Big energy accused of mind games for shale

Nov. 9, 2011 at 9:45 AM
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HOUSTON, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Employing a military specialist with expertise in psychological operations is a good strategy to deal with critics of shale gas, an official said in Houston.

Sharon Wilson, director of an oil and natural gas accountability project at environmental advocacy group Earthworks, handed over audio recordings to CNBC from an oil industry conference in Houston last week.

During a session dealing with media relations strategies for dealing with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Matt Pitzarella, a communications director for energy company Range Resources, was recorded as saying his company had former military psychological operations specialists on the payroll.

"Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that," he was recorded as saying. "But very much having that understanding of psy ops in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in (shale-rich) Pennsylvania."

The United States has some of the richest deposits of shale gas, mostly in territory east of the Mississippi River. The chemicals used in fracking fluid have raised concerns of environmentalists because of possible water contamination. Energy companies involved in fracking, and some U.S. states with rich shale deposits, say the process doesn't pose a threat to the environment if done correctly.

Other corporate officials made comments similar to Pitzarella's during the Houston conference. He told CNBC, however, the comments were taken out of context.

"One employee who works with municipal governments in Pennsylvania has a background in psychological operations in the Army," he said. "Since the majority of his work is spent in local hearings and developing local regulations for drilling, we've found that his service in the Middle East is a real asset."

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