As the Summer gets into full swing here in the northwest and the nation has celebrated its Independence Day, Exxon Mobil Corporation has been busy launching a new resource site dedicated to providing information about natural gas, its role in our nation’s energy mix, and additional resources related to environmental concerns.
The website http://aboutnaturalgas.com uses easy to understand language to communicate the benefits of natural gas as an energy resource, and provides an overview of the hydraulic fracturing process which has been a source of concern for the past several years. Although the site may be over-simplistic and its content brief, Exxon is showing some initiative by developing a venue for the company’s public relations.
Ken Cohen is vice president of public and government affairs for Exxon and has been the company’s dedicated blogger for nearly one year. My education in both communications and finance led me to the conclusion that Exxon’s corporate blog, Perspectives, was indeed a strategic decision. At the time of Cohen’s first posting, Exxon’s stock price was at a five-year low at less than $60 per share.
A quick glance at some of the corporate blog postings make it clear the intentions to dissipate some of the heat the natural gas industry has taken lately. A 2005 energy bill was passed which gave tax breaks to oil and gas companies while also exempting the hydraulic fracturing process from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Why would such an exemption be necessary unless the practice of extracting natural gas from the Earth violated the act? Halliburton supposedly benefited greatly after contributing millions towards lobbying. Exxon subsidiary XTO is also named as a lobbying organization which benefited from legal exemption.
In 2009, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act was introduced to Congress to repeal the exemptions set in 2005. Over the past two years, news reports by NPR, The New York Times, and others brought this issue to light. A successful documentary, “Gasland” helped the stories go mainstream.
There was a day, not long ago, that I believed natural gas to be a clean energy source. Certainly not a renewable like wind or solar, but more environmentally friendly than oil. After all, its called “natural” for a reason, right? Then I saw the Josh Fox documentary, “Gasland” which took prizes from numerous film festivals including Sundance, and made headlines in USA Today and The Huffington Post. “Gasland” portrayed the natural gas extraction process, hydraulic fracturing, as an environmental hazard with images of flaming drinking water and poisoned freshwater streams. Stories of bringing harm to animals and people certainly made an impact even industry executives worried about.
While Josh’s story could present isolated cases, his films website claims at least 1,000 cases of water contamination have been documented across the country. As executives stumbled over themselves while testifying in such cases, you can’t help but think, “Who are these idiots dumping chemicals everywhere?” Blame it on poor preparation or a lack of knowledge about their own business operations, but the effect was simple. Grand publicity through publications, news sources, and social media.
The story somewhat disappeared during Congressional transitioning earlier this year, but by March, the Environmental Protection Agency had plans to test water and gain conclusive data. The New York Times has established a plethora of arguments and information in the Drilling Down Series.
Cohen has spent most of the past two months contributing counter arguments in defense of Exxon and its operational practices. This defense seems to have culminated into the new website.
FracFocus: Chemical Disclosure Registry
Hydraulic Fracturing information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
New York Fracking Report via The New York Times
Animation provided by Chesapeake Energy