Discovery of Fracking Memo Intensifies Ohio Debate

A recently discovered memo has the energy industry on the defensive in Ohio, the latest battleground in the hydraulic fracturing debate. According to a report from the Courier-Journal, the memo, of unknown origin, appears to coach so-called “landmen” to use deceptive tactics to convince landowners to sign oil and natural gas drilling leases.

Landmen are the door-to-door salesman that the energy industry has dispatched in shale gas regions throughout the country to induce property owners to allow fracking on their land. Recently, they’ve been targeting landowners in Ohio’s Marcellus and Utica shale regions.

The memo in question was found in Greene County, Ohio. According to the Courier-Journal, a Greene County resident claims to have found the memo in her driveway. The five-page document is titled “Talking Points for Selling Oil and Gas Lease Rights” and is marked “Proprietary — Do Not Disclose.” The talking points urge the reader to use deceptive tactics on unsuspecting landowners, according to the Courier-Journal. Tips include:

• Omit mention groundwater contamination or lost property values;

• Downplay natural gas drilling (believed to be a greater environmental threat than oil drilling);

• Inaccurately describe the fracking as “radioactive free.”

The author and owner of the memo is a complete mystery. According to the Courier-Journal, suspicion immediately fell on West Bay Exploration Co., and its landman, Jim Bucher. Bucher, a 20-year veteran of the company, had been dispatched to Greene County, and West Bay was the only one seeking leases in Greene County. However, West Bay vehemently denied the charge (though it wouldn’t allow Bucher to be interviewed). The Ohio Attorney General has been unable to find evidence it belonged to West Bay, or that the memo was used to mislead landowners, the Courier-Journal said.

Some suspect that a rival drilling company is the culprit, while others in the industry have alleged that the memo is a fabrication of fracking opponents seeking to stop drilling in Greene County. So far, no Greene County property owners have signed leases with West Bay or any other drilling company.

Authentic or not, the memo has put drillers in Ohio on the defensive. According to the Courier-Journal, the discovery of the memo has forced the state’s oil and gas industry to intensify its public relations effort.

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