The oil and gas industry is fighting back: It’s throwing in big bucks to counter attacks from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren that it’s contributing to climate change.
The American Petroleum Institute is planning to spend upward of $1 million through 2020 on a new advertising campaign arguing that it’s actually part of the solution when it comes to slowing the rise of global temperatures.
The main lobbying arm of the oil and gas industry will pour money into broadcast televisions spots, social media posts, billboards and airport placards promoting natural gas as a reason the United States is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
The ad blitz comes as Sanders, I-Vt., Warren,D-Mass., and a number of other presidential candidates have promised to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, should they win the White House. And API’s message runs up against the advice of thousands of scientists who say we must keep the remaining oil and gas in the ground as the only way to forestall dangerous warming of the Earth.
A ban on fracking would be a major blow to the industry — one it is increasingly seeking to avoid amid a presidential campaign where polling shows voters are more concerned than ever about climate change. API warns that banning fracking would constitute economic self-sabotage for the United States.
“Here’s a glimpse of that vision ... In the short run, a fracking ban would quickly invite a global recession,” API chief Mike Sommers told members of Congress, Trump administration officials, oil executives and labor union leaders gathered for the group’s annual January luncheon in Washington on Tuesday. “You don’t abolish the most dynamic asset of the world’s leading energy producer without severe consequences.”
But outside economists say that and other warnings API made Tuesday are overblown.
“I think is highly unlikely that a fracking ban in the US alone would lead to a global recession, but it could slow economic growth in the short term in the U.S. unless it is accompanied by other policies that spur growth,” said Kenneth Gillingham, an economics professor at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
API points to how the gush of cheap gas from fracking over the past decade has helped shutter hundreds of coal-fired power plants as they are replaced by less-polluting, gas-fired ones. Fracking, along with horizontal drilling, are “as important as the invention the iPhone,” Sommers said.
“We have to serve the vast and growing demand for affordable energy and we have to accelerate progress on the serious challenge of climate change,” added Sommers, who once served as chief of staff for former House speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The API ad campaign is running nationwide, with an emphasis on oil- and gas-producing states such as New Mexico and Pennsylvania, and swing congressional districts in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and elsewhere. The lobbying group produced seven videos featuring residents from seven states it is targeting.
And in what is likely a bid to emphasize the low emissions of gas compared to coal, the ads referred to the industry as “gas and oil” rather than oil and gas.
“This is natural gas and oil,” the ads read. “This is energy progress.”
When it comes to the new marketing initiative, longtime environmental critics of the oil and gas industry see it as nothing more than an “embarrassing attempt at rebranding [that] doesn’t change anything about the dirty fossil fuels API is pushing,” according to Kelly Martin, director of the Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign at the Sierra Club, which promotes renewable energy sources as a solution to climate change.
Speaking to reporters before the luncheon, Sommers demurred when asked whether API would support specific emissions-reduction targets. But API did release a report in conjunction with the luncheon with hard-number claims on the economic effects of a ban on fracking. The group is saying a ban could lead to as many as 7.3 million fewer jobs.
Yet Jason Furman, a professor of economic policy at Harvard, said that although a ban on fracking would hurt economic growth, the hit would not be nearly enough to make that many people lose their jobs.
“It’s a ludicrous exaggeration of what would be a meaningful hit to the U.S. economy,” Furman said, noting that the U.S. economy shed nearly 9 million jobs economywide during the Great Recession.
He added that “it would be very hard to go from this to a global recession.”
Gillingham, the Yale economist, agreed by noting that the total employment in oil and gas extraction as of last November was 164,800 — an order of magnitude lower than the job losses API projected.
“I am very skeptical of those jobs numbers,” he said for API’s claim.