Mainstream media coverage of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale has turned negative, according to a recent study conducted by a Pennsylvania-based public relations firm in conjunction with a Marcellus online discussion forum.
"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 5 being the most positive sentiment and negative 5 being the lowest sentiment," said PR firm Gregory FCA Communications, which did the study with the website GoMarcellusShale.com.
The survey includes "sentiment reporting" by energy type, development method and companies. It used Nielsen BuzzMetrics to cull more than 45,000 traditional media sources and more than 150 million social media sources, including blogs, blog comments, message boards, forums, Facebook and Twitter.
The survey showed that the Marcellus drew 56,625 comments over the past year, more than the online and media interest shown in the eight other major U.S. shale plays, Gregory FCA said.
As a point of comparison, the 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, according to the survey.
The Marcellus Shale scored 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, Gregory FCA said.
"Clearly, traditional media has been persuaded by environmental groups as well as broad-based media vehicles -- such as the Oscar-nominated documentary 'Gasland' [see Shale Daily, Feb. 16]," said Keith Mauck, publisher of GoMarcellusShale.com. "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 social media -- such as GoMarcellusShale.com -- is nearly twice as positive as 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 Gregory FCA President Greg Matusky. "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, Matusky said, noting recent New York Times coverage of the Marcellus (see Shale Daily, March 1). "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," he said.