Monday, February 21, 2011

Are we winning or losing the public relations battle on Marcellus Shale?

Posted by Greg Matusky
What could be the most important new source of clean, domestic energy has hit headwinds in the court of public opinion. New research shows that public sentiment about Marcellus Shale development is positive, but that sentiment is falling. The oil and gas industry now needs to act to shore up public opinion and guarantee that America benefits from this vital natural resource.

America's most important new source of clean, domestic energy is a massive geographic structure buried 9,000 feet beneath some of the most economically depressed regions of our country.

Stretching from West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania through Western New York State, Marcellus Shale, a geographic formation formed some 400 million years ago, holds more than 10 years of domestic natural gas supply for the Northeast, and that estimate could be low.

For years, the gas was inaccessible. But new drilling technologies are liberating this vast national resource, and bringing it to the surface to warm U.S. hearths and homes, and power businesses. If ever there was a good news story about U.S. energy, Marcellus Shale is it.

It should fall on the right side of everyone's best interests, even environmentalists. Gas is clean. Development technology creates jobs in the Appalachian Basin, which has been economically depressed since the Kennedy administration.

The Marcellus Shale band also lies close to Northeast markets where energy is most needed. The natural gas flowing from these formations is a surefire silver bullet to reducing our trade deficits and reliance on imported oil, providing a more stable America.

Yet, the critics are circling, throwing up phantom environmental issues and clamoring to tax a nascent industry out of existence while other, less economical and environmental energy sources sop up a huge number of taxpayer dollars in the form of government handouts.

These forces are trying to derail what is a certain windfall for American consumers, the environment, our economy, and our competitive standing. How much impact are they having? For a long time, very little.

But in a study conducted by Gregory FCA, a top-30 national public relations firm, and using Nielsen's BuzzMetrics tool to survey more than 100 million online and traditional media comments, it was discovered that positive public sentiment to Marcellus Shale development in both traditional media and social media is slowly eroding, as some environmentalists make Marcellus Shale their cause célèbre, and as the media take a more negative turn in their reporting.

Since the beginning of 2010, the positive sentiment in traditional media for Marcellus Shale has fallen dramatically, from a high of +3.1 to a low of -0.3 in January 2011. The rating falls on a 10-point scale with -5 being the most negative sentiment and +5 being the most positive sentiment. Zero reflects neutral sentiment.


An investigation into social media, or online discussions and conversations about Marcellus Shale, shows a similar deterioration. For most of 2010, online commenters were positive to Marcellus Shale development, averaging a positive sentiment that ranged between +3 and +4. But late in the year, that goodwill and sentiment began to turn less positive, and was only +1.1 in January 2011.


What does this mean to the industry? Marcellus Shale offers the oil and gas industry a rare opportunity to catalyze public sentiment to align with its business objectives. What's called for is an industry-wide effort to tell an overwhelmingly positive story that will swamp a few, vocal critics and move our combined national energy agenda forward. Here is what is required.

1. Beat them on the facts and publish an ocean of information about the value of Marcellus Shale. Prima facie evidence shows that Marcellus Shale is good for consumers, the economy, the environment, and our country. The problem is that naysayers -- who often aren't under the same time constraint as gainfully employed Americans -- have more idle time to plant falsehoods, raise suspicions, and demonize the oil and gas industry. Marcellus Shale has every fact on its side. Those facts need to be pushed out again and again through digital and traditional media, and embedded in every message radiating out of the industry. Facts are powerful, and when they are in your favor, they must be leveraged in every story that is told.

2. Never respond to the supposed negatives. Too often, the industry only amplifies the criticism of the lunatic fringe by addressing falsehoods. The industry needs to speak in a clear, positive voice that constantly focuses the conversations on the common-sense value of development. Marcellus Shale is about domestic reserves of clean energy of natural gas that will reduce our nation's carbon footprint. By only speaking to the positives and never addressing the negatives, the industry will assure its story is more accurately told.

