Industry adds more voices to gas debate

No longer content to be passive observers of the debate, some of the largest oil companies in the U.S. have begun mounting their own, more forceful defense against criticism of the boom in natural gas development.

Earlier this month, Houston-based ConocoPhillips became the latest to join the fray, with word it will launch a national advertising campaign to tout the benefits of natural gas as a clean-burning fuel that can reduce dependence on foreign energy sources and create U.S. jobs.

It followed Exxon Mobil Corp., the nation’s largest gas producer, which started a similar ad campaign in June, along with a website to answer questions about natural gas drilling and the controversial extraction technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Executives with Chevron Corp., Shell and others also have been making the case more in public forums.

“We need to directly address the public’s perception on natural gas and hydraulic fracturing as companies and as an industry,” ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva urged in a speech in Detroit recently. “We need to speak more directly to the public’s perceptions.”

The stepped-up efforts come as skepticism grows about the safety and environmental impact of natural gas development and amid a significant uptick in that activity in shale rock formations from Texas to Pennsylvania.

Critics charge that drilling and extracting oil and natural gas from shales and other dense rock formations pollute the air, scar the land and threaten groundwater supplies.

Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group in Washington, said the campaigns show oil and gas companies understand the public is concerned.

“But I don’t think these tactics are going to make people feel more comfortable,” she said.

A communication issue

Industry leaders say what could be a 100-year supply of natural gas in U.S. shales can be extracted safely and is vital to the nation’s energy future. But they acknowledge that the industry has not always done a good job of communicating that to the public.

“Industry is in a position of recognizing that more information needs to be out there, and we have a role in that,” Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Co., the Houston-based arm of Europe’s Royal Dutch Shell, said in a recent interview. “We are the operators. We are the ones that know explicitly how this is done.”

Stressing clean, cheap

ConocoPhillips’ tele­vision and Internet advertising campaign, which it calls  Power in Cooperation, seeks to dispel public concerns about natural gas extraction methods and describes gas as among the cleanest and cheapest ways to generate electricity.

Exxon Mobil ran full-page newspaper ads earlier this year that called natural gas “an amazing resource for Americans” and said hydraulic fracturing is a “responsible way to produce it.” And the Irving-based oil giant said it launched a natural gas website in June as “people are seeking more information about how this resource is being produced.”

That same month, Shell released a pamphlet with a set of principles for safe operations in shales and other tight gas formations it said could be a template for the broader industry.

Other companies also have talked about the need to corral thousands of operators behind best practices, which if adopted could reduce the risk of accidents and perhaps stave off one-size-fits-all federal regulations.

“What is clear is that we have to have everyone operating at a high standard,” Chevron Corp. CEO John Watson said during a recent visit month to Houston.

Beyond its trade group

The oil and gas industry typically has let its trade groups take the lead in addressing hot topics. The heightened engagement by some of the largest producers underscores how much is at stake in the natural gas debate.

Reid Porter, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s top lobbying group, said the new campaigns should not be seen as a break with API, but rather as a sign of the “all-hands-on-deck” approach the industry is using to educate the public on the benefits of natural gas.

Daniel Whitten, with the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, said the industry group welcomes “all voices that advance a fact-based conversation about our operations and the measures we take every day to inform people about the safety of our work, and the benefits the natural gas community brings to shale regions across the country in the form of jobs and local economic growth.”

brett.clanton@chron.com

13 Comments

  1. Waves

    Why should any of us trust any energy company? They have proven time and again to be liars and environmental rapists. Why would anyone believe anything from any energy company – look at what the bastards did to the Gulf of Mexico just last year, they have no credibility -

    #1
  2. Anonymoose

    Hydraulic fracturing has been proven as dangerous. Those chemicals leech into the water table, rendering drinking water useless. Check out some videos on YouTube of peoples lighting their water faucets on fire. Those chemicals were never meant to be pumped down into the earth.

    They claim there amounts of so small that it doesn’t cause harm, but you’re talking hundreds of thousands of gallons of frac fluid.

    If these oil companies were smart, they’d focus on hydrogen for long term and battery for short term. They can still be in control like they are now, but in a different style.

