A Fracking Good Letter
by Walter Brasch
The oil and gas industry has retreated from its entrenched position to have the public delete the “k” in “fracking,” and write it as “frac’ing” or “fracing.” Those who have been the strongest advocates for fracking scorned and mocked those who place the “k” in the word. The problem is that without the “k,” the word sounds like “frasing.” However, the first use of the word “fracking” can be traced to an oil and gas journal article in 1953.
As hydraulic horizontal fracturing became a standard to extract gas and oil about 2008, anti-fracking activists began using the word—with the “k”—in advertising, social media, and public protest campaigns that slyly bordered on the obscene—“Frack off!” and “No Fracking Way!”
The oil and gas industry, faced with being the brunt of a series of near-obscene jokes, dug in and demanded that “unconventional drilling” or just “horizontal fracturing” were the “proper” terms. But, if “fracking” had to be used in print, the preference was for “frac’ing” or “fracing.” Most dictionaries—including the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster—use the word “fracking”–with the “k”—as the preferred and acceptable term.
In September, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), a front group for the oil and gas industry became proactive with a series of newspaper, radio, TV, and YouTube ads. The ads, scheduled to run through the beginning of 2015, were revealed at the annual Shale Insight conference, sponsored by the MSC in Pittsburgh.
The fractivists “tried to hijack that word and paint it as something negative,” David J. Spigelmyer, MSC president, said, pointing out it was the industry’s intention “to take that word back.” Randy Cleveland, XTO Energy president, told the conference where people said “frac’ing,” the industry thrived, but where they said “ ‘fracking,’ we have difficulty.” The PR and advertising campaign, said Cleveland, is “to regain the high ground.”
Stephen Moore, chief economist for the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the conference, “The disinformation and propaganda machine against what you do is frightening,” adding that the campaign against fracking “may have been instigated by outside agitators.” It was a claim echoed by thousands in the industry.
With absolutely no proof, Moore was referring to the possibility that Russia and the oil-rich oil countries, and not millions of Americans, were behind the anti-fracking campaign. Russia’s Gazprom is the world’s largest natural gas distribution company, and many in the U.S. oil/gas industry believe Gazprom or Vladimir Putin wanted to increase Russia’s share and domination of the natural gas industry by closing down American natural gas production. The same gaseous windbags blamed the Arab countries for being anti-fracking because they were making money off oil and didn’t want competition. None acknowledged that the Arab countries have been far ahead of the United States in the development of renewable energy, knowing that fossil fuel contributes to global warming, is not infinite, and there are no more dinosaurs willing to die to allow greedy corporations to make outrageous profits.
Nevertheless, the industry is digging in and defending not only its destruction of the environment and public health—which it doesn’t acknowledge, even though dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies indicate otherwise—but to recapture “fracking”— with a “k”—as good and pure.
In the newspaper ad, the word “fracking” is used five times; the largest word in the ad is “JOBS”—the ad emphasized job creation, using the inflated and discredited number of 240,000. (The Pennsylvania Fiscal Office reports only about 17,500 new jobs were created since 2007. Dr. Tim Kelsey, Penn State professor of agricultural economics, reports that at most there were fewer than 35,000 jobs, only about half in the core industry. No matter what the critical number is, Pennsylvania was 49th in the nation in jobs creation in 2012, two years after it was ranked seventh in the nation.)
Anchoring the ad is a new aphorism: “FRACKING: ROCK SOLID FOR PA.” In radio and TV ads, a girl says, “Fracking rocks! My dad does it.” At the conclusion of a three-minute YouTube video, in which a series of rumors was replaced by a series of half-truth “facts,” one of the narrators tells the audience, “Fracking, a good word,” and concludes with the newly-created motto. One of those many half-truths is that fracking has been around for more than six decades and has been proven to be safe. That part is relatively accurate—but it is “vertical” fracking, an entire different process than the recently-developed “horizontal” fracking, that has been around since shortly after World War II. Horizontal fracking uses significantly more water, sand, and toxic chemicals, and has significantly more methane leaks than vertical fracking.
No matter how well the industry tries to shine up its 120-foot phallic-like rigs and spew prattling absurdity, the reality is that fracking has not added much to the economy or many new jobs. As in every other energy development, when mining the gas becomes unprofitable, possibly within five years in the Marcellus Shale, the industry will move elsewhere and continue the “boom and bust” economy. What it has done is to cause additional problems leading to increases in air, water, and ground pollution. It has caused documented health problems. And, it has, despite all the PR about “clean energy,” contributed to global warming.
[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and former reporter and editor, is the author of 20 books. The most recent book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster, an overall look at the health, environmental, agricultural, and economic effects of fracking, combined with an investigation into the connections between politics and the oil/gas industry.]