By Don Briggs
President, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association
Yet again, another negative film has been released regarding the oil and natural gas shale revolution that is sweeping across our nation. The latest film, Promised Land, featuring several A-list actors, attacks the oil and gas industry regarding leasing and hydraulic fracturing. The difference in this film and others, such as Gasland, is very little. The idea is the same: you gather inaccurate data about an industry that is run on very technical details, pitch the film to the mainstream media, and you have yourself a moneymaking movie. Facts are clearly not required to be successful with a film.
The groups that stand behind these movies are doing one thing right – a mass scale public relations campaign. The industry can learn from this basic concept of public relations. The idea is to produce materials that are meant to educate the public about a particular topic using means of the Internet, television, publications, and grass root campaigns.
Promised Land is utilizing all of these PR tactics. According to the cast, the film is meant to start a conversation about hydraulic fracturing. No one will argue that a conversation needs to be had about this technical process, but the conversation needs to be driven by experts, not Matt Damon. Once the oil and gas arena is on the defense about a particular topic, too much time is spent debunking false information, rather than producing quality and factual content that can then be distributed to the medium/s of choice.
What are the facts about hydraulic fracturing and how can the industry improve our messaging and education process? It is important to first note that the process of fracturing was started in the late 1940’s. So while there is much hype today, this technique for extracting oil and gas is not a new idea. By 1989, over one million wells had been drilled using this process. Also, while “studies” are quoted with frequency in the media, the federal government has conducted numerous reports that all came back with the same response: there is no connection between hydraulic fracturing and contamination of any sorts.
The facts about the hydraulic fracturing system favor the oil and gas industry. It is a safe process and economically productive for our national economy and job market. The task at hand is beating the liberal media and Hollywood to the punch. Thus far, it has been a dubious job of the industry having to play defense to widespread film productions that simply are not accurate in their content.
To “beat Hollywood to the punch”, the oil and gas industry must increase its educational output. This output must begin from the smallest service company to the largest operating company. The smaller entities must not rely solely on the large global powers, and the large corporations must not minimize the importance of the voice of the small localized company partaking in the same job: drilling wells, creating jobs and protecting the environment to which we have been entrusted.
While facts are not required by Hollywood to produce a successful film, it will be vitally important for the oil and gas industry to proactively communicate the truth to the general public. If it were only as easy to drill a well with half the facts, as it is to make a movie, energy independence would be yesterday’s news.