Fracking — or hydraulic fracturing, as it's known up in the top story, K2-view, Perrier-on-the-table board rooms of big-pocketed transnational oil and energy corporations, where the slightest breathy mention of the term fires up visions of parading dollar signs and upward NYSE jags in the minds of hungry suits — is controversial. As you may have heard. Any time a natural gas mining practice can be linked conclusively to seismic rumbles, you're talking about a concept that's going to have to work for public appeal.
And the large companies betting their necks on the success of this deep-earth natural gas drilling process know they're facing an uphill climb in the PR department. That's why certain outfits are pulling out all the stops. As representatives from two energy concerns recently boasted at an industry conference in Houston, they've decided to tap the psychological and military techniques employed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The comments are getting a lot of circulation among fracking critics nationwide, but it just so happens both companies have footprints in Ohio.
The comments were recorded in November by an environmental activist with the Oil & Gas Accountability Project named Sharon Wilson, who subsequently leaked the tapes to various media outlets. According to Business Insider (they've also posted the actual recordings), Wilson was open about who she was and her agenda while attending.
During a forum called “Designing a Media Relations Strategy To Overcome Concerns Surrounding Hydraulic Fracturing,” the communications director with Texas-based Range Resources, Matt Pitzarella, told the crowd his company had hired former military psy ops officers to further their cause in Pennsylvania, where the company has focused most of its fracking attention on the Marcellus shale deposits curving through the state's mid-section.
We have several former psy ops folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments. Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of psy ops in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.
If all Range is paying former psy ops folks for is working on local ordinances, they're not getting the right bang for their buck. Psy ops — shorthand for psychological operations — is a select section of the military specializing in mind games; one U.S. Army officer who led a team defined the practice to Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings in a February 2011 article as follows: "My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave.”
Hastings' article goes on to state that it's actually illegal for active military personnel to practice the tactics on American citizens.
According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops — the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors — are supposed to be used exclusively on "hostile foreign groups." Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a "propaganda rider" that also prohibits such manipulation. "Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans," says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It’s what you learn on day one."
Private sector — guess that's another story.
Like we said above, Range apparently focuses most of its attention over the border in Pennsylvania, but up until two years ago, the company owned significant acreage in Ohio. In early 2010, Range sold more than 465,000 Buckeye acres — around 3,300 natural gas wells — to EnerVest, another Texas-based energy company. We put a call in to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to check if Range still has any permits for drilling in the Buckeye state. We'll update with more info.
But a second casual revelation caught on tape at the Houston conference does directly apply to a company currently rolling up its sleeves in Ohio. During a talk titled (take a deep breath now) “Understanding How Unconventional Oil & Gas Operators are Developing a Comprehensive Media Relations Strategy to Engage Stakeholders and Educate the Public,” Matt Carmichael, the manager of external affairs with Anadarko Petroleum Corp, suggested the following to fellow industry insiders:
Download the U.S. Army-slash-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, because we are dealing with an insurgency. There’s a lot of good lessons in there and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable.
The text he's talking about, known as the FM 3-24, was the General David Petraeus-penned bible of the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It memorably posits a insurgency as the “common approach used by the weak to combat the strong” — which, when you consider we're talking here about a bunch of college students waving placards pitched against massive corporations, changes the connotations a little bit.
The next site for the face-off between Anadarko and this environmentalist fifth column element is likely going to be Ohio. According to the Dow Jones Newswires, the company acquired permits from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in September 2011. The initial reports said the paperwork was for drilling sections of Utica shale in Guernsey County, laying in the central-eastern part of the state. The exact size of the companies holdings in the state were not listed.
Psy ops. Counterinsurgency — whatever you might think about fracking and other natural gas drilling techniques, this full-court press means hauling out the big guns designed specifically for war zones, not winning over the local town council vote. Seeing how the military versions of these kinds of campaigns are usually complemented with some late night black baggin', we'll see how it works out.