3. Make it about people. Marcellus Shale will do more good for the Appalachian Valley than anything since the Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson. As a boy growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I remember the open sewers and the abject poverty of places like Sykesville, Pa., where my parents grew up, and how small investments in roads, rail, and water treatment yielded huge benefits. The people of Marcellus Shale are fierce, noble individuals who have been ignored for generations. The industry needs to celebrate the opportunity that Marcellus Shale offers them, and make their stories of economic renewal a mainstay of the storytelling. Reality TV paves the way with shows such as "Ax Men," "Deadliest Catch," and "Gold Rush: Alaska" reeducating the world to the value of honest work, risk taking, and the responsible harvesting of natural resources. The industry should underwrite a similar show to illustrate how Marcellus Shale is giving an entire generation of blue-collar Americans new hope and opportunity.

4. Dominate the online discussion. Traditional media appear to be turning the conversation negative. After all, it's the media's job to be skeptical. But digital media provide the means to craft and distribute a narrative directly to the ultimate consumer. The industry needs to dominate online conversations as a way to positively impact consumers, regulators, influencers, and ironically, the traditional media, which often find the spark of their reporting through online buzz.

5. Connect the dots for the public. How does Marcellus Shale provide a cleaner world? What is the economic impact on the real people of Marcellus Shale? How can we create a more stable world by reducing our dependence on foreign oil? How can our government ever hope to balance a budget if far-off cleaner energy, such as wind and solar, requires tremendous government subsidies, at the very time we are laying off teachers, firemen, and policemen? The connections are obvious to those inside the industry. But to outsiders, it's not so clear. The new narrative of Marcellus Shale must connect the dots so the public understands the vital national importance of this all-too-good-to-be-true opportunity for our country.

6. Language is important. The very term "fracking" has a negative connotation, and scores lower in public sentiment than terms such as Marcellus Shale. A better, more positive term is warranted. The industry needs to identify negatively charged words and replace them with positive language. The Marcellus phenomenon is liberating clean energy. It's reducing dependence on foreign oil produced in unstable regions of the world. It's creating a safer, more competitive America. It's eliminating the need to transport highly volatile energy halfway around the world. It's building lives, growing businesses, offering hope where hope has disappeared. Words drive public opinion. The industry needs to control the story by controlling the lexicon through creative, positive words that tell a vivid story and lock out the language of critics.

All and all, Marcellus Shale is a once-in-a-lifetime story that connects with the most important issues of our time. The need for clean energy. The power of private enterprise. The ability to transform lives and the drive to keep our country competitive. The industry must beat back critics through oceans of facts, human-scale storytelling, positive words, and positioning to tell a story that is bigger than this single moment in time.

Marcellus Shale is the America energy story of our age, as important as the day Edwin Drake discovered oil locked beneath the very lands that define the Marcellus Shale region. It's vital that the industry takes control of this story in order to assure the benefits of Marcellus Shale for generations of future Americans.

UPDATE 3/8/11: I have responded to all of the comments in this post.

23 comments:

  1. To Greg Matusky - Great paper on the falling public opinion and the steps necessary to overcome this declining opinion. I particularly liked making the arguement about people and not addressing lunatic assertions because even addressing such assertions lends some credibility they do not deserve. Nice work.
    Jim Daley, Director of Natural Gas & Energy Programs at Greenhorne & O'Mara

    (This comment was submitted via e-mail and posted with Jim Daley’s permission on his behalf.)

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  2. Larry Bennett, Cooperstown NY.

    Labeling all who question fracking the Marcellus and other shales as part of "the lunatic fringe" is absurd. There are plenty of open questions about the efficacy of the technology, about the potential of financial gain, even about where the gas will ultimately be sold. In this country we get to decide on critical issues by free and open debate, and demonizing others is typical of spin-doctoring and not of honest debate.

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  3. M L Keith, Cooperstown, NYFebruary 21, 2011 at 6:30 PM

    I live in a lovely, rural area near one of New York's most beautiful lakes. Why should this become a "gas patch" with truck convoys, waste water pits,and unproven fracking techniques that have demonstrably polluted wells in Pennsylvania and other areas? The gas industry apparently believes this is just a PR problem. Wrong. It is not "clean energy" when our landscape will be destroyed by drilling rigs, pads and waste water pits. Just trust us says the industry. Besides we will make a lot of money. But the economic impact of gas drilling is not so clear for the locals. When property values sink like a rock who will cheer for "natural" gas then? Stay away I say.

