Chesapeake Energy reportedly dropping 'Coal Is Filthy' campaign

By George Hohmann
Daily Mail Business Editor

An advertising campaign in Texas backed by Chesapeake Energy Corp. featured the faces of models smudged with black makeup. The Wall Street Journal reports the gas giant is dropping its support of the ads in favor of a new strategy.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is dropping its support for a series of controversial "Coal is Filthy" advertisements in Texas.

Tom Price, a Chesapeake Energy vice president, said today, "The reason that we're dropping the support is, it (the advertising campaign) was intended to further the discussion about our nation's energy supply and whether clean coal at this stage is clean enough and whether natural gas is also part of the solution. I think it has certainly caused a great deal of discussion and debate and the focus on criticism of coal is just no longer a useful message."

News broke last month that Chesapeake, a major player in West Virginia's natural gas industry, was behind a massive "Coal Is Filthy" ad campaign in Texas that was designed to persuade officials there to favor natural gas over coal in their public policy decisions.

The anti-coal advertisements in Texas, which began appearing in February, featured faces smudged with black makeup. The ads provoked criticism in the West Virginia coalfields, where many residents view coal as a source of livelihood rather than filth.

Coal-fired power plants generate more than 98 percent of West Virginia's power — the highest percentage in the nation.

The Hill, a newspaper about Congress, reported Thursday that Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., said the "Coal is Filthy" campaign was about "one segment of the energy industry trying to bamboozle the general public and policymakers." Rahall is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Also, The Hill reported that the National Mining Association sent a letter Thursday to the president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, calling the ad campaign "a destructive attempt to further natural gas interests at the expense of coal."

According to The Hill, Independent Petroleum Association of America Chairman Mike Linn issued a statement that said, "Now is not the time to engage in efforts that criticize one energy source compared to another."

The "Coal is Filthy" ad campaign is highly unusual because energy companies seldom attack each other. But the current political situation is extraordinary. As Texas authorities debate which fuels will power the next generation of power plants in that state, the Democratic-controlled Congress is widely believed to be preparing to enact climate control legislation. Energy companies are jockeying to either be treated favorably by the legislation or to minimize the damage to their bottom lines.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that while Chesapeake Energy is dropping its support for the advertisements, Chesapeake Energy Chief Executive Officer Aubrey McClendon will continue to battle the coal industry and is establishing a Washington group.

Price said the group is the "American Clean Skies Foundation," and that Denise Bode, vice chairwoman of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, will head it. The commission regulates utilities in Oklahoma. The commission also regulates Oklahoma-based oil and gas exploration and production including Chesapeake, which is headquartered in Oklahoma City.

Bode is a past president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Price said the American Clean Skies Foundation will not be a lobbying group. "It will focus on education," he said. "The focus will be on natural gas — the enormous potential for further discoveries of natural gas near the major industrial centers of the United States. Of course the exploration for that gas and the production would be out of our Charleston office.

"I think you will hear us talking about the fact that clean air is non-renewable," Price said. "It is imperative that all of us work together in a collaborative manner to clean coal, produce the cleanest possible coal. To produce more natural gas. To work on realistic renewable alternatives that will be economically justifiable.

"I think the debate will be one that will be very positive."

Chesapeake entered West Virginia in 2005 when it bought Columbia Natural Resources for $2.2 billion. Chesapeake's CEO, McClendon, and Gov. Joe Manchin soon became friends. McClendon said he liked Manchin's "Open for Business" attitude. Manchin loved Chesapeake's record of creating high-paying jobs and being involved in the Oklahoma communities where it had a presence.

Manchin told The Associated Press last month he was disappointed by Chesapeake's role in the Texas advertising campaign. West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney also called the advertising campaign disappointing.

Contact writer George Hohmann at 348-4836.

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