Oil and Gas Industry-Funded Website FrackFeed.com Off to Shaky Start

Julie Dermansky

FrackFeed.com is a new oil and gas industry-supported website whose mission is to challenge the negative public perception of fracking. That’s a tall order since public awareness and opposition to fracking is growing following the passage of a fracking ban in Denton, Texas, as well as a de-facto ban in New York and other high-profile efforts to protect public safety and water supplies by limiting or outright stopping the risky shale extraction technique in communities worldwide.  

The group behind the FrackFeed.com website, North Texans for Natural Gas (NTNG), claims it is “a grassroots organization” that “aims to give a voice to those who support natural gas.” But as readers of DeSmog know, the oil and gas industry has long used expensive astroturf tactics to gin up the appearance of grassroots support to mask what are actually corporate public relations campaigns.

”When the fossil fuel industry tries to pretend it’s a grassroots movement, it always manages to fail the Turing test,” Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental activist group 350.org, told DeSmog. “I mean, there’s something just inextricably bogus about it.”

North Texans for Natural Gas is a “ loose coalition of people who support natural gas development,” wrote Fuel Fix. Fuel Fix and other media sites that mention Frackfeed do not identify any of the people who make up the grassroots component of the site. 

As is disclosed on the front page of NTNG’s website, there are four energy companies who support the effort, though it is worth emphasizing that the group does not 'speak for' the industry,” the site's spokesman, Steve Everley, wrote DeSmog in an email. 

The four companies behind North Texans for Natural Gas are identified as Devon Energy, EnerVest, EOG Resources and ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy. However when asked to identify anyone playing a role in the leadership of the group, Everley described it as “over 110,000 people who support responsible natural gas development.” He did not name one person in a leadership role.

FrackFeed aims to combat the inaccurate information disseminated by activists who want to ban hydraulic fracturing, Everley told Fuel Fix. “They have been using social and digital media in pretty creative ways to frighten and even mislead the public. Why can’t we use those same tools, why can’t we use the same media to convey the truth about fracking?” 

Everley also works for fracking industry front group Energy in Depth (EID), deployed as a project of the Independent Petroleum Producers of America (IPAA) back in 2009. EID’s portfolio is overseen by consulting firm FTI Consulting, where Everley works as a senior director, according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to working at EID, Everley served as a research assistant for former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA).

Sharon Wilson, Earthwork’s Gulf Regional Organizer, sees the creation of FrackFeed as an act of desperation. “It’s a wounded animal striking back,” she said. 

Adam Briggle, a professor of ethics at the University of North Texas and the president of Denton Drilling Awareness, agrees with Wilson.

The victory for the Denton fracking ban in November (when we were outspent 15 to 1) proved that people can smell the difference between the genuinely grassroots and the astroturf,” he told DeSmog.

FrackFeed made a meme out of a DeSmog photograph of Briggle shaking hands with Sergeant Jenkins, a 30-year veteran of the Denton police department in front of a fracksite.

Here is the original photo:  

June 1, 2015, Sergeant Jenkins thanks Adam Briggle for his service to the community before arresting him and two other members of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, Tara Linn Hunter and Niki Chochrek,  for criminal trespass. © 2015 Julie Dermansky

The photograph was taken on June 1, the date Vantage Energy announced it would resume fracking in Denton, making it the first company to frack inside the city limits since HB 40 became law.

That morning Briggle, along with Denton residents Niki Chochrek and Tara Linn Hunter, blocked the entrance to Vantage’s site in an act of civil disobedience. 

The Frackfeed meme suggests the transaction between Jenkins and Briggle was a photo opportunity; however Jenkins told DeSmog that the moment was authentic. 

Jenkins was well aware of the work Briggle and the others in the group had done to create the fracking ban, and thanked them for their service to Denton. After giving the group a chance to reconsider blocking the fracksite’s entrance, and they confirmed they would not leave voluntarily, Jenkins arrested them for criminal trespass.

Though they decided to break the law, they were polite and peaceful without offering any resistance,” he told DeSmog. “The protesters are merely citizens exercising their right to address a grievance with our local and state governments.” 

When Briggle saw the meme, he asked DeSmog if FrackFeed had permission to use the image. We confirmed to him the use was not authorized. Julie Dermansky, who shot the photo, would not grant permission to any group to use that image for commercial purposes without model releases. 

DeSmog asked Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for National Press Photographers Association, if FrackFeed’s use of the image was a copyright infringement or a fair use.

Though anyone can argue the image was posted for satirical use, it doesn't make it fair use,” Osterreicher said, “It is always best to ask permission to use a photograph.”

The fact they used that picture proves just how powerful that moment was,” Briggle said. “It captures the spirit of a community coming together in reasoned conviction to struggle for the right to author their own fate. Nothing they do can extinguish the flame of democracy and citizenship that has been sparked in Denton. “

The launch of the FrackFeed site resulted in some mentions in the press. “Fracking gets the Buzzfeed treatment,” a Politico headline read. A meme of “Obama’s interior secretary is definitely going to go viral,” the Dallas Observer wrote. 

However, a Google image search of the meme mentioned by the Dallas Observer revealed no evidence that the meme or any other memes on the site have gone viral. 

Not all Northern Texans are against fracking,” a report on News Fix CW 33, a company run by the Tribune said. “A new website called FrackFeed.com is dawning a pro-fracking platform! And they’re drilling their message home with the power of memes! Hey, who doesn’t love a good meme?” CW 33 asked. The station failed to answer that question or critique the memes themselves, which some argue not only lack humor but make no sense.

The meme that utilized DeSmogBlog’s photo was no longer on Frackfeed’s meme page  on  June 17th but a screenshot taken from News Fix CW 33 shows how the meme had appeared on Frackfeed.

Screen shot of a report  on News Fix CW 33 about Frackfeed

Everley described the site launch to DeSmog as a huge success. “We're getting fairly regular requests from media, bloggers, and everyday citizens to learn more. They’ve told us that it’s edgy, it’s funny, and it’s innovative.”

We have not paid any news outlet to run a story promoting the site,” Everley wrote when asked if FrackFeed paid for any infomercials.

DeSmog could not verify that before going to press. FrackFeed has done some advertising. Ads for the site pop up on some viewers’ screens before viewing other desired content online.

It is doubtful a website that mimics successful sites and lifts original content from other places will help the fracking industry convince the public to ignore mounting reports that fracking has a negative impact on air, water, and health.

Imposing messages on photos and listing things celebrities have said about the fracking industry — things that the industry would prefer the public not believe — is an improbable way to alter the growing public perception that fracking is not something anyone would want in their backyard. 

The industry-backed HB 40 legislation effectively overturned Denton’s fracking ban. Two weeks after Denton’s mayor disclosed that the city’s legal counsel advised that repealing the fracking ban is necessary in order to defeat HB 40, the city council voted to repeal the ban.  

Legal counsel for the Denton Drilling Awareness group and the city hope to overturn HB 40 in the courts in a yet to be determined way. But there is no doubt that HB 40 will be challenged by those who believe in home rules.