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  4. Thanks for your post and yoru study. While it is very interesting, the one thing I don't like about the survey instrument (BuzzMetrics) is that it analyzes online commentary and content and then draws conclusions based on that. I don't think that it's best to draw correlations between the volume of online dissent and true public opinion. Based on what I've seen in other situations, special interests and the types of people most active in online debate tend to come from demographics that would be more prone to oppose Marcellus drilling. The types of people most likely to favor drilling not only may be less likely to participate in online debate, but because drilling is already under way, they are willing to cede the field of public debate to those who are in a sense losing it.

    Another critical factor here is that while the majority of people in the U.S. should have a say in how their federal government and elected representatives should stand on the issues, I'd be most interested in hearing what people in the shale regions think about drilling. My guess is that a higher percentage of residents in those regions favor it.

    You and I are from Pennsylvania, and we know what the gas producers are up against in the Northeast. The region will always be less receptive to drilling for a number of reasons, from the fact it's a new industry for most; it is changing the rural landscape (economically and literally in some cases); we have higher concentrations of activist groups that frequently oppose any industrial development; and then there are union issues that could arise.

    For all of these reasons, I'm wary of any effort to draw conclusions that the tide of public opinion is against drilling to the degree suggested in the survey. That said, the amount of misinformation on drilling is staggering and that is coming from opponenets in a number of places with access to the media.

    With that in mind, I couldn't agree more with your recommendations. They are spot on for what producers and the larger industry needs to do to level the playing field on the public opinion front. I particularly like your comments about language. Though it's superficial when compared to some of the other issues raised, opponents are using terminology and language against producers and that needs to be addressed. Thank you.

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  5. First, Mr. Matusky: Are you currently in the employ of the gas industry to provide public relations consultation and services? Are you getting paid for this blog? Second, I know Sykesville, PA very well. I go to Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church there, where we recently held a public forum on Marcellus. We invited 3 gas companies to attend the forum - Consol, EXCO and Range Resources. We sent our presentation to them beforehand to make sure we had our facts reasonably correct and got their point of view into the discussion. Not one of them decided to attend. I suppose it means that they have already taken to heart your advice: “Never respond to supposed negatives.” Yet our desire for dialogue was genuine and our presentation, fully documented, was welcomed as a balanced, measured overview of most of the issues regarding this unconvential for of gas drilling. The Mayor of Sykesville Rick Fike was there and he could attest to that if you choose to contact him. The same could be said of the public forum we held in Curwensville. No gas companies present at a meeting advertised in the local paper.

    Curwensville Boro Council member Sam Ettaro liked the presentation so much that he has posted it on his Facebook page for broader viewing. You might want to watch that, especially the Q & A part, so that you know better the critics (such as me) of this drilling, but more importantly - for your job - you will want to see the people’s reactions that night so you can better advise the gas companies how to manipulate the people toward unquestioning support of drilling. Why do you suppose gas companies are reticent to show up to face an informed citizenry, versus showing up with money in their fists and with a very limited agenda of discussion?

    Now as to a couple of your points: on your first one, “Beat them on the facts,” you do not present a single fact that could be evaluated or challenged. Instead you indicate that the only evidence needed is “prima facie” – which of course means self-evident, a neat little tautology on your part. You say “facts” over and over again but appear too fearful to mention even a single fact that could be challenged: taking your own advice, apparently, to stay away from any sort of give-and-take with your challengers. Same with “falsehoods” on Point 2. You have not the courage to mention a single one of these falsehoods.

    I could go on, but that would be tedious. Your entire blog reads like one gas industry bromide after the other. I am sorry to see it so, because we really do need open, transparent debate on these issues. And like gas company representatives I have talked to (I’ll name Matt Pitzarella of Range Resources as one), or like Marcellus Shale Coalition (MCS) director Kathryn Klaber (based on her published comments), or like the Shale Country online sweetness that begins with a deeply personal attack on anyone who would oppose this drilling, you reveal yourself to be a practitioner of gas industry ad hominem attacks when you write: “Naysayers -- who often aren't under the same time constraint as gainfully employed Americans -- have more idle time to plant falsehoods, raise suspicions, and demonize the oil and gas industry.”
    I am a goat farmer and make my living with a value-added dairy operation into which my wife and I have poured our lives’ treasures and our souls. I really do not have time to make myself an expert on High Volume Slickwater Fracing of Long Laterals and the 40 or more associated issues that must be understood to evaluate whether this is a good or a bad thing for my farm, my community, our state, even our beloved country.

