Energy & Environment

California Energy Propaganda Comes to Texas

What do you get when you combine a California based political consultant, an Oklahoma based natural gas company, a couple of former Oklahoma politicians, and the State of Texas’ desperate need to produce more electricity?  Big buck propaganda.

This story has its roots in Texas where the state is rapidly approaching the limits of its ability to produce electricity for is 22.9 million residents.  Enter TXU, a Dallas based energy company which already provides electricity and related services to more than 2.3 million retail electricity customers in Texas, more customers than any other retail electric provider in the state.  Last year the company announced plans to spend over $10 billion to build 11 coal-fired electric pants in Texas, utilizing the latest clean-coal technology.  Without these new power plants, Texas will begin experiencing California style blackouts in the near future.

Additionally, even with the construction of the new 11 power plants, TXU’s plan will actually reduce the company’s total CO2 emissions.  That means less greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

A Texas company had developed a win-win proposal for Texas: electricity to meet the growing demand of the state’s economy and cleaner air.  But not if you’re a major Oklahoma natural gas company seeking to horn in on the Texas electricity grid under the guise of protecting the environment.

Enter Chesapeake Energy Corp., a $12.9 billion natural gas company based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  On February 5, 2007, Chesapeake announced that it expects year-end 2006 proved reserves to be approximately 9.0 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, representing a 20% increase over the previous year.  That’s a lot of gas and Chesapeake needs to find a way to sell it.  Solution?  Hire a Hollywood, California advertising agency to produce a thoroughly bogus smear campaign against the Texas clean coal proposal, and replace the coal with natural gas.

Enter Fred Davis III, the head of Hollywood agency Strategic Perception.  Davis did work for President Bush’s 2004 campaign and most recently produced the advertising for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful 2006 re-election campaign.

Chesapeake, whose board of directors includes former U.S. Senator Don Nickels (R.-Okla.) and former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating (R.), set up and bank rolled a group called the “Texas Clean Sky Coalition” to funnel money to Davis’ Hollywood ad agency to produce a series of full page newspaper advertisements in Texas featuring dirty faced men and women above a caption reading: “FACE IT, COAL IS FILTHY.”  The ad calls on the reader to telephone Texas Governor Rick Perry and the legislature and demand “clean air.”

Chesapeake’s front group’s website, www.cleanskycoalition.com, includes these truly absurd questions: “Would you bathe your child in coal? Sprinkle arsenic, mercury and lead on your husband’s cereal? Treat your friends to a big dose of radiation?”

Quoted in the Austin-American Statesman on February 6, 2007, Davis admitted that the photos of the soot-faced models were shot in a Southern California studio and pegged the cost of the ad campaign as being “north of a million dollars.”

One would have thought that admired conservatives like former Senator Nickels and former Governor Keating would demand better of a company on whose board they serve.  This writer prefers to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they were not informed about the sleazy advertising blitz prior to it being launched.   If they were aware of the campaign and did nothing to stop it, shame on them.

As a strong proponent of utilizing our nation’s vast hydrocarbon resources, be they oil, natural gas or coal, I am always pleased to see the private sector striving to meet the energy needs of Americans in an environmentally prudent fashion.  That is certainly the case in Texas’ plan to build 11 coal-fired power plants utilizing state of the art clean-coal technology.  Moreover, utilizing natural gas as a boiler fuel to produce electricity is significantly more expensive than coal.  And who pays?  The retail customer.

For a company of the size and heretofore respected reputation of Oklahoma’s Chesapeake Energy Corp. to seek markets for its natural gas by interjecting itself in a Texas electric power issue in the guise of protecting the environment is, well, disgraceful.

Note to Chesapeake: Clean up your own act before you buy anymore dirty faced advertisements in Texas.

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