In the court of public opinion, "the right technical solution can come second to public opinion," said Richard Davies of the Durham Energy Institute at the University of Durham (England), at the featured speaker luncheon at the 2011 AAPG International Conference and Exhibition in Milan.
"Public opinion could kill shale gas," he said.
So what does it take for the petroleum industry to avoid the political and financial backlash in a harsh public relations climate – especially in the debate over the fracking of shales?
Davies noted the importance of "selling" the idea of shale production, because of the huge resource it provides as well as its impact on jobs, tax revenue and the general boost to the economy.
He also noted there are different approaches to the shale conversation on a country-by-country and state-by-state basis, since "there are different drivers in a changing landscape and the need for shale gas varies."
Davies admits he doesn't have all the answers, but his experience with the 2006 Lusi mud volcano blowout in Indonesia did teach some lessons.
According to Davies, who was at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the Lusi incident, the debate over whether the cause was by an earthquake or by drilling for oil was conducted with a 99 percent certainty it was caused by drilling.
One of the lessons of Lusi is for the industry to admit there are "black swan" unpredictable events that can occur – as well as that there have been some operations issues in the past.
He strongly suggests looking for earlystage consultation on the up-front of a project with science injected into the public debate with the goal being buy-in from all groups. "A collective approach is required to reverse the growing concerns of the public," he said.
Davies also noted that engaging in the collaboration, "You must accept that the result of the consultation is not what you wanted – or expected."
– LARRY NATION