    If you would have it, I would challenge point-by-point just about every assertion you make about the benefits of drilling for shale gas. I doubt you will have it, but let me end with that challenge because I see you comment may prevent my comment from being published because you may deem it “spam.” I hope you are in possession of the courage of your convictions more than that.

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  6. I hope you post negative comments. I find your use of rhetoric to control the public and get what you want (ie cash) reprehensible. Call me a lunatic fringe but I will not be led by the nose to believe that "fracking" is a good thing. Case in point; Dimock PA.

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  7. There is so much here to criticize, but I'll just say that I have two young children, ages 9 months and 4 years, am employed in several positions, including as a professor of environmental studies, and three years ago I founded a regional environmental organization.

    We actually had other things to do when we started, such as building a local food system, creating thousands of new jobs in the energy efficiency retrofitting industry, bringing community development financial institutions to our area, and other measures that will be far more beneficial (and less harmful) that then author's beloved gas production strategy.

    As it was, we realized that as in other communities, the dirty boom and bust dynamic of the oil and gas mining industry would foreclose on that future for our children, and we went full bore against it. Its been a bloody black hole in terms of time and energy, and its delayed our capacity to develop sustainable development with a real future in our region.

    The author implies that all of us who are profoundly dubious about the benefits of gas production are slackers with no lives. If that's a sample of the 'science' upon which the author's recommendations are based, I would, even were I a pro-gas person, be rather dubious about trusting his conclusions.

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  8. Fracking ruins the water and while there are many substitutes for gas, there is no substitute for water. Heavy metals and many contaminants are forever. They can't be filtered out. For example - they dissolve the membranes in reverse osmosis.

    Environmentalists, otherwise known as sensible people who understand science, will not support a process that ends with contaminated water.

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  9. Wow, all of us who don't want to lose our water, clean air and quiet don't work?!!! That's a nice assumption based on nothing. Most of my neighbors have leased and deeply regret it. They are scared to death of what they will lose because the landman lied. Most of them are farmers or loggers who still leave their doors unlocked. You are wrong about most people being for drilling in the Marcellus Shale. In my county 28 percent of the land is leased and it represents 19 percent of the population. The majority will pay. The majority if you do an honest poll are worried about gas extraction. I am going to lose my home because it is on a nice quiet dirt road that is completely surrounded by leased land. My land will be taken from me by compulsory integration, in other words, eminent domain. The diesel fumes from the truck trips will come into my home because of how our home is situated. We will have to flee. How will we be compensated? We won't. We will pay. And pay. The people who hit gas will leave. But we won't be able to as the housing values have dived and mortgages aren't being given to leased land.

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  10. I am a taxpayer not a "lunatic" or enviornmentalist and I know that local taxpayers are expected to accept increased local taxes to pay for the following effects of fracking: road ruin, excessive traffic, increased demand for social, police, jail, drug, & emergency services, short and long term effects of dust & air pollution, while residential property values go down and rents go up driving long term residents out. All this with no ability to charge high profit energy companies with the costs. Its not boom/bust for locals, it is bust/bust.

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  11. I beg to disagree with Mr. Matusky -I am gainfully employed and I use all of my spare time or most of it, to find out and share the facts.
    I have immersed myself in this subject for over three years because I live in a community and a state that was not prepared for what is occurring and has been taken over by this industry. Simply because I do not come to the same conclusions as the industry that signs his paycheck does not mean I am wrong or that I spread lies. He however is paid to smear dedicated and concerned citizens like myself.
    NEPA resident

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  12. What TR said after he was presidentis very true, Every movement has it's lunitic fringe. The people that want drilling have their fringe just like the rural landowners that oppose the natural gas drilling process. Then there is the process that is uses to silence people that speak up. In Andrew Jacksons day these tactics would have ended with a duel. The industry has lost it's honor and too many people know that now. The resouces to change this will only make the gas companies look like Johns Manville Corp. with the phrase Asbestos the wonder material.

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  13. What about those who have chosen to fight for the cause and use every free minute to do so?

    Or what about those who value well being as opposed to having lots of cash? What about those who chose to stay home and raise a family and juggle work from home as well?

