Oil Company Document Instructs Agents to Mislead Landowners About Drilling Dangers
Screengrab from Oil & Coal Talking Points guide
It appears that increased community awareness is making it harder for oil and gas companies to convince people to let them drill on their land -- so the industry is pushing ahead and trying to secure as many rights as quickly as possible.Through a tipster, TreeHugger has obtained a document that appears to be an oil company's 'talking points' guide for its salesman to use in order to convince landowners that they should let said corporation drill on their land. Entitled 'Talking Points for Selling and Gas Lease Rights', the document implores its 'Field Agents' to mislead people about the risks of drilling, to omit important facts, and even, on occasion, to outright lie. Again, it's important to note that TreeHugger has not confirmed the authenticity of the document, nor have we identified which oil company it belongs to. Nonetheless, if real (as it certainly appears to be), it offers yet another window into the unscrupulous practices of an industry with a long legacy of bending the truth.
The document focuses on sales technique, instructing the salesman to tailor his pitch to the political sensibilities of the person in question, which is nothing notable. It stresses the following right off the bat:
"Oil and Gas exploration and drilling is meeting increasing resistance from local community groups, so it is essential to contact land holders and acquire signatures before sentiment by environmental and other public organizations limits our ability to obtain access to private land for oil and gas development. Remember, if at all possible try not to deliberately mislead the landowner, that only makes our position harder to defend at a later date ... Do not discuss the detracting points of view in a manner that gives them any credibility."
Small oil well. Photo credit: el clinto via Flickr/CC BY
Document Encourages Agents to Deliberately Mislead
Notice how it states one should 'try not to deliberately mislead' -- this suggestion, however, gets thrown out the window a few short paragraphs later. For instance, it's hard to call this strategy, which the oil company suggests each Field Agent adopt, anything other than 'deliberately misleading':
"Tell the landowner that all their neighbors have signed. Even if the neighbors have not, this often will push an undecided landowner in favor of signing. Remember, the first visit is the most crucial. They will not know if their neighbors have signed, and even if they do they will want to sign so they do not lose out on the potential profits. Once they have signed, then you can show those leases to undecided neighbors for added pressure."
Strategies for Convincing Landowners to Allow Drilling
Other interesting, but less surprising points reveal the oil company's strategy for beginning the pitch: "Most landowners will be patriotic Americans, and will desire to free our nation from foreign oil dependence. Make certain you lead with this selling point: CHINA bought more oil than the United States last year. Fear of foreign encroachment is the biggest asset we have in selling our development strategy."
The document suggests the agent return to the underlined point if things aren't going well, attempting to use it as a scare tactic/appeal to patriotism to get landowners to sign. And here, the document suggests the field agent steer all discussions away from fracking and 'Gasland', saying "Do not deny that gas exploration may be possible, but do not emphasize it."
Bending the Truth
Next, the company suggests the agent confuse the landowner between two kinds of hydraulic fracturing if it's necessary to diffuse fears of fracking:
"Most landowners will not know the difference between hydraulic fracturing and the process of Slick Water Hydraulic Fracturing. Use this to your advantage. Most wells in southern Ohio were drilled and then hydraulically fractured to make a viable source of water. Tell them that. Fracing is safe! There is nothing unsafe about the fracing process, if there was, it would never have been used in their wells. If anyone knows about slick water fracturing, avoid the topic. DO not discuss the chemicals and other material used during slick water fracturing ... Reassure landowners that no well contamination has ever been documented."
And let's end with this part, the document's guide to dismissing fears of radioactivity: "Reports have shown that fracing and other oil and gas exploration techniques have increased radioactivity in the groundwater. This is caused by releasing naturally occurring radon from the ground into the aquifer. ENSURE you tell the landowner that we use NO RADIOACTIVE materials. The radioactivity comes from natural sources in the ground and is released by the process, but don't tell them this. Most landowners will not know."
This oil company is essentially seeking to trick people into signing away their land before they can be made aware of the actual threats that drilling for oil or gas poses. And while it's not exactly surprising, it's certainly maddening that this company has put out a manifesto imploring its agents to bend the truth, even lie to people's faces so it might turn a profit.
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