Friday, December 01, 2006

Oil Companies Launch $100 Million Campaign

The December issue of Scientific American has sixteen pages of ads about a cleaner environment or alternative energy that various companies are apparently providing or promising to provide. Chevron has seven pages alone. Perhaps these companies mean it this time but that's not the record of the last 30 years which has led to sluggish improvements. In recent years, there have been some areas of the country where things have been going backwards. Texas is the nation's energy state and the news is not good. The pollution around the greater Houston area, particulary on the southeast side, is a scandal but it's not the only story in Texas. Daniel Mottola of the Austin Chronicle News has the story on the dirtiest secret in America—coal is back:
Though plans by various Texas utilities to build 19 new coal-fired power plants have drawn widespread criticism for increases in smog, ozone, fine particle, and mercury pollution they'll pump into the air, most acrimonious is the plants' contribution to climate change – the impending catastrophe caused by fossil-fuel combustion gasses (namely carbon dioxide) building up atmospherically and keeping heat from radiating into space. Texas is the nation's foremost CO2 emitter (If we were a country, we'd rank seventh globally, according to an Environmental Defense study), and the new plants would double our output. The good news is that there are viable alternatives to meet the state's growing energy needs. The bad news is that our state honchos, awash in utility cash, lack the leadership to pursue them.
As George W. Bush has taught us in the negative sense, leadership is doing, not talking. But the oil companies are set to give us a $100 million campaign that resembles the talk of 30 years ago; here's one story from Potomac Flacks (hat tip to Think Progress):
With congressional Dems looking to take on the oil industry next year, the industry's lead trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, is planning a $100 million PR "image and education effort," National Journal reports.

Here's a more oil-friendly version from CNN:
Facing mounting public pressure over high gasoline prices and now a potentially less-friendly Democrat-controlled Congress, the oil industry is mounting its first-ever major ad campaign, according to a report Thursday.

The ads will attempt to convince Americans that high energy prices are not the result of some industry conspiracy but rather an effect of tight supply and high demand, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The goal, according to the paper, will be to avoid higher taxes on energy companies and make it easier for them to drill in areas like the Rocky Mountains or off the coasts.

But that message will be softened by calls for greater conservation and investments in alternative technologies, the paper said.

"I know and you all know that you're in the oil and gas business," the Journal quoted Jean Statler, head of the public relations agency working on the campaign, saying at a recent oil industry conference in Dallas. "But the fact of the matter is there is just a driving, overwhelming desire" by Americans "for the industry to start diversifying" beyond fossil fuels.

For the record, I'm not clear about what the 'first-ever ad campaign' line is all about. In the 1970s, we were treated to a barrage of ads about alternative energy and a clean environment by the oil companies, whether they were coordinated or not. There were some important improvements in the 1970s and then the oil companies lost interest during the Reagan years, particulary when the federal government, thanks to conservative politicians, backed off from further improvements and sometimes looked the other way.

The oil companies could help themselves by explaining honestly how it was that oil and gasoline prices dropped sharply in the two months before the election and have since bounced back up (oil reached $63.50 a barrel yesterday, a gain of $5 since the election). Failure by Bush to add oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the lessening chance of war with Iran had something to do with the price drops and yet that doesn't seem to explain the whole picture. Also, the trends over the last thirty-five years have been plain for all to see in oil reserves and oil production and yet for years the oil companies insisted on turning a blind eye to the longterm picture. Whether they like it or not, the oil companies have some explaining to do.

Our country will continue to need oil and it makes sense for the oil companies to be involved to some extent in ethanol, hydrogen, coal to oil, or coal to hydrogen methodologies since a lot of that involves their technologies. But the monopolies in other countries suggest it would be in the interest of all Americans to see real energy diversification this time. And a much more consistent commitment to clean technology, including reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Many small to medium companies can handle various alternative energies, energy efficiency methodologies and environmental technology if they get the nod and some help from the government. Part of that help might involve keeping the oil companies from getting their hands on some of these companies until the oil CEOs show they mean it this time (I'm sure some already do mean it, but they need to show a real track record). As for the $100 million ad campaign, Americans are catching on to public relations. This time Americans want to see proof through action rather than words. Words have become very cheap during the Bush years.

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