Gas industry launching W.Va. radio ads, talks show

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The natural gas industry is launching a six- to 12-month public relations blitz to tell its side of the story about the importance of exploiting the Marcellus shale reserves, launching a paid half-hour talk show and one-minute promotional ads on 49 West Virginia radio stations.

The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association won’t say how much it’s spending on the deal with WAJR-AM of Morgantown and its members and independent affiliates, but Executive Director Corky DeMarco is hoping it will pay off with a well-educated public.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of misunderstanding,” he said. “You pick up the newspaper every single day in any community in West Virginia, and there’s something about the Marcellus in there. If we’re going to educate the public, we can’t wait for them to call us.”

“Inside Shale” will air every Tuesday from 8:35 to 9 a.m., providing various experts who will answer questions and “try to get ahead of issues,” DeMarco said. The lineup could feature inspectors and regulators, too.

The time slot is during “Talk of the Town,” which occasionally features an “Ask the Experts” segment.

WAJR’s Morgantown market manager, Gary Mertins, will host the segment. He says “Inside Shale” is no different than other paid 30-minute segments that air now, including a “Talk to the Doc” program sponsored by a local hospital and another sponsored by a chiropractor.

Mertins said he will take calls from listeners, and in a planning meeting on Friday, asked the industry leaders if any question is off-limits.

“They said ‘absolutely not,'” said Mertins, who also hopes to host interviews with geologists, economists and regulators.

“They won’t be all softball questions,” he said. “I do think, though, that the one thing the industry hasn’t had the opportunity to do — and what this show will help them to do — is to talk about the benefits of all this growth.”

Mertins said the industry is evolving so quickly that it will be difficult to cover everything in 25 minutes a week.

DeMarco said his organization is committed to a six-month run for both “Inside Shale” and the “Marcellus Minute,” which will air on 49 MetroNews stations and their independent affiliates.

The “Marcellus Minute” will offer “little factual snippets” about the shale, drilling and jobs, he said, airing 10-20 times a day for a week before a new one rolls out.

If feedback shows the initiative is working, DeMarco says the association and a lobbying group called Energize West Virginia may commit to another six months.

West Virginia has a long history with oil and gas drilling, dating to the 1770s, when George Washington surveyed the first well in what was then Virginia.

“We’ve been commercially producing in this state for 176 years, but nobody knows that,” DeMarco said.

Until the Marcellus reserves took off, it simply wasn’t controversial.

Now, the industry is in overdrive as unconventional horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies allow companies to go deeper than before. Many are rushing to tap the Marcellus reserves underlying parts of Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.

Though industry insists its practices are safe, many citizens and environmental groups are worried about the prospect of water and air pollution, ecosystem damage, road destruction and other issues.

The city of Morgantown is being sued by Charleston’s Northeast Natural Energy over its recent adoption of an ordinance aimed at banning drilling and fracking within city limits and up to a mile beyond.

“The things that are going on are too important to us to not do this,” DeMarco said. “We don’t have a bad story to tell. We just haven’t told the story.”