Fracking fervor

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This is St Andrews: many of you reading this are destined to become CEOs of huge corporations some day. In preparation, I present to you a lesson in dealing with pesky activists.

Greenpeace’s Facebook image announces “plans to frack ⅔ of England revealed.” The statement, combined with a bad photoshop of David Cameron in a stetson, has gained them viral publicity, a lot of Likes and an apparent groundswell of opinion.

You are the boss of Cuadrilla, or some other major oil and gas corporation.  what do you do to fight this?

Well, let’s first consider the methods the activists use. Anti-fracking campaigns like the American website http://www.dangersoffracking.com give statistics such as, “It takes 1-8 million gallons of water to complete each fracturing job”. The idea being that by exposing the numbers, they make it obvious that fracking is a menace. Eight million gallons? That sounds bad.

But how much is eight million gallons, really? They omit a lot of details – is it 1-8 million gallons of water per day, per month, in total? One million gallons of water would fill a ten foot deep swimming pool the size of a football pitch. Eight football pitches is a lot of water, sure, but not as much as “8 million gallons” sounds like.

A common tactic is to cite a “concern”. For example, a “concern” that fracking could cause earthquakes. Concerns are very different from facts. People had concerns that the CERN particle accelerator would create a black hole that would engulf the planet, it didn’t mean it was ever going to happen and it didn’t mean that CERN stopped their work. Campaigners can have a “concern” about anything, share it to blogs and newspapers and gain a lot of publicity, often for nothing more than blind speculation.

Another key word is “potentially”. ⅔ of England’s countryside could “potentially” be peppered with fracking drills. It doesn’t mean it will. After all, by pushing Stevie Wonder off a bridge, you could “potentially” help him discover his long dormant power of flight, but that probably won’t happen, not unless you’re into superstitions (writings on the wall).

As a CEO, these techniques might seem familiar. You advertise moisturiser as a cream that “helps” smooth the appearance of wrinkles; Cuadrilla themselves promote that their business “could” create 5,600 jobs. Greenpeace has turned your tactics against you.

You have to present your side of the argument. Your company website should give statistics that are bent in your favour. It’s like the university prospectus – paste in dozens of pictures of people in gowns walking round St Salvator’s, cut out any images of the half-built Union or Andrew Melville Hall – show your best side.

The argument then boils down to, which does the public trust more? The half-truths of the activists or those of your corporation?

What can you do to persuade the public? Here is where Cuadrilla pulls a masterstroke:

They do nothing.

They don’t publish an impassioned treatise in favour of fracking, they don’t get angry and they don’t react to the bad press. Their website boring, just a collection of dull numbers and facts, because here’s the secret – who cares about public opinion?

Greenpeace could have a trillion Likes and it wouldn’t matter. A Facebook Like is not worth much – no-one sits at their computer seriously considering the repercussions of Liking something, they merely ‘click’ and move onto the next status update. In a week, they will have forgotten all about fracking and will be furious about some other campaign.

You do, however, need to worry about politicians, as they make the decisions. Luckily, you have a lot more in common with them than you do the public. Keep your MP sweet by buying him rounds of drinks at the golf club and you will get your way in the end. The only time the politicians will turn on you is if you do react to the activists and create a PR disaster that can’t be brushed under the rug.

Budding Chief Executives, that is how you beat Greenpeace. Keep calm, let the commoners write angry blogs and print off as many “Frack Off” signs as they desire. Don’t get drawn into a fight. You just have to wait until they get bored and move on to the next fad anger – like, I dunno, polar bears or something.

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