Fracking comes to my back yard

Sometime in the wee hours I woke up to an unfamiliar sound. At first I thought it was the furnace malfunctioning, but walking around the house I realized it came from outside. It sounded vaguely like the highway noise we occasionally hear from I-35E, but it was too loud and too steady, with occasional pounding sounds. Certain that nothing was wrong with the house I went back to bed, but when I awoke this morning the sound was still there, still loud, still annoying.

I stepped out on the patio and looked toward South Lakes park, where I had recently seen some drilling rigs on the Acme Brick property on the other side of the park. The rigs were gone but the noise appeared to come from there.

Source: Denton Gas Well Sites (markup is mine)

Bill and I decided to take advantage of the 65 degree weather and walk the dog at the park. Sure enough, the roaring noise was coming from the other side of a “sound barrier” around the gas well. I recorded it and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. I’m told what we’re hearing are probably the pressure pumps and the diesel engines that run them.

This is a lovely park, with a popular jogging and bike trail as well as natural areas abundant with wildlife. We’ve seen wild turkeys there. People eat the fish from the well-stocked lakes. The nearby McMath Middle School students use the park and jogging path for sports and PE classes. Their football team practices near the well. An apartment complex backs up to the property very near to another well.

Later, while watching the Kentucky basketball game with the volume quite loud I could still hear the noise, so I stepped out on the patio to record it. It’s appropriate to mention that, based on Google Maps, this drill pad is about 3,000 feet from my house. That’s at least half a mile.

My Fracking Evolution

I lived in Houston for 18 years and even worked in the energy industry. I’ve always been a fan of natural gas because it is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and can be extracted from the ground with minimal environmental impact.


Or so I thought when I moved to Denton in 2005 and heard lots of complaining about “fracking.” We live over the Barnett Shale, and gas wells were popping up in downtown Fort Worth and Arlington, and all around Denton County and Denton. My reaction to all the complaints was “Whiners. There are far worse things you could have in your back yard than a gas well.” And that’s true in places like Houston where the gas is formed in pockets in the earth or salt domes. But extracting shale gas from the ground is very different, and it’s taken me a few years to learn about it. Still, I considered it somebody else’s problem.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process by which gas, trapped in shale, is removed from the ground and brought to the surface. This is done by pumping water, sand and chemicals into the well to break up the shale and free the gas. Contamination of groundwater, air emissions, re-injection of drilling waste and earthquakes are among the concerns of people living in drilling areas. And right now, 9 out of 10 gas wells in the United States involve fracking, according to an article by ProPublica.

Gas drilling is so pervasive in our area that the Denton Record-Chronicle, in partnership with Mayborn School of Journalism graduate students, produced an award-winning series called “Citizens of the Shale” in 2012. It focused on the people affected by the industry, the regulatory climate, and other issues. It’s worth the time to read it.

Before gas wells started sprouting around town the biggest polluter in town was Acme Brick, which supplies more than a third of the Toxic Release Inventory emissions in Denton County. Their compliance has improved, thanks to installation of new scrubbers on their stacks several years ago ahead of an enforcement schedule.

Photo (c) David Minton, Denton Record-Chronicle

While Acme Brick appears to be doing its part to be a good neighbor, the driller on their property, Eagle Ridge, apparently has not. A recent blog highlighted issues faced by a neighborhood near an EagleRidge site adjacent to the UNT campus. While writing this blog I found other blogs and blog posts dedicated to the drilling issue in Denton, which at one time imposed a moratorium on gas drilling. There’s even a blog post about the well that woke me up this morning. Recently the city council has been inconsistent in the messages it sends via votes, such as this recent zoning change that could allow houses as close as 250 feet from wells. It’s enough to make your head spin.

All Fracked Up?

There’s too much to say about this dilemma in one short blog post. I’ve passively watched it play out, and while I was quoted in a Denton Record-Chronicle article by Peggy Heinkle-Wolfe and Lowell Brown about unscrupulous public relations practices by the fracking industry, I really wasn’t paying much attention to the issue.

Until I was awakened by roaring and thumping in the wee hours of a Saturday morning.

This won’t be my last post on this topic.

Blogs I am now following:

TXSharon BlueDaze Drilling Reform blog includes an incredible list of blogs and resources on this topic.
Denton Drilling is a local blog by a UNT professor who also writes for Slate.
City Councilman Kevin Roden’s blog often covers gas drilling issues.
Denton Citizens for Responsible Urban Drilling has a great blog and possibly the best acronym (DCRUD) ever.
Denton Drilling Awareness Group has an informative website.
Shale Stories by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, reporter for the Denton Record-Chronicle.
Barnett Shale blog by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Fracking uses a lot of water, so I’ve bookmarked the Texas Drought Project.

The Seismic Shift in Public Relations Measurement

Over the past few years the world of public relations has gone through a radical change in the way program success is measured. The days of measuring how much space your press release occupied in the paper and calculating how much it would have cost to buy an equivalent sized ad are fading fast (for the most part). Ad Value Equivalency has been considered a bogus means of measuring public relations success for a variety of reasons. The simplest reason I cite is it assumes an ad can be purchased and placed in that location in the paper. This is not usually the case with front page stories. More important, AVE doesn’t measure any business outcomes–the number of widgets sold, for example.

