By Al Maiorino*
The battles between frac sand miners and the towns, cities,
counties and states that lie near the mines are well
In the US, moratoria have been
imposed on counties in Wisconsin and Minnesota for frac sand
mining, while outright bans on hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
exist in the state of New York, California, Pennsylvania,
Washington DC, Texas, Ohio, Hawaii, New Mexico and
Further afield, in Europe bans on
fracking exist in Spain, Germany and France.
While frac sand mining is not
without scrutiny in itself, in terms of public perception, it
is no secret that associated industries depending upon this
technology for gas extraction are also fighting the same
Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) battle.
Not only must frac sand mining
companies battle public opposition against their own
facilities, but as drilling companies face similar challenges,
industrial minerals which feed into the unconventional gas
industry such as bentonite, barite (barytes), borates and frac
sand risk a decline in demand as extraction sites lay dormant
due to public outcry.
Whether companies propose new frac
sand facilities or new drill sites, all must prepare
political-style campaigns that strategically introduce a
proposal to the community to build support and ease public
opposition that can halt operations entirely.
On such occasions, the only form of
extraction taking place is of companies time and
resources in drawn-out hearing processes and legal battles that
prevent localities, states and counties from benefiting from
critical energy resources.
Frac sand mining facilities
throughout the US continue to endure costly delays in the
approval process and even, once approved, interruptions of mine
Nowhere is this more apparent than
in the state of Wisconsin, which holds the largest number of
frac sand mines, as opponents urge legislators to take
action to prevent new frac sand mining opportunities from
coming to fruition.
This opposition has negative
implications for economic opportunities within the state. This
may be in the form of curtailing jobs and revenue locally, as
well as broader implications for Americas energy
This is by no means unique to the
US. In Germany a new proposal surfaced in July to prohibit
fracking for economic purposes all together until 2021.
News reports indicate that Germany
imports 90% of its gas supply, which means that the need to tap
into the countrys shale gas supply is immediate, given
the recent threat of Russian sanctions (see pp60-66),
which could extend to the gas giants natural
Whether opposition aims to block
mining of frac sands, or the process of fracking entirely, one
thing remains the same, and that is that wherever a drilling or
mining site is proposed, companies must be proactive and
aggressive in community education, engagement and
Be assured, the denser the country,
the less likely it is for an industry to slip in
under the radar. The UK, for example, is one of the densest
countries in the European Union in terms of population, and as
of 2010, the UK had 40 different silica sand mines in
operation. As a result of this high population density, many
extraction sites are located on private land in settled
communities. NIMBY-ism should be of major concern to every
driller looking to extract from the country, making strategic
public outreach an imperative.
The rollout of a public affairs
campaign for any new project is the one of the most crucial
aspects of a successful outreach movement to immediately
identify supporters. A campaign can be initiated with a variety
of communications techniques, including direct mailing, paid
advertising and telephone outreach calls.
Direct mailing is an effective way
to disseminate proposal details and information on how to help
support the proposal whilst outlining community and national
benefits. An initial mailer should include a tear-off mail-in
section with a space for supporters to provide their contact
information for follow up as well as allowing readers to act
immediately after reading about the project benefits.
Following up the mailer with
outreach phone calls allows for a short persuasive script that
asks directly if supporters will write a letter or attend a
meeting in support of the proposal. Equally, with the launch of
cost effective web ads that link directly to a project website,
digital news consumers will also be engaged right from the
When a company secures the right to
operate on a piece of land, their best move is to create a
dialogue with their new neighbours. An open house style event
hosted by experts and company contact personnel allows for a
casual setting in which community members questions can
be answered on an individual basis. An open house event is a
more approachable format as opponents cannot interrupt, as in a
presentation style meeting, since attendees communicate
directly with the experts on issues about which they are most
concerned or interested.
Organising and managing a
A requirement for every successful
project is an organised supporter database that includes names,
phone numbers, addresses, email addresses and coded responses
to phone calls and mailer returns.
The database can also be expanded
to include district, party identification, income and other
demographics to target communication in a particular way, if
Beyond keeping supporters updated
in real time, according to PEW Research Center, 43% of social
network users sought more information based on social media
advocacy posts aimed at mobilisation and 18% of social network
users actually took action based on these posts. Therefore,
social media engagement can translate to meaningful action as
opposed to one extra like on a page. When armed
with the right tools, supporters will speak out to refute myths
and promote project benefits for a proposal.
Regular supporter meetings should
be held for all those identified after initial outreach and
throughout the duration of the campaign. These meetings should
kick off letter writing drives and provide details that will
help expand the advocacy network.
Every town meeting should be filled
with industry supporters to remind public officials that it is
the public to which they are beholden. Third party meetings are
also critical in gaining the support of key community
stakeholders, business groups, industry vendors and employees.
Useful fact sheets for these third party meetings should offer
a succinct presentation of project information and hearing
Now is the time for industrial
mineral companies to plan for engagement instead of assuming
opponents will focus efforts further down the line with
fracking sites. If frac sand mine proposals are properly
introduced and public affairs is strategically executed,
quality supporters will back the proposal for the company, and
communities will begin to understand the benefits of industrial
mineral mines in their towns.
*Al Maiorino is the president
of Public Strategy Group, which he founded in 1995. He has
developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs
campaigns in a variety of industries including power plants,
wind farms and frac sand projects.