. 

Pegula has plenty of cash on hand. Last week, his com­pany East Re­sources sold close to $2 bil­lion in drilling rights in West Vir­gin­ia and Ohio. The mult­i­bil­lion­aire also claims to have ex­tens­ive fossil-fuel hold­ings in a num­ber of states, in­clud­ing New York, West Vir­gin­ia, and Pennsylvania.

Frack­ing, the drilling tech­nique that uses high-pres­sure wa­ter and chem­ic­al in­jec­tions to un­leash nat­ur­al gas from shale rock form­a­tions, is cur­rently off-lim­its in New York State.

De­fend­ers say it can be done safely. But stud­ies that link wells drilled to earth­quakes and ground­wa­ter con­tam­in­a­tion have sparked a firestorm of con­tro­versy across the coun­try.

None of this has stopped Pegula from proudly talk­ing about where his money comes from. After snap­ping up the Sabres, Buf­falo’s NHL team, in 2011, the fossil-fuel mag­nate fam­ously said: “If I want to make some money, I’ll go drill a gas well.”

A vic­tor in the Buf­falo Bills bid­ding war won’t be crowned for a few weeks at the earli­est, with a de­cision likely to ar­rive at the start of Oc­to­ber. That means there’s still time for bid­ders to in­crease their of­fers.

But as it stands two of the city’s most be­loved sports teams could soon be owned by a man who owes his for­tune to frack­ing. 

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