Gas Industry Cranks Up PR


"The 'Just Beneath the Surface' campaign aims to inform the public and provide transparency around fracking."

Bloomberg, Vicki Smith

As the rhetoric heats up over natural gas drilling in West Virginia's portion of the Marcellus shale field and opposition to the unconventional deep wells grows, the industry is cranking up the public relations machine.

At a conference in Morgantown on Tuesday, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia touted its 4-week-old "Just Beneath the Surface" campaign and website.

Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said industry can no longer afford to ignore people who fear its operations. Instead, he said, it must understand their concerns, educate them and provide transparency about drilling operations

Industry leaders also encouraged people to turn out for a pro-drilling rally at the Monongalia County Courthouse ahead of an important Tuesday night vote.

Morgantown City Council is considering an ordinance to ban horizontal, deep wells within city limits and up to 1 mile beyond. Conventional drilling would be allowed only under a city permit.

City council drafted its ordinance as public outrage swelled over a Marcellus well along the Monongahela River, within a mile of the city's water supply.

For generations, DeMarco said, the gas industry shunned publicity.

Opposition is driven by "the fear of the unknown," he said, "and we weren't doing a very daggone good job of letting them know what we were doing."

Road damage, heavy truck traffic and other facets of the drilling industry have disrupted the quality of life for many rural residents, DeMarco acknowledged, "and now everybody's looking at us."

"If you live on a rural West Virginia road and you've now got potholes as deep as this tabletop, life is not so good for you," he said. "This industry has a bright future. . .but we've got to get the thing done right."

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