These individuals, grassroots organizations, and coalitions all have the same goal: to put an end to fracking. The most important step these groups have taken so far has been to educate the public on the current situation. Activists believe that once people know all the harmful effects of fracking, they will be against it as well. Activists use films as one method to display problems to the public. Gasland, and more recently Gasland II, are well-known documentaries created by Josh Fox that reveal serious problems with fracking. As seen in the trailer, when Fox was offered money to have his land drilled, he decided to look into the impact it would have. Both documentaries provide personal accounts of towns being negatively impacted by fracking and how current government regulations aren’t keeping Americans safe (GASLAND, 2010). “‘Josh Fox’s Gasland blew the doors off what was happening, raising awareness a tremendous amount. It had a big impact on growing the movement,’ said Mark Schlosberg, national organizing director for Food & Water Watch, in a recent interview with EcoWatch” (Ecowatch, 2013).
Promised Land, a feature film starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski, also opened the public’s eyes to fracking. This movie told a story of a natural gas company trying to secure drilling rights in a small rural town. Through celebrity involvement and media tours, this film informed new audiences about fracking and brought the issue into public discourse (Sant, 2013). While these are the most cited fracking films, many others have been created such as The Ethics of Fracking and Triple Divide (Cannon, 2014; Pribanic, 2011). A pro- fracking documentary was even created called FrackNation to try and lessen the impact the anti- fracking movement was having on public opinion (McAleer, 2013). These anti-fracking films and many others that followed used imagery in a way that enabled the public to grasp the issues fracking brought to the table.
While these documentaries were very successful in getting the movement to the main stage, they weren’t what kept the issues in everyone’s minds. In today’s society, people get their news from a variety of outlets. Mainstream newspapers and television broadcasts are read and watched throughout the country, but usually only focus on breaking news stories due to their limited space or airtime. It is difficult for fracking advocates to gain traction in traditional newspapers and on television because these outlets don’t want to spend time explaining the issues to the public unless a specific incident takes place.
Environmental magazines and cable television shows, on the other hand, are more flexible and can focus on issues they care about. Magazines such as The Nature Conservancy, Sierra, and Mother Earth News provide environmental updates and in-depth investigative reporting to their readers (Cision, 2011). These magazines are very informative, but are usually only read by those who are interested in environment in the first place.
Unlike these environmental magazines, cable shows provide a general overview of environmental issues to a wide audience. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver both aired segments focused on fracking. On March 27, 2014, The Daily Show aired “The Benefits of Fracking”, with the tagline “Following Chevron's lead, Aasif Mandvi assuages tremendous and growing fracking concerns with pizza” (Stewart). John Oliver’s October 12, 2015 episode was focused on the need to increase fracking regulations in North Dakota, stating: “North Dakota is known for being polite, but perhaps they’ve been a little too hospitable to oil companies” (Oliver). Through comedy, cable television shows are able to expand the knowledge of those who were previously unaware of fracking and its negative impacts.
Due to the time and space constraints of traditional media outlets, advocates tend to rely heavily on online media. Since the Internet is free to use, all advocates from individuals to large coalitions have the opportunity to share information about the issues of fracking. According to Google Trends, global searches for the word “fracking” have been on an upward trend since 2010. Fracking subtopics such as the definition, locations, earthquakes, oil, and water are currently rising as popular fracking searches as well (Google Trends). This proves that fracking is becoming a more discussed topic that the public wants to be informed about.
Why did the public become interested in fracking in 2010? This is likely due the rise in dominance of social media. A video showing a shower on fire due to chemicals in the water can be shared on Facebook; an image of a family suffering from inhalation problems can be posted on Instagram; and a local governmental ruling on fracking can be tweeted, all with the click of a button. According to data from the Pew Research Center, 74% of all Internet users use social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Based on these findings, it isn’t only younger or educated people who have taken a liking to social networking. In addition, 49% of those who are 65 and over use social media, and the highest education level for all users is those who haven’t completed college (Pew Research Center, 2014). No wonder anti-fracking advocates have jumped at the opportunity to educate the public with these tools.
According to a study conducted by the Energy & Sustainability Department at Makovsky, a New York public relations firm, “… 57% of U.S. consumers believe that fracking is one of the three most important environmental issues today. Furthermore, 71% of the survey’s respondents say they hear about the issue at least every week and 79% say they hear about it primarily from social media (Carufel, 2014).”