Gas Industry Report Calls Anti-Fracking Movement a “Highly Effective Campaign”

Gas Industry Report Calls Anti-Fracking Movement a “Highly Effective Campaign”

A report intended to help the oil and gas industry squash the anti-fracking movement turns out to be full of useful information—and admits that much of what activists are saying is true.
posted Mar 26, 2013

New York anti-fracking rally

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing rally in New York City. Photo by Adam Welz for CREDO Action.

Communities working to stop a controversial gas drilling process are getting what sounds like encouragement from an unlikely source: a report prepared for the oil and gas industry on the risks posed by those communities themselves. Even more bizarre than a risk assessment about grassroots activists is one that basically admits the activists are right.

The report assembles a wealth of information about fracking and the movement against it.

Control Risks, the global risk and strategic consulting firm that conducted the report, calls itself “independent,” but it makes its alliances clear in the first few sentences. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could bring “a golden age of cheap, plentiful energy for a resource-constrained world,” writes senior global issues analyst Jonathan Wood, “but only if it makes it out of the ground.”

Entitled “The Global Anti-Fracking Movement: What It Wants, How It Operates, and What’s Next,” the 2012report uses the term “battlegrounds” to describe more than thirty countries on six continents where the issue of fracking is being debated. Its warnings about the dangers of ignoring the anti-fracking movement were likely a motivator behind last week’s so-called truce between four gas companies and a handful of environmental groups in the Appalachian Basin. Shell, Chevron, CONSOL Energy, and EQT Corporation joined with the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force, and a few others to form the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. The Center will monitor the 15 environmental standards for fracking agreed upon by the alliance and will certify drilling operations that voluntarily comply with the standards.

Although the report is intended to provide gas companies with a plan for squashing the anti-fracking movement, people concerned about the environment or public health will find it worth reading for at least three reasons (besides entertainment). It contains reams of hard data about the movement, it identifies the tactics that have been most successful so far, and it ultimately backs up many of the movement’s key arguments.

The report assembles a wealth of information about fracking and the movement against it. It begins with a world map in which shale gas reserves are colored blue. This reveals huge stores of gas buried beneath areas such as Tibet, southern Brazil, Libya, and almost the entirety of South Africa. Just a glance gives a global perspective on what the anti-fracking movement is really up against.

A few pages later, there’s a chart measuring Google searches for the terms “fracking,” “shale gas,” and “Gasland”—the title of a 2010 documentary about natural gas drilling. The chart shows that before the release of the film, few people were searching for information about fracking. Only after a sharp spike in searches for the term “Gasland” is there a strong, steady rise in search activity for “fracking” and “shale gas.”

This helps to demonstrate just how important the film was in raising awareness about the process. Wood says it provided the movement with a shared point of reference, and claims that the movement wouldn’t have gone global without the documentary’s scenes of flaming water pouring from people’s faucets.

“They pretty much blame us for the whole thing,” said Gasland director Josh Fox. “Of course, I know that’s not the whole story. The movement happened concurrently with a huge uprising of people.”

Praise for direct action

Wood goes on to describe other tactics, besides creating a fiery documentary, that have made anti-fracking activists so effective. Citing national fracking moratoriums in France and Bulgaria, as well as local bans and stricter drilling regulations worldwide, Wood claims the gas industry has “repeatedly been caught off guard by the sophistication, speed, and influence of anti-fracking activists.”

The report advises oil and gas companies to give anti-fracking activists much of what they’re asking for or risk having the process banned altogether.

John Armstrong, coordinator for the anti-drilling group Frack Action, has his own theory about why that is so. The anti-fracking movement “grew out of the grassroots—it wasn’t led by any national NGO but stemmed from regular working people who have never been activists before,” he says. “It is born out of children who have become ill, farms that have been ruined, aquifers and wells that have been contaminated, and air that has been poisoned.”

That grassroots urgency has often pushed the movement toward direct action, which Wood predicts will increase if demands for moratoriums and bans are not met. He identifies blockades of drilling operations, for example, as highly effective: “While the costs to activists of blockades are extremely low—both in terms of organization and penalties—the potential for disruption to the target can be significant in terms of lost productivity and extra operating costs.”

Freedom to frack in four easy steps?

