Shale Gas – Communications is Only One Step

Blog, Energy, Les Routledge

It is good to see that the petroleum industry is attempting to get in front of public opinion regarding the safety and effectiveness of extracting shale gas.  That action is a good first step to deal with negative environmental activists who oppose all forms of extraction of fossil fuel resources.

However, could the producers afford to add a small element to their PR campaign budget to indemnify neighbors against the minimal risk that their ground water supplies will be contaminated by natural gas development activities?

To me, it does not matter where one is talking about conventional or enhanced production techniques that involves horizontal wells or fracking.  At the end of the day, there are rare, but real situations where spills occur due to failure of boreholes casings or surface spills.  The energy industry could go a long way to diffusing local opposition to gas or other enhance oil development by assuring that neighbors that experienced degraded water supplies after oil & gas development are made whole.  The instrument that is required is a no-fault insurance policy that offers blanket coverage to neighbors who experience water quality problems without requiring them to go through the expensive process of litigation to find fault.

As the article describes, perception can become reality for oil & gas companies.  Is it not a good investment to spend a bit of money on no fault coverage for water quality of neighbors in the short term to avoid negative PR claims in the long term?

I acknowledge that lots of other reasons for water pollution can occur beyond oil & gas development.  In a lot of cases, even burning water might be explained by natural causes.  However, in the case of managing public opinion, would it not make sense to direct a portion of the PR communication budget to offering no fault insurance to neighbors instead of spending the money on PR flacks who deny a problem even exists?

In the real world, accidents, mistakes and technical failures do occur.  They may be rare, but the industry has stop to deny that they occur at all.  It would be a good investment for the industry to “man up” and acknowledge problems can occur and provide compensation to affected neighbors instead of forcing them down the litigation path.