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Natural Gas Pleads: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Aaron Israel

The latest advertising campaign from the good folks in the natural gas industry is helpfully suggesting that we can have our cake and eat it too. ConocoPhillips is offering in it's latest ads to provide both clean and affordable energy, if only we’d just cooperate.

Ah, cooperation! Now there’s an attitude I can get behind in these times of angry rancor and extreme polarization. What reasonable person wouldn’t? But cooperation has indeed been in short supply, and a raging battle between the industry and the public threatens to burn that bridge to a clean energy future we’ve all been waiting for.

So who, exactly, isn’t cooperating?

Natural gas has long been considered far and away the cleanest of the fossil fuels. Reports such as one from Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors suggest that discoveries of massive gas deposits here in the US give us a realistic shot at meeting President Obama’s climate reduction goals. The natural gas boom, however, has introduced a wide swath of America to the business of drilling, raising a host of questions about the impacts on water, air and public health. A provocative report released earlier this year put even the climate benefits of natural gas into question.

Now you’d think the natural gas industry would be at the ready with reassuring data, independently sourced and verified, to back up its long-touted environmental superiority. Instead, the industry used misleading data to deny the existence of water impacts, refused to disclose the cocktail of toxic chemicals involved, sued the EPA for attempting to mandate greenhouse gas reporting, and stymied Congressional attempts to remove Bush-era exemptions to the Safe Drinking Water Act. Not exactly reassuring.

In the face of growing hostility, the natural gas industry has been laboring to portray itself as environmentally concerned, responsible and even helpful. But the efforts have been a complete failure and the public simply does not trust anything the industry has to say, as one executive lamented to a recent gathering of peers. Another insider admitted, “The industry has completely missed the boat on not being more transparent."

Seems that no amount of advertising can easily overcome behavior that betrays your marketing. I like the new ConocoPhillips slogan, “There’s Power in Cooperation,” but cooperation requires a dose of trust, shared values and a willingness to listen. Could the industry’s disingenuous marketing history lead us to a regulatory over-reaction, imposing unnecessary costs and rendering recovery of our newfound gas deposits uneconomical? Could a distrusted and misunderstood industry find its golden goose needlessly cooked?

ConocoPhillips wants to offer the “energy to move forward”, and boy, we certainly have been stuck. How refreshing it would be to see a little cooperation from the people of America’s oil and gas industry when it comes to straight talk and renewable energy.

Maybe we’d then take their marketing pleas a little more seriously.

[Image credit: StephenMitchell, Flickr]

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