    Are you implying that the naysayers are negligent in doing their "homework" ? Aren't we proving who's spreading faleshoods? And aren't they being paid to do so? Afterall the industry has hired PR firms who could say 'no'.

    Are you implying that the gainfully employed are pro-drilling? Or are you inferring that the gainfully employed don't engage in social movements?

    What this statement reveals is YOUR short sightedness.

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  14. Well said, thank you

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  15. Thank you. Mr. Matusky, for posting my comment. I have been idling away my day (not to the purpose of naysaying as you might think) taking care of three goat births, two of which resulted in fatalities. In the last case, as I write, the first-time mother is keeping vigil over the still whimpering but doomed body of her baby, pulling at it to get up, lying beside it in that hope of life. I have had to take two kids out to end their lives with a .22 rifle to spare further suffering. Yet we have managed so far to deliver 22 live babies of 25 that came into this world we endeavor to make as safe as possible for them. There is nothing to surpass the experience of bringing new life into the world, which is one reason I am spending all the time I am to understand the gas drilling industry and the threat it poses to my farm and all its inhabitants. Nature imposes its own sorrows, but the sorrows imposed by men and women in pursuit of wealth are the deepest sorrows of all. The pursuit of wealth that destroys life is the worst of all, and make no mistake, that is the business of the gas business. Again, I ask you for your facts, your prima facie evidence, whatever they may be, and I will debate you fact to fact in this space or any other of your choosing. Words matter. You should not utter words that you are not prepared to defend.

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  16. I agree with Stephen Cleghorns post and would also wonder if you are employed by the gas industry to provide public relations services. I can only assume you are.
    If so, I would liken you to a lawyer who has taken on a murderer and rapist for a client knowing full well they were guilty, but only careing about a paycheck.
    I would hope you would accept Mr. Cleghorn's challenge to every point you make about shale gas drilling benefits.
    I have watched this presentation and it is very well researched. I will follow with the link to it. Watch it and tell me....is it not the truth?
    http://www.blip.tv/file/4788126?filename=Curwensville-PreparingForTheNaturalGasBoom610.fl

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  17. It's good yo analyze how public opinion sways in different directions, but the key element seems to be the global awakening in regard to isolated operations of companies involved in fracking.

    Public opinion changes everytime new information is added to the reservoir of knowledge. Where, a couple of years ago, the monopoly of information was in hands of the companies involved, it is now shifting to the factual situation and people are putting this new factual information next to the initial information provided by the fracking companies. Sadly enough, there is a huge gap between promises and facts. It's my himble opinion that this can never be spinned in the above mentioned ways.

    As we speak global communities in the Netherlands, France, Germany etc. are taking a firm stand against fracking. And to be frank, all due to the discrepancies in promises and facts. You cant blame people for being what they feel, first and foremost concerned about their direct environment.

    Greetings from the Netherlands. Joep

    Hope this gets through moderation.

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  18. Given the material Mr. Matusky presented, and the fact moderation is allowing drilling opponents' posts, that alone is more than I can say about certain extremist anti-drill sites.

    "Beat them with facts" vs "never responding to the supposed negatives" - the facts alone stand for themselves. The facts are absolute - what has been observed. "Supposed" negatives include the over-the-top crystal ball predictions that the world will end as we know it if we continue to allow hydraulic fracturing.

    The one thing I have noticed with many drilling opponents, regardless of the supposed concerns, is they don't care where companies drill, as long as the very same energy the use doesn't come from their backyards and they don't have to be subjected to the few actual inconveniences or issues with drilling.

    Oh, and with them trying to drive our energy future, you can forget about energy independence as well. Although some of these same people are idealistic in their search for renewable energy, the truth is we are years away from such. T. Boone Pickens referred to NG as a bridge fuel for a reason, but if left up to the NG drilling opponents the bridge will never be built and we will be left at the mercy of nations who hate us.

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  19. Gloria in PittsburghFebruary 25, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    Wow, you dusted off the time worn & tedious playbooks of the coal industry, labeling the opposition "lunatic fringe", really? The people involved in fighting fracking are tax paying, law abiding, voters. They are researching, they are learning, they are talking to their neighbors. One thing they are NOT is: paid shills for the drilling industry. We are making it "about the people", the people who live next to a gas well, the people who no longer have drinkable water from their wells, the people whose kids go to schools where drillers want to set up shop. "Dominate the discussion" - Mr. Matusky, the ONE thing dominating the discussion is the increasing number of "accidents" caused by fracking, just like the one yesterday, a well fire in Washington County PA, that sent 3 of the workers to the emergency room.

