“Just stick to the news! (and quit editorializing),” is the refrain we sometimes hear at MDN. We happen to think a little editorializing, and having some fun along the way, is not only a good thing to do—it’s the honest thing to do. We don’t cover up our opinions in our reporting of the news. This story is one of the fun stories to tell (sorry, it’s not “sticking to the news”). This story is about language—specifically the word “frack”—and how anti-drillers like those at Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project have made such wonderful hay with that word because it sounds so, well, naughty.
But anti-drillers have a problem: Fracking a shale well is only one small (frankly benign) part of the drilling process. How can you demagogue a word like “horizontal drilling” which is a much larger (and more important) part of the drilling process? “Horizontal drilling” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. However, the creative minds at MDN have a suggestion for our anti-drilling friends at Earthworks which we’re sure they’ll want to start using. Remember, you read it here first…
Mention the recent surge in oil and natural gas production in the U.S. and one word comes to mind for a lot of people: "fracking." Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial technique that uses water, sand and potentially hazardous chemicals to break up rock deep underground to release oil and natural gas.
But there’s another technology that is just as responsible for drilling booms happening across the country: horizontal drilling.
While you won’t hear about horizontal drilling in a song or see it on a bumper sticker, it’s just as responsible as fracking for changing rural landscapes. So why all the focus on fracking?
Chris Tucker of Energy in Depth, a project of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, suspects the reason fracking has taken off — especially among the industry’s opponents — is the word itself.
"It starts with F, ends in C-K," he says. "It sort of has this naughty connotation to it."
Tucker says fracking has been distilled down to a curse word, "and that’s important for press releases and bumper stickers and everything else. Horizontal drilling hasn’t been distilled that way."
This focus on fracking and not horizontal drilling has surprised even some of the petroleum industry’s critics.
"In our organization we talked about fracking maybe eight years ago," says Bruce Baizel, with Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. "I never would have predicted that it would have become the catchall term."
Fracking has evolved to mean more than just hydraulic fracturing. Baizel says people now use it to refer to just about anything to do with producing oil and gas.
"It means either drilling or … hydraulic fracturing or it means the truck that ran off the road and spilled whatever the waste was it was hauling away from the well site," Baizel says.
Groups like Baizel’s that regularly go up against huge oil companies have embraced this expanded definition of fracking. Oil and gas drilling employs complicated technology that can be difficult to explain to the general public. But with one common word — especially one like fracking that just sounds bad — it’s easier to rally opposition.*
Hey Bruce, we have a suggestion for Earthworks. We realize it’s really tough to get your crowd to focus on anything longer than a bumper sticker slogan—you need to make it nice and short and something that (preferably) doesn’t require any thinking to “rally the troops” to your righteous cause.
We think there is a new phrase for horizontal drilling you can incorporate and start to use with the anti-drilling faithful. Let’s shorten “horizontal drilling” down to the word “horz”. That way, you can talk about “fracking horz.”
We predict an immediate doubling of Earthworks’ membership roles and a flood of new donations. Feel free to send a 12.5% royalty to MDN. 😉
*WNYC Public Radio (Jan 27, 2013) – Focus On Fracking Diverts Attention From Horizontal Drilling