Energy industry willing to pay to put light on its issues

TAMPA, Fla. – Natural gas boosters are handing out espresso to bleary-eyed delegates at the Republican National Convention, the American Petroleum Institute is throwing a big bash for pols at the event, and industry leaders are participating in panels to highlight energy policy ahead of Election Day.

For energy companies and trade groups, the four-day rallies for party faithful are a chance to spread their message to a captive audience of reporters, delegates and elected officials. And this year, they’re doing a lot more of it – both with the GOP in Tampa and with the Democrats in Charlotte, N.C., next week.

“We knew we’d have everybody’s focus,” said Marty Durbin, vice president for governmental affairs at the American Petroleum Institute. “So we wanted to make sure we were here and visible and participating in as many of the policy discussions as we can.”

‘Important to be visible’

API has joined the American Wind Energy Association and other groups to sponsor energy policy discussions at both conventions.

Thursday night, API also threw a “Fueling the Future” party with the Zac Brown Band for lawmakers and guests. The event was designed to comply with Senate ethics and gift rules.

Durbin said the events are outgrowths of API’s “Vote 4 Energy” initiative, which seeks to make oil and gas policies a signature campaign issue.

“It’s about leveraging the opportunity we have,” Durbin said. “We’ve provided reports to both the Democratic and Republican parties on what ought to be in their platforms. We’ve had events at 17 states around the country. This is kind of the culmination of that.”

Energy companies and trade groups recognize that the conventions give them convenient access to the political intelligentsia for a brief two-week window, just two months before Election Day. The political events also give them direct channels to journalists who descend on convention cities from across the nation.

“It’s important to be visible in the conversation, in the debate,” said Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association, after taking in an energy policy discussion on Wednesday. “Conversations like this are important. People’s attention focuses for a narrow period of time.”

Companies can pay dearly for the privilege. Official events carry sponsorship costs. So do the endless ads streaming on TVs inside the temporary tunnels between convention sites in Tampa.

From panel discussions to parties, there are more energy-related events at this year’s conventions than in previous years.

Not just fossil fuels

A big reason for the spike is the new glut of natural gas – and the belief that America is sitting on a multi-decade supply of the fossil fuel – thanks to the new combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques for extracting it.

Executives from some of AGA’s member companies, including the head of Chicago-based Integrys Energy Group, chatted up delegates and elected officials from states where they have operations while on the convention floor Tuesday night.

Several oil and gas companies, including ConocoPhillips and Chesapeake Energy, sent lobbyists and other representatives. Evan Tracey, senior vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, also was in Tampa.

But it isn’t just fossil fuels. Wind and solar advocates sat on panel discussions at the Republican convention that concluded Thursday night. And Semprius Inc., which makes high-concentration photovoltaic solar modules, will be touting its technology to Democrats in Charlotte.

jennifer.dlouhy@chron.com www.twitter.com/jendlouhyhc