Hydraulic fracturing supporters fire back with BuzzFeed-style website

In the war of public opinion about hydraulic fracturing, supporters are firing back with their own celebrity backer: Ron Burgundy.

“You have fracking questions? I have fracking answers!” the mustachioed Anchorman says in a meme created on a new BuzzFeed-style website launched this week in defense of the practice of blasting chemicals and water underground to crack open dense rock formations and unleash tiny droplets of oil and gas.

The site, called FrackFeed.com, is an attempt by supporters to wrest control of the debate of the controversial completion technique, re-framing their view of hydraulic fracturing in a hip, fresh way in an effort to reclaim some of the ground lost to opponents who have been outpacing them on social media.

The site packages its pro-fracturing message in “short, pithy pieces of content” tailored for a digital-savvy audience, said site spokesman Steve Everley said. It features memes of Burgundy, Dr. Evil and Hank Hill; listicles (Top 5 most unsupported things celebrities have ever said about fracking) and interactive quizzes (Who said it? Celebrity or scientist?).

“What we wanted to do is create an online hub where we’ve got engaging content, interactive content, that reflects the digital age that we’re in right now,” said Everley, who also works for Energy In Depth, which is backed by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a trade group. “The thrust of FrackFeed is that it allows us to explain the benefits of fracking to a new generation of Americans by putting out information in the areas that they’re looking for.”

Everley said FrackFeed aims to combat the inaccurate information disseminated by activists who want to ban hydraulic fracturing.

“They have been using social and digital media in pretty creative ways to frighten and even mislead the public,” he said. “Why can’t we use those same tools, why can’t we use the same media to convey the truth about fracking?”

Expanding their digital presence is critical because supporters have failed to gain the same traction on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and other social media outlets their opponents have garnered. In the first half of last year, the anti-fracturing movement generated 2,000 percent more impressions on Twitter than supporters, underscoring the problems pro-fracturing groups have faced in spreading their messages online, according to an analysis last year by Makovsky, a leading communications consultant firm.

“The environmental movement has done an excellent job ever since the inception of this issue of using the digital space to their advantage,” said Andy Beck, vice president at Makovsky who previously served as the lead spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy. “It’s also challenging for the industry in the sense that they are speaking generally with a corporate voice, whereas environmental organizations enlist the help of hundreds if not thousands of people to become advocates on their behalf.”

Environmentalists and other activists who oppose hydraulic fracturing have generated more attention on social media because their messages are part of a “genuine grassroots movement,” which tends to hold more weight than the slick, corporate messaging from the pro-fracturing side, said Kate Sinding, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Community Fracking Defense Project.

“I think it’s been almost comically ham-handed how badly the industry has handled this issue,” she said. “Most fundamentally, they’ve just taken a complete stick-their-head-in-the-sand approach and their unwillingness to acknowledge any impacts or any nuance to these issues makes them not credible to people.”

The group behind the project is called North Texans for Natural Gas, a loose coalition of people who support natural gas development. The group receives support from the region’s four top energy companies: Devon Energy, EnerVest, EOG Resources, and XTO Energy. Everley said the group decided to launch the site to test how audiences respond to material repackaged in more interactive and fun ways than the technical papers and educational videos that dominate the pro-fracturing messages.

“On the highly technical side, the industry can run laps around critics,” he said. “They have the expertise, they have the experience. But more and more people are looking at the digital side, the fun side, the engaging content side. How can we play on both sides of that?”

But Sinding said the effort will fail to sway the public, calling the site a “flashy, thinly veiled industry production” that lacks the authenticity of the anti-fracturing movement.

“Until industry is willing to acknowledge it does have an impact … I don’t see them making a lot of headway with the public,” she said.

SHOW MORE