The American Energy Coalition promised to take the fight to the gas utilities, and its opening salvo is already on the way. The details are covered in our news section, but the AEC materials refute some of the more egregious attacks against oil from the gas industry while attacking natural gas on a variety of points.
I have to admit to being somewhat conflicted. In a former life I wore a public relations hat, and frankly PR comes in second to legal counsel where conservative and often defensive strategy is concerned. The goal is generally to get along, to accentuate the positive and ignore or deflect the negative. Further, the industry I worked for while wearing my PR hat was still trying to overcome its “Tin Man” era where some members had unfairly attacked a public utility sector to sell products out of fear.
But, I have to say that this is different. The natural gas utilities are highly aggressive in their attacks on oil. They stretch the truth, apply spin and have huge resources to propagandize their attack advertising. They further move beyond the traditional battlefield in the marketplace to the legislative arena to try and get regulation, legislation, subsidies and incentives in place to aid their conversion efforts. A fully defensive effort just makes the industry a doormat to be walked over at will. As AEC noted in a manifesto a few months back:
[i]We’ve also been told to look to the pork industry’s “the other white meat” campaign. That pork didn’t disparage chicken, but rode the tail feathers of chicken’s ascendancy over beef. Well, the chicken industry wasn’t holding hen parties and clucking over pork’s supposed nutritional deficiencies. And consumers didn’t have to decide to eat only chicken or pork for 30 years.
We’d rather look to other campaigns – those that have opened up conversations about important political issues and political opponents; or informed consumers about diseases and treatments; or even compared high-fat, high-calorie fast-food hamburgers with the nutritional benefits of a sandwich franchise’s meals and completely repositioned the company as a diet and health-conscious choice.[/i]
Still, the industry has to be responsible as it goes on the offensive. The messages must be accurate, and must not be overplayed or overhyped – unfortunately, like the other side does regularly. It’s fair to point out that natural gas is not as green as its promotional materials would suggest. It’s fair to point out that leaking natural gas from a strained pipeline infrastructure can kill trees. It’s fair to point out the potential groundwater contamination techniques with shale extraction fracturing technologies. It’s more than fair to point out that oil has been more than competitive (and will likely be so in the future) from a price standpoint. However, the industry must remain credible to both its customers and critical outside audiences like legislators.
The AEC materials, while aggressive, do not cross the line. They appear to be factual and focused. It is up our industry to make sure they are used in a responsible manner to educate consumers in a way that balances out what is now almost entirely one-sided messaging. No heating source is perfect. Not oil, nor coal, nor nuclear and not even natural gas.