Gas industry officials talk of ‘insurgents’ and ‘psyops’ in dealing with citizenry
CNBC aired a story last week about an oil and gas conference on media and stakeholder relations, where anti-drilling activists were characterized as “insurgents.” Unfriendly residents, who show their displeasure at drilling in more subtle ways, were accused of treating the oil and gas workers like “occupiers” of their homeland.
In a session on how industry operators are developing a “Comprehensive Media Strategy to Engage Stakeholders and Educate the Public,” Andarko Petroleum Manager of External Relations Matt Carmichael recommended that company operatives “download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, because we are dealing with an insurgency.”
The counterinsurgency manual, according to its writers, strikes “a balance between the discriminate targeting of irreconcilable insurgents and the persuasion of less-committed enemies to give up the fight with the political, economic, and informational elements of power.”
At a session on strategizing to ease residents’ concerns about hydraulic fracturing, Range Resources Communications Director Matt Pitzarella told the audience, “We have several former psyops folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments. All they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of psy-ops in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.”
Transcripts of the conference were provided to CNBC by Sharon Wilson, director of the environmental group Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “This was crossing a line — they considered it was (war) on the American people, sort of like they are going in and occupying our land — which is what they are doing.”
When CNBC called to ask Pitzarella about his remarks, he toned down his rhetoric. The “several former psyops folks” of the transcript became “one employee who ... has a background in psychological operations in the Army.”
Pitzarella also distanced himself from Carmichael’s use of the term “insurgency.” “You’re not dealing with insurgents, you’re dealing with regular people who live in towns and want to know what you’re doing,” he said.
Carmichael said his “comment was simply suggesting industry embrace a broader move toward more active community engagement and increased transparency, as it’s very important to build fact-based knowledge to maintain public trust amidst special interests that often use misinformation to create fear”
However, when the Dallas News asked Wilson if the comments were taken out of context, she insisted they were not. “It was absolutely a theme throughout the whole thing of enlist neighbors who have an incentive and get them to deliver your message to their neighbors,” she said. “More than just the two Matts referred to the American public as insurgents.”
To further complicate the damage control efforts, “a spokesman for the industry group, Energy in Depth, said Carmichael’s comments about an “insurgency,” were meant as a joke. “There are no black helicopters here,” he said.
But psyops do not need black helicopters.
“My job in psyops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave,” said Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of a unit reprimanded after refusing orders to run a psychological operation against American VIPs visiting Kabul. “I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line.”
Have oil and gas companies crossed the line by employing psyop strategies and techniques against American citizens? The industry says not, but can we trust them? I believe misinformation is as fundamental to energy industry public relations as to military-type psyops propaganda.
People who believe they are being fed misinformation by the drilling companies should demand an investigation of the Earthworks charges. If they prove true, the oil and gas industry should be held accountable for its use of military propaganda techniques against ordinary citizens who resist oil and gas development.