Last week, during an oil-and-gas drilling confab at the Hyatt Regency in Houston, execs turned their attention to a very touchy subject: how to get folks decidedly against gas drilling on their side. At which point, according to audio first obtained by CNBC earlier this week, gas-drilling spokesmen offered some very intriguing solutions, among them: employing folks who used to work in U.S. military psychological operations and downloading The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. After all, said Matt Carmichael of Anadarko Petroleum, those who are opposed to drilling are part of the "insurgency."
Matt Pitzarella, the director of corporate communications and public affairs for Range Resources, then chimed in: "We have several former PSYOPs folks that work for us at Range because they're very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments."
He continued: "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 PSYOPs in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania." But Pitzarella was hardly the only one touting the benefits of such strategies in dealing with ongoing public controversy over fracking.
As it turns out, these recordings were made by someone familiar to the Friends of Unfair Park who've been following the debate over gas drilling in Dallas city limits: Sharon Wilson, better known as "TXSharon," who maintains the Bluedaze website.
Wilson, the Collin County-based organizer of the Oil & Gas Accountability Project for Earthworks, a non-profit focused on the environment, tells Unfair Park today she paid full price for her ticket to the Media & Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011 conference -- and even wore a name-tag identifying her organization. She had no intention of outing anyone, she insists.
"I didn't expect to hear anything this insidious," she says. "I did not expect that. The reason I took the recorder, the main reason, is I'm a horrible note-taker."
Unfair Park attempted to reach Carmichael of Anadarko Petroleum about his "insurgency" remarks. But it was another Anadarko spokesperson, John Christiansen, who responded to our email.
"The reference was not reflective of our core values," he wrote. "Our community efforts are based upon open communication, active engagement and transparency, which are all essential in building fact-based knowledge and earning public trust."
We also reached out to Pitzarella, and will update if we get a response.
When asked whether these comments were just moments taken out of context, Wilson insists: Definitely not.
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"It was absolutely a theme throughout the whole thing of enlist neighbors who have an incentive and get them to deliver your message to their neighbors," she says. "Words like 'enlist' and 'engage' ... 'battle' and 'war.' More than just the two Matts referred to the American public as insurgents."
Wilson says she knows people who have received letters from gas companies encouraging mineral rights owners to advocate for drilling in their neighborhoods. She says energy companies often seem to target people who will benefit financially from drilling in an attempt for them to rally the support of others around them. As evidenced by the mere existence of last week's conference, strategy can be of key importance in such matters.
"So they have to use these extreme measures to get what they want," she says. "I think a lot of people wouldn't object if they could do it safely and if it didn't harm them. But it does and it has, and that's why they're having to do these very drastic extreme measures."
She didn't intend on taping the entire conference, she says, but ran out to buy extra batteries after the first lecture: "I've got almost 16 hours of tape."