August 17, 2011
Sometimes reality is stranger than science fiction. That's the case with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking -- a dangerous technology that's much like setting off a giant pipe bomb four or five miles underground. Millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand are injected deep into shale rock formations at high pressures to break open the rock and release the gas.
The promoters say its safe. Or that's what the oil and gas industry would have you think, anyway. But behind the scenes, the industry is fighting tooth and nail to keep fracking unregulated, and its claims of safety, economic prosperity and energy security unquestioned. Their high-dollar campaign to put a happy face on this risky practice is designed to challenge the growing movement to ban fracking that's heating up across the country: people are saying no to this risky technology that, if pursued, will negatively impact our health, water, and economy.
Here are some of the ways the oil and gas industry is attempting to "buy" public sentiment and a positive policy environment for its newest darling -- shale gas fracking:
1. Legal Bribery in Washington
The industry spent over $145 million lobbying Washington in 2010, making it one of the top five industries spending big money to buy influence -- and it seems to be working: In January 2011, bipartisan congressional members of the Natural Gas Caucus opposed proposed U.S. Department of Interior rules to disclose fracking chemicals used on public lands; this caucus' 83 members received a combined $1,742,572 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry between 2009 and 2010, according to a Propublica investigation.
2. Slick PR and Ad Campaigns
By now, you may have seen an industry ad like this, talking up gas as a means of American energy independence and prosperity, but what they don't say is that there are plans to export it to China and India-- and profits too, as these companies are increasingly multinational or even foreign-owned.
Their hired PR guns also come out blazing when unfavorable coverage of the industry erupts, as it did in the New York Times, when reporter Ian Urbina exposed industry insider emails questioning the favorable forecasts the industry has put out on fracking -- one insider going so far as calling drilling leases "Ponzi schemes."
The industry didn't like that.
As Politico reports, John Hanger, once secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and now an environmental consultant, compared Urbina to Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, saying "This is not their [the Times'] first rogue reporter." It appears his consulting services include acting as an attack dog against reporters who ask too many questions about fracking.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition (whose members have a financial stake in fracking the Marcellus shale) spent a total of $1.8 million on its PR initiatives in 2009, while the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) has an $8 million budget, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. One of IPAA's initiatives is Energy in Depth, a web site devoted to debunking the documentary Gasland.
Now, the American Petroleum Institute (API) is poised to spend $20 million on an "advocacy campaign". We don't know for sure, but given the industry's difficulties in defending fracking over recent months, we bet this money will go towards a campaign that will continue to spin fracking as a safe means of achieving prosperity and energy security.
3. Buying Silence
How does the industry keep contamination under wraps? It pays settlement fees to families whose water has been contaminated by shale gas drilling -- fees that hinge on the landowner signing a confidentiality agreement to keep details about the case from government agencies, the media and the public.