To avoid ever-increasing blockades and moratoriums, Wood advises gas companies to follow his four-step plan for quelling the anti-fracking movement: acknowledge local grievances, engage communities, work to reduce the damage fracking does to the environment, and “create more winners” (by which he means giving communities a fair share of the money from fracking). Wood also suggests that, “Movements towards greater transparency and voluntary disclosure, however grudging, are a positive step in this direction.”

Wood suggests gas companies simply pay off landowners, rather than go to court and have to admit they were at fault.

In other words, the report advises oil and gas companies to give anti-fracking activists much of what they’re asking for or risk having the process banned altogether. In doing so, Wood concedes that opponents of fracking are often right. He describes the “cozy relationships” the industry has with regulators and power-brokers, and the “crippling trust deficit” it has with citizens. He confesses there really is inadequate knowledge about the environmental, economic, and health impacts of fracking and that the industry has funded most of the studies that do exist, sometimes secretly.

Wood warns the industry to be more careful in its drilling practices because each well blowout and water contamination story makes the anti-fracking argument more compelling. When such incidents do occur, Wood suggests gas companies simply pay off harmed landowners and other citizens who file water contamination charges or other complaints, rather than go to court and have to admit they were at fault. This is not a new strategy—Wood cites a recent case where the industry did just that.

Finally, the report validates many activists’ claims that fracking doesn’t actually provide local communities with significant economic growth: fracking booms typically only supply local jobs for about two to three years.

Measuring momentum

After laying out this elaborate battle plan, Wood concludes with what activists may read as a challenge. The anti-fracking movement, he believes, “is grappling with the consequences of its successes, struggling to maintain momentum after winning tighter regulation, moratoriums and bans.”

Frack Action’s Armstrong disagrees, pointing to larger and more frequent rallies in New York. “Momentum is on our side, polls are on our side, the science and truth are on our side, and New Yorkers know that we are going to win.”

By winning, Armstrong means a statewide ban on fracking. New York, which he says has been the anti-fracking movement’s “catalyst,” currently awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s final decision on whether to lift the ban on fracking following a five-year moratorium. Forty-three percent of state residents oppose the process, while only 39 percent support it, according to a March Siena Poll, and the majority of both the state assembly and senate recently came out in favor of extending the moratorium.

Wood’s report is an attempt to use the industry’s resources—primarily money—to regain the upper hand in important decisions like this one. But, if studied closely, it could also help the anti-fracking movement plan its next steps.

Katrina Rabeler wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Katrina is a native New Yorker who wrote her senior thesis on hydraulic fracturing, and is an editorial intern at YES!


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  • Avatar
    Jane Davison • 7 days ago

    New York has a wonderful history behind it and it is one which is very rich. Farms dot many parts of the state and the wine by the way was sent down to Washington for President Obama to enjoy. There were other things from the Finger Lakes. We cannot have wineries or farms or anything else continatied by Hydro fracking. It isn’t a good idea. Also storing gas isn’t good either.

  • Avatar
    Diane Dahms • 7 days ago

    The rape and destruction of our mother, this earth, that God gave us to care for is so insane and maddening. Man cannot go into the ground, remove tons of anything and believe there will be no consequences!

  • Avatar
    Don Raskopf • 6 days ago

    After seeing John Bowermaster’s “Dear Governor Cuomo” http://www.dear-governor-cuomo… 3 times I was inspired and energized to become an Environmental Action Liasion for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater’s Ban Fracking Now group and facilitated Clearwater joining New Yorkers Against Fracking. I helped bring Pete Seeger (with 1500 other activists) to NYAF’s rally at Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address this January and have continued to meet regularly with Manna Jo Greene, Clearwater’s Environmental Director and members of Beacon Climate Action. Clearwater members actively support our efforts and communicate through CW’s Facebook page and Twitter account.

    I am hopeful that this grass roots movement will persuade Governor Cuomo and other leaders worldwide to await the many long term regional and national health studies just getting underway. Unfortunately the people of Pennsylvania and the other states where HVHF is permitted are the unwitting subjects of these studies – as were the residents of Love Canal, Fukushima, Bhopal and the Gulf Coast.

  • Avatar
    Jo Anne Bier Beemon • 7 days ago

    Company plans to drill dozens of fracking wells…
    An energy company says it plans to drill 13 hydraulic fracturing wells in the northwestern Lower Peninsula.

