winning the fight against fracking

Industry Double Talk

“What lawyers and PR people for tobacco companies have in common with lawyers and
PR people for the gas companies,”
“The gassers finally seem to be conceding that fracking contaminates groundwater.”

“‘There is no hard scientific evidence that fracking is an immediate and irreversible risk to drinking water resources,’ said Steve Everley a spokesperson for Energy in Depth, an arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.”


Not too long ago, fracking advocates were giving unequivocal assurances that there did not exist a single reported case of fracking operations having contaminated groundwater resources.

But they had to come up with something different to say, because while true that there wasn’t a single case, in fact there were many.

Because the fracking process often involves surface spills of chemicals, and fracking “mud” and trade secret fluids are laden with toxic chemicals, and gas wells do leak, and there is evidence of contaminated groundwater resources, the industry had a credibility problem. What to do?

Well, remember the spin-doctors whose tobacco company work years ago helped convince the public that there was no evidence linking smoking to health problems? The gas industry did.

Such people had helped with the ‘drill a well, bring a soldier home‘ campaign, which ‘re-positioned’ fracking in furtherance of patriotic ‘energy independence‘ and lower domestic energy prices. (Never mind that the real agenda was to export gas to foreign markets, which inevitably would increase domestic energy prices paid by American families and businesses, and increase gas companies’ profits.)

So, how could industry handle the ‘contamination of groundwater‘ issue?

First, they tried to redefine what a fracked well meant.

Industry people said that when they talked about the fracking process, they didn’t mean to include drilling the well, or installing casing, or mixing mud or fracking fluid or even sending any of that down into the ground. And they didn’t
mean to include bringing spent frac fluid or flow back to the surface, or transporting or disposing of such waste.

When they said ‘fracking,’ they only meant that split second when the explosives are detonated, and the fracking chemicals injected underground. By defining ‘fracking’ so narrowly, they hoped people would accept the assertion that there was ‘no evidence’ that fracking – as industry had redefined it – had ever caused any groundwater contamination,
and so there was no risk of contamination in the future.

But most of the public saw this attempt to re-define “fracking” for what it was. Accidents and spills continued to take place, well casings continued to fail, and it became increasingly difficult for industry to deny that contamination of groundwater was occurring.

Which is not to say that they didn’t think of ways to try. Could they skate the line by saying no ‘proven’ evidence or no ‘confirmed’ evidence? Did evidence that was bottled up in non-disclosure agreements count? And so it went.

But now, at last, industry is conceding at least part of the contamination issue. So let’s take another look at the EID/IPAA statement at the top of this column. It speaks volumes, both in terms of what it does not say, and what it does:

“There is no hard scientific evidence that fracking is an immediate and irreversible
risk to drinking water resources.”

Industry is no longer attempting to insist that there is ‘no evidence.’ Nor are they saying that there is ‘no scientific evidence.’ All they say now is that there is no ‘hard‘ scientific evidence, whatever that means.

And now, industry is careful to make claims only as to “immediate” risk. (Are they worried about a future law suit alleging they knew of evidence that fracking presented long-term (rather than immediate) risks, such as occurred with the tobacco companies?)

And one can only guess what they believe the “irreversible” qualification does for them.

No matter. Industry has abandoned its earlier claims that there is no evidence – scientific, or otherwise – that fracking contaminates groundwater. And it seems likely that going forward they will be limiting their claims to (immediate) risks to “drinking water.”

This is in fact an admission on their part. But they hope you won’t notice.

Their next campaign likely will be designed to convince you that contamination of groundwater is not really important anyway – and that all that matters is evidence regarding contamination of drinking water sources. (Perhaps we will see the new campaign as a ‘presented by’ or similar sponsorship of a show on NPR, National Geographic, or “news” networks that seems to care more about cash than where that cash comes from.)

Later, when evidence that fracking contaminates drinking water sources becomes available, the new spin will be that all that really matters is drinking water sources for large numbers of people.

Which of course will fit quite nicely with Gov. Cuomo’s decision to protect the water supply of only those New Yorkers who live in New York City.

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