    #2
  3. Paul

    Just like drug dealers, the gas industry wants to make a profit even if it kills you.

    #3
  4. Jayq

    People were lighting their drinking water on fire before hydraulic fracturing. Not a one of those videos has proven to be caused by frac work being done. That kind of disingenuous sensationalism is holding back the conversation. There may be issues, but flammable water isn’t one of them.

    For the slow readers – no, not everybody can light their drinking water on fire, but in several areas there is methane in the water supply – it gets there several different ways, but as of yet hydraulic fracturing has not been the culprit.

    #4
  5. Dollar

    Waves say oil companies lie ……….. then the next three comments posted are filled with dis-information and lies.

    hahahahaha.

    This is exactly why issues like this one, can not be decided by a public debate.

    #5
  6. Mark from Louisiana

    The oil industry who favors fracking vs George Soros who funds the anti fracking groups? Soros is out to destroy our economy, I’ll stick with the American oil companies.

    #6
  7. NoWhining

    NOTHING wrong with hydraulic fracturing — it’s been safely practiced for over 60 years. Only the enviro-terrorist wanting to stop energy production altogether are against hydraulic fracture — nothing new there.

    #7
  8. A guy

    The oil industry has been a victim of outright lies. There have been recorded instances of gas in wells from that area since Little House on the Prarie Chapter 12.

    How come whenever a company tries to defend itself and its products and actions, it’s automatically lying?

    #8
  9. Robert F.

    Ask the gas industry why the air in rural Wyoming is on par with Houston or Los Angles.

    They did a study and identified the only source as the Jonah gas field and the Pinedale Anticline. Daily detections of BTEX chemicals with spikes of 50 PPB of Toluene and 40 PPB Xylene along with Benzene and formaldehyde.

    Now that exact same air quality is starting to show up in the Barnett Shale too.
    Think that has been around since Little House on the Prairie part 12? I don’t think so, and neither do the scientists that are studying it.

    #9
  10. Rudy Gonzales

    Big Oil is sporting glowing remarks about oil and gas production and the jobs they generate, while not fully disclosing the environmental damages they have inflicted. Fracking for gas and going below the water table is repeated over and over attempting to defer company information on chemicals used and their effect on water resources and the environment! Every time you see an commercial from Big Oil or ANGA on jobs in America, look behind the rhetoric and see the camouflage being thrown up! The Gulf Oil Spill where lives were lost is a perfect example of how big money can run ads to show only the good side the issue. The damage these big corporations have inflicted on this earth is immeasurable.

    #10
  11. Linda Brown

    There are certain risks involved in any type of energy production. Just ask the folks in Japan. And what about all those bald eagles that are killed on the wind farms? Given the current state of the economy, the first thing everyone needs to focus on is less regulation of business so they can start hiring again. The oil and gas services industry creates LOTS of jobs. Consumers NEED their products. Buy their stock (they pay great dividends). The only other alternative I see is build a fire in the fireplace to cook and keep warm by and buy a bicycle or horse for transportation. I’M NOT GOING THERE!

    #11
  12. Mike H.

    Frackers in Texas should take a page out of the Wyoming frackers book, and recycle as much water as they can. The short & long term weather forecasts show drought continuing in Texas. Some reports of frackers helping themselves to any water source around some places in Texas, without permits or purchase.

    #12
  13. No matter how much they dress it up, it’s still an ugly, disgusting mess. We who live near it and see it everyday and are must breathe the air around it, know it. An industry that has unlimited resources can promote their product night and day and for those who are the “uninitiated” they might just be able to convince them.

    Like the commenter, Linda Brown, above. Read her comment and it’s clear she has no personal experience with shale gas drilling. These slick ads on TV running night and day one right after the other one, should be a warning to every American. If you have to work this hard and spend this much money…it’s not an easy sale and there’s clearly a problem with the product.

    And now a commenter above who calls itself, “Dollar,” says this issue has no place in a “public debate.” Brilliant.

    Sorry. But just because the giant oil company Exxon bought XTO and decided to go after the shale gas…it’s not our problem that their precious investment is not working out so well. Maybe they should have talked to some of us before they jumped into the shale gas sludge pit.

    #13