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Oil Company Document Instructs Agents to Mislead Landowners About Drilling Dangers

A revealing document shows an oil company’s ‘talking points’ guide to convince landowners that they should let said corporation drill on their land.

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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.”

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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:

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“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.

Small oil well. Photo credit: el clinto via Flickr/CC BY

 

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