ConocoPhillips launched a nationwide campaign Wednesday to convince lawmakers and consumers that domestic natural gas production holds the key to not only energy security but to thousands of new jobs, a task that the industry is more than ready to handle, CEO Jim Mulva said.

North American gas prices remain low, and ConocoPhillips has plans in place to reallocate some of its capital spending to more oily North American plays. However, the company remains “very bullish on gas for the long term,” Mulva said in remarks to the Detroit Economic Club. Early last year the CEO was one of the first Big Oil chiefs to push for expanded domestic gas development, saying then that if “oil is the prize, then natural gas is the gift…an unexpected gift” (see Daily GPI, March 10, 2010).

ConocoPhillips, which now has about 40% of its capital spending directed to natural gas exploration and production, continues to believe that gas holds the key not only to U.S. energy security but also to increased domestic job security, he said.

“We have a powerful job creation machine available if we put it to work,” Mulva told the audience.

The speech came on the same day that the Houston-based producer kicked off its “Power in Cooperation” campaign on its corporate website. ConocoPhillips already has a print advertising campaign under way to promote the use of natural gas, but the new campaign offers informational videos and fact sheets about how natural gas is developed and produced that will be used in conjunction with new digital and television advertising.

With the United States facing an unemployment rate above 9% and a stagnant economic future, Mulva urged President Obama, lawmakers and consumers to advocate for the use of more natural gas as a way to put thousands of people to work and to provide an inexpensive energy source.

“Job retention and job creation are foremost in everyone’s minds today,” he said. “Jobs are our most pressing need.”

According to Mulva, U.S. onshore gas plays have created more than 200,000 jobs in the past decade. In the Barnett Shale, an estimated 100,000 jobs have been created, while in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, he claimed that there would be 68,000 people employed in energy-related jobs by 2020. The Pennsylvania portion of the Marcellus Shale now supports an estimated 140,000 jobs, he noted.

“Numbers like these are very, very encouraging,” said Mulva. “Natural gas can be a job-creating machine if we put it to full use.”

President Obama on Labor Day visited Detroit to talk about jobs and last week pushed Congress in a nationwide speech to support a new jobs program. “Not once did he mention natural gas [in Detroit] or during his speech this past week,” Mulva said. “I assure you, natural gas already is helping spark the American job machine and we intend to grow that into a flame…We believe natural gas has to be part of any discussion to improve the country’s long-term health.”

The energy industry now provides about 2.8 million jobs in the United States, said the CEO. Pointing to the ample domestic gas reserves still waiting to be unlocked, the U.S. gas industry could generate “new jobs by the tens of thousands…adding to the customer base for new cars, houses…essentially just about everything,” he said.

“This is not to say that gas is the only energy source that’s needed. We believe they will all be needed in the future…fossil fuels, biofuels, wind, solar…and some not invented yet. This will be particularly true when the national economy rebounds.”

Mulva admitted that the gas industry “faces a number of challenges.” The industry has to “recognize that we must continue innovating, creating new technology, reducing our environmental footprint. And we have to overcome some mistaken public perception.”

A lot of people continue to pursue the energy “silver bullet,” said the CEO. “They believe some great, new energy source is just around the corner that’s cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuel and can also create green jobs. I have news for you, natural gas comes closer to being the silver bullet than anything else does. And it’s here today, cheap and clean. The infrastructure already exists. Jobs can be created now…by the tens of thousands without government subsidies.”

Government, said Mulva, has a place to regulate. However, it “should not pick the winners but set the performance targets and let the market determine which way to meet them. We have work we are going to have to do to tell the story and that’s never been easy for our industry. Most of our people would rather work on energy solutions that debate public policy.”

Now is the time for the industry to join the debate, Mulva said. “We want everyone to make informed decisions. As the United States enters the campaign season, energy will be a point of the debate…And it’s just as important as we discuss energy policy that natural gas be a part of that debate.”

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