Over the last several months we’ve looked at evidence that demonstrates how the oil and gas industry operates in secret to keep the public from understanding the dangers inherent in the Shale Revolution. As new technologies and techniques bring those risks closer and closer to where people live, it has become increasingly clear that the industry is fighting an “endless war” to keep the public confused about the impact of oil and gas drilling on local communities.
Today we have a rare opportunity to get an inside look at the scheming that goes on behind this war. In a secretly recorded presentation to oil and gas industry leaders reported in the New York Times, we learn some of the inside workings of the industry:
If the oil and gas industry wants to prevent its opponents from slowing its efforts to drill in more places, it must be prepared to employ tactics like digging up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, a veteran Washington political consultant told a room full of industry executives in a speech that was secretly recorded.
The blunt advice from the consultant, Richard Berman, the founder and chief executive of the Washington-based Berman & Company consulting firm, came as Mr. Berman solicited up to $3 million from oil and gas industry executives to finance an advertising and public relations campaign called Big Green Radicals.
The company executives, Mr. Berman said in his speech, must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger and turn them against the environmental groups. And major corporations secretly financing such a campaign should not worry about offending the general public because “you can either win ugly or lose pretty,” he said.
“Big Green Radicals”
Under the umbrella of the Center for Organizational Research, his organization, Big Green Radicals, has launched advertising efforts aimed at discrediting the EPA, challenging the validity of the US Green Building Council’s rating system for sustainability and efficiency of buildings, and mocking local residents who seek to control oil and gas drilling in their communities.
One of the key tactics of the group is to manufacture doubt about scientific issues by creating confusion through the media. In the case of oil and gas drilling, that means citing as sources such groups as two well-known climate change-denying organizations, the Heartland Institute and the George C. Marshall Institute.
What is particularly troubling about this speech is that somebody with Berman’s pedigree would be brought in by an oil industry advocacy group like the Western Energy Alliance. The group lists many major oil companies among its members, board of directors and advisors. It is the same group that co-sponsored a speech by Energy Corporation of America CEO John Mork on the changing economics and science of energy. Mork, of course, is the guy who promised to bring “a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooth Front.
“There is total anonymity”
Mr. Berman boasted in his talk about how he could get six-figure checks from oil executives in the room and then make those people invisible in the campaign.
“People always ask me one question all the time: ‘How do I know that I won’t be found out as a supporter of what you’re doing?’ ” Mr. Berman told the crowd. “We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us.”
Opposition research on their opponents
According to a colleague of Berman’s quoted in the New York Times:
There is nothing the public likes more than tearing down celebrities and playing up the hypocrisy angle,” his colleague Mr. Hubbard said, citing billboard advertisements planned for Pennsylvania that featured Robert Redford. “Demands green living,” they read. “Flies on private jets.”
Mr. Hubbard also discussed how he had done detailed research on the personal histories of members of the boards of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to try to find information that could be used to embarrass them.
This ad mocking the intelligence of those who challenge the oil and gas industry is an example of the kind of disinformation spread by Berman’s organization:
You can download a transcript of Berman’s remarks with links to ads, as well as a list of attendees at the meeting, by clicking here.
How the oil and gas industry keep local citizens out
Over the last several months we’ve looked at a lot of evidence that this kind of secret power play is typical of the oil and gas industry. Here are some of the things we’ve discussed. Together they paint a compelling picture of what Berman describes as an “endless war.”
At the federal level:
- The oil and gas industry has been successful in securing exemptions from most major federal legislation that protects the public from contamination of air, water and soil.
- The Halliburton Loophole, engineered by Dick Cheney as part of the Energy Act of 2005, keeps companies from having to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking, even in the event of a toxic spill.
- Exemptions to the Clean Air Act enable polluters to escape monitoring and penalty.
- The EPA has failed to take leadership in determining the relationship between oil and gas drilling and air and water contamination, as we have seen in Pavillion, Wyoming.
- The EPA does not perform the well inspections it is charged by law with doing.
- The oil and gas industry is one of the largest campaign contributors in states where there is significant drilling. They do this to ensure that the federal government takes little action to regulate their industry.
At the state level:
- The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC), which has primary responsibility for oil well permitting, is specifically designed to support the drilling of wells for profit. By law the BOGC is comprised of board members who have a financial interest in oil development, and their rules and budget do not support effective oversight and well inspection.
- Outside corporate interests are spending huge amounts of money to tip the balance of the Montana Supreme Court in favor of unregulated oil development.
- The State has inadequate regulation to protect private water wells and other surface waters.
At the local level:
- When John Mork, CEO of Energy Corporation of America (ECA), announced he planned to bring “a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooths by drilling 50 wells, he clearly had no intent of following the good neighbor standards of the American Petroleum Institute. Despite the extensive engagement standards of this industry organization, ECA has operated in secret, not revealing its plans with local residents and community organizations.
- ECA has dismissed its extensive and well-documented record of serial pollution in Pennsylvania as a “misunderstanding” about regulation in that state. They have made no public comment about a class action lawsuit filed against them in that state for underpayment of royalties to land owners.
- When ECA has chosen to comment on its activities in public, it sends lower level employees and attorneys who cannot or will not provide details of their activities in the area.
- When local land owners presented a petition to the Carbon County Commissioners to establish citizen initiated zoning, which would impose conditions on oil and gas drilling to restore a fair balance for local residents, ECA had its attorney present dubious legal challenges to avoid sitting down to negotiate with Silvertip residents.
As Rick Berman told the oil and gas executives, “Think of this as an endless war.” As local residents, it’s good to know what we’re up against. The oil and gas industry is waging war against us, the goofy people in the ad above. We need to understand what we’re up against, and recognize we need to work together as a community to protect our land, our water, and our way of life from a well-funded and relentless adversary.