A new approach on fracking
Our Director Andy Maciver looks at the communications behind fracking ahead of an industry event.
When in a hole, stop digging. This may not be an obvious mantra for the Scottish onshore gas extraction industry, and I certainly wouldn’t advise it when it comes to the business end of their work.
However, in respect of the industry’s external communications, a short period of silence, during which a new strategy is agreed, would be most welcome.
I understand why being a supporter of so-called unconventional gas extraction in Scotland is frustrating. I share those frustrations. It is infuriating to witness the clout exercised by those who claim extraordinary safety concerns without rebuke. It is galling to see the albeit worthy opposition of those who want fossil fuels to stay in the ground unchallenged by the reality of the energy gap and the absence of base load capacity we are facing.
But the industry needs to understand that, at least in part, it is the architect of its own troubles in Scotland. Troubles created by a failure to engage in the right kind of PR and public affairs.
Let’s start with a truism. Fracking has not been banned in Scotland. It has had a moratorium placed upon it.
So, the first question the industry has to ask itself it: “Why did the Scottish Government not just ban it?” And the answer is “because they haven’t decided yet”. Too many people in the industry behave as though it has already been banned, and like to have a good old whine about it, rather than looking for ways to change the debate in their favour.
That leads us to the second question: “What does the Scottish Government need in order to give fracking the go-ahead?”. This is the crucial question, and it is the question to which the industry is persistently and emphatically giving the wrong answer.
The answer to the question is much simpler than people seem to think. It is: “They need it to be more popular”. I suspect that the Scottish Government is not particularly concerned about the scientific or safety aspect of fracking – everyone who looks at this free from dogma or emotion knows that it is as safe as any other well-regulated industry of its type. Nor will the Government recoil about the fact that they’d be authorising use of a fossil fuel – this is the party which for 40 years has based its economic case for independence on the North Sea.
Instead, the primary driver for the Government’s decision-making process on fracking is public opinion. This should be hardly surprising – policy opinion is, and should be, a key driver for any government’s policy.
The truth is that fracking is becoming more and more unpopular in Scotland because the industry is engaging in amateur and counter-productive media and political relations.
If I could give the fracking industry one message it would be this: almost every piece of media relations and political relations work you currently engage in reduces the chances of fracking happening in Scotland. It targets the wrong audience and its tone is aggressive to the point where even those on the fence are beginning to turn into ‘antis’.
It needs to re-think its approach immediately.
The industry has a set of key messages which are clear, easy and compelling. Scotland needs gas and there are only two ways to get it. We either buy it in, or we use our own stuff and in the process create thousands of jobs, boost inward investment and reduce the price of our energy.
Most industries would kill for a message that simple. It’s time we made it work, probably through a trade association, starting in communities which stand to benefit and quietly, calmly spreading the message up from there.
You haven’t lost yet. But if you don’t change, then you will.