7 Ways Oil and Gas Companies Are Trying to Buy Positive Public Sentiment for Fracking
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.
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.
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.
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.
In May, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman sued federal agencies to provide a full environmental review of fracking in the Delaware River Basin since it could affect the drinking water of nine million New Yorkers.
Recently, Wellsburg, West Virginia rescinded a ban on shale gas drilling. It appears that one reason for this might be that Chesapeake Energy recently rescinded its funding for the community's school music program in direct response to the ban. $30,000 might not seem like a lot, but for a struggling rural school system, it certainly is no small potatoes.
6. Buying Academic Shills
One of the underhanded tactics in the industry's arsenal is paying academic shills who prepare reports that shine a rosy light on the industry -- while glossing over serious concerns. As I wrote in June, an MIT report titled, "The Future of Natural Gas" was funded by the oil and gas industry. As they write on their site:
In FY 2010, MIT's industry-sponsored research totaled $111 million. More than 800 firms now work with MIT, both in Institute-wide programs such as the Industrial Liaison Program and the MIT Energy Initiative and in smaller collaborations... More than 180 companies partner with the program to improve their access to MIT and advance their research agendas [emphasis added].
It's not just the Oscars and Sundance that give good swag. Turns out the oil and gas industry does too, especially when they think they can help buy the impression that public sentiment is pro-fracking. At a June hearing in Washington, Pennsylvania, numerous landowners who had leased their land to gas drillers appeared at a hearing to talk about the benefits of fracking. But it's what got them there that's the interesting story: they were offered Pirates tickets, in addition to hotel rooms and travel expenses. That was one way the industry assured that the spaces at the hearing would be filled with pro-drilling voices.
If, despite the industry hype, you are still concerned about fracking, you're not alone. In fact, a movement is growing to ban this risky, destructive practice that has led to explosions, leaks, adverse health effects from air pollution, and more. More than 76 local and state governments have passed resolutions against fracking. Click here to become part of that movement.