Under the Dome

Natural gas industry counters anti-fracking ad campaign


The natural gas industry is striking back at recent TV ads by environmental groups attacking a handful of North Carolina legislators for their support of fracking. The radio spots began airing this week promoting the benefits of hydraulic fracturing and thanking seven lawmakers – six of whom face challengers in the November election.

Most of the lawmakers were part of what was dubbed “The Fracking Crew” in ads that accused them of protecting polluters not people. The campaign – which reportedly cost more than $600,000 -- was mostly paid for by a national environmental advocacy group with help from several North Carolina groups.

In response, the American Petroleum Institute has launched five radio spots touting fracking’s safety record and economic benefits that will help pay for education, public safety and other services. “Thousands of new high-paying jobs are on the way,” the spot says.

Each of the spots ends with a big thank-you to one or two lawmakers: Republican senators Chad Barefoot (representing parts of Wake and Franklin counties), Ronald Rabin (Harnett, Johnston and Lee); Wesley Meredith (Cumberland), and Michele Presnell (Haywood, Madison and Yancey); and representatives Jamie Boles (Moore County), Tim Moffitt (Buncombe), and Mike Stone (Harnett and Lee). All but Boles have Democratic challengers in the general election.

Barefoot’s opponent, Sarah Crawford, is married to a lobbyist for the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, which was not part of the green ad campaign but launched its own, $1 million effort accusing House Speaker Thom Tillis of failing to do enough to protect the public and environment from coal ash pollution.

A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute said API doesn’t disclose how much it spends on advertising. But a Democratic ad tracker put the buy at more than $225,000 running through Sept. 7.

The API radio ads prompted a response from the state Senate Democratic caucus, which accused the first-term Barefoot of working to benefit wealthy special interests, out of state corporations and the oil and gas industry.

“So we shouldn’t be surprised to see the American Petroleum Institute attempting to keep their golden goose in office,” caucus director Ford Porter said in a news release. “Middle-class families in Wake and Franklin counties deserve a senator who will fight for our students and teachers – and not just the special interests funding Chad Barefoot’s campaign.”

Ray Martin, political director for the Senate Republican caucus, had this to say:

“We understand why the Senate Democrats would get a little sensitive and hypocritical when they hear someone tell the truth about a bipartisan effort to create clean energy jobs. After all, they’re backing Sarah Crawford — a candidate hand-picked by the same radical environmental lobby that employs her husband, and the same special interests that have spent millions in dark money smearing Republicans.”

Here’s the radio spot for Barefoot and Rabin: