Thursday, March 31, 2011

Marcellus Shale Takes Public Relations Hit

New Study from Gregory FCA and Shows Marcellus Shale Continues to Take Hit in Public Opinion

A recent survey of Marcellus Shale public opinion, conducted by Gregory FCA and, reveals that this vital source of domestic clean energy continues to take a public opinion thumping as traditional media reporting turns negative toward development of natural gas in the Appalachian Basin.

The study—which used Nielsen BuzzMetrics to cull more than 45,000 traditional media sources and over 150 million social media sources, including blogs, blog comments, message boards, forums, Facebook and Twitter—shows that the interest in Marcellus Shale by the media and general public is immense, drawing some 56,625 comments over the past year, more than the online and media interest shown in the eight other major shale plays throughout the United States.

While the interest is intense, the public sentiment toward Marcellus Shale development is exceedingly negative, compared to other shale plays. In fact, in traditional media, Marcellus Shale proves to be a lightning rod for negative press reports, with a positive sentiment of only 1.1 on a 10-point scale with five being the most positive sentiment and negative 5 being the lowest sentiment. As a point of comparison, Niobrara and Bakken Shale plays scored positive sentiments in the traditional media over the past year, with 5 and 4.5, respectively. Only the Utica Shale play scored more negative sentiment in traditional media, with a negative 1.5 sentiment in traditional press.

Interestingly, Marcellus Shale showed higher public sentiment in the digital domain, scoring nearly double the positive sentiment in online comments—a positive 2.8 sentiment in social media compared to 1.1 positive sentiment in traditional media.

“Clearly, traditional media has been persuaded by environmental groups as well as broad-based media vehicles—such as the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘Gasland,’” says Keith Mauck, the publisher of “This has had a corrosive effect on the public opinion of Marcellus Shale, penetrating the reporting by mainstream media and tainting their worldview of the issue.”

At the same time, sentiment in user-generated content—social media—is nearly twice as positive than comments and reporting in traditional media.

“That’s an interesting and counterintuitive conclusion, particularly considering that environmental groups are typically savvy social networkers who know how to get their message out online,” says Greg Matusky, President of Gregory FCA, one of the nation’s 50 largest public relations agencies. “It tells me that while the media is decidedly negative, citizens and supporters of natural gas development in the Appalachian Basin have found a place online to voice their support, a place that’s unfiltered by reporters and editors. It also suggests that the industry has not done a good enough job of communicating facts to traditional media.”

Conversely, industry groups may have found an effective way of countermining traditional media reporting.

“The recent New York Times expose comes immediately to mind,” says Matusky. “The article, which reported on groundwater contamination by Marcellus Shale development, was strongly attacked online by industry groups. Our study shows that this kind of rapid response through unfiltered and direct channels can affect public opinion.”

What is not so clear, however, is whether more positive online sentiment will eventually affect traditional media coverage and convince reporters and editors that domestic, clean energy, if developed responsibly, represents a major energy advance for America.

“The stakes are high—as evidenced this month when America went to war arguably over Mideast oil and on the heels of a nuclear disaster in Japan,” says Mauck. “America’s future depends on an effective, long-term energy policy, and public opinion weighs heavily in the direction of that policy, which is why this study is so timely and important for our nation.”

The study, which includes sentiment reporting by energy type, development method, and company players, can be downloaded at

Interesting thoughts in the comment section. I for one blame the New York Times.

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