This morning, I came upon Platts author Rodney White’s bit of departing advice to the oil/gas industry here in Appalachian shale fields, where he and I both live. If you haven’t had a chance to read the brief piece, please check it out here. It will make the rest of my entry make more sense as to the direction I’m going with my thoughts. And these are my thoughts. I don’t claim to be an expert in all things drilling, fracturing and to what related companies are doing in the region. However, I do have a very good idea what is happening, my finger closely on the pulse of activity in the region and up until a few weeks ago, I was in the field almost daily, seeing activity of all sorts firsthand.
Mr. White’s comments rang very true to me, and I’m with him 100% in that we have a very precious opportunity in the tri-state area with the Utica and Marcellus shales that we cannot let get away from us. These regions are now contributing a vital new source of clean-burning natural gas to power us in to the future. As production rises, emissions have lowered and the air quality, once so hurt by regional coal burning, are steadily improving. These are facts that cannot be denied despite what some antis might want to say. The local residents are seeing jobs come back to areas so depressed after the collapse of the steel and coal markets. Kids are able to stay in the area versus moving away for work. They are seeing their towns revitalized, the corner stores and restaurants full and communities see their coffers more full with tax incomes that can fix the local playground, bridge, etc. For anyone that hasn’t seen this rebirth, do yourself a favor and get out and see it for yourself. It is happening, now, despite what some may claim.
With this rebirth and growth, there are some inherent issues that can make life a little more difficult for the region’s residents. There is more traffic, more people coming in and out and more. Local folks, not knowing all the facts, may also become concerned about what is exactly occurring to their land and town with the drilling and fracturing processes taking place to access the shales. This is a major issue to me and again, these are my thoughts. Like Mr. White, I feel the industry could be doing a better job in the communities where they work. Certain companies do a very good job where they work, and it shows. The educated, engaged and informed local groups they help to foster push back against the anti-fracking groups when they come to town. To a large degree, the antis tend to be outsiders. An informed local groups of residents speak with a much larger voice than a group of outsiders trying to tell them what they should do with their lands.
We as an industry need to do a better job growing this educated and engaged group of residents in Appalachia. We don’t have the history of drilling for gas/oil like one sees in Texas, Oklahoma and so on. We need to explain to them exactly what we are doing, and the large majority of them will be accepting of the practices. We’ve dealt with coal mining, steel and other heavy industries here over the years. We want to be sure mistakes that occurred in the past with other industries aren’t repeated…I’ve seen creeks fouled because of shoddy coal mining practices. It’s fair that we ask this doesn’t happen again with shale drilling and practices. We can appreciate, and dare I say love, drilling and fracturing as many did with mining…in fact many like myself already do.
How does the industry do this you might ask? I’m just one person…but I do have some thoughts. As Mr. White noted, in general companies do an ok job. Helping with the local fire departments, first responders along with others and donations are awesome and build goodwill. But I’m thinking along different lines…let’s build up the region’s residents to become engaged and educated in what we are doing. For example, rent out the local hall or back area of a restaurant, serve some coffee and treats and bring in an engineer, drilling specialist, landman, completions manager and so on. Spend an hour simply telling folks what to expect, what is going on, etc. Plan a day every month where the locals can go on a supervised tour of the facilities in their town. SHOW them what is going on, and back it up with the education from experts. Keep them involved and engaged. I’d also suggest spending time teaching your employees in the field about what is going on within the various process involved so they have basic knowledge to talk to others. My wife’s company recently did this and the employees loved it. All it took was one day of basic instruction from an expert. That company now has a small army of loyal employees out in the community, speaking about what we really do as an industry, and how safe and responsible shale drilling and fracturing is in reality. Also, take advantage of people like me…my family has lived in these hills for generations. I’ve come to love, admire and really understand and believe in the oil/gas industry and what it is we do. This is a passion for me, and there are a lot of people in the region just like me, waiting for a better chance to promote companies and the industry as a whole. I created this blog, my Twitter account and the Tri-State Shale Network on my own as a platform from which to speak. There are others just as anxious to talk out there without the right platform. Find them, take advantage of the region’s residents who love our industry. An informed and engaged region will not be swayed by the anti-fracking rhetoric that exists out there today. And make no mistake, they are winning battles that can cause serious problems to our drilling in Appalachia in particular. New York’s recent banning of fracturing is a perfect example of what can happen if we do not get a grip on this now. The anti message is out there, and they do a good job spreading their half truth and distorted realities.
We need to get this right, fellow oil/gas friends. We need to take the proper steps now by educating and involving our region’s residents more proactively. This opportunity is too precious to waste.