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  20. Alternative energy is not just an idealistic dream. It is a necessity in the struggle to control climate change. Methane (natural gas) may burn clean but it is not clean as it is produced. It is a powerful greenhouse gas, at least 20 times more destructive than CO2 in the "short run" (first 100 years). Why do you think scientists are worried about the melting of the permafrost?
    But maybe you don't believe in climate change. We know that no industry will sacrifice itself for the greater good. Stockholders wouldn't allow that. So, of course, you lobby, pour millions into the pockets of politicians, and promote and subsidize gas and oil and nuclear instead of putting money into solar and wind farms.
    As for being NIMBY, please show me one wealthy CEO of a gas company who is living in a gasfield. We know the effects from compressors and pipelines (check with the Province of Quebec on that one). Illness from air and water threatens all who live in such an area. Many will die from respiratory ailments, earlier than necessary heart problems, pschological stress, endocrine disruption, and CANCER. By the time any real studies are done, rich executives will be out of the area (especially any working for Norse Energy and the corporations that have sold out to Chinese, Spanish, and other multinationals.)
    You folks are determined to destroy everything, our woods, our health, our streams, our drinking water, our agricultural lands in your ignorance and greed. We have only to look to Fort Worth, Flower Mound, Colorado, Wyoming, PA to understand why we do not want a gas company for a neighbor. We will move, as you do, and will thrive in places that understand the value of water, as you do not.

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  21. Looks as though my comment contained too much truth. Here is another fact you won't like. Our leading oil and gas imports are from Canada and Mexico.
    Now, if a nation really hates us, they would support you all the way, as you are destroying parts of the Rocky Mountains, Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana, and threatening the Finger Lakes of NY as well as the cities of Philadelphia and New York City.

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  22. I invite you to my house for a drink of our water...anytime you can make it...I'll even add ice if you like. We didn't lease, but all our neighbors did.On 2/9/11 our water turned black. We can't drink it, cook with it, do our laundry, or bathe. We've been advised to take our animals and move out.(I have been getting progressively more ill since last May((when they drilled a well a mile away)), and have dropped 30lbs)I have been to many doctors and have had so many blood tests and other tests I've lost count.It would be nice to know what to look for except the info about what they put down those wells is proprietary. The DEP will be coming to investigate this week. These are FACTS. What kind of spin do you want to put on that? We do not know how long our water has been fouled since they drilled last May...and because of the industries secrecy, we just kept on drinking our well water unsuspecting we might be getting sick from it. It's hard to eat when everything tastes like metal. It stinks to lose your balance constantly or have your husband find you unconscious in the garden with your dog standing guard over you. It's horrible to not have the energy to do the things you always took for granted you would be able to do.... To lose your passion, your memory, your focus. Then to read an article such as you have written is worse...because your article only puts more people at risk if they believe you. How can you do that? Deliberately? Do you have a conscience? Are you willing to take responsibility for the people who end up sick because you say fracking is safe? I guess you're the same as the gas industry...tell people anything as long as you get your money. By the way..I am not the "lunatic fringe" people you spoke about. I am not "Henny Penny" running around screaming "the sky is falling!!" I'm an United States Citizen who owns land, votes, pays taxes, volunteers, saves kittens, loves wildlife and photography...I've worked since I was 14 years old...I went to college..I was a teacher among other things I pursued until I became too ill to work. My husband and I moved to rural Pa. and planned to live here till we die...we just didn't plan on dying sooner than we should because of something we didn't want or ask for. You should be ashamed...it's people like you who are making people like me...sick. I wonder how my comments will be moderated??? I doubt they will be approved...I'm one of the people who truly understand how important clean water is...because I don't have any anymore.

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  23. I knew my comment wouldn't make it...you don't want the facts. I'm going to encourage every person who has gotten ill from the effects of drilling to write you and speak out. This is what is referred to as "yellow" journalism. Truth was too hard to take I guess.

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