Gas games 

“Citizens” is slick advertising.

click to enlarge GAS IS GREAT: 'Citizens' a love letter for shale.
  • GAS IS GREAT: 'Citizens' a love letter for shale.

If you're a regular local TV viewer, chances are you've happened across the 30-minute “Citizens of the Shale” infomercial which began running on Little Rock's four major stations in mid-July and will run through September. Produced by Chesapeake Energy, the commercial features people from the areas affected by drilling in the Fayetteville Shale, a deposit of oil-and-gas bearing rock that cuts a swath across the northern part of the state.

The video is the follow-up to another Citizens of the Shale infomercial produced by Chesapeake for air in Fort Worth, Texas, where the Barnett Shale lies largely under the city. This fall, Chesapeake has announced, it will take its advertising efforts one step further, airing content on its own web television channel — www.shale.tv — which will provide original content and coverage of events like government meetings that have ramifications for shale drilling.

Though Chesapeake says on its website that the “Citizens” commercials were produced by an independent team that was allowed to draw its own conclusions, given that the campaign was paid for by a major corporation, you can probably guess whose side it tends to root for. With the look of a newsmagazine piece and former KTHV anchor Anne Jansen serving as host, the Arkansas-themed video is a love song for the gas industry, and it makes a really good sell. Happy store owners in towns like Searcy talk about what a boon drilling has been to their businesses. Realtors and community leaders gush over how the influx of jobs and money has seemingly made those areas immune to the recent fiscal slowdown in the national economy. Ranchers smile about great new gravel roads and fat royalty checks, while workers talk of being hired before they even finish their training to work on a drilling rig. The water being pulled from the Little Red and other rivers? No problem, “Citizens” says; that's just “excess water” that their studies have shown the ecosystem didn't need anyway — water that would have went down the river to the deep blue sea, gone forever. The roads and infrastructure buckling under truck and heavy equipment traffic? Again, no problem. Chesapeake is going to fix anything it breaks.

To its credit, Chesapeake is making an attempt to address community concerns. It could have taken the approach of its competitors, which seems largely to be: Let the complainers complain — it's not like they can do anything about it anyway. Too, producers of “Citizens” do at least make mention of some of the stickier wickets of drilling — noise, traffic, roads — but mostly it's so more happy folks (many of them financially plugged into the shale in one form or another) can tell about how it's not all that bad.

Mark Raines, the Arkansas spokesman for Chesapeake, said that the piece is all about letting the people who are part of the shale boom show their pride at being part of the solution to America's energy concerns. If the piece looks like a news report, he said, that's because it's performing the same function. “That's what news reports are, a chance to talk about the facts,” he said. “We think the piece does a good job of presenting the facts.” Raines said that the charge — oft repeated in our earshot, anyway — that the piece is corporate propaganda is unfounded. If that was true, he said, “Citizens” would only talk about the most positive side of shale — the economic benefits, for instance — while ignoring the more controversial ramifications. “We want to give people what they need to make an informed decision about shale,” he said.  

Kate Altoff, chair of the Little Rock chapter of the Sierra Club, said that while she hopes Chesapeake will keep the environmental promises it makes in “Citizens,” she expects to be disappointed. She said that the slick infomercial is just business as usual. “The gas companies are doing what corporate America so often does, which is to spend a lot of this profit getting their message out,” she said. “They remind me of things I've seen at the state legislature. Have you ever seen a piece of legislation with a wonderful title that makes it sound like the community's interests are the highest regard, and then you start reading the bill and you find out it's totally a special interest bill? That's what their media reminds me of.”


Bad news, neighbors. PBS will stop airing daily reruns of “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.”  Back in May, the network told affiliates it will be sending them only one episode per week starting in September. Sigh.

Fred Rogers, the gentle, sweater-wearing host of the show, retired in 2001, and passed away in 2003. A movement is afoot to save the daily airing of the show, however: www.savemisterrogers.com.


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