The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is coming to Ohio to try to shift public attention from the hazards of fracking to the economic benefits of developing Ohio’s Utica Shale formation.
Representatives of the nation’s largest business organization joined its state counterpart in Columbus Tuesday to launch the “Shale Works for US” campaign to build public support for taking advantage of Ohio’s shale gas reserves, which entails the controversial horizontal hydraulic fracturing technique that has heretofore dominated coverage of the issue.
For their part, environmentalists said the new publicity campaign would not succeed in reassuring Ohioans that increased fracking would not pollute the environment.
Christopher Guith, vice president of policy for the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said the group planned to make a “multi-million dollar investment” this year to herald the positive economic benefit that shale drilling will have in Ohio and other states.
The campaign will involve television, radio and print ads, but also involves working with local chambers to share the message of what shale development means to many different ancillary industries, like the construction, hospitality, steel, chemical and polymer manufacturing sectors, he said during a news conference.
He called shale gas “one of the few bright spots” in a national economy that is continuing to lag after years of recession.
“This is such an important issue that it behooves us to explain to the broader business community and the public what it means to them,” Mr. Guith said.
The U.S. Chamber is also launching similar efforts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Washington, he said.
Linda Woggon, of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Ohio Shale Coalition, said shale development would likely support the “rebirth” of chemical and polymer manufacturing in the state.
Representatives of several companies described how increased drilling activity in Ohio has already buoyed their businesses.
Chris Jaskiewicz, senior vice president of Evets Oil & Gas Construction Services, said the company’s revenue doubled from $40 million to $80 million between 2010 and 2011 as drilling in the shale formations started ramping up.
Evets also expanded its workforce from about 75 to 350 employees in recent years, he said. “We plan to continue to hire and grow for a long time.”
John Dinunzio, vice president of Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc., told a similar story about growth in his company, which serves not only the oil and gas industry, but other sectors expected to benefit, like construction and manufacturing.
Bill Bussey, superintendent of the Mid-East Career and Technology Centers in Zanesville, said he expected shale gas would have the biggest impact on workforce development that he’s seen during his 37-year career.
Mr. Guith said part of the goal of the campaign was to bring the message of economic benefit to areas of the state and nation that lie outside the shale play.
“Even if it’s not happening in their backyard, even if they’re not getting royalty checks, they’re still benefitting. They’re benefitting through cheaper energy prices, they’re benefitting through better economic growth, and they’re benefitting through increased revenue going into the local communities,” he said.
He bemoaned a “complete dearth” of media coverage on the positive economic effects the shale boom is already having on Ohioans.
“I think it’s fair to say that since the unconventional play first started becoming more part of the public conscience, that the focus has definitely been more on the process, and it’s been led, it’s been one-sided, by some folks who, frankly, tend not to be very supportive of any energy development, especially at the local level,” he said. “We’re not here to get into that debate.”
Environment Ohio Policy Advocate Julian Boggs questioned why business groups believed it was necessary to launch the public relations campaign.
“If fracking was as good for us as the industry makes it out to be, it would hardly be worth it to spend millions on a PR campaign,” he said.
“Their problem is, all we have to do is look across the border at Pennsylvania, the wild west of the fracking boom, to see that it’s not working. They can buy all the PR they want – ultimately the oil and gas industry is going to have to own up to the disaster that fracking is turning into,” he added.