One thing the oil and gas industry has a lot of is money.
So, if all it took was big money, every proposed fracking ban would be roundly defeated.
Yet, in Richmond, CA, an estimated $3 million in outside funding failed to dissuade voters from imposing a proposed ban.
In Denton, TX, energy companies poured at least $700,000 into the campaign to defeat the proposed ban. Environmental activists nonetheless managed to get the fracking ban passed with only about $75,000 in funding.
Similar bans recently succeeded in two California communities, in Ohio, and in Colorado. Bans were already in place in Hawaii, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York. More are in the works.
Still, industry chugs along, doing business as usual. More money, more slick ad campaigns, more headstrong refusal to meet the actual challenge.
But an examination of the bans that were passed could give industry the key to defeating more such bans.
Take Denton, for example. It’s a safe bet that the ban surprised a lot of people, especially those who didn’t know the background. A fracking ban in Texas?! No way!
The Price of Industry Hubris
But Denton offers a warning about the price of industry hubris. Yes, Texas is oil and gas country. No, that doesn’t mean that operators can ignore the concerns of residents, secure in the notion that oil and gas are king.
Very much at the heart of the issue in Denton was the fact that some oil companies chose to ignore new ordinances and citizen concerns. Citing pre-existing permits that allowed drilling and fracking closer to homes, schools, parks and businesses, they went ahead with drilling and fracking operations that the new regulations would have prohibited.
Running roughshod over the community’s concerns, those operators may as well have started a petition against fracking themselves.
Maybe it’s old-school thinking. Maybe just standard operating procedure for operators who feel that the revenue they generate entitles them to “get their way.”
It’s a Small, Small Digital World
What these types of operators forget, or aren’t aware of, is that this is a new, highly connected world. They forget that younger people, especially college students, are overwhelmingly against fracking, and those young people operate in a digital village that has no love for industry ad campaigns. They forget that it’s often the younger generation that gets out and volunteers, knocking on doors and dialing the phones.
A glance at the bans that passed tells this tale: Athens, OH has a high percentage of college students, as does Denton, TX. Santa Barbara County also has a lot of college students, who voted 80/20 for the ban, but not enough of them to sway the vote.
Instead of talking to these highly motivated and generally anti-fracking youth, industry plows ahead, pouring money into the ads, the mailers, the billboards. Think how much further that money would go if it was used to support personal outreach within operational communities, armies of industry folk whose sole mission is simply to talk to people, and, more importantly, to listen to them.
It’s not the industry standard, but it works when it comes to drilling operations and would work during elections. The simple act of showing up, in person, to discuss plans and address questions and doubts, is industry’s best hope for continued and uninterrupted operations. Real dialogue, supported by the stacks and stacks of research and statistics and first-hand experience that shows the safety of drilling and fracking, is the way forward.
Oh, sure, there will be legal battles over the bans that have just been voted in. The lawsuits have already begun. More money. More of what those outside the industry see as strong-arm tactics. More marks against the industry as a whole.
Written by: Chris Faulkner is CEO of Breitling Energy Corp., author of “The Fracking Truth” and producer of the documentary, “Breaking Free: The Shale Rock Revolution.”