The oil industry’s largest lobbying group began a new effort to ease public fears about hydraulic fracturing after a legal setback in New York state and a voter push in Colorado to ban the drilling practice.
The American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based group that includes Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Chevron Corp. (CVX), released guidelines for improving community relations as “fracking” extends to more towns, raising concerns about pollution risks.
The suggestions will help “raise the bar for the industry,” David Miller, director of standards for the group that has guided the industry on well design and preventing spills since 1924, said at a conference call with reporters today. The effort will help oil and gas companies develop “lasting relationships” with communities where drilling occurs, he said.
The document reads like an etiquette guide for producers moving into rural towns to start drilling. Companies are encouraged to distribute educational materials, introduce executives to community leaders, work with local schools to train residents to work at well sites and develop relationships with landowners sitting atop oil and gas reservoirs.
“Maintaining effective stakeholder relationships is a process of continuous proactive engagement, taking the form of informational sessions, one-to-one engagements, community meetings and everything in between,” the document states.
Fracking has helped set records for natural gas production and turned the U.S. into the world’s largest oil producer. The technique, which shoots a watery mix of sand and chemicals underground to release gas and oil trapped in shale rock, has raised concerns about pollution of drinking water sources.
Deborah Nardone, who oversees campaigns to fight use of fossil fuels at the Sierra Club, a San Francisco-based environmental group, said she welcomed the industry’s pledge to be more transparent in the communities where they work.
She faulted the energy industry for withholding information about the specific chemicals used in the fracking fluid and fighting local efforts to restrict drilling.
“It’s important that the industry is trying to build better relationships with communities,” Nardone said in a phone interview. “The relationships that they have are not very good.”
API released its guidelines after New York’s highest court on June 30 let cities and towns block hydraulic fracturing within their borders.
The decision was a setback for companies that want access to the Marcellus Shale deposit that extends across the state’s border with Pennsylvania. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is weighing whether to lift a ban on fracking issued in 2008.
In Colorado, environmental groups are pushing for a referendum to ban the practice, which has put some wells closer to schools, parks and other community centers.
The issue has turned up in the Senate campaign between incumbent Mark Udall, a Democrat, and Representative Cory Gardner, a Republican.
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