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Southwestern CEO: Industry Losing with Fourth-Graders

February 7, 2013
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Some fourth-graders in New York state agree that they don't want unconventional drilling using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in their state, but they didn't arrive at that conclusion because of biased messages in the classroom, said Southwestern Energy CEO Steve Mueller. They just don't know that "natural gas is a true national treasure."

Speaking at the Winter North American Prospect Expo (NAPE) Business Conference Wednesday in Houston, Mueller told the story of a class of fourth-graders in Middletown, NY, who set about researching natural gas development issues, particularly fracking. Their research included the pro-industry website Energy In Depth, and they weren't at the mercy of "liberal" teachers either, Mueller said.

"When I was in fourth grade...fourth-grade teachers aren't liberal or conservative; fourth grade teachers want to teach..." he said.

But why should the industry care what fourth-graders think? "Those fourth-graders in 10 years are going to be graduating from college. In 20 years, they'll have fourth-graders of their own. If they're making those decisions today, what kind of industry are we going to have?" Mueller asked.

If he had the opportunity to address that fourth-grade class, Mueller said he would have told them about U.S. oil consumption (22 bbl/year per person). He would have told them about jobs (more than three of the students likely had unemployed parents, according to employment data). He would have told them that their parents could have significantly higher wages (30% higher or so) working in the oil and gas industry, and that taxes and royalty payments generated by the oil and gas industry could pay for all kinds of things for the public good.

Getting the industry message out will become even more critical in the coming years, Mueller said, as attention turns from fracking to air emissions from natural gas production and consumption activities. Soon, he said, the fourth-graders "will be talking about methane emissions."

Noble Royalties CEO Scott Noble spoke about how the government could be a better energy partner with the American people. "We have a superior product and an inferior message," he said. However, the Obama administration has been consistently hostile to oil and gas activities, as has the mainstream media, he said.

"You're going to have to buy the commercials if you want to get your point across," Noble said. "You gotta make your marketing match your message."

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