Matthew Kochs – a prominent public relations spokesperson for the oil and gas industry – visited Bloomington on November 29th to give a pro-fracking keynote address at the McLean County Chamber of Commerce Economic Vision luncheon.
Matthew Koch’s career is dedicated to the promotion of the worst practices of the fossil fuels industry: Canadian tar sands, Arctic drilling for oil, and fracking for natural gas. Mr. Koch (no family relation to the Koch brothers dynasty) was hired by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to promote the extraction of oil from the Canadian tar sands and its transport through the Keystone Pipeline, which according to climate scientist James Hansen would have disastrous climate change consequences for the planet. Koch currently serves as vice president and managing director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, charged with dealing with promoting the development of Canadian tar sands and access to Arctic resources.
Addressing Bloomington-Normal business leaders, Mr. Koch touted fracking as a potential jobs creator in Illinois, downplaying the numerous environmental concerns voiced by area residents in a number of recent local events. As part of his national pro-fracking tour, Koch’s visit came close on the heels of a large community event, organized by Illinois People’s Action, in which the many dangers of fracking were exposed and a ban on fracking was proposed to members of the McLean County Board.
As evident by the Pantagraph reporting of the event, both the McLean County Chamber of Commerce and Matthew Koch failed to address the many concerns residents have on the issue. This is par for the course for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and apparently for the local affiliate. Media-hyped PR events lauding fracking are now commonplace in communities across the country where the oil and gas industry see citizen opposition to their drilling efforts.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Bought by Fossil Fuel Industries
In recent years the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has become the political front group of the oil and gas industry. The Chamber has fought so doggedly against environmental regulation that it has openly doubted the science behind human-caused climate change, prompting a few large profile companies to quit, including Exelon Corp., PG&E Corp., and PNM. (Apple left the Chamber board but stayed on as a member.) These companies resigned due to what they see as the Chamber’s inability to reflect the diversity of opinion and interests among business members. Nearly 60 local chambers have also denounced the political direction taken by the national umbrella or terminated their membership.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, dominated by oil and petrochemical companies, has established a number of oil and gas front organizations, such as the Institute for 21st Energy and Partnership to Fuel America. These organizations hire well-seasoned PR professionals, like Mr. Koch, whose job is to sell the snake oil of the fossil fuel industries. Mr. Koch regularly praises oil extraction from tar sands, shale gas and fracking, using catch words like “energy security”, in numerous interviews across the country (Rapid City, South Dakota / Lincoln, Nebraska). As a common theme, Koch plays upon the very real need Americans have for good-paying jobs, downplaying the dire consequences fracking has brought in countless communities.
The extent to which the Chamber will go in organizing support for fracking was seen last month, when the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce put together, with the support of the gas industry, a pro-fracking astro-turf rally of 200 people at the Colorado state capitol. The Chamber and the gas companies are clearly alarmed by the situation in Colorado, a major state for fracking operations, after the city of Longmont, CO banned fracking within its city limits and instituted other regulatory measures. A number of other Colorado communities are now discussing taking action on fracking. Many citizens, aware of the dangers, are now fighting fracking before it can take root in their communities, as is the case in Bloomington-Normal.
Social Movement Victories
The fossil fuel industry is responding now to what is a growing movement against fracking. Besides numerous community actions and educational events on the issue, the movement won two high-profile victories this year: a ban on fracking in Vermont and a halt to fracking plans in New York.
There is absolutely no doubt that the oil and gas industries are gearing up to fight the grassroots movements. Most of their efforts will be in the political sphere, organized by high-powered lobby groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but the oil and gas companies have shown how serious they are in pushing their interests. It was revealed last year that two gas companies, namely Range Resources and Andarko Petroleum Company, decided to treat environmentalist groups as “insurgencies” and hire ex-military personnel who have training in counterinsurgency, psychological warfare. (Audio of Range Resources spokesperson discusses using psychological warfare against peaceful activists) But most efforts will be slick PR, as recently witnessed here by Matt Koch’s visit.
For environmentalists, the building of grassroots social movements is the best hope. Activists in Texas battle construction of the Keystone Pipeline, calling on the Obama Administration to end the tar sands project once and for all. People continue to learn about fracking, and on December 28th, a Hollywood movie directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Matt Damon, Promise Land, will expose the horrors of fracking to even more people. Here in Bloomington-Normal, residents push for a ban on fracking in the county and the state.
We need to move away from polluting fossil fuels and toward alternative energy, wind and solar. Extracting oil from tar sands and fracking for natural gas are moves in the wrong direction.
 Gonzalez, Karina (November 29, 2012) “Chamber speaker: Fracking, off-shore drilling could help U.S. economy”. The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois). Retrieved on December 1, 2012.
 U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Institute for 21st Century Energy. Matthew Koch biography. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
 Gardner, Timothy (October 5, 2009). “Apple, citing climate, tells U.S. Chamber iQuit”. Reuters. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
 Hooper, Troy (April 27, 2012). “Aspen, Colorado Leaves U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Over Climate Change Dispute”. Huffington Post. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
 Marcus, Peter (November 16, 2012). “Supporters of ‘fracking’ defend the practice: Rally at Capitol brings together business, industry leaders”. The Colorado Statesman. Retrieved December 10, 2012.
 Lynn, Tara (March 20, 2012). “Residents fractured over fracking in Lee County shale basin”. WRAL.com. Retrieved December 10, 2012.
 Manion-Fischer, Kiera (December 5, 2012). “Medina tackles fracking issue for the first time”. The Medina Gazette Online (Medina, Ohio). Retrieved December 10, 2012.
 Gladstone, Seth (November 27th, 2012). “After Another Hard-Won Delay, No Fracking in New York This Year” . Food and Water Watch. Retrieved on December 12, 2012.
 Marczak, Trisha (December 11, 2012). “Fracking Industry Hires ‘Psychological Warfare’ Military Officers to Combat Peaceful Opposition”. Mint Press News. Retrieved December 10, 2012.
 Hansen, James (May 9, 2012). “Game Over for the Climate”. New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2012.