With the continuing growth in unconventional gas exploration and production comes oftimes unwarranted attacks on the industry’s environmental record and business practices.
Since there are more than 200 valves at each well site, the importance of insuring that accurate information about this segment of the industry cannot be overstated.
In advance of Valve Magazine’s upcoming comprehensive article on the unconventional gas industry, we spoke with Chris Tucker, Senior VP of Energy Practice at Energy in Depth, (EID), a research, education and public outreach campaign launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) in 2009. EID is focused on getting the facts out about the promise and potential of responsibly developing America’s onshore energy resource base—especially abundant sources of oil and natural gas from shale and other “tight” reservoirs across the country.
Chris is a native of Trucksville, PA, and as such has personal experience with the people and politics of a state where so much of this controversial development has been occurring. He says that one of the biggest problems the industry faces is that of public perception and it is especially tricky when developing these resources right next to areas where the population is not used to oil and gas activity. Concerns about water quality, earthquakes, traffic and even wear and tear on public roads have become rallying points for those opposed to tapping into these vast resources.
But one of the biggest problems with public perception is the word used to describe hydraulic fracturing. The word “fracking” was used in oil and gas company materials and in the media many years ago, but that was before the process itself became controversial. The word itself has been subverted and used to vilify a technique that has been used for decades by the oil and gas industry to free oil and gas from rock, so we asked Chris to discuss the fracas over fracking.
He replied, “There are very negative connotations of the word “fracking.” If I had been around when this first came up in the 1940’s, I would have said, “Let’s not use the word.” It has a very percussive sound; it starts with “f,” ends with “ck.” The word itself has become a gerund that has come to describe not just the well completion process, but the whole industry. It is easy for opponents to use the word itself for negative connotations.”
The slogans, “Don’t Frack With New York” and “No fracking way” are used as battle cries by environmental activists in New York who are against lifting the state’s ban on hydraulic fracturing. By making the word sound as nasty as possible, many opponents have managed to make the process itself seem nasty and repulsive.
As a result, industry executives have recently come out rejecting the spelling of the word “fracking,” opting instead, for the short form to use “frac” as in frac fluids or frac job, or using the full term for the process, hydraulic fracturing.
While efforts to change the word may prove largely just an exercise in semantics, the serious job of convincing the public that the practice and industry are not dangerous is a job that Energy in Depth takes very seriously. Chris explained. “In areas that don’t have experience in oil and gas industry, they’re being told this kind of gas exploration and extraction is new, unregulated, dangerous and exotic. Technology drives the industry; the issue is finding ways to connect with people and answer in a straightforward way. By interaction with media and connecting with people in the communities, we’re actively working to educate anyone concerned about the process.
“We do extensive research on every incident that we learn about. For example, when there was a charge that frac fluids were in the water, we got samples and in one well, they found sodium and manganese. They don’t use that in fracturing fluids. So you have to analyze, go behind the headlines to find out what’s being said, find the documents, aggregate and inform. These are not just talking points, and this is not a marketing campaign. We are always trying to answer questions.”
So while the media, activists and the industry grapple over words, the best course of action most likely lies in the grassroots education efforts of organizations like Energy in Depth.