A PowerPoint presentation by the fossil fuel industry front group Your Energy—obtained and published Tuesday by the Huffington Post—revealed an orchestrated plan to create a fake grassroots organization as a way to promote natural gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing as a safe energy source.
The August presentation, which was briefly available on the website of the American Gas Association (AGA)—which lobbies on behalf of the fracking industry—outlined the group's "astroturfing" strategy, which includes using social media to attack opponents while also reaching out to supporters and those it calls "persuadables."
The group, dubbed "Your Energy" by its creators, features a national organization plus state chapters in Virginia and Connecticut, and has the dual mission of generating support for natural gas endeavors among members of the public while also providing assistance to member companies. Its infrastructure, according to the presentation, includes a resources portal as well as a "digital war room" that tracks organized opposition to constructing more pipelines.
A key component of the group's campaign is the appearance of grassroots support, as HuffPost explains:
Your Energy now claims it has recruited roughly 10,000 supporters to advocate for its companies and counter protesters who warn that new pipelines threaten to exacerbate climate change, cause environmental damage and violate landowners' property rights. The registration number signals the organization's ramped-up effort to shore up political support for new pipeline projects and tip the scales in favor of corporations that already wield disproportionate clout.
Your Energy builds on a longstanding effort by the fossil fuel industry to paint itself as a mere ideological rival to environmental groups at the opposite end of a political horseshoe. That narrative attempts to reframe the argument against pipelines around jobs and economic development rather than environmental concerns, ignoring the power disparity between deep-pocketed corporate giants and environmental nonprofits.
However, rather than organizing demonstrations on the ground, like those who have protested day and night against the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, Your Energy's campaign seems rather contained to the internet, especially social media.
"For them, it's like, 'We have to do something, we have to counter this narrative, or at least we have to muddy the waters and make it seem like there's protests on both sides,'" said Josh Stanfield, executive director of the anti-pipeline group Activate Virginia. " You have to be suspicious because there's a clear motive on why they would set up a bullshit front organization for PR purposes."
"Do they serve any purpose other than simply being a form of crisis communications, like a PR response?" Stanfield added. "They definitely serve a purpose simply by existing so the industry can say there's grassroots energy on our side, too, so they can make that argument and point to something as existing."
The HuffPost also obtained a second Powerpoint, which focused specifically on the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge. The October presentation, titled "Proactive Strategies for Securing Infrastructure," simply contained a few maps of the company's pipelines and several quotes from past presidents such as Lincoln and Washington. The final slide listed Your Energy as one of its supporters, under the title "sustained advocacy campaigns."
In response to the HuffPost article, Sierra Club issued this warning:
— Sierra Club (@SierraClub) December 5, 2017