Frack­ers get neigh­borly to head off op­po­si­tion in Colorado

Anadarko uses political tac­tics to con­vince vot­ers wells are safe “My fam­ily is here. … We would know if some­thing’s wrong”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - −Jen­nifer Old­ham

Wind­sor High School ju­nior Kamille Hock­ing used to worry that the dozen leased oil wells on her fam­ily’s 132acre Colorado homestead might make her sick. Then Re­becca John­son, an en­gi­neer for Anadarko Pe­tro­leum, Colorado’s largest pro­ducer, vis­ited Hock­ing’s chem­istry class in early Fe­bru­ary. As the stu­dents used blen­ders to mix sand, fric­tion re­ducer, and city wa­ter, John­son ex­plained how frack­ers use a sim­i­lar so­lu­tion to re­lease gas and oil trapped in rock. “We heard a lot of sto­ries about how it could get into the wa­ter and pol­lute the land,” says Hock­ing, 16. Now, she says, “I’m go­ing to tell my par­ents that frack­ing fluid only makes cracks in the rock the size of a hair.”

Across Colorado, Anadarko is de­ploy­ing en­gi­neers, ge­ol­o­gists, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives known as land­men to Ro­tary Clubs, high schools, and par­ents groups to con­vince them the drilling tech­nique doesn’t pose a threat to the en­vi­ron­ment or pub­lic health. The out­reach rep­re­sents a shift for Anadarko, which like many frack­ing com­pa­nies has long in­sisted on con­fi­den­tial­ity, as it tries to beat back ris­ing pub­lic op­po­si­tion to its drilling meth­ods. “I live right here,” John­son told Hock­ing’s class. “My fam­ily is here, my mother-in-law grad­u­ated from your high school. She turns 80 this year. We would know if some­thing’s wrong.”

Anadarko is hop­ing its lo­cal am­bas­sadors can help avoid more hos­til­i­ties in the lo­cal war against frack­ing. In 2014, oil com­pa­nies spent $11.8 mil­lion on lob­by­ing af­ter U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jared Po­lis, a Demo­crat, bankrolled a sig­na­ture-gath­er­ing ef­fort to put anti-frack­ing mea­sures on the bal­lot. Colorado Gov­er­nor John Hick­en­looper, also a Demo­crat, worked be­hind the scenes for months to bro­ker a peace, even­tu­ally cre­at­ing a 21-mem­ber com­mis­sion to study how to in­crease lo­cal con­trol over drilling.

In Jan­uary the state’s oil and gas reg­u­la­tor adopted sev­eral rules rec­om­mended by the com­mis­sion, in­clud­ing one that re­quires en­ergy com­pa­nies to work with cities to de­ter­mine the lo­ca­tion of large-scale drilling op­er­a­tions. The new reg­u­la­tions left some res­i­dents un­sat­is­fied. “This panel in the end didn’t serve to pro­tect any of the cit­i­zens of Colorado,” says Tri­cia Olson, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Coloradans Re­sist­ing Ex­treme En­ergy De­vel­op­ment, or Creed. “We felt the ini­tia­tive process was the only way to go.”

The group has sub­mit­ted 10 bal­lot ini­tia­tives to the state’s elec­tion of­fice for re­view, in­clud­ing one that would give mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments greater power to reg­u­late frack­ing in the state, the na­tion’s sev­enth-big­gest oil pro­ducer and sixth­largest gas provider. Five com­mu­ni­ties have al­ready en­acted mea­sures tem­po­rar­ily halt­ing or ban­ning frack­ing. Colorado’s Supreme Court is ex­pected to rule later this year on whether the mea­sures will be al­lowed to stand, af­ter a lower court found the state has au­thor­ity over drilling.

Anadarko, based in The Wood­lands, Texas, has trained 2,000 em­ploy­ees in Colorado, Wy­oming, Utah, and Texas to an­swer ques­tions from the pub­lic. Noble En­ergy and Whiting Pe­tro­leum will spon­sor in­dus­try am­bas­sador train­ing this year in Den­ver. “The oil and gas in­dus­try spent decades not ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple,” says Karen Crummy, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for an in­dus­try­backed political ac­tion com­mit­tee that’s run­ning pro-frack­ing tele­vi­sion ads in Den­ver and Colorado Springs. “We do know that when most Coloradans get the facts on frack­ing and re­spon­si­ble oil and gas de­vel­op­ment, they sup­port it.”

Not ev­ery­one walks away from Anadarko’s pre­sen­ta­tions con­vinced. One of its land­men, Laura Paige Cody, vis­ited a Ro­tary Club in Parker, south of Den­ver, late last year. Mark Sche­une­man, a re­tiree, wanted to know whether frack­ing could cause earth­quakes or sink­holes. “I had some real con­cerns, and she didn’t al­le­vi­ate them,” Sche­une­man

said after­ward. Cody is un­de­terred. “I’m in this busi­ness that’s be­ing vil­i­fied,” she says, adding that frack­ing has helped or­di­nary Amer­i­cans by mak­ing oil cheaper. “No mat­ter if you’re an orthodon­tist, or a ten­nis pro, or a welder, ev­ery­thing you do is de­pen­dent on the price of oil.”

The bot­tom line Oil com­pa­nies are in­creas­ing pub­lic out­reach in hopes of head­ing off bal­lot mea­sures re­strict­ing frack­ing in Colorado.

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