    In Michigan, the State and Big Energy are working together. The State is now giving Gas Companies passes from Water Withdrawal Assessment (we always knew it was a joke, put in place to FACILITATE taking of water for profit!). The State allows EnCana to TAKE 30 MILLION gallons of water pre well leg.

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    Ben Swanson • 8 days ago

    Fracknation is also a good movie to see after Gasland. I wonder why articles always putting forward the activists side and then stops…quite hard for the people to make a good decision when media is one sided.

    • Avatar
      env121  Ben Swanson • 7 days ago

      Fracknation is a farce. That’s why. The people that have been damaged are prevailing and it’s about to break wide open very soon with more testing being released, more proof of correlation between drilling and property damage, damage to water supplies, air quality degradation, lies, intimidation by gas companies….. Mark my words. The fat lady will be singing very soon!

    • Avatar
      Paul Robert Roden  Ben Swanson • 4 days ago

      First of all the American public has been duped by the gas industry propaganda that we need this gas for our energy independence, as a transition fuel and that it is safe to extract and use this gas. The claim in FrackNation that the ignition of the tap water in the Marcellus shale in Gasland is false is not taking in context. Gasland shows more than just the Marcellus Shale region. The fact of the matter is whether the methane comes from shallow pools or from the shale rock, it can and does leak into the water table and it can be ignited. It is not safe and not good for global warming. No one asks about where all of this water is coming from, what happens in a drought and where all of this waste water is going to be stored. No one looks at the radioactive radon in the gas, the drill cuttings NORM, (natural occurring radioactive material), No one asks about the drill bore casings that last 25 years and what happens after that. No one asks about the pipelines and pumping stations along the routes to the markets. Several of these pumping stations have exploded and caught fire. No one asks about the chemicals and the lack of Federal regulations since the drillers are exempt from most Federal environmental rules. Fracking is too dangerous, too expensive and totally unnecessary for our energy needs. Read the Nov 2009 issue of Scientific American by Jacobson and Deliuchi. We can power the Earth without fossil fuel or nuclear power. We have the technology and the resources to do so. What we are lacking is the political will.

    • Avatar
      WaterGuy88  Ben Swanson • 7 days ago

      I’ve seen FrackNation. Phelim McAleer doesn’t really provide any evidence to counter activists’ claims, and he actually fabricates some claims that national/global activists make (ex. fracking cause earthquakes, which isn’t the claim. Frack wastewater injection wells cause earthquakes — this is fact in SE Ohio, Texas and elsewhere). The other thing he doesn’t do is address the short term benefit lease-holders receive. They may get royalties, but the boom runs out. And while the gas royalties go away, the same structural economic policies that plunge small farmers into poverty remain. Hence, for poverty they are again bound (but now their land is devalued thanks to the wells). The geologists he interviews are mostly from Penn State, whose research was later discredited due to conflicts of interest, paid in part by the oil and gas industry. And as for the EPA results in Dimock, he doesn’t mention it was later found out that the EPA inappropriately conducted their research, refusing to test for several hard, carcinogenic metals related to fracking that ARE present in some of the water sources in Dimock. If that’s not enough, here’s why Phelim McAleer is not a credible journalist: He says farmers are poor, but doesn’t ask the fundamental question of WHY. And his previous films/writings/activism were funded by the oil & gas industry. FrackNation may have been pro bono/kickstarted from grassroots funding, but his history indicates a conflict of interest. McAleer is an industry leaning spin doctor. And, as env121 stated, FrackNation is a farce.

  • Avatar
    AdvocateFW • 2 days ago

    Can not say it any better than env121 Mr Roden, and WaterGuy88.

