“It’s brilliant in its simplicity,” said one audience member. “The way you’re going is really neat,” said another. “This has been very, very helpful,” said one more.
This is how some oil and gas industry members immediately responded after hearing a political strategy speech from lobbyist Richard Berman, secretly recorded and published by the New York Times on Friday. The speech, given at the annual meeting of the Western Energy Alliance in June, recommended the oil and gas industry exploit “fear and anger” in voters, personally embarrass individual environmentalists, and “get people into a position of paralysis” about the issues in order to win the contentious fight over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“You get in people’s mind a tie. They don’t know who is right. And you get all ties because the tie basically insures the status quo,” Berman said, according to the speech transcript. “Fear and anger have to be part of this campaign. If you want to win, that’s what we’re going to do.”
According to the attendee list obtained by the Times, Berman’s speech was heard by representatives of some of the biggest oil and gas companies and organizations in the United States, many of which are engaged in a high-profile political battles with environmental advocates over fracking. They included the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, BP America, Anadarko Petroleum, and the American Energy Alliance.
After the speech concluded, attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions, almost all of which complimented Berman on his ideas. One attendee, labeled “audience member #2,” said the advice was “very, very helpful,” but wondered how to combat environmentalists who he said also use “emotional ploys” to claim that the oil and gas industry is “greedy.”
Berman recommended meeting environmentalists head-on. “Just because they are using emotion doesn’t mean that we can’t use emotion,” Berman said. “We just have to use emotion that’s factually based on go after them … Remember, they’re in the business of doing this.”
Another attendee, deemed “audience member #3” by the transcript, called the advice “brilliant in its simplicity.” “But I have to ask,” audience member 3 said. “Who is funding your efforts?”
Berman would not answer, saying it doesn’t matter who gives him money to say what. “If I quote authoritative sources, it doesn’t matter who funds me,” he said. Berman said he had already collected six-figure contributions from some of the company representatives in the room, and takes pride in not telling anybody who they are. “There is total anonymity,” he said. “People don’t know who supports us.”
“Audience member #4” also said it was a “great presentation,” and wondered how much it would cost for companies that want to contribute to Berman’s website, Big Green Radicals. Berman said that if companies spent $2-$3 million dollars on extending his campaign in one state, it would be a “game changer,” but that companies can give whatever they want. “We’ve had six figure contributions to date from a few companies in this room to help us to get to where we are,” Berman said.
After Berman’s speech was made public on Thursday, ThinkProgress reached out to all the attendees listed on the Western Energy Alliance meeting’s roster to find out if any company would stand by Berman’s strategy. Most did not return the request — representatives from Encana Oil & Gas, J-W Power Company, First Western Trust, and Adam James International said they didn’t attend the speech. Representatives from Amegy Bank’s Rocky Mountain Energy Group and Colorado oil and gas operator Vaughney & Vaughney both declined to comment.
At least one company, however, attempted to distance itself. Anandarko Petroleum spokesperson John Christiansen said the company works to combat misinformation about its operations in an “open and transparent manner.”
“We do not support Mr. Berman’s approach,” Christiansen said. “That does not align with our values.”
Peter Mueller, the Vice President of Operations at Colorado-based oil and gas operator Saga Petroleum, said he didn’t attend the speech, but said he did take away at least one thing from reading about it.
“I will offer that I’ve seen extreme tactics used by anti-oil and gas groups to paint this industry in a bad light … People on both sides have read the same play book and are using similar tactics, ” he said. “The opportunity for reasoned debate seems to be slipping away.”