Onshore unconventional oil and gas production has prompted concerns about water use and related potential negative outcomes. For industry, receiving and maintaining social license to operate depends on good communication, particularly about controversial issues like water in the oil and natural gas industries. This study presents results from interviews with experts from different backgrounds who communicate about water as it relates to oil and natural gas to investigate: what are best practice strategies to communicate about water in oil and natural gas, and what can industry learn from current practice? Focusing on the United States midcontinent and using snowball sampling, we collected information from people from different backgrounds, career stages, and sectors—including industry, legislators, regulators, academics, and journalists—about their strategies and advice. We then interviewed community members in the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas about their communication strategies and how they perceive communications for which they are the audience, with the goal of determining what strategies are most effective. Results indicate that experts communicate in many ways—meetings, presentations, workshops and town halls, publications, emails, videos, and digital media. While experts prioritize face-to-face transmissive interactions, community members prefer face-to-face exchanges supported by verifiable printed information due to distrust of many expert communicators. Defining successful communication is difficult, though, and communication training is rare. Technical or scripted answers to emotional concerns are not always accepted by audiences, though they might be prioritized by companies interested in consistent messaging. The results of our interviews indicate that industry communicators should use clear definitions, build trusting relationships, approach diverse audiences, and be open to feedback and true exchange. The results of this study should aid industry in communicating with concerned community members, academics, journalists, and policymakers about water use in oil and gas operations. Results might translate to communicating about other controversial environmental topics, as well.

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