Shale Gas Industry Insider: We Are Losing the Messaging War on FrackingSep 13th, 2011 | By fjgallagher | Category: Fracking, Lead Articles
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.
NaturalGasWatch.org has been designated the “Official Blogger” of the conference, and is not receiving any compensation from the industry in exchange for writing about 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.
“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 they 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.