The American Energy Coalition (AEC), a grassroots organization committed to promoting fuel oil through direct competition with natural gas, has been gathering pledges of financial support in anticipation of a hard-hitting counterstrike in 2009.
Recognizing that there are many stakeholders in the success of fuel oil, the AEC is making a broad appeal for support. Everyone from refiners to fuel oil dealers to supply houses has an interest in the industry’s success, and the coalition is soliciting contributions across the board.
“The dealers and the companies that live off this industry need to open their pocketbooks,” said Neil Bianco, an AEC Executive Committee member and senior vice president and general manager of Champion Energy, which markets fuel oil on the East Coast from Maine to Virginia. “Otherwise, we’ll see the customer base dwindle and go to natural gas and other fuels and you’re not going to be left with anything for your business.
“This is probably the most important thing a company can do for itself beyond direct service to their customer base. Once an account is lost, it’s lost forever to the industry.”
The effort is vital to the financial health of fuel oil, according to Martin Romanelli, a member of the coalition’s executive committee and president of Romanelli & Son, a Lindenhurst, N.Y., oil dealer. “The future of the industry is at stake,” he said. “It’s high time for the industry to put together a national campaign and bring us into the marketing world of the 21st century. We have a good story to tell, and we’ve never told it properly.”
The AEC notes it will fight for the industry in ways that the National Oilheat Research Alliance cannot. When Congress approved NORA, it required that all marketing be limited to promotional efforts only. Competitive marketing that targets other fuel providers, such as utilities, is not allowed.
“The NORA way sends a positive message, and you always want that, but when you’re being attacked as we are by the utilities, you need to combat the negativity,” said Romanelli. “We don’t have to be negative, but we have to be competitive and explain the truth. No one is telling the whole truth from the oil heat side.”
The very survival of the industry hangs in the balance, according to Chris Behrens, president of Dowling Fuel Co. in Ridgefield Park, N.J. and a member of the AEC Executive Committee. “There’s a huge danger if we don’t do something substantial that all of us are going to lose a lot of accounts to gas,” he said. “We’re already seeing conversions at a higher rate than we’ve ever seen before.”