This is the most important post on public misconceptions and fracking that I have ever read. This woman really knows the issues and why we are losing what she calls the "messaging war on fracking". Please pass this along to anyone you know who is in this industry.
NOTE: There is a shale gas conference in Denver going on right now. This is from a talk there. The text was written by the folks at NaturalGasWatch.org
Is Industry Losing the Messaging War on Fracking?
The shale gas industry has had its collective ass kicked, and kicked hard, by Gasland and others opposed to hydraulic fracturing and needs to redefine its core messages to defuse a burgeoning negative public perception of the controversial drilling technique, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) said today.
“What we’ve seen in the last few years, and I hope it’s peaking, is a completely heightened public awareness around hydraulic fracturing and an increase in active opposition,” Tisha Conoly-Schuller said this afternoon. “I hate to credit the movie Gasland, but it’s really changed the conversation.”
Conoly-Schuller made her comments to a group of shale gas industry executives as the Keynote Speaker on the opening day of the “Enhancing Shale Oil & Gas Development Strategies” conference in Denver, Colorado.
The conference, organized by Marcus Evans, will continue throughout tomorrow. The conference offers industry executives a variety of workshops and panel discussions on using “drilling, completion and reservoir engineering knowledge to advance exploration and diversify shale portfolios,” according to material prepared by Marcus Evans describing the event.
Conoly-Schuller noted that the opposition to hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” as it has come to be known in the parlance of our times — has evolved remarkably over the last few years, even though the science and empirical data related to hydraulic fracturing indicates that the practice has nothing to do with water contamination.
Shale gas industry executives credit the movie, “Gasland” with helping to shape public opinion about hydraulic fracturing, even though they say there is no proof that the practice contributes to contaminated drinking water. Image from the film, “Gasland.”
“The flaming faucet — that was disproven by the Colorado Oil & Gas Authority,” Conoly-Schuller said. “The methane in that well was naturally occurring. People have been lighting their water on fire in that area for 100 years. Josh Fox knows this and he has never admitted it — and he’s working on Gasland II.”
Today, she explained, those opposed to hydraulic fracturing can no longer be characterized as environmental extremists because the movement has gone mainstream. She credited Fox, the producer of the movie, Gasland, which helped to coalesce opposition to fracking, with playing a large role in that shift.
As a result, Conoly-Schuller continued, the industry needs to change not only its messaging, but how it delivers its key talking points.
“We need to change,” Conoly-Schuller said. “We’re talking to moms and dads and grandmothers who are worried about the safety of the water their children are drinking, and that’s an emotional issue. It hits a chord. We need to be sensitive to that. We’re not on engineering and scientific turf anymore, we’re on emotional turf, and we need to get our point across.”
Conoly-Schuller told the executives that COGA had recently completed some polling around the issue of how the public perceives hydraulic fracturing and the shale gas industry.
The news, she said, was not good.
“The public is skeptical of anything we say,” she said. “The favorable perception of the oil and gas industry polls at seven percent — that’s lower than Congress. The public does not believe us. We need someone else delivering our message for us.”
Conoly-Schuller went on to outline a set of recommendations that she said would help the industry improve its public perception. Her recommendations included:
• identifying other messengers to carry positive messages about oil and gas to a skeptical public; university professors, she said, polled the highest and are well positioned in that regard.
• broadening the sources of information for executives — “We have sources we are comfortable with,” she said, “and the reinforce our views. We need to go beyond that, even if it makes our blood boil, so we can learn the language used by our opposition and learn what they think. These nuts make up about 90 percent of our population, so we can’t really call them nuts any more. They’re the mainstream.”
• respecting industry critics — “Historically, the industry has been dismissive of its critics,” she said. “We have to understand that they are well-intentioned and believe in what they are doing
• recognize the emotional nature of the discourse — “It’s ineffective to respond to emotion with science. We need empathy and we have to recognize that emotional is not irrational.”
• reframe the issue of hydraulic fracturing in economic terms — “We need to talk about how energy is the building block of our economy.”
• engage in dialogue about hydraulic fracturing more broadly — “Engage with people with people not necessarily to change their minds, but to learn what they know and think. That will inform what works.”
• reposition the industry to appeal more broadly to young people — “The issue is serious, but we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously. We need to become much more clever. Our industry is going to have to become hipper.”
In that respect, Conoly-Schuller said, industry executives and communicators are going to have to become well versed in the use of social media and online tools.
“People that like South Park are our audience,” she said, “and we need to figure out how to talk to them. We need to figure out what works and how to get it out to them.”
Conoly-Schuller closed her remarks by urging each of the executives to get on Facebook.
“That’s your homework because that’s where they are, the people who are talking about this, the people we need to reach,” she said.
With thanks to NaturalGasWatch.org
NaturalGasWatch.org has been designated the “Official Blogger” of the Enhancing Shale Oil & Gas Development Strategiesconference, and is not receiving any compensation from the industry in exchange for writing about the event.
Here is a fairly good 7 min story from National Pubic Radio. Daniel Yergin has written a new book, QUEST - searching for energy. He gets villified in the comments section but much of what he says will be welcomed by Shalers.
