Oil industry PR reps to meet in Houston to coordinate message on fracking

An upcoming conference in Houston seeks to arm oil and gas industry public relations officials with better tools for defending the recent boom in shale gas drilling and, particularly, a controversial extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing amid mounting criticism of the practice.

The conference, called Media & Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011, will “offer practical, commercial solutions to drive forward the industry’s position” through the internet, social media and grassroots efforts, with the goal of presenting a “united industry front” in answering critics, according to promotional materials.

The conference, organized by American Business Conference, arrives as public scrutiny is increasing on the recent surge in oil and gas activity in shales and other so-called unconventional rock formations.  The oil and gas industry says shales could hold enough natural gas to meet U.S. demand for 100 years, but critics say the environmental impact of development is too great.

Critics have focused particular attention on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process whereby large quantitites of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure down wells to force open cracks in rocks and release gas. While critics fear the process could contaminate groundwater supplies, industry officials claim there is no evidence of this happening and that oil companies have safely fracked more than 1 million wells over 60 years.

Conference organizers say the public is often being led astray with misinformation on fracking.

“Whether it originates from militant NGOs or well-respected journalists from The New York Times, sensationalist stories motivated by an anti-unconventional oil & gas agenda, specifically regarding hydraulic fracturing, are now an every day reality that shale gas and tight oil operators must deal with,” promotional materials said.”Therefore, to ensure the long term sustainability of North American unconventional oil & gas production and protect the industry from demands for intrusive regulation, it is vital that E&P companies develop the right tools and strategies to devise an effective, media, stakeholder, community and public engagement strategy to overcome concern over hydraulic fracturing. ”

The conference will be held in Houston on Oct. 31-Nov. 1. , and it includes speakers from some of the biggest shale oil and gas producers, including Chesapeake Energy, Range Resources, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Apache Corp., as well as from industry trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute.