Oil media blitz uses poll to build local support for fracking, expansion of shale gas drilling

Times Union | April 17, 2014 | Column by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

Washington - The oil industry's leading trade group broadened its pitch beyond the Beltway on Thursday, rolling out new advertisements and a series of state polls highlighting widespread support for domestic energy development from New York to Nevada.

The American Petroleum Institute is taking the campaign — and its pro-drilling message — to states as local regulators and voters consider a range of policies that could affect oil and gas development.

In New York, for instance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will decide whether to lift a ban on hydraulic fracturing — known colloquially as "fracking."

Such a decision could shift fights over drilling activity to local zoning boards. And in Colorado, voters may face a dozen or more ballot proposals to limit this kind of drilling.

"So much of politics is and always has been local," said Karen Moreau, executive director of API's New York State Petroleum Council. But "we're seeing even more activity on the local level."

A growing concern in New York and other states is the safety of using barges and trains to transport oil to refineries.

The fears collide at the Port of Albany, where railcars carrying crude from North Dakota meet a major waterway for sending oil to refineries in Canada and New Jersey.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy last month issued an order that effectively halted Global Partners' plans to expand crude oil processing at the Port of Albany until a health study is completed. Later this month, four state agencies are set to deliver a report to Cuomo on New York's preparedness to handle oil spills from trains, ships and barges.

API's survey of New York voters did not examine their views on rail and barge safety.

The new drilling ads — starting online — are designed to highlight public support for domestic oil and gas development and the infrastructure necessary to sustain it. API would not say how much it was spending on the campaign but described it as "significant."

Moreau said the campaign aims "to elevate the voices outside of the Beltway," effectively removing energy issues from the politics of Washington, D.C.

The fodder for the ads is a national telephone survey conducted by The Harris Poll for API as well as state polling conducted in New York, Illinois, Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

"Americans support accessing the country's abundant energy resources," Moreau said in a conference call with reporters. "It is clear that the American public is looking to capitalize on the opportunity we face at this moment to use our nation's energy portfolio to help consumers and create jobs."

According to the nationwide telephone poll, while just 77 percent support increased production of domestic oil and natural gas, 91 percent of those surveyed agreed with a statement that increased production of those resources could lead to more jobs in the U.S.

On question after question, respondents signaled they believe there are big economic and security benefits to building energy infrastructure and developing oil and gas inside the U.S. — even though a smaller margin supported the activity overall.

Similar — just slightly lower — results came from the API-commissioned survey of registered voters in New York, where 70 percent of respondents said they supported increased domestic oil and natural gas production. The survey also found:

89 percent agreed that development of the country's energy infrastructure would help create U.S. jobs.

87 percent agreed that increased domestic oil and gas production could lead to more U.S. jobs.

84 percent agreed that increased oil and gas production in the U.S. could help stimulate the economy.

Big political divisions have developed over hydraulic fracturing, a well completion process that involves pumping water, sand and chemicals underground to free oil and gas from dense rock formations.

Although API's survey didn't tackle the subject, Moreau said other surveys of the Empire State generally have shown New York City voters tend to oppose fracturing, while those in the suburbs support it and upstate New York is divided.

New York foes of hydraulic fracturing criticized the API's "one-sided poll" and "personal attacks."

"Grass-roots opposition to fracking grows the more New Yorkers learn about it," said John Armstrong, of Frack Action. "New Yorkers have shown time and time again that they're not buying the industry's baseless propaganda and lies. Independent analysis shows that the oil and gas industry greatly exaggerates the jobs and economic benefits of fracking, while it actually brings very significant costs for taxpayers."

Moreau said a major challenge for drilling advocates is emphasizing that hydraulic fracturing is fundamental to oil and gas production today. Many people "fail to equate that 80 percent of our oil and natural gas production is a result of hydraulic fracturing combined with precision horizontal drilling," she said.

Celebrities including Yoko Ono and Mark Ruffalo have helped stoke opposition in New York. Moreau derided "has-been celebrities" who are trying "to make New York a battleground or a poster child for their latest cause."

"We don't have celebrities on our side like Yoko Ono and others who we want to put out there representing the hardworking people of our industry who go out every single day in all kinds of weather working hard to bring energy to people," she said.

jdlouhy@hearstdc.com

http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Oil-media-blitz-uses-poll-to-build-local-support-5411878.php

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.