Memo reveals Ohio regulatory agency had planned to support fracking and wage PR campaign

While “fracking” as a term prompts visceral gut reactions one way or the other - Terrible! Wonderful! What that? - The Columbus Dispatch last week revealed an ODNR memo, originally obtained by the Ohio Sierra Club, that illuminates where the state falls on that point. Get ready for literally no surprises here, just pure audacity.

In the summer of 2012, a 13-page memo was circulated that outlined specific and general measures needed to support the practice of hydraulic fracturing - “fracking” - in Ohio. The ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources), which regulates the process, was also internally pushing a public-relations campaign to promote the whole thing. Of course, that’s the total opposite of what regulatory government agencies should be doing.

Using “precise messaging and coordination,” the ODNR planned on combating “zealous resistance by environmental-activist opponents who are skilled propagandists,” making their work sound more like Cold War-type paranoia than, y’know, natural resources oversight. The department literally uses language like “allied audiences,” “neutral audiences” and “opposition groups and forums.” Northeast Ohio’s own State Rep. Nickie Antonio found herself on the bad list; Halliburton is listed as a friend. (Memo embedded below.)

Now, the memo was never “officially implemented,” according to reports, but anyone working in any office anywhere knows the power of internal culture. A top-down message of any ilk carries weight.

Mark Bruce, media spokesman for the ODNR, has said that the memo was drafted for internal discussion and never given the green-light as official policy. Scene has reached out to Bruce for comment on the memo; we'll update the story when we hear back.

Gov. John Kasich’s spokesman, Rob Nichols, told the Dispatch that the governor was unaware of the memo. Records released over the weekend reveal that Kasich’s communications director, chief of staff and senior adviser were all invited to an Aug. 20, 2012, meeting that shared the general title of the memo’s contents: “Oil & Gas State Lands Leasing: Draft Outline for Communication Plan.” So, there's that.

Here’s Brian Rothenberg, head of ProgressOhio, with an illuminating comment to the Dispatch:

“In 28 years in Columbus, I’ve never seen a document from a state agency that has a hit list of people to message against, and I’ve never seen a document so open about working with the regulated industries from the regulator.”

Strategic Drilling Communication Plan (ODNR) by sandyatscene

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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