The use of AVE in PR measurement has been debated for decades, and was questioned as far back as 1949. This article by Professor Tom Watson gives a history of AVE and its controversial evolution and (I hope) demise. It is still in use. Many executives and nonprofit board members insist on it because it’s simple to understand. Respected monitoring companies still use it, mainly to keep their competitors from stealing customers who insist on AVE as a measurement tool. But even they admit it’s bogus.

Things got serious in 2010 with the acceptance of the Barcelona Principles, which sound like an international treaty or trade agreement, but are the results of a major international effort to build industry consensus on measurement.

Working from that document, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications just released The PR Professional’s Definitive Guide to Measurement. The entire history of its development is long, and thoughtful. This is not a snap judgment by any means. It’s a seismic shift in communications evaluation. And it applies to social media as well.

A vocal proponent of outcome-based PR measurement is K.D. Paine, whose blog, The Measurement Standard, is a must-read for anybody in a field even remotely related to public relations.

Back in June she posted about The Conclave, a group of cross-industry professionals hammering out vendor-neutral standards for social media measurement. While these are not finalized yet, it looks like the world of public relations and the world of social media are getting their respective acts together regarding evaluation.

Originally posted on the Eagle Strategies blog, the class blog of the social media course I teach in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

Blogs my students write

It’s no secret I love my students. Well, maybe to them it is, because I do have to use tough love to get some of them to reach their potential.  I hold them to the highest professional standards, and rarely cut them slack on their work. You see, the vast majority of my students are seniors, most in their last semester before launching their careers in the “real world.” I can’t baby them as I prepare to kick them out of the nest.  But I still love them and cry at graduation because I know that’s the last time I’ll see many of them.

At the end of the semester I ask them to write blog posts summarizing what they learned in their classes.  They’re always good, and they provide me valuable feedback I wouldn’t get on a standard student evaluation.  Some of them wax nostalgic, some are inspiring, but all show the students’ newfound maturity as they face graduation. 

Some blogs are particularly memorable, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share two with you.

Alisha Andrews (@alychele on twitter) has been in a bunch of my classes, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching her develop as a writer and strategist through two PR writing classes, an ethics class and a social media class.  Besides her good work, she’s got the most infectious smile, and no matter how bad my day has been, one glimpse at her grin makes the gray clouds part and the sun come out.  So it’s no surprise to me that her blog about Journalism 4460–a required PR Communication class that just about kills me along with the students–hit the nail on the head.  This could easily be the first page of the syllabus next semester.

Reading this blog post took me back a year to another post by former student Sarah Minton (@sarahalisa18 on twitter), in which she expounds on how one knows they’re a PR student at UNT. Enjoy! Sarah was in two of my classes–the infamous Journalism 4460 and my ethics class. Sarah was the Outstanding PR student for the 2009/2010 school year, and another student who was a joy to be around. An avid football fan, she’s famous for striking the Heisman Trophy pose as she walked across the stage at graduation last December.

I’m looking forward to following both of these bright young ladies’ careers, and hope they keep blogging–and making us laugh–for many years to come.

The overwhelming responsibilities of teaching social media

I’m finding myself a little overwhelmed these days. Like my students, friends and colleagues, life is suddenly overwhelming. There are simply not enough hours in the day or days in the week to get everything done. If I didn’t have a husband who knows his way around the kitchen and laundry room without a map, I’d be starving and look like a homeless person. Teaching three writing classes and one graduate PR class is too much for one mortal, but somehow I’m doing it, although I’m constantly terrified I’m not serving my students well. And then there are the faculty committees, and the few outside activities I allow time for. The house isn’t as clean as I’d like it to be, but it’s livable. The dog and cats still recognize me, and that’s good.

But what do we really need to do? I just spent two hours on Tweet chats with online friends, students and strangers from all over the world. I got some good ideas, but is my life changed by these information exchanges? Probably not. But it’s one of those things I “have” to do. And who makes me feel like I have to do it? I do. It’s self-inflicted overachievement torture.

I’m also feeling overwhelmed because I’m trying to absorb every detail about social media that I can find before classes start in January. You see, I’ve been asked by the faculty to teach a much-needed social media class at UNT. It’s much needed because PR and advertising students are expected to know social media applications and strategies before they graduate. But at the beginning of this semester, a large proportion of my students didn’t have a Twitter account, weren’t blogging, and still don’t know about Digg, Delicious, and Google Analytics. They start internships and come to me in a panic because their supervisors expect them to take over social media for the clients. They’re overwhelmed, too.

There’s simply too much information out there for one person to know and disseminate to eager young minds. So that’s why I’ll be crowdsourcing many aspects of the social media class next semester.

Why should that class be based on one person’s point of view? You can’t tell me there’s one human being anywhere who knows everything about social media and its strategic uses. The topic is a moving target, changing and evolving like rapidly mutating cellular material. I expect my students will be contributing as much to the class as I am, along with my expert guest speakers. 

Isn’t that the point of social media? To share and disseminate information? To work in communities with the expertise of the best and brightest coming to the forefront?  I look forward to their input, which is why I’ve already set up a Facebook page (Eagle Strategies) and a LinkedIn group. Get them started early. Start the conversation now, so it’s up and running by the first day of class. Bring my professional friends into the conversation.  We all learn from each other.

I’m not feeling as overwhelmed now.  I’ve decided to facilitate the social media class rather than teach it.  Because the learning will come from the doing, and I can’t make them do, only facilitate what they’re doing.

Let me know what you think.