Mysterious Fracking Memo Encourages Employees To Deceive Landowners

Mysterious Fracking Memo Encourages Employees To Deceive Landowners
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The Associated Press is reporting some new details about the mysterious memo that surfaced earlier this year which encourages buyers of oil and gas leases to lie to landowners about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The memo has yet to be authenticated, but the AP reports that the language in the memo is similar to language used by lease-buyers in Ohio – the latest battleground in the fracking battle.

“Landmen” have been on a door-to-door mission most of this year in the Marcellus and Utica shale gas regions, attempting to convince landowners to sell or lease their land to oil and gas companies. The memo was found in a crushed three ring binder in April of this year, and did not contain any corporate logos or letterhead, nor was there any individual’s name found anywhere in the notebook.

From the AP report:

The papers appear to instruct “landmen” in how to talk to residents they visit: don’t mention groundwater contamination or lost property values; downplay natural gas drilling (believed to be a greater environmental threat than oil drilling); and describe the hydraulic fracturing drilling process as “radioactive free,” even though the memo concedes that is not accurate.

The vast stores of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale have set off a feverish rush by drillers in neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia and Ohio is poised to join the fray. Permits allowing “fracking” in Ohio’s portion of the Marcellus and the deeper Utica Shale have risen from one in 2006, to four in 2009, to 32 so far this year, state records show.

The fracking process uses huge volumes of water mixed with chemicals and sand to fracture shale rock deep underground and free natural gas. Its promise of riches to landowners has been tempered in recent months with reports in Pennsylvania of environmental harm, contaminated private water wells and some waterways.

Amid what one oil and gas industry executive calls Ohio’s “Landman-gate,” not one drilling lease has been filed in Greene County, where the five-page memo was found… Attorney General Mike DeWine could find no evidence it belonged to Jim Bucher, a landman for West Bay Exploration Co., based in Traverse City, Mich., or that it was used to mislead area residents. Yet his investigation also stopped short of identifying an alternative owner, leaving the memo’s true origins a mystery.

Those who have had meetings with Bucher in the past said that the tactics described in the memo mirror those used by Bucher during conversations. Several landowners say that Bucher continues to send lease paperwork to their homes, even though they have flatly refused his offers in the past.

Some of the specific tactics mentioned in the memo include appealing to “patriots,” by telling landowners that the Chinese “bought more oil than the U.S. last year.” The memo also encourages landmen to speak with men instead of women, as women would be “more likely” to refuse. It also specifically says to convince landowners that the primary purpose of the lease is to “search for oil,” and not to use the land for natural gas fracking.

As mentioned above, the investigation was unable to link the memo and the notebook to Bucher or any gas company. Hopefully, someone with knowledge of the document’s origins will come forward with information soon. 

Mysterious Fracking Memo Encourages Employees To Deceive Landowners

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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