A publication recently surfaced from Control Risks, a renowned British company hired by the natural gas industry to analyze the opposition to drilling by hydraulic fracturing around the world. Upon review, their analysis seems pretty objective and accurate. The report distinguishes between those who ideologically oppose drilling and those who do not oppose the idea of drilling but simply want it to be done the safest way possible, which is the category I would put myself into.
What’s amazing is that the only two photos of active drilling operations in the entire report are right in our backyards, in Cecil and Chartiers Townships. Seeing my hometown in a worldwide publication really reinforced how much at the epicenter of the whole natural gas boom we really are.
The section entitled “How Can Industry Respond?”, which is ironically on the same page as the photo of drilling operations in Cecil Township, is of particular interest. The report says the industry should target four key areas to improve its relations with stakeholders, and they deserve to be printed. Remember, this is an analysis prepared for the gas industry at their request by objective experts.
The report says, “First and foremost, the industry needs to acknowledge the legitimacy of local grievances. Denying the agency of local communities by blaming ‘fear’ and ‘hysteria’ is winning the industry – often an ‘outsider’ – few friends. Acknowledging grievances would begin to repair its crippling trust deficit with local communities.” In addition, the report recommends “Meaningful consultations with local stakeholders, instead of didactic ‘information sessions’ to market the presumed benefits of drilling, would help to identify potential points of tension to be addressed through both outreach and grievance mechanisms.” Sound familiar to anyone around here?
Next, the report recommends “a broad-spectrum political engagement strategy that is not overly dependent on cozy relationships with regulators, power-brokers and other narrow points of influence, which are easily tarred by general mistrust of central governments and are a source of political risk. In part, this means laying groundwork at the local level with municipal and provincial officials. Such local lobbying is expensive, but many companies have dedicated teams in the wake of legislative and regulatory changes giving more clout to local authorities.” Working with local governments in a positive way, you say? Hmmm… Go on.
Next, the report states“the industry needs to continue to make good faith efforts to reduce adverse impacts across the board. This means not only strengthening compliance, ensuring subcontractor performance and embracing new technologies, but also making conscientious project decisions regarding the siting of well pads, screening of light and noise, and routing of truckloads. This would entail absorbing increased mitigation costs, …but it would also reduce non-ideological objections to the industry.” Or in simple English, be a good neighbor instead of just claiming to be one.
Anything else? “Finally, in addition to reducing the negative impacts of gas development, companies need to ensure the benefits are both tangible and as widely and fairly distributed as possible. For most communities, this means procuring as much as possible locally, providing jobs and training to local workers, paying required taxes, and – crucially – making long-term investments that deliver a sustained economic boost. The encompassing but diffuse benefits of lower gas prices are one thing; an industrial base that provides well-paid jobs for more than two or three years of drilling is a more concrete way to distribute the benefits of unconventional gas development.”
When it comes to maximizing local jobs, I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, when people like me ask questions about local hiring, we don’t get facts or statistics; we get snarky attacks, misdirection and ridicule. It would make sense if you were hiring all the local workers possible, you’d want people to know it, right? But it seems as though there are way too many out of state license plates in the region to be able to prove we’re actually getting all the local jobs we can out of this industry, and our unemployment numbers comparable to the state average would suggest likewise.
But instead of following the professional advice they paid for, the tail wagging the dog of the gas industry has decided to double down on what hasn’t worked yet. Last week the movie “Promised Land”, starring Matt Damon, opened nationwide. The film is set a small rural town in Southwest Pennsylvania and deals with the issue of how the community should approach the issue of drilling for Marcellus Shale. I’m not going to give much commentary on the movie itself, because I believe people are smart enough to make their own decisions, especially since it’s a fictional movie and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
Truthfully, I thought the film took a much more civil approach than some of the things I’ve seen, and the absence of groups like lawyers or reporters in the film painted a somewhat incomplete picture of what’s been happening around here over the past eight years. In any event, the movie is hardly the anti-drilling paranoia machine industry lobbyists would have you believe. In fact, the Marcellus Shale Coalition spent a whopping $30,000 on ads to run in local theatres showing “Promised Land”, which is not only an incredible waste of money but also insulting to local movie goers. Can we seriously not go to the movies any more without getting their propaganda shoved down our throats?
I’ll go ahead and summarize what the intelligent people at Control Risks were trying to say in their twenty-three-page report. It’s simple. Stop trying to tell us what to think every second of every day. If you’re doing the right things, you don’t need to go to such incredible lengths to convince people of anything; the results will be self-evident. At this point, the approach is turning off way more people than it is winning over. Every day, more and more constituents come to me and say that as much as they favor the natural gas boom, they can’t stand the condescending way we’re being treated by much of the industry.
But if the report by Control Risks is too long or complicated, the gas industry can go back to the Chinese proverb which says instead of giving a man a fish to eat, it is better to teach a man how to be a fisherman. Show us your commitment to local communities, local jobs and best practices, or in other words, teach us to be fishermen- instead of forcing us to eat the fish you are constantly throwing fish at our heads.