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Changing the Conversation about Well Fracing in Texas

In my law practice, I represent only Texas royalty owners, mineral owners and surface owners, and I do not ever represent oil companies. It is important for both my clients and I to have access to accurate facts, and not emotional arguments, when trying to make the best decisions for a client’s property. For that reason, I do pay attention to what oil companies have to say about their operations. From time to time, we might actually learn something!

Clean Fracing Conference

Clearing, the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracing” as it is usually called, has been in the media quite a bit. A panel of public relations experts at the Petroleum Connection’s Clean Fracing Conference in Houston, Texas recently argued that the oil and gas industry needs to change the conversation on fracing. For those of us who have been working in this industry, this seems like an obvious statement, but one that badly needs attention. Up until now, critics have been allowed to define the conversation. This debate is particularly important for Texas mineral owners as well as operators since Texas is home to at least three major shale plays that make use of fracing for most wells. Re-Framing the Debate

The panel argued a change needs to be accomplished by demystifying the fracing process for the public and by highlighting environmental efforts to reduce the impact of drilling and completion. Especially on the environmental issues, we often hear only from opponents of oil and gas development, according to David Holt. Mr. Holt is a spokesperson for the Consumer Energy Alliance and said: “We’re all environmentalists. No one wants to destroy the environment.”

Too often, the entire conversation is driven by fear. Richard Levick, CEO of Levick, a PR firm, noted: “This is not a factual argument. Perception trumps reality 100% of the time.” Mr. Levick suggested getting average people who have benefited from unconventional oil and gas development to share their stories, particularly in videos. He said people are more swayed by peers than by technical experts trying to explain the details of the process. Obie O’Brien from Apache Corporation agreed with the need for nontechnical language to educate the public. He recommended highlighting that frac fluid, which people worry is so toxic, actually contains ingredients found in most household cleaning products, like liquid soap. By way of example, he said: “If I put a bottle of water in front of you and told you it contained 12 oz. of dihydrogen monoxide, would you drink it?” That is actually the chemical name of plain water, but the chemical name confuses people in the same way as trying to explain the chemicals in fracing fluid.

An example of a company trying to change the conversation in a positive way through public dialogue is Cabot Oil & Gas, which is a large producer in the Marcellus Shale. Its spokesperson, George Stark, highlighted the unprecedented, positive response to an annual picnic it began hosting four years ago in the Marcellus Shale region. A few hundred people were expected at the first picnic, but more than 2,500 people showed up. In 2013, they expect more than 10,000 people to come to the picnic. Cabot has also invited community leaders, elected officials, and media reporters to witness fracing jobs to help demystify the process. Hugo Gutierrez, a spokesman for Marathon Oil Corporation, said: “I think we’ve got a good story to tell. But it needs to be simplified and told to a large body of people.”

What some people are not aware of is that the fracing process has been used for almost 100 years. In addition, fracing is an essential process for most wells. In other words, if you can’t frac, you can’t drill. If drilling isn’t possible, a mineral owner will not be able to be receive royalties for their mineral assets. If you are interested, a pretty good nontechnical explanation of the fracing process for a well can be found here and here. Arm yourself with the facts before you decide what you think about fracing.
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