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PR Campaign to Make Fracking a "Good Word" Again Confronts Fracking's Ugly Reality

2 minute read

My first impression of this article was that it was an Onion-style joke. But apparently, it's serious.

In the PR battle over natural gas, the antidrilling “fracktivists” have held the linguistic upper hand since “fracking” carries negative connotations, and even sounds a bit obscene. But rather than avoiding the term, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, has decided to embrace it.

A new ad campaign sponsored by the coalition seeks to rebrand the term, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported late last month. “Fracking is a good word,” says one actor in a commercial. A girl adds, “Fracking rocks.”

Is “fracking” salvageable? A 2011 study by the Pennsylvania public relations firm Gregory FCA Communications found that “fracking” had such a bad rap that the industry would be better off abandoning it. “A better, more positive term is warranted,”wrote the firm’s president, Greg Matusky. “The industry needs to identify negatively charged words and replace them with positive language.”

Unfortunately, a couple huge problems with the Marcellus Shale Coalition's strategy jump out at us. First, given the widespread, negative connotations associated with the word "fracking," it's going to take an awful lot of money for the frackers to reclaim the term.

Second, even if they have the money and are willing to spend it on this seemingly uphill battle, the other problem is the real killer: just like with other absurd PR efforts, like the laughable "clean coal" campaign, the frackers simply have reality working against them. That includes the fact that fracking contaminates water supplies, pollutes the air, uses huge amounts of (increasingly scarce) water, releases the potent greenhouse gas methane, contaminates the soil, destroys forests and wildlife habitats, and even triggers earthquakes.  With all those problems, none of which can be glossed over by a slick PR campaign, this oil and gas extraction technology is simply not a pretty picture to behold. And that's going to be the case no matter how much money the frackers spend on trying to make fracking seem like is a "good word" or that it "rocks."

Topics: Marketing & Communications