    I have been in the fight in Texas since early 2005. The BOON in Texas Barnett Shale is Bust. The operators are bailing out and selling off assets to China , France and Japan. Got to ask yourself if we really were sitting on Gas Gold why are they selling American natural resources to CHina , France and Japan. NOT FOR AMERICAN IDEPENDENCE from anything. Royalties for urban residential property owners ? $100.00 to $150.00 per year ? The Beverly Hillbilly sydrom of 2005 to 2008 have turned to ” The Years of Buyers Remorse. ” Cities will end up with bad streets, problem Air Pollution, reduced property value while they try to balance budgets. Fort Worth, Texas at the heart of The Barnett Shale Boon in spite of the promised BOON of gas drilling struggles with a 50 to 60 million dollar budget shortfall every year ?? Go figure. Oh all while many city staff and even an ex mayor went to work for the Industry ? Yes we were dupped , exploited and sold out. Saving grace? Well Gas prices hit $2.00 to $3.00 per TQF so instead of 10,000 well build out we Only have 2,100 + wells in side our city limits.

    Our State of Texas is bought and sold and heritaged by Oil and Gas Lobby for 100 years or more. Yes we fight on in spite of the overwhelming odds.

2 thoughts on “Gas Industry Report Calls Anti-Fracking Movement a “Highly Effective Campaign”

  1. Though any extraction of oil, gas, coal, or uranium will inevitably have some impacts on the earth, and surrounding environment, you have to consider there is really no alternative. Hydroelectric dams as well cause impacts. You have to ask the question, then if not them, then what are we going to do for our energy? Even solar and wind power have an impact. Each one of these two are using rare earth metals that have to be mined, or are to some unsightly, and have to have many hundreds of thousands of miles of wire. Nothing about energy is perfect, other than don’t use any, which is actually the best solution you have as an individual to reduce all of the above sources. And of course that is not practical, but you can certainly focus your efforts on reducing your consumption of energy and have a positive impact both on the consequences of supply, but also your wallet.

    • You are absolutely correct that all energy capture/generation methods have some negative effect on the earth. We shouldn’t just jump on the green bandwagon without evaluating the total cost, the long term effect, the human/animal health impact, the earth and environment impact, of any solution. With all the variables and a long side effect daisy chain, it is almost impossible to make a total evaluation. (The book “Green Illusions” examines this issue. In terms of overall energy issues, reducing consumption is the most economical, immediate, and environmentally friendly solution. Turn off lights! Insulate!)

      However, we can at this point in time, prioritize certain methods as to their relative danger and destructiveness and thus their desirability. The evidence is clear. Hydrofracking ranks at or near the top, along with coal mining, for destructive side effects from the processes involved.

      Documented repeatedly (and, by the gas industry, invariably minimized or denied) high-pressure horizontal hydrofracking has caused:

      • Contamination of groundwater
      • Methane pollution (25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a contributor to climate change)
      • Air pollution (compressor station and heavy truck exhaust)
      • Exposure to toxic chemicals (the carcinogenic components of the fracking fluids kept secret by the industry)
      • Blowouts due to gas explosion
      • Waste disposal contamination (flowback containing fracking fluid, radioactive rock particles, and water lost from the hydrologic cycle)
      • Large volume water use in water-deficient regions
      • Fracking-induced earthquakes (especially from injection disposal of flowback)
      • Workplace safety failure (especially cancers developed in workers required to clean trucks and tanks, with insufficient protection or knowledge of risks)
      • Noise pollution from compressor stations and 24/7 heavy truck traffic
      • Highway infrastructure degradation

      Internally, the gas industry was well aware of the environmental dangers of hydrofracking and so, worried about its liability, had the friendly Bush/Cheney administration pass the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. (This regulatory exclusion is often referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole.”)

      By way of comparison, coal operations produce: water pollution, air pollution, greenhouse gases. Coal burning produces hundreds of millions of tons of solid waste products annually: fly ash, bottom ash, flue-gas, and desulfurization sludge
      which contain contain mercury, uranium, thorium, arsenic, and other heavy metals. It destroys entire mountains and pollutes water flowing from mountaintop removal mining. Mine worker accidents include suffocation, gas poisoning, roof collapse and gas explosions. (I do not recommend cessation of all coal production immediately, as the economic impact on the coal worker families and local economies would be catastrophic. I do support the development of renewable energy supplies, the retraining of coal miners, and an end to the absurd concept of “clean coal.”)

      In conclusion, I will not succumb to the argument that “to make an omelette, you have to break eggs.” I reject any omelette that requires too many eggs and then kills the chicken, as well. I choose not to let hydrofracking destroy my lakes, my air, my civilization, and that of my children and grandchildren. I will work hard to employ alternatives and preserve the precious gift of Earth.

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