I was just pleasantly surprised to see this on National Public Radio. It's worth a quick read or listen ...
I think we have lost the messaging battle on hydraulic fracturing, but have a chance to regroup with the EPA study of hydraulic fracturing and the disclosure laws, then counter attack. Right now, the best consistent message I am aware of is Energy In Depth:
However, the organization comes off as too dismissive, and doesn't do a great job helping people understand the true risks and relating them to the public in a meaningful way.
Industry as a whole needs to embrace several steps:
Reasonable disclosure rules are acceptable and encouraged. Retroactive disclosure should also be strongly considered by the industry
Industry should conduct baseline testing, and provide the baseline testing in a public forum. It should also detail existing problems in water wells
Work to more fully eliminate casing leaks and casing related issues
Work to more fully eliminate surface spills and leaks
Work to more carefully site disposal wells and compression stations
Industry needs to communicate better a number of messages:
We live and work in the community. We as an industry are interested in clean water and a clean environment
Fracing is a complex process - fracturing in most formations cannot reasonably be expected to reach the shallow aquifers
fracing has been done more than 1 million times. Modern fracing (e.g. Barnett) is very safe. Acknowledge issues have occurred in the Barnett, typically found to be related to surface issues. Relative to other industrial processes (dry cleaners, gas stations, chemical manufacturing, foundries, recycling places, etc) oil and gas has an excellent record. You could even list the number of known contamination sites in a county attributable to oil and gas vs other industries.
Short window - see the TCEQ Leaking Petroleum Storage Tank database here:
There are 1666 Leaking petroleum storage tanks registered in Tarrant County, and 2691 for Dallas County. This ignores other contamination issues and just focuses on underground storage tanks. Now I'm not trying to say that folks are at risk; most of these are pretty minor situations, but there is confirmed contamination at each and they are in folks neighborhoods. I'd like to think that Dallas area is unique, but it isn't.
The message I'm trying to get across is that folks accept gas stations as necessary, and are either accepting of contamination, ignorant of its presence despite detailed, freely available databases, or simply not interested because nobody has made a mockmentary called "Gasoline Land". There are many areas of the country where you can light the gasoline from spefic wells on fire, there is benzene in it, and if its old enough, its going to have lead. My favorite, and if you want maybe I can help you find one in your area, is the locations were you can pull gasoline right off the top of the groundwater and run it in many gasoline engines.
No energy source is free of environmental issues, be it dead birds and noise from wind turbines, blocked salmon runs from hydro power, etc.
Just what we all wanted ... GASLAND II on HBO in 2012
The blog fluelfix.com is reporting that a new documentary is not in production and will be broadcast on HBO next year.
We should study up on the issue and be ready with a counter push before HBO airs it. We have not lost the messaging war ... yet .... but we are fumbling the ball a lot.
My father, along with his siblings, own about 1000 acres in upstate NY - where drilling for shale gas is being undertaken. I think the target is the Utica shale, but since I don't work in that area, I'm not sure. In any event, they saw Gasland and are now virulently oppose any drilling and fracking on the property. In spite of my best efforts of presenting facts and pointing out the flaws in Gasland, they are stubbornly opposed to any activity.
To be fair, this branch of the family is pretty liberal, and predisposed to this kind of thing. But the truth doesn't matter - and I think that's a major part of the problem we face today. Argue facts, argue facts, and argue facts some more. If they still don't listen, I don't know what to do.
I've attached a link that should help - if you search on "gasland rebuttal" you'll find several more resources.http://www.energyindepth.org/2010/06/debunking-gasland/
Keith's reply was very interesting. His father in law's church is praying against fracking (which begs the question of whom God listens to, frackers or anti-frackers?)
KEITH - WHERE DOES YOUR FIL ATTEND CHURCH, what community??>
This indicates that the fracking debate has reached into the churches. I live on the West Coast and the logging debates we had out here seldom got into the churches. If you can get church goers interested in your campaign you are a long way along winning. Church people tend to be more conservative (even from liberal churches) and their involvement signals a broad base of action. As a former lobbyist I take Keith's post very seriously.
"My father-in-law attends a bible study and one member of the group, after watching gasland on HBO, added the issue of fracking, and the "dangers" of it to the community prayer time."
National debate is a non-starter because the industry has too high of educational mountain to climb. John Q Public needs to have fracing and the real risks explained in detail.
I've tried in certain other electronic forums to explain fracing and risks associated with natural gas development. There is a lot of ignorance, even among environmental professionals. You wind up debunking their pet story of contamination (e.g. Range Resources, Parker county) and thats about it.
As an industry, you need educational campaigns for four or four different groups:
Teachers and students with basic information on how fracturing works, risks involved, and benefits. This information, possibly in a slight different form, needs to be disimminated widely to the public
Environmental professionals, a level at which you can probably debate, and if not necessarily change minds, at least inform folks more about the process
Environmentalist groups - again, not trying change minds but to find common ground.
Policy makers, public office holders, and career civil servants in agencies that currently or may regulate energy.
Media members, particularly for local and regional outlets.
