Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon -- whose company recently helped bankroll a controversial anti-coal advertising campaign -- has only nice things to say about natural gas. And he's formed a new foundation and hired Denise Bode away from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) to help spread the gospel that North American gas is the answer to carbon dioxide-intensive power generation.
McClendon and Chesapeake have formed the American Clean Skies Foundation to promote increased use of natural gas as an antidote to climate change. OCC Commissioner Bode will head up the foundation after she resigns her commission post at the end of May. A Bode spokesman told NGI that she would not be available to discuss the foundation until after she leaves the commission.
McClendon said Clean Skies will not try to duplicate the efforts of long-established organizations such as the American Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
"Its our assessment that lots of other organizations, as part of what they do, advocate for natural gas, but it's only part of what they do," McClendon told NGI. "And sometimes that message gets lost among the balancing of the interests of natural gas with lots of different competing fuels. I felt like it was time to take advantage of the growing consensus in Washington and, frankly, around the world about the dire risks that we face by not reducing our carbon footprint. And we feel like natural gas is the best fuel to do that and we felt like we needed a fresh start with a new organization that would be the premier advocate for natural gas in North America today."
McClendon and Chesapeake came in for a lot of criticism for "Coal is Filthy" anti-coal ads run by the Clean Sky Coalition, a group set up by McClendon. The ads ran in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. They were criticized by the National Mining Association for providing inaccurate or outdated information, and two natural gas trade associations said they had nothing to do with them. Two environmental groups that the coalition claimed to have relationships with disavowed involvement in the ads as well.
This time around, though, McClendon said he will be talking up gas without talking down coal.
"It will be 100% pro natural gas," McClendon said of the Clean Skies message. "That's our view. Will we on occasion have to juxtapose natural gas versus coal or nuclear or any other fuel? That's quite possible. At this point the goal is not to be anti-anything but to be pro natural gas."
So far it's just McClendon and Chesapeake behind Clean Skies. He told NGI that the company's support will be in the "millions" rather than the "thousands," and he said he hopes to raise "tens of millions" to fund the group. "It's really an organization that will be quite small," he said. "We'll be out gunned by many other organizations financially in Washington.
"This would likely be an organization that would be supported by a broad range of interests. Some of them will be natural gas-producing interests. Some of them will be natural gas-consuming interests. I expect the environmental community will be very much in favor of this organization. I don't really worry too much about what IPAA or AGA or anybody else does."
McClendon said he doesn't expect a full-blown advocacy organization to spring up overnight. It will take years and the support of industry and other interested parties, he said.
"I think that a natural advocate of ours are environmental organizations," he said. "Some of these I believe are working under the false premise that somehow we're running out of natural gas. That was fashionable to say four or five years ago, and it's simply not true today. I want people to know that when they think about natural gas they know that we're not about to run out of it, and that it's an abundant and clean fuel and it has had a rich history in our country and has an even more exciting future."
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