Natural Gas Industry Ramps Up “Public Relations” in West Virginia

by Duane Nichols on June 25, 2011

As the rhetoric heats up over natural gas drilling in West Virginia’s portion of the Marcellus shale field and opposition to the unconventional deep wells grows, the industry is cranking up the public relations machine. At a conference in Morgantown on June 21st, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia touted its 4-week-old “Just Beneath the Surface” campaign and website.

Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said that industry can no longer afford to ignore people who fear its operations. Instead, it must understand their concerns, educate them and provide transparency about drilling operations.

Tapping the Marcellus reserves requires unconventional technology, horizontal drilling, as well as hydraulic fracturing. Drillers pump high volumes of water mixed with chemicals and sand into wells to crack the rock, creating fissures that release the gas. Industry insists the practice is safe, but opponents fear the possibility of water contamination as well as air pollution, road destruction and other problems.

For generations, DeMarco said, the gas industry shunned publicity. “Now, we have an instance where the public is aware of what we’re doing,” he said. Opposition is driven by “the fear of the unknown,” he said, “and we weren’t doing a very daggone good job of letting them know what we were doing.”

Road damage, heavy truck traffic and other facets of the drilling industry have disrupted the quality of life for many rural residents, DeMarco acknowledged, “and now everybody’s looking at us.” “If you live on a rural West Virginia road and you’ve now got potholes as deep as this tabletop, life is not so good for you,” he said. “This industry has a bright future … but we’ve got to get the thing done right.”

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