There is some room for common agreement, even with groups that are opposed to fracing:
companies should disclose frac mixtures - although there will be disagreements on the level of detail
Baseline water testing - again it can be difficult to agree on exactly what to test for, how wide of geographic area, and how the information is handled
water sourcing, water recycling, and water disposal challenges
Focus on known weak points: casing issues, cement jobs, surface spills
Good ideas dbob. However, I think it could be easier than what you seem to. Let's try the old Madmen Idea of "sell the sizzle, not the steak" ....
People are motivated by two big things: Fear and Greed (not necessarily financial). All other motivations are outgrowths of these two biggies.
FEAR: We are losing the messaging war because opponents are able to easily scare the public. Be honest, if we all weren't connected with the O&G industry or live in an O&G state would we be in favor of fracking or not based on what we have heard in the usual media?
GREED (or GAIN) We have a great message we are just not telling it. Our message is that natural gas (not fracking) has the potential to save the US/World economy. We should just promote the benefits and huge reserves for natural gas. We don't have to get into HOW the natural gas is actually gained we need to promote the wise use of it.
We really need to get celebrities to endorse NG. I know that makes me puke to write that, but people will listen to Charlton Heston or Whoopie Goldburg before they will listen to a scientists and long before they listen to an O&G person. There are many celebrities who hail from O&G states. Maybe we could get some of them to make statements??? Does anyone know Brittany Spear's family? (just kidding, but you get the idea)
Again, we are losing the war because we are not expressing the vision that natural gas promises. Or, is our idea of the "vision" of less expensive, less polluting energy wrong? Is the NY Times correct in it's assessment of NG? I certainly hope not because it's the only thing I can remotely see which will help the economy going again. If NG is not safer and less polluting than other fuels then we are all blowing methane here.
I'd love to get Charlton Heston's endorsement from beyond the grave :)
Seriously, a lot of the flack over fracing is driven by a NIMBY attitude, coupled with the public's general willingness to accept loud headlines as the "truth" .
There will be a segment of the public and environmental movement you will never reach - either with logic, cold hard facts, or persistence - The only thing industry can realistically hope to do with this crowd is respond to them when legitimate concerns are raised, debunk them when when they are wrong, and work to be more calm and reasonable regarding the issues
You have another segment of the public, maybe 30-40%, that deeply cares about the issue, and can be reasoned with if engaged. However, status quo industry response and discussion about how this is better than getting our energy from the middle east, etc won't sway this crowd. Honest dialog, acting in good faith, and general education can help this group get the message.
You then have another group of folks who are disengaged, not involved, or who otherwise don't care. This segment of the public needs to be engaged with, if for no other reason than to prevent this group from becoming opposed. Hopefully you can get them to vote and or be active, but don't count on it. Messages about jobs may resonate with this group.
Finally, you have two groups tied to industry -
A small, fairly well informed minority that understands the process and logically beleive that under normal circumstances, the act of fracing a shale formation will not lead to groundwater contamination.
There is a second, larger group in the industry that simply doesn't believe it can happen, doesn't care, or who think it isn't that big of deal. This group is in serious need of "re-education" as many of them are on the front lines (landmen, pumpers, drilling hands, surveyors, etc, etc). They need to get the message to engage with friends, family, and people in public, and to be able to respond thoughtfully regarding the issue.
Hopeful has brought up the timber wars of the 1980s a few times and I think that is a good analogy to the current debate. That was a multi-pronged battle over water, land use in peoples back yard, endangered species, old growth, and the economic well being of many rural areas, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. For those unfamiliar with this battle, it was wagged on television, in courts, and in the field, complete with people chaining themselves to trees, sabotaging equipment, etc. Oh, and the timber industry largely lost. Much of the information used against the industry was incorrect, but it didn't matter because the industry did a poor job of getting its message heard, and a few bad actors constantly gave new footage and case studies on why all logging was bad.
We still have the lingering effects of that fight today, particularly when dealing with leases on the National Forest Land in Texas and the dreaded Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. The management restrictions that prevent drill sites from being in close proximity to the birds is a direct result of one of the timber wars court cases, I have no idea where the birds went when all of southeast Texas was cut over, but i digress.
Anyway - I listed the influence groups i would target for messaging, now how to get that message out? I'd go to the Discovery Channel and pitch a special called "energy week" think "shark week" except with lots of big equipment, flares, clean natural gas and dirty coal plants.
A few other comments about the timber industry -
The ultimate outcome of the fight was a destruction of jobs. The timber fight, coupled with energy and land use policies has us getting a lot of our timber from Canada, and our paper from South America.
Now if you want to be a consumer with ecological cred, you get lumber that is "green certified" by groups like the Forest Stewardship Council, Smartwood, and others. You pay a premium for that certification, but the independent third party verifies that you follow an agreed upon set of practices to protect the environment and potentially also indigenous peoples and the social and economic fabric of an area. It would be a very radical step, but if an independent third party verification system could be established, you might be able to actually find out how much more folks would pay. Here in East Texas, I doubt we would pay more for it, but in Berkley CA, maybe they would pay extra for cleaner power......