Thursday’s post on Hiram’s public fracking meeting mainly covered residents’ interaction with local officials. The bigger part of the meeting, though, featured two speakers with ties to the oil and gas industry.
A representative from the company Mountaineer Keystone (MK) made a few opening remarks. He then turned things over to Rhonda Reda of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP ), a group that is “funded exclusively by Ohio’s crude oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners.”
As the MK rep goes through his introduction a resident asks (begins1 at 1:10) “Can’t we start out with questions from the floor?” From the reaction it was clear at least some in the audience were in favor. There was a real concern that what was about to commence was a dog and pony show that would eat up precious time and do nothing to quiet any concerns.
Now, the speakers clearly had spent time on their presentations and wanted to go through them in an orderly way. I can understand their concern that a free for all might cause their carefully prepared remarks to get jumbled. But surely there were options beside a rigid adherence to the game plan and chaos, no? Couldn’t the MK rep or Reda have started with five minutes of questions from the most concerned citizens, then gone through their material?
Apparently not, because the rep responds “I think we’re going to go with education first.” And with that Reda takes over. Many in the crowd really wanted to start off with questions, though. One resident says (same clip as above, 2:29):
I have questions and I know other people in the audience have questions that I can assure you will not be in your talk. And I can assure you that the majority of the people in this room who are not from Mountaineer Keystone…
At which point a town trustee interrupts and assures her all her questions will be answered by the educational material. Many were not so sure, though, as represented by this exchange (starts at 3:50):
REDA: A lot of the people here may not have heard or seen some of this, and so I do want to try and address their questions as well…
CITIZEN: Sounds like a filibuster to me.
REDA: Excuse me?
CITIZEN: It sounds like a filibuster to me – spending time…we already told you. You say that you want to start with education. We don’t…
REDA: Ma’am, anybody that wants…
CITIZEN: Who wants to start with questions? [scattered applause]
REDA: In order to ask an educated question you have to be educated on the subject, and based on the number of hands you do not have to stay. If you’ve already listened to this you do not have to stay for this, but there’s a lot of people that requested this presentation and this educational format2. So if you’re not interested in it, you are welcome to leave [gestures to exit], but I am going to go through this and try to address a lot of the questions.
If you haven’t watched any of the video clips at this point, please try to if you can. No one asking questions does so with the slightest bit of menace. There is no violence or threat of violence, no one gets into her personal space, no one does so much as point an aggressive finger in her direction. Yet when another audience member challenges her qualifications, she has him thrown out. She then takes on an air of wounded grievance and indulges in some dramatic, persecuted rhetoric (start of clip):
I’m going to apologize to folks and explain to you why I have asked for police officers to be here. I’m a mom. I’ve got two kids. My son I just dropped off at Kent State, if any of you are Kent State fans, he’ll be playing football at Kent State. I plan on seeing my son’s football games. I also have a daughter who just got engaged. I plan on being at her wedding. Unfortunately at some of these public events we have been aggressively approached, we’ve had death threats and other things just explaining the science. It is my family’s request that these officers are here, and it’s the only way I agreed to continue doing these presentations, which is a shame that here in the country I have to have security officers to explain the process.
To me that’s just a cheap psychological ploy to try and gain sympathy from the crowd and stifle dissent. I don’t know if the former happened but the latter sure did. It is abundantly clear throughout the entire presentation that she is never in the slightest danger, yet she invokes the specter of physical assault – and even death. Whatever the intent, it had the effect of completely shutting down citizens at a public meeting. In my book that’s not someone dealing in good faith.
As you might imagine, the rest of her speech was uneventful. There are more clips from the night at the Shalersville Against Fracking site (click on the You Tube icon to go to our channel), and while I did not record the entire presentation there should be enough video to give you a sense of its tone and viewpoint.
I’ll just leave you with a visual editorial moment. Reda seemed to assume there was a silent majority of the room on her side, that those who were speaking out were just a handful of malcontents in a sea of supporters. Here’s a clip of one of those silent supporters taking out a cell phone and killing time with a game of solitaire while Reda was educating us.
No one was asking questions, though. Mission accomplished.
1. As with last week, I once again apologize for the quality of the clips. I was using a small handheld recorder and also trying to wrangle a bored and restless child (citizen journalism!); please excuse the occasional wandering view and quiet audio.
2. I’m not sure how many people requested that particular educational format – none of the residents I was aware of did – but those who felt a little dubious about it had reason to feel that way. Some of the material was almost crazily broad and unsupported. One of the slides basically read (and this is only a slight exaggeration):
Here are some jobs that pay a lot of money!