Shale gas industry shoots for social media revamp, critics not convinced

screen capture of forum schiste website

screen capture of forum schiste website

Canada’s shale gas industry is turning to social media for a cure to its tattered public image in Quebec, according to the Canadian Press. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has contracted the services of social media company Parta Dialogue to create, a website billed as a place to discuss issues and share information about shale gas.

With the official launch of the website set for Tuesday, one of the industry’s most vocal critics, the Association Québecoise de Lutte Contre la Pollution Atmosphérique (AQLPA) is already calling into question the motives of the effort. “Is this looking at environmental questions or is this damage control?” said Kim Cornelissen of the AQLPA in a phone interview.

Two rounds of vocal public hearings, a march through Quebec culminating in a large rally in Montreal and reports of gas leaks in wells have left the shale gas industry reeling in the province over the last year.

Still, Stéphane Gosselin, head of the Association Pétrolière et Gazière du Québec (APGQ) told the Canadian Press that the new site is not intended to restore the image of the shale gas industry in Quebec, but was built as “way to dialogue.”

Questions have also been raised about the neutrality of the site, given that it is funded by the CAPP. Cornelissen added that environmental and community organizations were not consulted in the development of the social media space. Parta Dialogue, the site’s creator, has stated that the site is intended to allow open and respectful dialogue between all stakeholders.

The website is already active online and features several videos from Gosselin, as well as two from the head of Greenpeace Quebec, Éric Darier.

Cornelissen, however, isn’t convinced the site will do much to change public opinion. “This is not a question of public opinion; this is a question of public health and the environment,” she said.   “It’s like talking about the problem of a single cigarette instead of questioning the practice of smoking in general.”

Gosselin also said the site is targeting “moderates” with “good information” and seeks to “demystify” shale gas. But Cornelissen said she has been impressed with how informed citizens have been, especially those most affected by shale gas exploration.

As for the government’s role, Cornelissen and Quebecers will keep waiting for the results the of the strategic environmental evaluation on shale gas, whose committee came under scrutiny in June due to conflicts of interest.   Jean-Yves Lavoie, president of the oil and gas company Junex, stepped down from the committee under pressure from several groups, though others in similar circumstances remained.

While the industry is hoping for a fresh start with the public, it may already be too late in many parts of Quebec. Cornelissen and the AQLPA are already looking forward to the growth of and continued government investment in the biogas sector and point to companies like Gaz Métro that are getting involved. Biogas is natural gas captured from decaying organic matter, including food and farm waste.

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