“As soon as you hear the word ‘frack,’ ” said Jane Lynn, a drilling activist from Arlington, “you think of cancer, poisoned water, ruining the environment. And the gas companies brought it on themselves because they misrepresented what drilling in urban neighborhoods was going to actually mean to those of us living in those neighborhoods.”
Drilling industry concerns over the increasing negative power of the word “frack” first surfaced at an industry conference last year. One of the folks at the two-day event, called the Media and Stakeholders Relations Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative, was Sharon Wilson, an anti-gas drilling blogger and organizer for Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project.
“The first time it came up was when a woman at one of the seminars said that everywhere she went, people were talking about fracking,” Wilson said. “And Michael Kehs” — Chesapeake Energy’s vice president of strategic affairs and public relations — “said the industry should discourage the use of the word ‘fracking.’ He said he preferred to use the word ‘drilling’ because there is a constituency for drilling while there is not one for fracking.”
Another speaker, Wilson recalled, said that “fracking is an obscene term and sounds scary. People are using the word ‘fracking’ to scare people, and we have to overcome that scare tactic.”
Wilson said that Greg Matusky, president of the public relations firm Gregory FCA of Ardmore, Pa., stated that in terms of language sentiment, “fracking ranked lower than strip mining,” showing it was a divisive term that shouldn’t be used by industry.
Chesapeake spokespersons didn’t return Fort Worth Weekly’s calls to discuss the issue. Devon Energy’s spokesman Chip Minty said he had no opinion on whether the word had negative connotations.
Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry-supported group, did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
Tim Ruggiero is a former resident of Decatur who moved out of the Barnett Shale in January, two years after Aruba Petroleum drilled a gas well on his property — he didn’t own the mineral rights — and his children began to get sick from the emissions.
“The gas companies think they’re suffering from a public perception problem,” Ruggiero said. “What they’re really suffering from is a credibility problem. You can only catch someone in so many lies and distortions of the truth before you don’t believe anything they say. So they brought the frack attack on themselves.”