Fracking message isn’t working, says industry exec

The oil and gas industry’s message on the safety of hydraulic fracturing isn’t working with the general public, so it’s time to shift strategies, a Colorado industry official said at a conference in Houston on Wednesday.

Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Assoc. said many in the business have argued against the recent surge in interest in tighter regulations on the drilling technique by claiming it hasn’t created any drinking water contamination in the 60 years it’s been in use.

“It’s not working,” Schuller told attendees at IHS conference on unconventional oil and gas, held in conjunction with the 2011 NAPE Expo. “People are not hearing that.”

Rather, companies should send a message that stresses that the people who work in the industry live, work and play in the same communities as the rest of the population and value clean air and water just as much.

Then companies should point out the two key area of drilling operations where hydraulic fracturing could pose a threat – surface spills of chemicals and poor well casing and cement work – and explain what is done to assure safe operations there.

Schuller also notes the industry’s reaction to the notion of expanding state and national regulations may be working against it.

“It’s not working if you give the impression that we don’t want to be regulated at all or think we should be able to operate however we please,” Schuller said. “Our sound bites do imply that.”

David Blackmon, director of Government Affairs for El Paso Corp., told the audience the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent zeal to push hard against issues near and dear to the oil and gas business won’t bring an end to the industry.

While he described the current drive by the EPA to study fracturing as being motivated by the government’s desire to regulate it at any costs, he said companies shouldn’t worry about the outcome unnecessarily.

“Our industry, and most probably the same with other industries, we have reacted to EPA regulations as if it’s the end of the world, as if it would put us out of business,” Blackmon said.

But the industry has been around for 150 years and has changed with the new public and regulatory outlooks.

“It behooves our industry to have confidence in the people who run our companies and the scientists who can develop the technologies that let us move forward,” Blackmon said. “The EPA’s not going to shut us down now. We will get our business done.”